Back in business

Retour aux affaires


For me, the start of the Grand Chess Tour 2023 in Bucharest meant a return to classical chess tournaments, after a long hiatus since the Sinquefield Cup in September 2022 and the installation of my new staff immediately afterwards.

The draw designated me as the first opponent of the new world champion, Ding Liren! Tired from his match, the Chinese didn’t try much with white and I easily drew.

In my four white games, I produced a few good ideas, notably in the Scotch against Giri and against Rapport’s Winawer, although in the end both were drawn. On the other hand, I was effectively neutralized by So and Deac in the London and the Italian. So the balance sheet with white is relatively mixed, although I did test a few new weapons.

With black, I also scored 50% (+1, -1, =3) which is rather satisfying, even if I was clearly dominated in the opening of both decisive games, against Caruana and Nepo, which I will come back to here:

Vue de la scène à Bucarest (Photo GCT).
A view of the stage in Bucharest (Photo GCT).rest (Photo GCT).



I played 15…Nh5? not because I’d forgotten that the e7 pawn was hanging, as some have written, but because after 16.Bxe7 Nf4 17.g3 Nbd3, white had the fearsome 18.Ng5! Qxd1 19.Raxd1 which I had overlooked, and no tactical continuation really works for black. So I fell back on 17…Rfe8 18.Bxd6 Nfd3 but after 19.Re3 Nxb2 20.Qb3! N2d3 21.e5! I could never justify the material deficit.

ROUND 5 : NEPO – MVL 0-1

A game that got off to a bad start, as Ian used the Alapin to get a Queenless middlegame that looked harmless, but isn’t: surely the product of very good preparation for his World Championship match. Doubtless perturbed by his loss the day before against Caruana, Ian continued in his style, playing intuitive moves very quickly, and he did indeed manage to cause me some serious problems. But it was once he had me almost on the ropes that he began to falter…

White is in total control, but still needs to find a way forward. I think 32.Rd4! was the most natural, preventing any counterplay and leaving the passage to b3 for white’s King, which will bring new opportunities. But by continuing to play fast to put pressure on the clock, Ian chose the imprecise 32.g4? Rh8 33.Kg3 Rcc8! and let me back in. He continued in this vein and forgot important details, particularly 34.c4 Rh7 35.Bd6 Nd7! At this point, I realized that it could start to get very tricky for him if I doubled on the h-file and played …f6 and then …Ne5, forcing Bxe5 fxe5, after which my other Knight would relive on c5. And that’s what happened in the game! Even if I wasn’t completely sure to be winning after move 40, I knew that my position had become quite easy to play, and really hard for him to defend!

The final combination: 48…Rxf1+! (you had to calculate this line correctly because it’s the only move that wins) 49.Kxf1 Rh1+ 50.Kf2 Ne4+ 51.Kxf3 Nxd2+ 52.Ke3 Nxb3 53.b6 Rh3+! 54.Kf2 (54.Ke4 Kf6! 55.b7 Nd2+ 56.Kd4 Rb3 -+) 54…Rh8 with a trivial win.

A somewhat unexpected victory, but one that boosted my morale ahead of the rest day.

Duel franco-français lors de la dernière ronde (Photo GCT).
Franco-French duel in the final round (Photo GCT).

I can’t ignore my game against Rapport that followed the rest day, because it was really quite spectacular!


It was a typical French Winawer where Black closed the center with …c4. I thought I was in control and had quite a few possibilities on the Kingside, but it wasn’t at all that clear. I have to admit that Richard is an expert in this type of structure in the French, and he knew how to find the right piece arrangements.

My basic plan was to bring my Knight back to the ideal e3 square, before invading the Kingside with Qg1-g7; that’s why I took back on g1 with the Knight.

In fact, the more natural 33.Qxg1 led to crazy complications, but didn’t change the evaluation: 33…Nxa3 34.Bxa3 Qxa3 35.Qg7 b5; here, the immediate and natural 36.Qxh6 had the advantage of forcing Black to find a difficult « only move » after 36…b4 37.Qg7 [37.Qf8 gave White the opportunity to lose after the amusing 37…b3 38.h6? b2 39.h7 Ng6! 40.Qxa3 b1=N+] 37…b3 38.h6 b2 39.h7 b1=Q 40.h8=Q

40…Qaa1!; the computer is formal, any other move loses, e.g. 40…Qab2? 41.Qxe7 and despite taking c2 with check, both black Queens can’t even give perpetual, or 40…Qb8? 41.Qxb8+ Kxb8 42.Qf8+ and black will never move again the Knight, nor the Queen! Instead of 36.Qxh6, white also had the possibility of 36.Ke3!! a rather incredible move, the loss of a tempo being aimed at preventing the push of the fastest b-pawn; after 36…Nc6 37.Qxh6 a4 (but not 37…b4? 38.Qf8! gaining a crucial tempo) 38.Qg7 Qe7 and black seems to hold.

But after 33.Nxg1 Be8 34.Nh3 Kd7 35.Nf2 Bf7, I realized that if 36.Nd1, Black would have covered g7 with 36…Ke8 37.Ne3 Kf8, and if necessary covered f6 in case of 38.Qe1 Nc7! 39.Qh4 Ne8. So I immediately went back to the 36.Qg1 plan, giving a3 against g7, and we arrived at this crazy position, although fairly typical of passed pawn races with heavy pieces:

42.cxb3 (42.h6 wasn’t enough either: 42…bxc2 43.Kxc2 Qa2+ 44.Nb2 a4 45.Kc1!? Qa1+ [45…a3? 46.Na4] 46.Kc2 =) 42…Qa2+ (42…cxb3 also worked: 43.Be2 b2 44.Bd3 [especially not 44.Kc2?? Qb3+! 45.Kxb3 b1=Q+ 46.Ka3 a4! -+] 44…Qb3 45.h6 b1=Q 46.Bxb1 Qxb1 47.h7 Bh5 48.Ne3! =) 42…Qa2+ 43.Ke1 Qh2 44.bxc4 Qxf4 45.Be2 Qg3+ 46.Kd2 Qg5+ 47.Ke1 Qg3+ and draw.

In the end, I think we produced a very good game, extremely tense from start to finish.

The Bucharest result is mixed, with a 50% score and a lot of draws, but it’s well above what I did in 2022, even if it’s obviously still below some of the standards I had a few years earlier.

In any case, for me it was a sort of « return to business », rather satisfying if you look at it as an Elite tournament in preparation for the major event of the season, which will be the August World Cup in Baku.


Barely 3 days after my return from Bucharest, I was back on the road for the next Grand Chess Tour event in Warsaw.


From the outset, a theoretical discussion on one of the most complex lines in the London!

Here I hesitated for a long time between 13.Nxa8 and 13.Nxe5. 13.Nxa8 exf4 14.Ng5 seemed like a complete tactical mess to me, and I went for 13.Nxe5, which I thought was superior. The problem was that I totally missed the King’s journey to b6 by 13…Kxc7! 14.Nxf7+ Kb6 15.Nxh8 d5 and with the King safe and the pieces coming out, Black has the advantage. I thought Lev wanted 13…Nxe5? 14.Bxe5 d6 15.Nxa8 dxe5 16.dxe5 which seemed to work in my favor. In the game, I painfully managed to restore quality and stabilize the position after 16.Bd3 Be6 17.Bxh7 followed by 18.Ng6.

Maxime et les deux meilleurs joueurs de l’histoire… (Photo GCT).
Maxime and the two best chess players in history… (Photo GCT).


A spectacular game for his endgame. With black, I think I’ve properly handled the trendy new opening employed by World #1, the London. Despite the long maneuvers he’s known for, Carlsen never managed to destabilize my position, until a stupid little miscalculation got me into trouble.

Here, all I had to do was keep waiting with 51…Kd6 and if ever white trades on b6, to recapture with the pawn; white would have had no way of increasing the pressure. Unfortunately, I thought he wouldn’t regain the a5 pawn after 51…bxa5?! 52.Na6+ Kd6 53.Nc5 Nb6, completely forgetting the fork 54.Nb7+ Kc7 55.Nxa5. Even if this doesn’t change the assessment, as the position is still equal, White gains access to the c5-square and makes my defense much more difficult.

A few moves later, I decided to force events with 70…f3!? (the machine indicates that 70…Bd7 is also completely equal, but this was impossible to guess on the board) 71.dxe6 fxg2 72.Ne2 Kd8. I’d anticipated that we’d end up in the famous 2 Knights vs. pawn endgame, in a version most likely winning for white, but probably not in less than 50 moves! What’s more, I knew the extreme complexity of the Knight maneuvers in this endgame, and felt that even for Carlsen, the task would be impossible to achieve in practice 😊. I’d like to take this opportunity to give a nod to the great French endgame specialist IM Alain Villeneuve, who was my theoretical reference for this ending, as for many others!

It was Troitzki who cleared up the whole theory of this endgame, and as early as 1906, he laid down the following rule: all positions with a Rook pawn blocked on the fourth rank by an unmoveable Knight are won, whatever the position of the black’s King. This is the case here, even if the tablebases indicate that it takes 56 moves on perfect play to force the h-pawn to advance! 80…Kd6 81.Nf3 Ke6 82.Kc5 Kd7 83.Kd5 Kc7 84.Ne5 Kb6?! (84…Kb7! 85.Kc4 Kb8 delayed the game’s zugzwang) 85.Kc4 Kb7 86.Kb5 Kc7 87.Nc4? (postpones the win by about 15 moves because black’s King gets closer to the center! First, he had to be confined to the eighth rank, starting with 87.Kc5! Kb7 88.Nc4 Kc7 89.Nb6 Rb7 90.Nd5 Ka6 91.Kb4 Ka7 92.Ka5 Kb7 93.Kb5 Kc8 [or 93…Ka7 94.Nb4 Kb7 95.Na6 Ka7 96.Nc5] 94.Kc6 Kd8 95.Kd6. After more than 20 further moves interspersed with new esoteric maneuvers 😊, the next ideal position would finally have been reached.

Now it’s time to checkmate! 1.Ng4! Kh8 2.Nf6 h2 3.Nf4 h1=Q 4.Ng6 mate.

In the game, after 87.Nc4? Kd7 88.Kb6 Ke6 89.Kc6 Kf5 90.Ne3+ Ke4 91.Ng2 Ke5, Magnus had to start all over again from scratch, and preferred not to insist by taking the h4 pawn…

Contre Wesley So, sur fond de décor bleuté (Photo GCT).
With Wesley So, against a bluish background (Photo GCT).

ROUND 7: MVL – SO 1-0

A tactical game decided in one key moment:

Black has a difficult choice. Taking on g5 with the Bishop and allowing Qxf7+, or sacrifice the exchange on g5. After a 2-minute thought, the piece fell on the wrong side for Wesley, with his erroneous choice to discard 26…Bxg5! 27.Qxf7+ Kh6 (for the anecdote after 27…Kh8, I had calculated a losing variation for me! 28.Nxd6 Bf6 29.Ne8 and I was very proud of what I thought was a forced mate after 29…Bxe8 30.Qg8+ or 29…Qxe8 30.Qxf6+ or 29…Rxe8 30.Rxe8+ followed by 31.Qg8+ or 31.Qxf6+. But 29…Rg5+! is a cold shower! 30.Kh2 [30.Kh1 Bc6+; 30.Kf1 Bxh3+] 30…Qb8+ and it’s White who gets his ass kicked! I think I would have realized it along the way because instead of the « brilliant » 29.Ne8?, the direct 29.Rxe5 Bxe5 30.Qd5! Qg5+ [30…Bxd6 31.Qd4+] 31.Kh1 wins, as does the subtle 29.h4! controlling g5) 28.f4! (28.Nxd6 Bf6 29.Ne4 looks almost winning, but 29…Qe8! 30.Qxf6 Rxe4 with an imminent draw) 28…Rxe4 29.Rxe4 (I guess Wesley missed 29.fxg5+? Qxg5+ with a counter-check!) 29…Bf6 with a better version of the « pawn vs exchange » position than in the game.

Returning to the diagrammed position, Wesley finally chose 26…Rxg5+? 27.Nxg5 Bxg5 28.Qxf7+ Kh6 29.Rad1 Bxh3 30.Be6! Bxe6 31.Rxe6 and the heavy white pieces are too powerful.


An interesting theoretical debate in a line that’s becoming trendy against the Queen’s Gambit accepted.

Unfortunately, I didn’t remember my file, which mentioned here 19…Nh5! as the only way to keep a complex position, the idea being that after 20.Kf2 (20.g3? Nxg3! was what I completely overlooked over the board) 20…Nf4, White must play the anti-development move 21.Bf1.

Instead, I opted for the inferior 19…Nd7?! 20.Bd4?! (20.0-0 was more precise, preventing the continuation of the game; 20…a5? 21.Ra1!) 20…a5! 21.bxa6 Rxa6? (missing the point, and yet I’d seen 21…Nc5! 22.Be2 Nxa6 23.Ra4 Rb8 which is unclear) 22.0-0 Ra8 23.Rfb1 and now, the conglomerate of hyper-solid white pieces clearly dominates black’s Queen.

Classement final de Varsovie (image
Final rankings in Warsaw (image

So, in the Warsaw rapids, I achieved a better score than in Bucharest, from 50% to +2. I’m not jumping up and down, but the idea is for my chess to settle in gradually.

In the Blitz portion held over the last two days in Warsaw, I think I’ve produced a fairly uneven result, although I’m quite happy with some games; others have certainly been a little more tricky for me, particularly in the second half of the first day.

In the end, +3 wasn’t quite up to my expectations in terms of result, but it was also my return to blitz, as I hadn’t played since the World Championship in December. And a resumption is always a bit tricky to manage, at least at this level of competition.

So I’m taking this 50% in Bucharest and this tie for third in Warsaw with philosophy, but I’ll have to perform better in Saint-Louis in November if I’m to have any chance of finishing a sixth year in a row on the Grand Chess Tour podium!

Le classement du Grand Chess Tour 2023 après 2 tournois (Image GCT).
Grand Chess Tour 2023 standings after 2 tournaments (Image GCT).


Maxime’s games in Bucharest :

Maxime’s rapid games in Warsaw:

Maxime’s blitz games in Warsaw:

The chess boom is undeniable, even if its proportions vary from one region of the world to another. In France, the famous investigative and reporting magazine « Envoyé Spécial », broadcast on France 2, decided to devote a long section to this boom. As such, it chose to follow Maxime specifically for two weeks. The TV team accompanied him to the French Youth Championships in Agen, where he was invited by the French Federation as an ambassador. They then filmed a day in Paris, between sports training and a visit to his sponsor « Immortal Game ». Finally, the « Envoyé Spécial » reporters also visited Bucharest, for the final rounds of the tournament inaugurating the Grand Chess Tour 2023.

Scheduled for broadcast on a Thursday evening in June on France 2.

Twice as nice in Bundesliga

Before the big events starting in May, I played the final rounds of the team championships in Austria and Germany, and the teams I played on both won the national title 😊.

Austrian Championship:

At the end of last year, I was contacted to be part of the Linz team, which had just moved up to the First Division. What I liked the most was that I kind of knew all the players of the team well, starting with Etienne [Bacrot], Jules [Moussard], Parham [Maghsoodloo], but also the two Russians, Andrei [Esipenko] and Kirill [Alekseenko], as well as the two older players, Arkadij [Naïditsch] and Csaba [Balogh]. The discussions between my manager and the head of the Linz team – who has been elected President of the Austrian Chess Federation in the meantime! – were very smooth and the deal was quickly closed.

So we were in the best conditions to play, and I was present for the three gatherings of a few days which were scheduled.

The level of the Austrian championship on Board 1 was higher than I thought. And on the whole, quite a few games were tense because on six boards, it can go quite fast. Even if sometimes the opponents were trailing us by an average 200 Elo points, it only takes a surprise in one game, and one or two draws elsewhere, and the match could easily get out of hand.

That’s what happened as we drew two matches. Fortunately, our number 1 rival of the season, the Jenbach team, lost a match afterwards, allowing us to win the title in our first year in the top League. Some may have reservations about the value of this title in Austria, but I’ll take it anyway 😊.

Huschenbeth (2599) – MVL : 1/2-1/2


A funny anecdote in this game. After playing 41…h6, I offered a draw to my opponent, because I could see that he was going to return the pawn and for me it would have been equal afterwards.

My teammate sitting next to me, Parham Maghsoodloo, asked me after the game why I had declined the draw. In fact, he misheard my opponent’s refusal for a proposal!

The game continued 42.Bc3 Rxe4 43.Rc8+ Kh7 44.h5. Here I missed a very simple possibility to make a draw, and I am a bit ashamed: I could have played 44…Ra1! 45.Bxa1 Re1+ 46.Kf2 Rxd1 47.Bc3 Rd5 48.g4 Rg5!; I’ll play …f5 and the endgame with the g and h pawns against the h5 pawn is drawn. I didn’t see 44…Ra1; you don’t necessarily want to give away the Rook like that, so I didn’t think of it.

What I played did not compromise the draw, even though the sequence 44…Rf4 45.Re8 Raf2 46.Kh2 Ra2 was slightly esoteric 😊. I never played …f6 because if the Bishop lands on d5 I might get mated.

White just blundered with 57.Kf3?

After a blunder by my opponent, we got this position and I didn’t realize how superior it was. That said, I didn’t really look for it because the draw my opponent offered me at that moment ensured us victory in the match. Seeing that my calculations weren’t very good (and that my King was still on h5 😊), I figured I’d better accept.

Anyway, I hadn’t considered the winning move 59…Re8! with the idea 60.Kf5 (white is almost in zugzwang!) 60…Rf8+ 61.Ke5 Kg5 and black’s King exits. I had looked at 59…Ra7 60.Kf5 (while 60.Bf5 draws immediately) 60…Rg6 (obviously I was starting to really miscalculate because I didn’t see that 60…Re8 61.Re1 Rf8+ 62.Bf6 Ra5+ was winning) 61.Re1 Rf7+ 62.Ke5 and I realized that I could get checkmated anytime because white is threatening Rh1 and Bd2. If I had seen a relatively clear win like the one after 59…Re8!, I would have played on; in an individual game as well, I probably would have continued.

MVL-Roseneck (2410) : 1-0

A system from the London that just happened to appear in the Ding-Nepo world championship game the next day, even though they didn’t play exactly the same line; the coincidence is funny.



Here I made a mistake. My original plan was 18.g4?! Ng7 19.Qe3, which is actually catastrophic after 19…e5! 20.dxe5 Qd7. According to the computer I’m still better but it’s getting scary because you have to play 21.Bg3 Qxg4 22.Ne4 to keep the advantage, which seemed really weird. So I escaped from this mess with 19.g5, but I wasn’t very happy about the open lines in front of my King. After 19…Be7, however, I missed a very strong move: 20.h5! which I discovered in the analysis. The game continued with 20.Ne5?! cxd4 21.Nxc6 Bxc6 22.cxd4. I was a bit afraid of 22…e5, but I didn’t think my opponent would see it, which he didn’t indeed. Parham, always quick to intervene, asked me if I had seen this 22…e5. Yes! And I was going to play 23.dxe5 because if 23.Bxe5 Bxg5 24.hxg5 Qg5+ and it’s a draw. After 23.dxe5, I thought I would be a little better in a very compex position because the diagonals are open, and there is a blockade coming with the Knight on e6.

I played rather preciselyt the rest of the game, until I accepted a Queen’s exchange at move 35 with 35.Qe5?.


could have played 35.Nf6 right away, and after 35…Qe7 (there is no longer 35…Qb8 because of 36.Nd7) 36.Qe5 and I’m winning. In my mind, if I exchanged Queens it was easily won because of his Knight stuck on g7. Hence my move 34.Qe5?, and I expected 34…Qe7, whereupon I planned 35.Re3. But when my opponent played 34…Qb8! I realized that it wasn’t that simple. I’m still much better, but it has become a complicated ending.


Here, he could play 45…Bf5!. I had calculated 46.Bxf5 gxf5 47.Kf4 Kg6 48.Rd6 Rxb2 49.Rxd5 Kxf6 (only move) 50.Rxf5+ Kg6 51.Rg5+ Kh6 52.Rc5. Here I did not know how

I was going to win, or even if I was going to win it at all. However, I thought I had a good chance because black’s King is confined to h6 and my d-pawn can advance. In the end it turns out that it’s probably a draw after 52…Rb3! 53.Ke4 Rxa3 54.Rxb5 Ra1 55.Ra5 a3 56.Kf5 a2 57.f4 Rd1; black gets the d-pawn back and the Rook ending with f- and h-pawns against an h-pawn is a draw.

I clearly would have suffered to win this endgame because everything can be simplified. But black also had a lot of opportunities to make mistakes.

But it all ended well because he didn’t play 45…Ff5 and preferred 45…Rxb2? 46.Kf4! and my King was able to infiltrate to b5, and then the endgame was definitely winning.

German Championship:

Even though I didn’t play the first few games, my team from Baden-Baden won everything. But Virnheim was also winning all its matches, and sometimes by quite large margins. So we thought that the last weekend’s match against them would be decisive. But they broke down, having probably not had the possibility to send their best line up in important matches on the 2 previous weekends, and had to drop points on the way. Before the last weekend we were first. In the penultimate round, Virnheim’s team beat us convincingly with a somewhat harsh score of 3-0, congratulations to them! But this defeat did not prevent us from winning the title in the last round.

On a personal level, there were ups and downs in theses Leagues, though I ended up undefeated in both of them. Only wins with white and draws with black in Austria (+5, =4). In Germany it is not exactly the same, because I drew once with white and won once with black (+4, =5).

This is my fifth title with Baden-Baden. And it’s always nice to win titles with the clubs. It was also an opportunity for me to do some tests. The most important thing was not to get out of the habit of playing classical games before the upcoming events. I didn’t want to take a break of almost 8 months with 0 classical games in tournaments.

Ding-Nepo World Championship match:

Ding Liren

It is difficult to conclude without saying a word about the world championship!

After my very last game in the Bundesliga, I was able to follow live the fourth tie-break game between Ding Liren and Nepo, which gave the world title to the Chinese. It kept us on our toes. I was surprised by the speed of the decisions taken by the two players in such a decisive game, but I think it was their nerves that were a bit loose. There were some critical positions very quickly. Nepo should have forced a draw at some point and didn’t. Ding managed to find nice moves, including the famous 46…Rg6! which allows the game to continue and will be remembered as the master move for the crown. In the end, the piece fell on the right side for Ding. But we can say that he really went for this title in that very last game with black.

Overall, the level was a bit low for my taste; there were some games that were given to the opponent on both sides, especially games 2 and 12.

Each player had their moments. We had also some really good games, with a pretty high level of calculation. I think at the end of the match they got a little caught up in the stakes, which is understandable because it was obviously a golden opportunity for both of them. They had a hard time finishing the match at their level; the nervous tension must have come into play, and the physical fatigue must have been felt as well.

It was a pretty exciting match with a lot of twists and turns. We had a lot of fun watching the games. It was very well attended, although we were a little worried that everyone would shun it because of Carlsen’s absence. That’s something to be glad of.

Perhaps the format should be changed, I agree with Magnus on this point. The current format is grueling for the players, it involves 6 months of intense preparation. But that’s just a personal opinion, worth what it’s worth 😊.

Ding is a very nice World Champion, coming from a country which had never had one. We will see now the development of chess in China, under the impulse of this title. Let’s also see how the two players will react, after this huge disappointment for one, and this triumph for the other.

I will have the opportunity to observe all this closely, as I will face both of them during the first tournament of the Grand Chess Tour 2023 in Bucharest, starting on May 6th!

Maxime’s games in austrian Bundesliga:

Maxime’s games in german Bundesliga :

    I made a short visit to the French Youth Championships in Agen on April 25 and 26, at the invitation of the French Federation. A quick visit on Tuesday evening at the playing hall, mostly to see the people I knew. Of course, I had a few requests for photos as soon as I arrived, but it was the next day that everything accelerated, with some media obligations and then the arrival in playing hall to launch the rounds. First the fifth round of the older categories, in a very warm atmosphere, then the youngest ones, with the presentation of Marc Llari who won the world title in U8, and of Timothé Razafindratsima, U16 European Champion, as well as the young GM Marc Andria Maurizzi.

    In any case, it was a very nice moment with the young people; I was able to tell them the weight that rested on their shoulders in order to replace me in 10 to 15 years 😊.

    The day was also spent signing autographs and taking pictures for the young – and sometimes not so young – people. It’s obviously a lot of coming and going, a lot of requests; but that’s the game and I enjoyed doing it, even if it’s not something I would be able to do every day! When the parents said « you are really patient », I answered that it was fine because I was not the one playing the game!

    Smooth resumption

    Since the World Blitz and Rapid Championships at the end of 2022, there have been no classical tournaments for the elite, except for Wijk aan Zee and the WR Chess Masters in Dusseldorf, in which I did not participate. For me, the next important events will start in May. It will have been eight months since my last classical tournament (Sinquefield Cup 2022)! This long period was obviously the opportunity to continue my preparation in order to be ready for the major objectives of the season, namely the Grand Chess Tour which starts in May in Bucharest, and the World Cup which will begin in Baku at the very end of July. By the way, I am not yet 100% sure to be qualified for this World Cup because of my modest #14 in the world rankings, but I have good hopes to succeed (it is the June Fide list which will decide).

    The goal, as in any odd year, is of course qualification for the 2024 Candidates tournament, which we just learned will be held next April in Toronto; Canada would then become the 41st country I’ve visited, one more reason to qualify 😊.

    The 10 classical games I played in the first quarter of 2023 were all in the German Bundesliga and the Austrian Bundesliga. The rapid and blitz games were played online, whether it was Titled Tuesday on, the Play In qualifier for the Champion Chess Tour, or the Pro Chess League. I played these competitions seriously, trying out new openings, as well as some ideas on my traditional lines. It’s all part of the preparation to be on top in May.

    Let’s get back to those first classical games of 2023:


    From February 3rd to 5th, I played in Baden-Baden and scored 2/3 (win against Plenca 2423, draws against Kollars 2606 and Santos Latasa 2657). Little curiosity, during my game against Santos Latasa, we played exactly the same moves as in my previous classical game against Bluebaum, in November 2022; two consecutive identical games, that must be some kind of record, right?

    Les 8 équipes qualifiées pour la phase finale de la PCL en mai.

    The 8 teams qualified for the PCL final phase in May.

    Pro Chess League

    I participated in the five matches of the preliminary phase scheduled between mid-February and mid-March, in the friendly BLITZ team, coached by Kevin Bordi. I was accompanied by Sacha Grischuk, as well as Deimantė Cornette and Kateryna Lagno alternating on the women’s board, and Alexandre Bacrot or Mahel Boyer on the youth board. This strong team could clearly hope to get past the pools, which we did after multiple adventures, as 3 of our matches went to the tie-break!
    On an individual level, I played well, but not much more. I had little moments of absence in some games that were not necessarily well played, but that ended rather well. I tightened up my game in the last two matches, and the whole team rallied, which allowed us to qualify for the finals. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate there, as I will be playing in Bucharest at the same time.


    Back to the Bundesliga, in Schonaich (suburb of Stuttgart) for a new weekend on February 25-26.

    MVL – Sedlak (2461) : 1-0

    A game that looked easy, because from the opening I had the opportunity to finish the game with style:


    Here I could have played 14.f4! with the idea of Rf3-b3-b7, which was completely decisive because black has no time to develop by …Be7 and …0-0. I vaguely had this idea of bringing a Rook to b3, but I didn’t think of the Rf1 passage because I played 14.Bc3 too quickly, which at the time seemed sufficient.

    I missed a second, more difficult win in the following position:


    I didn’t play 22.cxd5! because I didn’t want to free his Queen, which after 22…cxd5 could use the sixth rank in defense. But giving the c4-square to my pieces and pinning the Nf6 on the Qh6 was much more important; the concrete variants show that I was winning, e.g. 22…cxd5 23.Rg3 d4 24.Qh6 g6 (Black doesn’t have …Nh5 anymore like in the game after 22.Rg3? d4 23.Qh6 Nh5! 24.Qxh5 Bf6) 25.Ndc4 Qc7 26.e5! and black’s position explodes after 26…dxc3 27.Rh3!.

    After that double miss, my opponent played some good defensive moves and I had to get back to work. Unfortunately, I fell into a real black hole a few moves later.


    Of course, I had seen that 27.Nc5? allowed the pin 27…Qa7 28.Nb3, but I didn’t realize that the e4-pawn was en prise, even during the 5 minutes my opponent took to play his move! Now, after this trivial 28…Rxe4, my position collapses. From then on, I did what I could to make it difficult for him while he had less and less time on the clock, and gradually succeeded, until he crumbled completely by missing a Queen fork losing a whole Rook. Not brilliant for a game that should not have exceeded 20 moves if I had been more diligent in the opening…

    The next morning, I made a quick draw with black against Gawain Jones (2617).

    During the following weekend in Baden-Baden (March 18-19), I first played Jorden Van Foreest with black.

    Van Foreest (2684) – MVL : 0-1

    I opted for the Svechnikov, but he surprised me with a very obscure line of the 7.Nd5 variation. 7…Nxd5 8.exd5 Nb8 9.g4!?.

    La surprise 9.g4!? de Van Foreest (photo : W. Siemon).

    Van Foreest’s surprise 9.g4!? (photo: W. Siemon).

    This was not in my plans when I had reviewed late morning 😊. This radical option resulted in a very hot game, where I may not have taken the optimal decisions, but he on his side made a very odd choice that brought us back into a very, very Najdorf-like structure; the last straw for me who had decided to give it up that day! By the way, after 9…Be7 10.Rg1, I could have played 10…a6 and then 11…b5 but I decided to start with 10…0-0.

    Van Foreest-Mvl

    Jorden chose to play risky chess with the immediate 15.Ne4 Nxe4 16.fxe4 Bh4+ 17.Kd1, instead of 15.0-0-0 b4 16.Ne4. After the game, he explained to me that he had this Kd1 idea in his preparation, but in another position! He got confused, as happens to every chess player. I thought about it a lot, because I felt his choices were really weird, and I found some good moves to increase the pressure.

    I was happy with 17…f6 18.a4 bxa4 19.Rxa4 Bg5, with the idea that 20.Kc1? fails to 20…Bxg4 21.Rxg4 Qd7 22.Rxg5 and black has two elegant choices; 22…fxg5 with an attack on the Bf1 and Ra4, or 22…Qxa4 threatening both the Rg5 and mate on a1! Jorden parried the threat by playing 20.Ra3 and after 20…Rb8 21.Kc1 a5 white did not fall into the trap 22.Bxg5? which does not work because of 22…Qb6!, this time with a double attack on g1 and b2.

    As white threatened to consolidate their position, a bit short on time, I made the decision to break out the center.

    Van Foreest-Mvl

    30…h5! 31.gxh5 f5. I thought it should be favorable to me, without of course being able to calculate all the lines. However, I found some precise moves: 32.h6 fxe4 33.Qxe4 Rf2+ 34.Kc1 Raf8! 35.Qg6 R8f7 36.b4 R2f6! 37.Qa3 Bb5! 38.Qe3? (38.c4? Bxc4; 38.Qe4 was not pleasing but was forced) 38…Qxd5 and black’s pressure is too strong (0-1, 45 moves).

    The next day, I drew against Navara (2685) and his Berlin.

    Le Baden-Baden de Maxime proche d’un nouveau titre (Image :

    Maxime’s Baden-Baden close to another title (Image:

    Austrian Bundesliga

    The Austrian League consists of 11 rounds spread over three sessions. This was the second one, played in Graz (April 23-26). After the first 4 rounds, my team (Linz) was ranked behind Jenbach, a small town in Tyrol, which was in the lead after drawing against us. I played 3 games out of the 4, winning 2 with white and drawing with black.

    I didn’t have the opportunity to test new openings with white since I played an Anti-Marshall and an Advance Caro-Kann.

    MVL – Baenziger (2413) : 1-0

    The pairings were only revealed 30 minutes before the round. Surprise with the young Swiss IM showing up on the first board that day. We had all taken our computer (which we left in the car before the games 😊) to prepare between 3:30 and 3:58 pm – yes because beware, the local rule was zero tolerance, meaning that all players had to be imperatively present at the beginning of the game.

    My opponent deviated a bit from his usual repertoire and opted for what Fabiano Caruana had played to me at the Grand Swiss 2021 (anti-Marschall 8.a4 Bb7). I had bits of memories but it turned out to be complicated to put the whole puzzle together again. He played the opening and the middle game very well, and the next position we reached was pretty close to equal.


    Here I hesitated to keep Queens on by 38.Qb3, which was probably the best move, but I thought I would have to trade Queens at some point, and I believed I would do so in favourable circumstances after the little combination 38.Ng4 Qxc4 39.Ne5+ Kf8 40.Nxc4 Kf7 41.Ne5+ Kf8 (if 41…Ke8, I had planned 42.Nf3 Rd6 43.Ng5 Kd7 44.Ra1 with strong pressure). The game continued 42.Nf3 which wins the e6-pawn (42…Rd6? 43.Ng5), but this is not the end of the story! 42…Nd5! 43.Rxe6 Nxc3 44.bxc3 Bf6? (after analysis, it turns out that 44…Rd1+! 45.Re1 Rxe1+ 46.Nxe1 c4! forces the exchange of both c-pawns and leads to a theoretical draw, even if in practice white keeps some chances).

    The end of this game reminded me of an ending I played at the 2019 French Team Championship against Laurent Fressinet, where with Rook, Knight and 2 pawns, I had pressed against Rook, Bishop and 2 pawns (without success that time 😊).

    Mvl-Fressinet, Brest 2019.

    Mvl-Fressinet, Brest 2019.

    Let’s get back to Austria!



    I knew that the h6-pawn would eventually fall; I just had to make sure to protect the c4-pawn to prevent black from getting counterplay. So I gave the f2-pawn on the previous move, which allowed me to work the Knight and Rook together.

    Being short on time, such a position is horribly difficult for Black to defend, even though a computer would probably laugh at us and draw without difficulty. My opponent made a mistake with the passive 56…Rf6? which allows 57.Re8+ Kh7 58.Nf5 Ra6 59.Kf3 and black has to choose between two evils: allowing the King to reach e4 or the Rook to land on e6 (1-0, 64 moves). Back on move 56, the computer suggests 56…Rc2 to hold, but it was very complicated to find: 57.Re6 Rc3+ 58.Kg2 Kf8! (58…Kh7? 59.Nf5! picks up h6 and g5) 59.Rxh6 Be5, and even here it is not obvious to the human eye.

    Contre Dragnev, une inattendue Berlinoise avec les noirs ! (Photo : Osterreichischer Schachbund).

    Against Dragnev, an unexpected Berlin with black! (Photo: Osterreichischer Schachbund).

    After a draw against Dragnev (2561) in which I used the Berlin with black, I played my last game against the German GM Baldauf.

    MVL – Baldauf (2504) : 1-0

    The funny thing is that one of the ways I prepared was by studying the game he had played 48 hours earlier against Markus Ragger. This is what actually happened, as he repeated the same line, but at the same time Markus Ragger was replaying the exact same line against Petr Haba, two rows back 😊.


    This lasted until move 11, where Baldauf played 11…Rd8 while Haba preferred 11…Bg6.

    After 12.Qc1 Bg6, I did see 13.Bxh6! but I didn’t understand how strong it was, with the idea of exchanging white-squared bishops afterwards. So I settled for 13.Bg5, which seemed pretty good and is also a thematic move. I overestimated my position after 13…Qb4 14.Bxe7 Qxe7 15.Nf4, although it’s not that clear. Besides, after 15…Nf5, I took on g6 too lightly and immediately regretted it because I couldn’t figure out how to maneuver to gain a clear advantage.


    I ended up making a bet and giving the pawn on d4, hoping he wouldn’t take it 😉 ! After 18…Nxd4 19.Nxd4 Rxd4 20.Qe3, he would have had to find the complicated move 20…Rg4!. My first idea was then to play 21.Kh2 Nd5 22.Bxd5 exd5 23.f4 to trap the Rook. But it doesn’t work because Black can play …g5 at any time; it’s a false lock.
    And if I try to take the exchange with 21.Bd1, after 21…Qxh4 22.Bxg4 Qxg4 23.Rad1 Nd5 24.Qxa7 0-0, black will have serious counterplay with threats based on …h4 and …Nf4.

    In the game, he didn’t dare to take on d4 and chose 18…Kf7?!. Even if the computer considers that I am a bit better afterwards, it was not easy to progress. Fortunately, at one point he looked for activity, allowing me to sacrifice the exchange to get a very favorable ending.


    But here, the right decision was 32.Nxh5+! Kg6 33.Nf6 Rd4 34.f4 d2 35.Kf2 and Black is in bad shape because he can hardly value his d2-pawn. Unfortunately, I blundered with 32.Bxe6?. I had only considered 32…Rd4? as an answer, but obviously, eliminating my e-pawn with 32…Re7! was more judicious: after 33.Nxh5+, I still kept a small advantage, but my opponent could have earned a miraculous draw after 33…Rf8 34.Bc4 Rxe5 35.f4 Re2+ 36.Kf3 Rh2:


    Here, 37.Nf6! was the most accurate, but I wanted to leave the Knight on h5 to threaten g6-g7; after 37…Rxb2, the game would have continued! So I opted for 37.g4 instead. After 37…Rd4, I had considered 38.b3 b5 39.Rxd3, forgetting the nice 39…Ne6! (the machine also gives 39…Rh3+), and I can neither take on e6 nor exchange on d4. Instead, Black played the terribly passive 37…Ne8?, and after 38.Rxd3 Rxd3 39.Bxd3 Rxb2 40.f5, I was able to digest this little moment of fear, and conclude with my kingside pawns (1-0, 45 moves).

    Going into the final mid-April gathering, my team is at the top of the standings thanks to Jenbach’s surprise loss in round 8.

     Classement de la Bundesliga autrichienne à 3 rondes de la fin (Image :

    Austrian Bundesliga rankings three rounds before the end (Image:

    Next for me is the Chessable Masters from April 3rd to 7th, second stage of the Champions Chess Tour 2023 . I qualified for the 2nd Division of this new format, missing a place in the Top 8 of the 1st division after a defeat in Armaggedon against Artemiev during the qualifying tournament played on March 13th.

    In this single elimination tournament, but which includes a « Loser’s bracket » as in many esport competitions, I will be facing Alexei Dreev in the first round.

    Maxime’s games in Pro Chess League:

    Maxime’s games in austrian Bundesliga:

    Maxime’s games in german Bundesliga:

    On March 12, Maxime spent the evening on Sardoche’s stream, , to coach him live while he played a series of blitz games. The former League of Legends champion, who became a star streamer a few years ago, has developed a passion for chess and decided to take it to the next level by training intensively. In this perspective, he plays a lot online and invited Maxime to analyze his live games during an evening. These games were played on the Immortal Game platform of which Maxime is the ambassador since the end of 2021.

    Cover image: licence CC 2.0

    Looking ahead to 2023!

    2023 !

    2022 ended with several competitions that I had not yet returned to. This year which begins offers me the opportunity to make up for it!

    World Team Championship,
    Jerusalem, November 20-23

    On the occasion of my return to the French team, I had a rather encouraging tournament in Jerusalem, while also taking a lot of pleasure in spending time with my teammates, in a very friendly atmosphere. The games were played at the original time control of 45mn +10s./move, which offers a good compromise between using the time pressure opportunities and keeping the option of spending time in critical positions. I really appreciated this rhythm of play.

    Since the tournament was held in a place where it was not recommended to go out in the evening, there was not much else to do but to stay at the hotel and enjoy a good time of relaxation, between card games and ping-pong challenges.

    During the group stage, we managed to qualify by a narrow margin. We won against the Netherlands, but we could have easily lost on Laurent’s (Fressinet) board. Here is my win in this match:

    Van Foreest-Mvl, Ronde 2.
    Van Foreest-Mvl, Round 2.

    Here I provoked White with 18…Kh7, with the idea of playing …Qd7 without the move …Re8. In case of 19.Rxc6, I was ready to play the position after 19…bxc6 20.Bxe7 (but not 20.Nxe7? f6 21.Nxc8 fxg5 22.Nxa7 Db6) 20…Qd7 21.Bxf8 Rxf8 and black will win the pawn back. But Jorden opted for 19.Rc4, and after 19…Qd7 20.Re1 Rfd8 followed by …f5, I gradually gained the upper hand (0-1, 59 moves).

    In the end, we still qualified for the KO phase without trying too hard. We drew against the Chinese, which is not so bad considering the final ranking 😊.

    Li,L-Mvl, Ronde 5.
    Li,L-Mvl, Round 5.

    After a long theoretical debate in a razor-sharp Najdorf line, we got this position in which the Chinese player made the dubious choice of 29.Qf4? instead of the more natural 29.Nc4. Of course, the Na5 is immune because of the mating attack along the g-file, but my decision to liquidate with 29…Bg7? 30.Qxf7 Rxf7 31.Nc4 c2+ 32.Kxc2 Rc5 led to a quick draw. Yet I had an attractive alternative, the strength of which I did not measure, 29…Rh5! with a very powerful …Nd5 threat; in fact, White would have been in great danger here because this position poses enormous practical problems.

    I also liked my victory against the Spanish GM Santos Latasa.

    Mvl-Santos Latasa au 1er échiquier du match France-Espagne, sous le regard du capitaine Jean-Baptiste Mullon (photo : Fide).
    Mvl-Santos Latasa on 1st board of the France-Spain match, under the eyes of captain Jean-Baptiste Mullon (photo: Fide).

    However, my blunder against Vidit in the France-India quarter-final match, which we finally lost, tarnished the general impression a little. Indeed, it happened to be very detrimental to the team.

    Mvl-Vidit, ¼ Finale aller.
    Mvl-Vidit, ¼ Final first leg.

    Here, I committed the irreparable with 17.f4? Obviously, the idea of pushing the central majority is self-evident in this position, but it was necessary to prepare it with 17.Rae1 or 17.Kh2. The problem is that I completely missed 17…Bf5! which gives a clear advantage to Black after 18.Qc1 (18.Qxf5 Bxc3 19.Bxc3 Qxe3+ 20.Kh2 Qxc3) 18…Bxc3 19.Qxc3 Be4! (0-1, 70 moves).

    After that, there was no doubt that we were going to lose the first leg. We made up for it in the second one, especially after Vidit made a big mistake against me by blundering a pawn.

    During the blitz tie-breaker, I struggled with black, and I could only make a draw. So it all came down to the last moments of Jules’ (Moussard) game. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well for him at the end and we left the competition at that point, which is a shame. It was still a good time, with a time control that I think should be tested in the future.

    Speed Chess 2022
    Online, November 28 & December 15-16

    The usual end of year competition on, in a final bracket with 16 players always particularly tough. Let’s remember that it is a direct elimination matches played over 3 hours, in 5+1, 3+1 and 1+1…

    La grille de départ du Speed Chess 2022 (image :
    Line-up of the Speed Chess 2022 (image:

    Against Nepo in the 1/8th, it was a competitive match at the beginning, with some very good games, especially from him. There were a few critical moments where we were returning blow for blow, with some good defensive sequences. The match seemed quite uncertain, even though I was slightly ahead (one or two points). In the end, it all came down to the Bullet, although it could have gone less well when I lost the last game of the 3+1 by giving away a piece in one move 🙂 .

    And in Bullet, it was the first game that determined everything. After this rather painful loss, Nepo was no longer able to compete (final score 19.5-11.5 in my favor).

    Against Wesley So in the ¼ finals, it was very odd because I didn’t expect him to do so well in his situation. Indeed, the snowstorm in Minnesota where he lives had forced him to go out in the extreme cold to connect from a public library! I didn’t think he’d put up much of a fight in that environment, but he did, at least at the beginning of the match. We were able to show some interesting ideas, especially in the Najdorf. Wesley didn’t start so badly in Bullet, but at one point I flew off and it was over (final score 16.5-12.5 in my favor).

    Then the semi-final against Magnus; there is nothing to say about the final score (17-9 in his favor). What’s a shame is that overall, Magnus didn’t play that well in this match. However, he was extremely resourceful in defense, especially in completely lost positions, which created a lot of differences.

    First, at 2-3, there is that game I lost with a healthy pawn up. Then, there are quite a few other games where I had extra material, and didn’t manage to convert; this clearly generated frustration. Even though I managed to keep up the score afterwards, I was still at -4 at the beginning of the Bullet, which forced me to take maximum risks, and Magnus came out on top in the end.

    La partie de tableau de Maxime (image :
    Maxime’s half of the bracket (image :

    Online, December 12-14

    The Hainan Regional Chess Association (China) organized a hybrid format Rapid tournament, with 3 Chinese players gathered in a hotel in Danzhou, and 5 other players participating from their home. I shared first place with Giri and Bu (4.5/7 undefeated), ahead of Ding Liren, Erigaisi and Rapport (3.5), Andreikin (3) and Ju Wenjun (1).

    Here is the decisive game for the first place:

    Giri-Mvl, Round 4.

    We were both short of time, and I chose here to repeat the position again with 38…Re2 39.Kf1 Ra2 40.Kg1 Re2? Draw. But instead I had the devastating move 40…Qe2! 41.Qe3 Ra1+ (in the rush, I had completely forgotten about this check 😊) 42.Kg2 Qf1+ 43.Kf3 and all that was left was to find 43…Re1! to complete the mating net.

    World Rapid & Blitz Championship,
    Almaty (Kazakhstan), December 26-30


    It was the first time that I came to Kazakhstan… I counted, it is the 40th country that I visit! We arrived 48 hours in advance with Jules Moussard, in order to acclimatize ourselves and to avoid that the 5 hours of time difference would be too prejudicial. The other Frenchman of the adventure, Sébastien Mazé, landed at the last moment, but he remained in good shape throughout the tournament, which is quite a performance.

    The first day was a bit difficult in terms of missed opportunities. There was clearly more to be achieved. I still ended the day with two wins and 3.5/5.

    Kovalev-Mvl, Ronde 1.
    Kovalev-Mvl, Round 1.

    This was the very first round, and I had a clear advantage here with black. I could have consolidated it with 34…Ng3+! 35.Kg1 Qc5 36.Qh6 (36.Qb2 f6!) 36…Ne2+ and 37…Nc3. But I made a calculation mistake with 34…Kh7? forgetting that after 35.Qb2, my planned answer 35…Qe8? was met by 36.Ne4! Be7 37.g4, and I’m the one in trouble. So I backed off with 35…f6, but soon had to take the draw after 36.Qxf6 Ng3+ 37.Ke1 Qe8+ 38.Kd1 Qe2+ 39.Kc1 Qe1+ and perpetual.

    On the second day, I started slowly with two draws:

    Mvl-Yakkuboev, Round 6.

    Here, I decided to temporarily sacrifice a pawn with 23.Nd5!? Nxd5 24.cxd5 exd4 25.Qd2 Rc4 26.Qd3 Rc3 27.Qxd4, and to allow the dangerous looking exchange sacrifice 27…Rxf3!? 28.gxf3 Nh4 (28…Qh4 29.Kh1 Nf4 30.Rg1! is not conclusive) because after 29.Qe3 Qf6 30.f4 Qg6+ 31.Qg3 Nf3+ 32.Kh1, the upcoming Rook endgame seemed playable to me. But the young Uzbek did not choose this way, preferring 27…Rc5 28.g3 c6! 29.dxc6 Rxc6 and the position is equal (Draw, 40 moves).

    Randomness of the pairings, I played the next round against my friend Sébastien Mazé, who more than comfortably neutralized my Petroff… (Draw, 37 moves).

    La Petroff est-elle un signe de gentillesse ? (photo : Fide).
    Is Petroff a sign of friendliness? (photo: Fide).

    Despite a win against Paravyan just after, I hadn’t had many chances since the beginning of the day. Although I managed to focus well against the new Indian star Erigaisi in the last game, things went astray.

    Erigaisi-Mvl, Round 9.

    After suffering in my opponent’s Veresov opening, I made up for it well in the middle game, even getting this very interesting position to play. Unfortunately, I missed 27…a4! because I thought that after 28.Qd3 Qb7 (idea …b3), white was faster: 29.Nf6+ Kh8 30.Qe4 Bh6 and I was under the impression that I was going to be mated after 31.Rxg6, but apparently this is not the case! So I stepped back with 27…c5? but that’s clearly a mistake because this time, after 28.Qd3 Qc7 (28…Qb7 29.Nxc5) 29.Nf6+ Kh8 30.Qe4 Bh6, white has 31.dxc5 (31.d5 was perhaps even stronger) 31…Rad8 (31…Qxc5 was refuted, not by 32.Nd7? – I dream to give up this exchange! – but by 32.Rxg6! fxg6 33.Qxg6 Rxf6 34.exf6 Qe3 35.f4! Qxf4 36.Rg1! followed by 37.f7) 32.c6 and white wins, even if the conversion was slow (1-0, 62 moves).

    On the third day, I finally started to play better chess. Especially in the second game of the day against Indjic, where I opted for a hyper speculative sacrifice, but felt it offered huge practical chances.

    Indjic-Mvl, Round 11.

    After sacrificing the a7 pawn, I quickly decided to keep the momentum with 23…Bxh3!? 24.gxh3 Qxh3. Here the Serbian #1 played the logical 25.Qd1, bringing the Queen back to the King’s defense, and perfectly held on until 25…Nh4 26.Qf1 Qf5 27.Kh2 h5 28.Nc3 Ng4+ 29.Kh1? (as usual, the machine gives the usual 0.00 after 29.Kg1 Nf3+ 30.Bxf3 exf3…) 29…Nf3 30.Qg2? Nxf2+! 0-1. 30.Bxf3 still resisted, even if after 30…exf3 31.Kg1 (31.Qg1 Qc2! is an elegant conclusion which illustrates black’s domination) 31…Qg6! 32.Qh3 (32.Kh1 Qg5 and it’ll be mate soon) 32…Nf6+ 33.Kh2 Qc2! (again!) 34.Qxf3 Qxc3 35.Qd1 Ne4, white won’t survive this ending.

    In the penultimate game against Amin Bassem, I was completely lost but still ended up winning by chance. Then I concluded the Rapid tournament with an even more difficult game against Keymer, who, if he had beaten me, would have had a tie-break for the world title against Carlsen!

    Mvl-Keymer, Ronde 13.
    Mvl-Keymer, Round 13.

    Unfortunately for him, after a performance close to perfection, he let me escape by pushing his passed pawn a little too quickly; 52…f2? (52…Nf7! and white will either have to give c4 for free, or allow the passage of the King to the support of the f-pawn via e4-f4-g3) 53.Bf1! and Black cannot prevent 54.Ke2; 53…Nxc4+ (53…Ne4+ 54.Ke2 Kxc4 55.d6 =) 54.Ke2 Kxd5 55.Kxf2 (Draw, 65 moves).

    Le moment où Maxime sauve la nulle contre Keymer ; sous les yeux de Magnus, sacré champion du monde Rapide… (photo : Fide).
    The moment when Maxime saves the draw against Keymer; under the eyes of Magnus, crowned World Rapid Champion… (photo: Fide).

    Two salvations with white to finish the tournament at 8.5/13 was not very glorious, but I felt I was starting to take advantage of the opportunities offered a little better, which made me feel more confident about the blitz tournament.


    So I had a world title to defend against a terrible opposition led by Magnus Carlsen… At the beginning, it went pretty well. I started with 6/8, with some games played quite well and others a little less. I was still in contention, but I went through a terrible « blackout period » during the last four games of the day, where I couldn’t see anything. In particular, the sequence of games against Bluebaum and Paravayan caused me a lot of difficulties: I lost against Bluebaum a pawn up while trying to win at all costs. Then, against Paravayan, I got an endgame that was probably winnable, but I didn’t manage to convert it and that hurt me a lot. I lost two more games stupidly at the end of the day and found myself in a very, very bad position.

    On the second day, I lost in the second game. I already knew that I had no chance for the title. However, I tried to get back into the pack. I succeeded in doing so, but the content was not convincing; even the games I won were still too shaky. I made a series of 5/5, so I was supposed to be confident again, and yet I felt that I was still « not into it »; the moves didn’t come out the way I wanted…

    In spite of all this, and in spite of a very insufficient level of play, I was still in the running for a place in the top 8 or 10 with two rounds to go. Against Harikrishna with black in the penultimate round, I finally played a good game; unfortunately I didn’t manage to conclude, even though it wasn’t easy.

    Against Fedoseev in the last round, I played all-in, with the idea of snagging a 12 or 13th place which would have been less catastrophic than my final ranking (31st ). So I declined my opponent’s offer of a draw and of course, I ended up losing 😊.

    Anyway, a 10th or 12th place wouldn’t have changed anything to the fact that I went through the second part of the tournament like a ghost…

    Les trois français avec Van Foreest (photo : Fide).
    The three Frenchmen with Van Foreest (photo: Fide).

    Despite my disappointing result, the atmosphere in Almaty was pleasant, which was also felt by Sébastien and Jules. The latter was able to understand how difficult the tournament is, particularly intense and tiring, also requiring to manage one’s emotions well. He concluded the first day of blitz at a very high level, and finally finished the tournament with the same number of points as me (12.5). He played some very good games at the beginning of the second day, just trying to get into the leaders. It didn’t go so well at that point, but he was up against the super elite on the first boards and had an experience that will be very useful for him anyway. Sebastien fought really well throughout the two tournaments. He had one or two tough days, but still got a very good overall result in such a tough environment.

    We went out in Almaty at the end of the tournament on December 30; even if obviously it was a bit complicated for me at the beginning, because I was not necessarily in the mood. We came back to France on January 1st and so we spent the New Year’s Eve in Kazakhstan, in a cocktail bar which is, I hear, in the world’s Top 10 of its kind 😊. Quite improbable, but a very good experience!

    For me, the firdt months of 2023 will be very quiet in terms of competitions. There will certainly be some small things in the meantime, but I don’t think I’ll be playing a major tournament until at least May. This is the perfect opportunity to really evaluate what went wrong throughout 2022. Of course, I’ve already started, in a new structure that requires a different set-up, approach and working methods.

    Not everything has worked lately. There are things that do, but others that clearly need to be re-evaluated.

    This will be my mission for the next few months…

    Maxime’s games at the World Team Championship:

    Maxime’s games at the Speed Chess tournament:

    Maxime’s games in Danzhou online tournament:

    Maxime’s games at the World Rapid Championship:

    Maxime’s games at the World Blitz Championship:

    Just a wristwatch on my arm

    When he arrived for the second day of the blitz tournament in Almaty, Maxime made a mistake that could have cost him dearly… Indeed, he forgot to remove his connected watch before passing the controls, and played the first round against Petrossian with this accessory. During the game, while raising his shirt sleeves, he realized his mistake but nobody noticed it, neither his opponent, nor the arbiters who were around the boards! The game finally ended in a draw but Maxime was highly unfocused because of this incident, constantly wondering how he could have been stupid enough not to realize it before 😊.

    If he had been spotted by the arbiter, he would have obviously lost the game by forfeit…

    Cycle change

    MVL et Etienne Bacrot

    Etienne Bacrot and I stopped our collaboration a few months ago… A collaboration that had started more than seven years earlier, in the spring of 2015, when he became my head coach; it was a long cycle that we lived together. And this cycle has now come to an end, since we shared the observation that there was not enough renewal of ideas and not enough new challenges in our collaboration. In the end, a certain routine had set in on my side, and it was becoming detrimental to my sporting results.

    This is an opportunity for me to go back to the beginning – and even before the beginning – since the first time Etienne talked to me about working together, or rather that he works for me, was in 2014, during the French championship in Nîmes where I had spent a day.

    He told me on this occasion that since the tournament in Biel the year before where we met, he had been convinced that I had become extremely strong. Even if my score there was only +1, with 3 wins and 2 losses, he considered that in my play, all the ingredients to bring me to the highest level were already present. And so he offered to help me, to guide me…

    I must admit that my spontaneous reaction was mixed; in fact, this proposal proved to be complicated for me to handle. Even though I was flattered by his offer, he and I were still neck and neck in terms of Elo, so it seemed a bit premature to me in terms of this rivalry.

    But for Etienne, I had just held the first board of the French team at the Tromso Olympiads, and the handover was now irreversible. He considered it natural to offer me his services. This discussion finally led to a trial run, i.e. a first preparation camp that we did together at the end of 2014, without any notion of coach/trained.

    At that time I was still working with Alexander Beliavsky from Slovenia. Objectively, it was going pretty well, but that was the time when I started to participate in the most important tournaments and to play against really well-prepared top players. Certainly, Wijk aan zee in January 2015 had been a great success, as I broke my Elo record there, with 2775. But then there was a very complicated quarter, with I think only one win in three or four months!

    That’s when I felt that something had to change. So I went back to Etienne, and he « officially » started working for me.

    It completely changed my perspective on preparation in the openings because it was the first time I was confronted with someone who had a much more global vision of the work required. Alexander was a very good coach, but in terms of openings, he had become really limited, especially in trying to get the advantage with white. And the work with Etienne came to fruition quickly, in the second half of 2015, when I was moving up the world ranking at the same time as I started to play all the big tournaments, especially the Grand Chess Tour ones, first in Norway, then in St. Louis, and finally in London – with an extremely accomplished performance by the way.

    Parfois, on doit jouer ensemble ! Comme ici au Grand Chess Tour 2017 à Paris, avec un certain Garry K qui donne le go (photo : Gct).
    Sometimes they have to play together! Like here at the 2017 Grand Chess Tour in Paris, with a certain Garry K giving the go (photo: Gct).

    In terms of work organization, it’s true that I was not as creative anymore, in the sense that I was less looking for ideas myself. My mission was mainly to be efficient in mastering my opening repertoire, and to arrive with as much energy as possible on the board! As for Etienne, his main task was to generate the opening files with the help of more and more powerful computers. This obviously meant checking carefully all the new ideas, everything that had been played in the previous week’s games, or even the day before, in order to be sure not to miss anything. In this way, I built a much stronger repertoire with black, able to resist the test of time; while avoiding having to work at the last minute before each game, which is obviously essential to compete with the top of the top. Although the openings remain central in the preparation, Etienne also constantly made sure that I kept my chess form through well chosen exercises and studies.

    Throughout these seven years of collaboration, the main evolution has of course been the access to more and more powerful and easier to use software. There is no need for huge machines anymore since the arrival of AlphaZero (even if this software was not available to the public), which paved the way for Artificial Intelligence. Closer to us, the current Stockfish, Stockfish 15, is so much stronger than Stockfish 8 for example… So it makes some of the work easier, in the sense that finding the correct moves or the right ideas is obviously much more simple! But the problem is that everybody has access to these ideas and to make a real difference, you have to bring something more. So, it requires a lot more work, leading to ever increasing in-depth files, with the major risk of getting lost into them; as has often been the case for me lately 🙂 .

    I had a rather complicated period in 2022, at least as long as Eloi s concerned. But despite that, I didn’t compromise my goals for the next two years, mainly thanks to my qualification for the 2023 Grand Chess Tour. I will therefore be present next year on all major competitions and on the qualifying events for the 2024 Candidates.

    Obviously, I am not sitting idly by during this transition period, especially since I recently hired a new chess coaching team, whose profile fits the characteristics and orientations that I had set with my staff. Of course, working in a new environment requires a period of adaptation and adjustment. The good news is that I am lucky enough to have this time, a rare commodity usually! Indeed, my next big events should start around May 2023, which leaves a little bit of margin…

    I’m going to take advantage of these lines to make an assessment of my period with Etienne, by recapitulating my palmares of these seven years… I won a lot – well, I don’t know if it is « a lot », but let’s say a certain number 🙂 – of tournaments. In Classical chess, the Sinquefield Cup twice, Bucharest, Dortmund, Shenzhen, as well as two new titles in Biel and two World Cup semi-finals; Rapid/Blitz in Paris and Zagreb, and the 2021 World title in blitz; 2nd place on the professional circuit (Grand Chess Tour) four years in a row! Let’s not forget the team competitions, which brought me several titles with my German club of Baden-Baden, with Clichy in 2017, then a French Cup with Asnières in 2019. The French national team did not win any competition during the different campaigns of these years, but we will nevertheless remember the beautiful silver medal we got at the 2021 European Team Championship in Slovenia.

    In terms of world rankings, I had the opportunity to sit on top of the lists in Blitz as well as in Rapid, and be 2nd in the world in Classical. And finally, this famous second place at the Candidates 2020/2021, which will remain at the same time a good result and a disappointment 🙂 . Between the day when Fide announced that I was replacing Radjabov and the interruption of the tournament halfway through, only 3 weeks passed! Again, a big thank you to Etienne for his reactivity and for all the work done in this short time…

    Mini-stage de préparation, juste avant les Candidats 2020 (Photo : Alpha Echecs).
    Mini training session, just before the 2020 Candidates (Photo: Alpha Echecs).

    All in all, the results are quite positive, even if the disillusions linked to the world championship cycle are certainly what will have marked people the most.

    There was a very nice period in 2015/2016, as soon as Etienne and I started working together, although the very first tournament was catastrophic (Grand Prix Fide, Kanty-Mansyik), with a last place and a record of 4 losses in a row. So I went back down to a low point of 2723, but in the second half of 2015 I finished on a high to get to 2785 in early 2016. By the way, I think my best years in terms of results were 2016 and 2017; I went undefeated for a long period of time and got to my highest point at 2819.

    If there’s one year where it’s a real shame I didn’t qualify for the Candidates, it’s 2017, which was probably my most successful season…

    So the future has already begun for me, and I’m pretty excited about the new environment and ways of working that are now mine. I’m sure that the next few months will allow me to absorb the change and go into the major upcoming events better equipped.

    Until then, there are still a few goals for the end of the year, with the World Team Championship in Jerusalem (November 20-25), and of course the defense of my world title during the Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan (December 26-30). As for the first months of 2023, nothing is very clear in the calendar for the time being…

    The only time Maxime travelled to Austria was when he was just 10 years old, in early December 2000. He played in Graz in the U12 category of the Central and Western European Rapid Championship (Mitropa). Maxime took second place in the tournament. 22 years later, he had the opportunity to come back to Austria twice in the space of a month! At the beginning of October to compete in the European Cup with his club Asnières, which finally won the bronze medal in the competition. Then at the beginning of November with his new club Linz, for the first rounds of the Austrian Bundesliga. The competitions were organized in the Tyrol region, in both cases quite close to Innsbruck. In terms of result, Maxime scored 4/8 in total (+1, -1, =6, with 5 blacks), for what could have been his last appearance in a classical game for a long time…