Grand Swiss, poor shape

Grand Swiss

The result of this tournament is of course a disappointment, as it was most likely my last shot at this World Championship cycle, and I couldn’t make the most of it (14-27th at 6.5/11).

When I arrived on the Isle of Man, I didn’t anticipate it was going to be so complicated for me physically. Because, unfortunately, I arrived sick, physically weak and with a constant cough. Although I’m not looking for excuses, it’s obvious that this was detrimental to my results in the first half of the tournament (2/5). And in such cases, unfortunately, there’s not much you can do…

But the truth is, if I take a step back, I have to say that not qualifying for the Candidates wasn’t really down to this tournament. In any case, my form over the first half of 2023 was really too erratic. As a result, I found myself out of the running for the Fide Circuit spot, and with a rating that made it virtually impossible to qualify by Elo: two of the four paths to the Candidates were therefore closed to me from the outset…

Let’s forget about the stakes for a moment, and revisit some interesting moments from my games on the Isle of Man!

Analyse avec les collègues (Esipenko, Maghsoodloo et Tari) (Photo : Fide).

Analysing with colleagues (Esipenko, Maghsoodloo and Tari) (Photo: Fide).

Round 1 : Gledura (2633) – MVL 1/2

Here, I made a mistake by playing 21…Ra4?. I had calculated many lines where I sacrificed an exchange and thought I had enough compensation, but each time the computer indicates +1 or +2! Gledura could have taken the advantage with 22.c4!. I didn’t believe in this move because I missed the very strong 22…Rxc4 23.Qa2!, for example 23…Rxd5 24.Qxc4 and the compensations seem insufficient.

So it would have been better if I’d chosen the first move I’d considered, namely 21…Ba6 22.Rf2 Bc4 23.Bxa8 Rxd2 24.Bxd2. I wanted to continue here with 24…Bd3 (idea …c4 then …Qa5), but after 25.Ra1 c4 26.Be3 I thought white was better, as I can no longer play …Qa5, while both Bishops will be perfectly anchored on d4 and d5.

Admittedly, after 24.Bxd2, the machine indicates 24…Qg4! with the idea …h5-h4, and estimates that Black has enough play. But honestly, this isn’t the kind of line a human GM will willingly enter…

Round 5 : Saric (2647) – MVL 1-0

Clearly my worst game of the tournament, peppered with mistakes. The Knight’s endgame is much more complex than the computer’s assessment (0.00 😊) suggests, as it doesn’t take into account how difficult it is for black to defend.

Here we had just passed move 40, and I thought long and hard before playing the horrible 41…Kc7? based on a huge miscalculation. First of all, I spent some time trying to find a clear path to the draw by not giving ground to white’s King and playing a Knight move, like 41…Nf4 or 41…Nc7. Having seen nothing crystal-clear, I was drawn to 41…Kc7? on the basis of the variation 42.Ke5 f4 43.Ne6+ Kb6 44.Nxf4? Nxf4 45.Kxf4 Kb5 and the pawn endgame is drawn. Unfortunately, I completely missed 44.Nd4! and black is in zugzwang; the Knight can’t move because of the f4 pawn, and if black’s King retreats, b5! wins. A big blunder on my part, which perfectly reflects my level of form in the early rounds…

Qui va là ? (Photo : Anna Shtourman).
Who goes there? (Photo: Anna Shtourman).

Round 6 : MVL – Idani (2633) 1-0

White’s position is preferable, but you have to take quick action to break through. In fact, I realized that I didn’t really have a choice, and was forced to play 20.Bxf5 exf5 21.e6! Qxe6 (21…fxe6 22.Qe5! shows the vulnerability of the c5 pawn) 22.Rfe1 Qxe2 23.Rxe2+ Kd7 24.Rae1. Despite the opposite-colored Bishops, the situation is tricky for black. The Fb7 is pretty, but hits the air; all endgames lose. For example 24…Rhe8 25.Rxe8 Rxe8 26.Rxe8 Kxe8 27.Bxc5 is absolutely hopeless – not all opposite-colored Bishops endgames are drawn 😊.

In the game, after 24…Kc6 25.Re7 a4 26.R1e5, the pressure quickly became too much.

Round 7 : Nguyen Thai Dai Van (2618) – MVL 0-1

In this chaotic position, I was expecting 26.Ned4, and I had planned 26…Rxd4 27.Nxd4 Qxd4 28.Qxe6 Bg5 29.Bf1 Qg4, but after 30.h3, the position is not clear at all. Fortunately, he played 26.Nfd4? Bg5 27.Qxe6, which runs into the intermediate move 27…Qb7! 28.f3 Be3+ and white won’t have enough play for the piece.

Pendant la partie contre Pichot… (Photo : Maria Emelianova)
During the game against Pichot… (Photo: Maria Emelianova).

Round 8 : MVL – Pichot (2650) 1-0

Black’s last move 17…Nb6 may look strange, as it seems to be abandoning the Kingside (with one Knight on a5, the other on b6 and the bishop on b7!). I replied 18.Bh4! Be7 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.b4 cxb4 21.cxb4 Nc6 22.a5 as I felt I was gaining the advantage. The alternative was to take advantage of the remoteness of the black’s minor pieces to play the attack with 19.Nf5 Bxh4 20.N3xh4 followed by the switch of the Queen to g4 or h5. But I didn’t find this line that strong; I thought it was less dangerous for him because he’d play …Kh7 and then …Qf6, and in the end, you could wonder what my Knights were really doing? Admittedly, it was possible to reinforce the attack with Re3, but I wasn’t at all sure that would be a good idea; my Bishop on c2 doesn’t attack, black will quickly have …Kh7, …Qf6 and …g6, and I would need to prove that I’ve got something.

In the game, after 22…Nd7, I intended to play 23.Qd2. But 23…Nd4 seemed strong, e.g. 24.Nxd4 exd4 25.Nf5 Qf6 26.f4 Rac8 27.Qf2 Nb8! 28.Nxd4 Nc6 29.Nxc6 Rxc6 didn’t seem clear at all to me. So I changed my mind to 23.Nd5, but after 23…Qd8 24.Bb3 Ne7! black was on the brink of total equalization.

A few moves later…

Here, I’m threatening 35.Bxf7+! followed by a fork on d6. Pichot played 34…Ne6, which suited me because I wanted 35.Bxe6 fxe6 36.Ne3, which leaves white free to torture the position for a very long time. Instead of 34…Ne6, I’d seen that 34…d5? didn’t work because of 35.Nxe5 Qc7 36.f4, and he can never take e4 because of Bxf7+ once again. But mostly, I spent time calculating the plausible 34…Bxe4!? 35.dxe4 Nxe4 36.Qc2 (not 36.Bxf7+? Kh8 with chaos on the board! ; 36.Ke3! Qxf5 37.Nh4 Qh7 38.Bc2 was strong too, but I didn’t see it during the game) 36…Qxf5 37.Ke3 d5 38.Bxd5 Nxg3 39.Qxf5 Nxf5+ 40.Ke4 g6 41.Nxe5 Kg7 42.Nxf7 and the endgame is completely winning because of the a6 pawn that will fall.

The Spanish player didn’t crumble under pressure, until the next position:

I realized that activating both Queens with 48.Qa7 Qf7 would probably lead to a draw. So I spent a lot of time, and came up with 48.d4! exd4 49.e5 which is strong, at least in practice. Perhaps it was still a draw after 49…d5 50.Qxd4 Nf4 51.Qc5+ Kf7 52.Qc2! Qxc2+ 53.Kxc2 Nxh3 54. Kd3 Ke7 55.Kd4 had he played 55…Kd8 now? In any case, the difficulty of defending this endgame in practice was such that after the natural but erroneous 55…Nf4? 56.Nf2! I was sure I was going to win!

Excellent tournoi d’Etienne, qui aura été dans la course jusqu’au bout (Photo : Anna Shtourman).
Excellent tournament from Etienne, who was in the race right to the end (Photo: Anna Shtourman).

Round 9 : Sindarov (2658) – MVL 1/2

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5+ Bd7 5.Qe2. In the 4th round, I noticed that India’s Nihal Sarin had played this minor line (against Ter-Sahakyan, 1-0). I analyzed quickly and saw that after 5…a6, black equalizes. But in this game, I didn’t want to draw, as I had to continue my rush of victories to have any hope. So I took my time and chose 5…g6, then after 6.e5 dxe5 7.Qxe5!? paused againto find 7…Nc6! which is the right move, sacrificing the c5 pawn.

Soon the game took an ultra-complicated turn, and Sindarov even used 48 minutes to play 12.Ne5 😊.

After 12…Nxc3 I calculated a rather crazy line. Given that my opponent had thought for so long, I suspected there was a reason: 13.dxc3 Bxg2 14.Rg1 Qd5 15.Ng4 0-0-0 (I know the machine gives 15…Qf3!, but no human accepts the kamikaze position resulting from 16.Rxg2 Qxg2 17.Nf6+) 16.Ne3 Bf3 17.Nxd5 Bxe2 18.Nb6+ Kc7. Sindarov stopped there, but I pursued the variation and found 19.Bg5! and black’s problems continue, e.g. 19…Re8 20.Kxe2 Kxb6 21.Rad1 with d-file control. Having discarded this variation, I would probably have fallen back on 14…Bc6, but after 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Qe5! it was perhaps even worse, which I hadn’t really realized on the board.

But Sindarov eventually took with the other pawn, 13.bxc3, and after 13…Bxg2 14.Rg1, I chose 14…Bc6 15.Nxc6 bxc6 and that’s my only regret in this game. I could also have played 14…Qd5 15.c4 Qe4, but after 16.d3, I thought I was slightly worse. On the other hand, if I’d seen it, and unfortunately I didn’t, I would have played the somewhat weird move 14…Bh3!?. It’s a pity because I felt there was something there, but I couldn’t find it. Black threatens to consolidate with …Bf5, and after 15.Qf3 Qc7 16.Nxf7 Qxf7 17.Qxh3 Bd6, he clearly has good compensation for the pawn.

In the game, after 16.Qe5 Rg8 17.Rb1, I opted for 17…Bg7 because I was afraid of a specific line after the more normal 17…Bd6: 18.Qe4 Qc7 19.d4 Kd7 (the natural square to connect the Rooks) 20.Qf3 f5 21.Qh3 Rg7 22.Bh6 Rf7 23.Ke2, and I thought my position was not good at all, which is probably not true.

After a few other twists and turns, the game ended in a draw on the 31st move, putting a definitive end to my remontada…

Classement final (
Final standings (

Of course, I’m disappointed with the result, but frankly, I felt I hadn’t been able to defend my chances to the full by not being 100% physically. The good news is that I don’t have time to lament, as the American tour begins on November 14, with the last two tournaments of the Grand Chess Tour 2023 (St-Louis Rapid & Blitz, then Sinquefield Cup), followed a few days later by the Champions Chess Tour Finals in Toronto.

I arrived in New York on November 8, and had a few days to do several exhibitions in Manhattan and Connecticut, which also allowed me to acclimatize to the time difference before arriving in St. Louis.

Maxime’s games:

As soon as he realized that his arrival in the United States preceded by a few hours the first game of the San Antonio Spurs and their new French star Victor Wembanamya in New York, Maxime immediately booked his ticket for this NBA evening at Madison Square Garden. A fan of many sports, he never misses the opportunity, whenever it arises and his schedule allows, to attend a sporting event taking place wherever chess destiny has taken him!

Speed Chess, Magnus fight and slow games!

AI Cup

After having played only 4 classical games in almost 4 months (during the World Cup), and almost 5 months after my last tournament (Bucharest, early May), I returned to the slower time control in Albania, for the European Club Cup.

I’ll come back to this, but first let’s take a look at the two online tournaments that kept me busy during the second half of September, as they offered their share of thrills!

Speed Chess Championship

Speed Chess, which returns every year on, is a highly enjoyable match format, with 90 minutes of 5+1, 60 minutes of 3+1 and 30 minutes of 1+1. Playing in this way for several hours against elite opponents is great training, and generally produces a fairly legitimate result, even if some matches are decided in the last few bullets! The only drawback for me is that I sometimes find the matches a little slow; especially if there’s already a huge margin after two hours of play, the last hour is of little use. Instead, I’d recommend organizing matches with sets. Apart from that, Speed Chess is the most spectacular of all online tournaments, with all the best players taking part.

This year, I put in relatively convincing performances against Gukesh and Sarin, in the round of 16 and ¼ finals (21.5-8.5 and 19.5-11.5 respectively). Things turned to my advantage against Gukesh early on, when I started with a 5-0; inevitably that helps, despite a few games that could have gone wrong. Against Sarin, it was more or less the same pattern; after two or three games that were a bit tricky, I took the lead and never let it go.

In the semi-final, I faced the scary Hikaru Nakamura, who I’ve never beaten in this format. I’ve already beaten Magnus, I’ve already beaten Wesley So… Well, I’ve beaten quite a few!

But Hikaru hurts me every time! For the first 45 minutes, I was on cloud nine, and it was a masterclass on my part! Except that I realized during the break that it was going to be hard to keep up this level of intensity. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the second half of the 5+1 saw some games that didn’t go my way, and Hikaru came back into the match. My form picked up again in the 3+1, but unfortunately I completely imploded in the bullet section. He was too strong in that rhythm. In any case, I suspected that I’d have to have a certain lead before that 1+1 section to stand a chance. I was thinking at least +2, and even more probably +3. Despite the final defeat (11.5-16.5), I was still satisfied to have been ahead against Hikaru after the 5′ and 3′ segments, and overall happy with my level of play, building on my victory at Tata Steel Chess India.

Tableau final du Speed Chess 2023 (Image :
Speed Chess 2023 bracket (

AI Cup

The final tournament of the Champions Chess Tour 2023 online circuit offered a real challenge for me; with only 8 qualifiers for the December finals in Toronto, and knowing that I’d only played in 1 of the first 5 tournaments, the margin for maneuver was pretty narrow. I had to qualify for Division 1, and certainly win it!

The Play-in (qualifying tournament) consists of a 9-round Open, immediately followed by two-player matches between the top-ranked, to determine the distribution in the three divisions. I was quite convincing in the Open, despite a moment of doubt when I lost a white game against Meier, even though I was almost winning. But I picked myself up immediately afterwards, winning the next two games quite clearly, and that enabled me to qualify for the match where I was clean against Duda (1.5-0.5). This earned me a place in Division 1 for a short week’s competition, and as I was feeling in good shape, why not take the opportunity to continue playing well, against some of the biggest names on the circuit!

The ¼ final against Alireza led to some very hard-fought games, particularly the third one, which I ended up winning after tactical sequences worthy of the Najdorf 6.Bg5 😊.
In the fourth game, I was in control before I made a blunder that put him back in the game, Then followed another one that led to this 4-Queen engame being miraculously saved when I wasn’t the one to give the first check! This is the third time I’ve saved a 4-Queen engame 😊; but this one was so lost that I almost resigned just before he made an incredible blunder!

A match win that is not illogical, even if it came down to small details that tipped the balance in my favor, creating notable differences in the result (3-1).

I then played Mamedyarov in the semi-final, a match I handled well. After 2 draws, in the third game he messed up in the opening with black; punished by me, as it happened that I had watched this line of the Deferred Steinitz and had played it myself with black in the Top 16 against Andrei Sokolov. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.0-0 Bd7 6.c4, I knew the refutation of 6…g5?! 😊(7.d4 g4 8.d5!). Even if the conversion wasn’t perfect, the position always remained very very difficult for him (1-0, 43 moves).

The last game, a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, was a little less well mastered but it went ok with two or three little precise calculations, notably here :

Mamedyarov fell headlong into my trap playing 27.Qc3? (27.Bd4 =), forgetting the very aesthetic 27…Nf6! (27…Qg3+? 28.Kh1 and 27…f6? 28.Bxe6+ of course lost on the spot) 28.Ne5 (28.gxf6 Qg3+; the threats 28…Qg3+ and 28…Bxe4 are devastating) 28…Nxe4 0-1.

Then I played Magnus in the final, and I think it was a very high level match from both sides. In terms of quality of play, I think it was one of the best matches I’ve played in a long time, and I have the impression that this feeling is shared by quite a few people. At least, by Magnus himself, since we discussed it recently in Albania and he confirmed that he shared this opinion.

Obviously there were a few mistakes, but in very complicated positions and with little time on the clock. We both came up with a lot of interesting ideas. The games were intense, with drama, everything was there! Obviously, it was disappointing to lose the match in the Armageddon tie-break (2-2 in regular time), but it was hard to be disappointed by my level of play! That said, the tournament wasn’t over yet, since with the double elimination system, I was going to be relegated to the loser bracket to face Nepo…

Against him, I did pretty well in the first game where he chose his pet Petroff Defense. There were one or two small inaccuracies on his part, which I punished well after a very positional game. In the second game, it was my turn to be in trouble, and I even found myself losing. I had to play the « flying King » without really controlling the situation! But it was still very complicated and Nepo couldn’t find the way to the win. Once again, the elements were on my side. But when you play well, that’s often the case 😊.

As this loser bracket final was in 2 games instead of 4, I met up with Magnus again for a rematch in the Grand Final. With the thankless task of beating him a first time in the 4-game match, and if I succeeded, having to beat him a second time in a 2-game match!

I was aware that if Magnus maintained the same level of play as two days before, it would be a bit of a mission impossible for me. Of course, I knew I was back in top form, but Magnus is the ultimate test of where you stand! It’s one thing to be in form against Top 20-25 opponents. Against Top 10 opponents, it’s quite another. But against the undisputed number 1, it’s something completely different…

I think I may have played a little less accurately in this Grand Final, but it wasn’t too noticeable because I had a few oversights that were either not punished, or in fact weren’t serious; for example, I forget a variation but in fact it’s of no consequence because it doesn’t work for this or that reason. I had a few oversights like that, but there was also a lot of fatigue because it was a long, hard week. As for Magnus, his level was much more erratic, particularly in terms of calculation. He made a lot of mistakes which I was able to take advantage of, particularly in the first game.

In the endgame of the first game, he explained to me that he had bluffed a little with 28.Bd6 instead of the natural 28.Ne5 or 28.Be5. He blamed himself, even though there was no reason for him to lose the Bishops’ endgame after 28…Bxf3 29.gxf3 Bxd4 😊.

I was a little dominated for the rest of the match; let’s just say it wouldn’t necessarily have been a scandal if he’d equalised, especially in the third game. But once again, I got away with it thanks to a few miscalculations he made. I played a good Game 4 with black, which enabled me to win this match (2.5-1.5), and earn the right to play another one over two games to try to win the tournament… and qualify for Toronto!

The first game of the new final was marked by a long theoretical debate involving a Queen sacrifice in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted 3.e4.

We’d both analyzed more or less up to that point, reaching a bizarre position with two Bishops and two pawns fighting my Queen! There was all the drama in the world in this game, which was clearly the best of the day. Despite a few miscalculations on both sides, it was still a game of fairly high quality (0-1, 47 moves).

In the second game, where I only needed a draw with white, I quickly gave him chances.

Here I considered that it would be unreasonable to remain passive and took the risk of radically changing the character of the position with 23.Bxh7+!?. I had a feeling it might not be completely sound, but it was speculative enough to try. I told myself I didn’t really have a choice, as I didn’t like the idea of playing it safe when I’m already slightly worse!

After 23…Kxh7 24.Rh3+ Kg8 25.Qh5, Magnus instantly uncorked the natural 25…f5?, but it was 25…f6! that had to be played!

I had anticipated 25…f6, but I thought that after 26.Qh7+ Kf7, it left me options like 27.Rg3 or 27.exf6 and I wasn’t sure I’d lose (but not 27.Rh6? as in the game, because of the fatal nuance 27…Nxd1! 28.Qg6+ Ke7 and the f6-pawn obstructs the mate on e6!). What’s more, 25…f6 didn’t seem to me to win on the spot, there are still tries for white, even if the machine is implacable in its judgment: after 25…f6!, black has a decisive advantage! Incidentally, I found it odd that Magnus played 25…f5 a tempo, and also that after 26.Qh7+ Kf7 27.Rh6, he thought for 5 minutes before playing the catastrophic 27…Qxc4??, forgetting that after 28.Rf6+! Ke8 29.Qxg7, black is being mated despite the tempo available in defense:

And it’s a win! (Image:

29…Rxf6 30.exf6 1-0.

Instead of 27…Qxc4?, if he had chosen 27…Ke8! 28.Rxe6+ Kd7, I’d still have had to fight for the half-point synonymous of final victory, and the fact that the machine here delivers its perennial verdict at 0.00 says nothing about the difficulty of white’s task in practice.

With this 2-0 win in the final match, I won the AI Cup and I must say that I’ve had a very, very good week overall. In terms of results and level of play, of course, but also in terms of the confidence I’ve built up.

Les huit qualifiés pour la grande finale de Toronto (9-16 décembre) (Image :
The 8 players qualified for the Toronto final (December 9-16) (Image:

But early the very next morning, I was on a plane for Albania 😊, where I still had to make the most of my renewed form in classical games…

European Club Cup, Durres (Albania)

Another unit on my list of countries visited! Our Asnières team had a new recruit in Martyrosian, and on paper, we were clearly among the favorites.

I didn’t play in the first two matches. The team did the job properly and I made my debut against the Turkish team Gokturk, against Sanal (2603) :

A position arising from the famous Berlin endgame, which I haven’t played much lately, and which has seen a resurgence of interest in this European Cup.

Here, I felt I could try to take advantage of the acrobatic position of his Rook on c4. My first thought was 22.Rf3, but simply 22…Be7 followed by 23…Bb4. I then evaluated 22.g5 but couldn’t make it work; the trapped Bh4 is unassailable and Black will always have a …h6 somewhere.

In fact, there happens to be another, stronger idea: 22.Rd2! Kb7 23.Rd3, to play 24.b3 without fearing 23…fxg4 24.f5!. But this maneuver is rather counter-intuitive in the position, to say the least! Even if he tries 23…Rd8, after 24.Rfd1 Rxd3 25.cxd3 Rb4 26.b3, it’s still hard for black to play. It’s a somewhat atypical position because the Rook never ends up on c4 or b4 in this variation. From then on, new themes emerge. But black lacks the Rook on the open d-file, for which he paid dearly a little later.

In the game, I preferred 22.exf6 Bxf6 23.f5 Bf7 24.Bf4 Rb4 25.Nd1.

Here, you had to see that 25…Bc4! 26.Re4 Bxf1 27.Rxb4 Be2 28.Ne3 (it looks like it’s better for white, at least that’s what I thought during the game…) 28…Bf3! leads to equality, after 29.Kf2 (29…c5! intermediate) as after 29.g5 (29…Be7 and 30…Bc5).

Sanal missed this not at all easy opportunity and opted for 25…Kb7 26.b3 Rd4 27.Be5!. He probably wanted to play 27…Re8 but from the look on his face when I played 27.Be5, I think he forgot 28.Bxf6!. After 27…gxf6 (27…Rxd1 28.Rxe8 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 Bxe8 30.Bxg7 +-) 28.Rxe8 Fxe8 29.Re1, the endgame left little hope.

He therefore settled for 27…Bxe5 28.Rxe5 Rad8, but after 29.Re7, the endgame remains just as difficult to defend (1-0, 58 moves).

I suffered to draw my second game against Sarin (2694) because I wasn’t precise enough in my Queen’s Gambit Accepted. But the team signed its fourth victory, and it was now time to face the #1 seed, the Romanian team Superchess, sponsored by Superbet and led by Rapport and Anand…

Pourquoi tu me regardes comme ça ? (Rapport-Mvl, Ronde 5) : (Photo Niki Riga).
Why are you looking at me like that? (Rapport-Mvl, Round 5): (Photo Niki Riga).

In this match, I doubled black against Rapport (2752). I manoeuvered very well in the middle game, in which we took turns taking risks, but the wind shifted in my favor after some good strategic decisions:

I was happy with the way I had played to reach this position, notably with the exchange of the black-squared Bishops on h6, as well as the tricky maneuvers to gradually increase the pressure on the weak e4 pawn. Unfortunately, I missed the knockout here…

The pawn endgame was won after 36…a3 37.b3 f5! 38.Qf4 (I had seen 38.exf5 Qxf3+ 39.gxf3 Rxe2 40.Rxe2 Rxe2 41.Kxe2 and the key 41…g5!) 38…fxe4+ 39.Rxe4 Rxe4 40.Rxe4 Qxe4+ 41.Qxe4 Rxe4 42.Kxe4. At some point when he plays Ke4 with my king on f6, I’ll reply …g5! and I obviously knew that in that case the game would be won. That’s why I need to gain the opposition, because if I can get my king to e5 or f5, the game is over. What I missed in limited time was understanding how to prevent white’s King from staying on e4 and f4. In fact, you have to triangulate with the King, for example 42…Kf6 43.Kf4 Ke7! 44.Kf3 Kf7, and repeat the maneuver if he plays 45.g3.

I missed a second clear-cut chance later in the ending:

There are always hidden resources in Rook endgames!

My choice of 52…Rxc4? 53.bxc5 Ke5 was not the right one: 54.Re2+ Kd5 55.Re8! Rxc5 56.Kd2 and the white’s Rook will succeed in a permanent harassment from behind (1/2, 67 moves).

However, there was a way! 52…cxb4! 53.Rxd4 b3 54.Kd2 (54.Rxf4+ Ke5 55.Rf2 Rxc4 wins, black pieces are too active) 54…Rc2+ 55.Kd3 and it almost becomes a study whose main line would be 55…Kf5! 56.Rd5+ Kg4 57.Rg5+ Kxh4 58.Rg8 Rc1 59.Rb8 Kg3 60.Rxb3 Kxg2 -+. But during the game I wasn’t sure of myself and didn’t make the right choice.

In fact, in this game, each time I had two tempting choices. I wanted to go for the simplest and each time I went for the most complicated (a great classic 😊).

Unfortunately, this missed half-point prevented us from snatching a draw in this top-of-the-table duel.

We got our revenge the next day by beating the Israelis from Beersheva. I won against Mikhalevski (2527).

The competition concluded the next day with a match of all possibles against the Norwegian team of Offerspill, led by world #1 Magnus Carlsen:

Le Gambit-Dame Accepté a tenu bon ! (Photo : Niki Riga).
The Queen’s Gambit Accepted held its ground! (Photo: Niki Riga).

I played a good game, thanks to a good preparation with black, which very quickly brought me to the following position:

This endgame was actually a little trickier than I first thought when I got into it.

A normal move, e.g. 24…Rhd8, would have been possible provided I activated my majority on the Queenside. But in that case, his two Rooks would have come into play. Exchanging a pair of Rooks, for example on d3, would not have been an option, as his e-pawn would then have become too strong. With the 4 Rooks, he could easily have played Rg1 to force …g6 and then continue with h4-h5. His King would have found himself on e4 relatively protected, ready to infiltrate f5 and support the e-pawn. As long as there are all 4 rooks on the board, I can never play …b6 and …c5, as white responds with a5-axb6 and hits the b-pawn, while infiltrating the a-file, after which his e-pawn advances on its own. So, above all, I had to prevent h4.

I mobilized myself, took my time organizing the defense, and found the right moves, starting with the good sequence 24…Rf8 25.f4 g5! (preventing h4 – blocking white’s pawn phalanx) 26.a5 (26.fxg5 Rf5 ; 26.Rb4 c5! 27.Rb5 b6 28.a5 Kc7 29.axb6+ axb6 30.Ra6 – otherwise 30…Kc6, black’s King supports its pawns and all three results become possible! – 30…gxf4+ 31.exf4 Rd3+ 32.Kg4 Rd4, we’ll exchange all the pawns and stay good friends!) 26…gxf4+ 27.exf4 Rd4 28.Rf3 Rf5! and I’ve managed to create the conditions for a white-square blockade (½, 47 moves).

Grille américaine des 10 premiers de la Coupe d’Europe (Image :
European Cup final rankings (Top 10): (Image :

Unfortunately, the team lost by the slimmest of margins, after a match that came down to nothing. Instead of a podium finish, or even a final victory on the wire, we had to settle for seventh place. The Cup – Championship – European Cup triplet didn’t happen, but I think Asnières can still be proud of its team’s results this season! And let’s not forget to congratulate Offerspill’s squad for becoming European Champions!

On an individual level, I’m now preparing for the Isle of Man Grand Swiss (October 25 – November 5), which will offer 2 new places for the 2024 Candidates, just before heading off to the American continent for a rather long tour, since the return to Paris is scheduled for December 18!

Maxime’s games in Speedchess :

Maxime’s games in the AI Cup:

Maxime’s games in Tirana:

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, a prolific author who has won numerous awards, including the Médicis in 2005, has often peppered his work with references to the game of chess. In fact, his first book is entitled «Echecs». At the beginning of September, as a well-informed German speaker, he published a new French translation of Zweig’s famous work «The Chess Player», which he renamed «Echecs» («Chess»). At the same time, Jean-Philippe Toussaint has also published an autobiography that he himself hopes will be «the chessboard of [his] memory». Entitled «L’échiquier» («The Chessboard»), it contains numerous accounts of his passion for the game and his encounters with chess personalities. On the occasion of this publication, «Philosophie Magazine» organized a (long) interview between Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Maxime, during which many themes were discussed. Chess and writing take center stage, of course, even if the interview occasionally drifts towards other metaphysical shores!

Image : Philosophie Magazine

Bouncing back in Kolkata


Three weeks after the disappointment of the World Cup, I had the opportunity to return to competition in an atypical event in Düsseldorf that didn’t offer much in terms of sporting challenges, despite a particularly strong field. I then followed this up with a very strong Grand Chess Tour-style Rapid and Blitz tournament in Kolkata.


This new team championship was somehow put together from scratch, but it was a nice occasion to imagine some original, custom made team line-ups. I played in Dusseldorf for a team of friends, the ASV Alpha Echecs Linz, a sort of mix between Etienne [Bacrot]’s friends and players from the Linz club in Austria. My teammates were Etienne, Sacha [Alexander Grischuk], Parham Maghsoodloo, Arkadij Naiditsch. Marc Llari, the U8 world champion, was on the under-2000 board, which wasn’t good news for our opponents 😊. Kateryna Lagno completed the team on the women’s board. On paper, we had a very strong line-up. The competition took place over 3 days, and though intense, with four Rapid games a day, there were lengths, because of the mere half-hour between rounds.

The organization on site was very good, and many top players were present. Including the WR team, set up expressly to win, with So, Abdusattorov, Nepomniachtchi, Duda, Praggnanandhaa, Keymer, Yifan Hou, Kosteniuk (no less!), and Rosenstein, their under-2000 player, who did very well at times.

We clearly wanted to win too, but let’s just say that for WR it was a bit different, it looked so important 😊. Unlike them, although we didn’t take the competition lightly, there was no specific preparation.

WR dominated the competition, so there’s nothing wrong with their victory; they simply had a tremendous team.

As for us, we lost five matches out of twelve, which is huge, even though four of them were lost by just half a point…

On a personal level, I think I had a decent result, but quite flat. In all the matches we lost, I drew, so my influence was limited. As far as the competition is concerned, I did my job, but nothing more.

The playing hall in Düsseldorf (photo: Fide).

Here are two interesting moments in my games:

Mvl – Anand 1/2

In this Queen and Rook endgame with an extra pawn on the same wing, I’ve already been spinning around for a while! Here, I avoided the Queen exchange 56.Qe4+ Qxe4 57.fxe4 because, despite real practical chances, I thought Anand would certainly save it. And I also felt he might crack under heavy pieces pressure, so I kept the Queens on with 56.Qe3, eying f4 to start creating threats on black’s King. And he did indeed crack! 56…Rc4? (to prevent 57.Qf4), but unfortunately I didn’t punish him because I missed the winning, yet not very difficult move, 57.Qb3! which pins the Rook and threatens 58.Qb1+. Black is unable to prevent this, for example 57…Rd4 58.Qc2+ Rd3 59.Re3 and wins. A wasted opportunity!

Eljanov – Mvl 0-1

It was the last round and, in this position, I was very happy to uncork the 16…Nxd4!? combination, which I thought would win. The antidote to this move was quite pretty: 17.Nxd4! (instead of the losing 17.Qxd4? Qxd4 18.Nxd4 Bxd2 played by Eljanov) 17…Rc3 18.Ra8+ (18.Qb1? Qxd4) 18…Ke7 19.Nc4! (the move you had to see!). If 19…dxc4? 20.Qe4 then Qh4 wins, and if 19…Rxd3? 20.Nxb6 Rxd4 21.Nxd7 Kxd7 22.Rc1! followed by 23.Bb5+ and 24.Rc7 mate or 24.Re8 mate! So I have to play 19…Rxc4 20.Qf3 Rg6 21.Bxc4 Qxd4 (21…dxc4? 22.Rd1 and white’s initiative is too strong) 22.Bd3 Qxe5 23.Bxg6 hxg6 and with three pawns for two exchanges, it’s a happy mess, instead of the losing position white got in the game.

In the end, the team only finished in sixth place, but at least we had a lot of fun, and that’s the main thing. It’s better to finish sixth if we are to win next time, than to finish third  twice! That’s my philosophy 😊.


After a few days in Paris, I was off to Kolkata for a visit to my 41st country, a long way behind globe-trotter-in-chief Nigel Short, who has passed the hundred mark 😊. The trip went very smoothly, with me arriving at around 3am local time, the day before the tournament.

Présentation des joueurs (Photo : Tata Steel India).
Introducing the players (Photo: Tata Steel India).

The selection of players was very interesting, very homogenous, with lots of youngsters who can all potentially become world champions later on! Although I think some names are more likely than others 😊. So I was expecting a very tough tournament and above all, with no easy games, no relaxing games, even if I did finally get one in the Rapid! [quick draw against Radjabov in the last round when the tournament win was already assured].

The Rapid games being quite intense, I did nothing but hotel/playing hall/hotel for three days: with just two training matches against Sacha in blitz, one before the start of the Rapid, and one before the start of the Blitz. In fact, he even said at the prize-giving ceremony that I’d been his « secret coach »! [Grischuk won the blitz tournament].

Here is a selection of my games:


Round 2: MVL – Praggnanadhaa, 1/2

After a fairly normal first game, there was a little slip-up in the opening against Praggnanadhaa; however, we were heading for a draw in the endgame until the next moment:

40.Kh3? (doing nothing was not a good idea, I had to counter-attack d6 with 40.Qe6!). With only the 10-second increment per move, none of us saw 40…b5! and either the b-pawn runs away, or 41.axb6 Qxb6, and it’s the a-pawn that escapes. It’s worth noting, however, that the machine’s +8 evaluation doesn’t take into account the practical difficulties that would have remained for the conversion! Instead, Prag repeated once with 40…Qg4+? 41.Kh2 Qb4 42.Kh3? before missing the target a second time! 42…Qxa5? 43.Bxd6 and he had to settle for a perpetual check as White had too much play with the Queens on and the passed d pawn.

Round 3: Vidit – MVL 0-1

The third game was a dangerous one! I was mostly expecting 1.d4, and 1.e4 surprised me a bit. I opted for a Najdorf, and as I was in experimentation mode in the openings (but less so than in the Blitz 😊), when I saw 6.Bg5, I chose to avoid the Poisoned Pawn variation. After 6…Nbd7 7.a3!?, I then recalled that Vidit had already played this slightly poisonous line in rapid games. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember anything on the board and had to improvise! In a situation that seemed unpleasant to me, I tried a tactical continuation that didn’t work at all, simply forgetting that my Queen would ultimately be trapped. So I had to sacrifice material, hang on as best I could, avoiding the forced lines he would inevitably have calculated, to finally arrive in the following miserable position, where I’m a full Rook down, with counterplay on its way to total extinction:

Just about every move wins, except the one Vidit chose with, admittedly, rather little time on the clock! 34.Kb2?? Rd3! and not only did it backfire, but to make matters worse for the Indian, I now even had a forced win after 35.Qe1 ! I had to play 35…Rd2! but no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find it. Admittedly, I had all the ideas of the position in place, but what was just missing was the Queen’s retreat to d6; for instance 36.Qxd2 Qxd2 37.Ra3 Qd6 (other moves also win), but above all 36.Rc1 Qd6! (the only move this time!) 37.Ra4 Bxc3+! 38.Kb1 (38.Kxc3 Qd4 mate) 38…Rxc2 and wins. Instead, I played 35…Rxc3? 36.Qxc3 Bxc3+ 37.Kxc3 and the endgame is really messy. 37…Qxh4 and 38.Rg1 aren’t the best moves, the machine teaches us, but whatever! After 38…Bd5! Vidit didn’t see the very pretty geometric pattern 39.Bb3? (39.Bd3 and white stays in the game) 39…Qh8+! 40.Kc2 Qh2+ 41.Kc3 Qe5+ winning the Bishop after 42.Kc2 Qe2+ 43.Kc3 Qe3+.

A very happy turn of events that allowed me to end a complicated first day on a high note.

At the start of the second day, my opening choice (the Scotch) perfectly worked, even more so than I’d hoped…

Round 4: MVL – Keymer 1-0

Although this endgame from the Scotch isn’t particularly advantageous, it does allow white to continue posing problems, especially after my move 23.Ng1! which I was quite happy with. I was convinced that he wanted to play 21…Bg2, to prevent the Nh3-f4 manoeuver. But he missed what was indeed the best move. After 22.f4 Nc6 23.Bg4+ Kb8 24.Rd2?, black advantageously saves the piece with 24…Rhg8!, while 22.Bh5, leaving the passage to the Knight via e2, doesn’t particularly work either because of 24…f5, and if 25.Ne2?! Bf3! 26.Bxf3 Nxf3 and Black even gets the upper hand.

Keymer preferred 23…Rhg8 and let me maneuver my d5 Knight in order to exchange it for his Bishop, then we reached the following position:

Here, sacrificing the exchange with 31.Rdxd4! was a no-brainer for me. I don’t even call it a sacrifice, as I have all the open files and passed pawns. After 31…cxd4+ 32.Rxd4 c6 (32…Ra8 33.Rb4+) 33.dxc6+ Kxc6 34.Rxa4, I didn’t know if it was winning because I thought the position might have been objectively defensible, but in practice Black is certainly going through hell!

En route vers la victoire ! (Photo : Tata Steel India).
En route vers la victoire ! (Photo : Tata Steel India).

Round 6: MVL – Abdusattorov 1-0

After a bad opening from black, I got a clear advantage. I then tried to leave as little counter-play as possible. Nevertheless, I sensed that I could be missing more effective follow-ups at times, but without identifying them.

For example, here, the machine indicates that 28.Qe8! would have been clearly winning, unlike my choice of 28.Qc4, which it only gratifies with a slight plus, even though I was almost certain to have a decisive positional advantage there! But it’s interesting to note because even if I’d seen 28.Qe8, I know I wouldn’t have played it anyway! Indeed, I would have had to calculate the variations after 28…Kg7 29.Nxc5 or 28…Qxd3 29.Qxg6+ Bg7, which are not at all obvious to a human in a quick game.

After Keymer, Gukesh [solid draw with black] and Abdussatorov, I was playing round 7 against a fourth great world hope in a row, the Indian Erigaisi! [Maxime won with black].

Therefore, before the 8th round against Harikrishna, I was one point ahead of the field.

Round 8: Mvl – Harikrishna 1-0

I knew I was going to have a potentially complicated last game [Black against Radjabov], so I still wanted to play for the win, but without taking the risk of losing. Despite a quiet opening, I managed to put on quite a bit of pressure, especially as my teammate from Asnières hadn’t necessarily been very precise.

Here I already have a small advantage, but after 24…Be7, Black’s position remains solid. But he played 24…Re8?. There were too many pieces on the e-file, and I didn’t pay attention to the possibility of 25.f4! which wins outright! Black is completely powerless against the threat of 25.f5, because if 24…f5 25.Nxf5!. After 25.Nf5? Bf6 26.Ng3 h6? I again had the opportunity to play 27.f4!. I don’t know how I missed it, because when I opted for the Nf5-g3 maneuver, my idea was to play f4! Even though this time Black has 27…Bxd4+ in-between, he remains totally helpless after 28.Kh2, which threatens both 28.Bxg6 and 28.f5; and if 28…Nh4 29.f5! anyway, banking on the Queen’s being overloaded. Instead, I played 27.Nh5? Bh4 28.Qc2, after which he did a lot of thinking, and uncorked 28…Bf5?, a thunderbolt I hadn’t seen coming at all. I immediately had the feeling that it couldn’t work and quickly came up with 29.Rxe8+ Qxe8 30.Bxf5 Qe1+ 31.Kh2 Bxf2 32.Qb1! which completely refutes black’s line! I can’t say I was really shaky in the conversion, but I may have made the task a tiny bit too complicated for myself.

A quick draw to finish against Radjabov enabled me to win the tournament with 7/9 and a 1.5-point lead over him.

A morale-boosting victory…

Classement final du Tata Steel India Rapide (
Tata Steel India Rapid final standings (


The very next day, hostilities resumed with the two-day, 18-round Blitz tournament.

I got off to a very bad start [0/3, then 1/5], I was probably not fully awake! This bad start compromised my chances of winning the tournament, even if towards the end of the second day I began to dream of a remontada, before finishing in a bit of a shambles [finally 5th with 9.5/18]. But in any case, over these two days, I wasn’t really into it, which confirms my problem of irregularity in blitz. It was not an issue at all a few years ago! Now, however, I no longer have this problem in online blitz games – it’s the world upside down! I’ve probably become a stronger blitz player online than on the board 😊. So that’s a focus for the traditional end-of-year Blitz World Championship.

Finally, I must add that the level is much higher than it used to be. I can no longer be as dominant in blitz as I used to be, for example in 2015 at the World Championship, or in certain tournaments where I was performing at over 3000 Elo. It’s no longer possible, because the level of the others has risen, and also because my consistency is no longer the same. For example, here in Kolkata, I’ve made some blunders, some inexplicable things… It’s true that I’ve dared to experiment quite a bit in the openings, because I wanted to gain in instinct, in feeling… But some games make me doubt the relevance of this choice 😊.

Congratulations to Sasha [Grischuk], who played very well and dominated the blitz tournament.

Classement final du Tata Steel India Blitz (
Tata Steel India Blitz final standings (


Maxime’s games in Düsseldorf:

Maxime’s rapid games in Kolkata:

Maxime’s blitz games in Kolkata:

The Paris suburb’s town of Asnières is one of the epicenters of chess in France. It is home to the French Chess Federation, and its club is the reigning French champion. The municipality and its mayor, Manuel Aeschlimann, actively support the game of chess, including its educational aspects, through the town’s elementary schools.

To symbolize the city’s attachment to the King of Games, several chess champions have already given their names to streets or alleys there (rue Vladimir Kramnik, rue Alexandra Kosteniuk, allée Anatoli Vaisser).

On September 13, Asnières reached a new milestone with the inauguration of the « Parc Maxime Vachier-Lagrave »! Located at the heart of a new district, it offers 8,000 m² of green space, facing the Seine. In addition to children’s playground equipment and a « meadow area » soon to be operational, benches and chess tables line the edges, reminding us why the park bears its new name…

Mvl avec le maire d’Asnières, Manuel Aeschlimann (Photo : Mairie d’Asnières).
Mvl with the mayor of Asnières, Manuel Aeschlimann (Photo: Mairie d’Asnières).

Midnight express

Salle de jeu

I left Baku the night after my elimination from the World Cup in the round of 32 against Sindarov… A real disappointment, of course, which led me to take the first available flight to Paris.

In order to arrive in the best possible conditions, I left for Azerbaijan on July 31, for the start of the competition on August 2. I had prepared in advance for at least the first two rounds, against Dragnev or Kobo, then against Sindarov or Ragger.

I arrived rather rested and in good shape. I met up with all the French players who had been present in the preliminary round from which I had been exempted.

For me, the World Cup remains an exciting tournament. There are a lot more players than in the elite tournaments, which makes for a very special atmosphere.

The organization on site was fairly clean and well run. It’s clear that experience plays a part; as the editions go by, FIDE has taken the measure of the things to be done. Besides, Azerbaijan is used to organizing major sporting events.

There was just one point that surprised me, and that was the fact that the games were broadcast live. I asked FIDE about this and didn’t get an answer. Admittedly, the on-site anti-cheating measures were satisfactory. But even so, I can’t see what would have been the drawback of implementing a thirty-minute delay for security reasons…

A look back at the 6 games I played in Baku:

MVL – DRAGNEV, first leg 1/2

A complicated start against a player who is always well prepared. I really wasn’t expecting this variation of the Queens’s Gambit.

After the locking of the Queenside with 14…a4!, I was never able to make the e4-break work, and got absolutely nothing.

DRAGNEV – MVL, 2nd leg ½

After a first repetition with 17…Rd8 18.Bb6 Rd6 19.Bc5 and with a certain lead on the clock, I hesitated to refuse the draw, which could be done in two different ways. First with 19…Rf6, but I was a little afraid of 20.Re1 (but certainly not 20.Qxd5+ Be6) 20…Kg8 21.Bf1 threatening 22.Re3 which wins the Queen, while really attacking d5, and possibly e7. After 19…Rd8 20.Bb6, the other way to continue would have been to sacrifice the exchange with 20…Bf5!? 21.Bxd8 Rxd8, and the Bishop pair coupled with the central pawn duo offers obvious compensation.

In the end, I preferred to repeat moves and rely on tie-breaks, but perhaps that wasn’t the best decision objectively.

Début du tie-break contre Dragnev (Photo : Fide).
Beginning of the tie-break against Dragnev (Photo: Fide).

MVL – DRAGNEV, Tie-break (2) 1-0

After a first tie-break drawn without too much fuss with black, I got a good position out of the opening in the second:

Here, the young Austrian gave me the exchange in one move with 18…c6? 19.Bd6 cxd5 20.Bxf8 Ne6. But here, I probably wanted perfection too much, looking for the cleanest technical solution. Of course, I quickly rejected 21.Qxd5 Qxg4+ 22.Qg2 Qxg2+ 23.Kxg2 Kxf8, which seemed anything but easy to convert. My first thought was the obvious 21.Bxg7 dxc4 22.Bxf6 Qxf6, but I couldn’t find a decisive move as I saw black’s Knight popping up on d4 or f4. But just 23.Qd5! and I’ll win c4 or improve my Queen on e5. As a result, I finally opted for 21.Ne5? which seemed more secure, but didn’t achieve this goal at all after 21…Bxe5 22.Rxe5 Rxf8, and it becomes very hard to demonstrate an advantage, if any. I could have tried to keep control of the situation with 23.Rxd5 h5! (23…Qe4 24.f3 Qe3+ 25.Kh1 Nf4 26.Rd8 g6 didn’t reassure me either, but I missed the difficult 27.Qb3!, which must be enough since black’s Queen can’t come to e2 or f2 because of the exchange on f8 followed by 29.Qb4+ which wins the Nf4!) 24.Rxh5 Qe4 25.f3 Qe3+ 26.Rh1, but after 26…Nf4, which wins a crucial tempo on the Rook, the activity of the Queen/Knight pair makes up for the material deficit.

So I decided to make the best of a worsening situation with 23.Qf3 d4 24.Qe4, but if I restricted the activity of the black pieces, it was by leaving their d-pawn alive!

Fortunately, Dragnev got a little carried away and instead of continuing to defend with a move like 29…Ne6, he thought he could afford 29…d3?, falling into a nice trap; 30.Re8! and he realized that 30…d2? was not possible because of 31.R1e7!; facing the threat of 32.Qxf7+, black has no choice but to give up his d-pawn with 31…d1=Q+. 30…Kg7 31.g5! didn’t really appeal either, so he opted for 30…Ne6, but after 31.Rxf8+ Nxf8 32.Td1, white pockets the d-pawn, and I didn’t spoil the technical conversion this time 😊.

Jules et Maxime sortiront tous les deux au 3e tour… (Photo : Fide).
Jules and Maxime will both be knocked out after round 3 (Photo: Fide).

SINDAROV – MVL, first leg ½

After a rather well-controlled game, I reached the following position with black:

We were both starting to run out of time, and unfortunately I couldn’t make 34…Bf8! work, which was indeed the right move. After 35.Rxb7? (white should then have settled for a move like 35.Kf1 or 35.Rd5, but Black’s advantage is then undeniable) 35…d3! 36.Ne3 (36.Rxd7 dxc2 37.Rc3 Ra1+ -+), there’s one move I missed that really hurts, 36…Bh6!.

So I resigned myself to protecting b7 with 34…Ra7?, but Sindarov offered me a new opportunity with 35.Ra3? (the Rook exchange favors Black by freeing his d-pawn). Unfortunately, I didn’t believe in the strength of the d-pawn and played 35…Bf8? while offering a draw, which was immediately accepted; after 36.Rxa7 Nxa7 37.Rd5, white effectively recovers his pawn with equality.

Perhaps with a little more time, I’d have paid more attention to 35…Rxa3 36.Nxa3 d3!. It looks like the d-pawn is going to be surrounded, the white knight is coming to c4 and black isn’t going to get anything good out of this push, but on closer inspection this isn’t the case and white is really suffering. 37.Rd5? Nb4! loses immediately. 37.Nc4 Bc3! also raises many questions. 37.Kf1 or 37.Rb1 are undoubtedly better, but White will have to suffer to earn his half-point.

Another « half-opportunity » missed with black, which obviously leaves some regrets, especially given the scenario of the second game…

MVL – SINDAROV, second leg 0-1

I won’t go into the details of this wild Arkhangelsk variation, let’s just say that Sindarov and I both had this position, which is not theoretical, in our files. I didn’t remember the best move 19.Qf5! which is very difficult to find on the board. It’s actually a prophylactic move, with white anticipating …Re8, preparing to position the Queen on f3 or d3 if it’s chased, and above all, to respond to 19…c5 with 20.d5.

After much thought, I chose the more human approach 19.Nd2 c5 20.Nf3 cxd4 (the machine teaches us that 20…Re8! first is more accurate) 21.cxd4 Re8. Here, 22.Qf5 was too tempting, the threat 23.Ng5 seemed too strong for black to have the courage to take on d4. Now after the game, we know objectively that 22.Qa5! was the best move, but it was anything but obvious in the course of it. After a prolonged thought, Sindarov dared 22…Bxd4! 23.Ng5 h6, and after 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Nf3 Qb6, we reached the following decisive position:

I thought about it for almost a quarter of an hour. Of course, I immediately saw that after 26.Nxd4, black had the intermezzo 26…Rxa6. I then analyzed 26.Bd2 Bxb2 27.Rb1 Qxa6+ 28.Kg1 and realized that the position had to be equal or balanced after, for example, 28…Rab8 29.Bb4+! Rxb4 30.Qh8+ Ke7 31.Re1+ Qe6 32.Rxe6+ fxe6 33.Qh7, as after 28…Qa3 29.Nh4, as the threat 30.Nf5 should recover the exchabge. Unfortunately, I was then attracted by a « brilliant » idea that seemed to lead to a clearer draw… 26.Nxd4? Rxa6 27.g3!? (the pseudo-point that gives everything with check, but in our noble game, the capture is not obligatory 😊). If black cashes in with 27…Rxa1? 28.Nf5! Rxc1+? (28…Qb5+ and it’s still a draw after 29.Kg2 Qxf5 30.Qxf5 Rxc1 31.Qh7 f6), he’ll have to lower their flag after 29.Kg2 Qb7+ (the only way to avoid mate) 30.Kh3 f6 31.Qh8+ Kf7 32.Qxg7+ Ke6 33.Qxb7 Kxf5 34.g4+ Ke5 35.f4+ and 36.Qxe6. If after 27.g3!?, black opts for 27…Qxd4, then 28.Rxa6 Qc4+ 29.Kg2 Qxa6 30.Qh8+ Ke7 31.Qxg7 with a drawn endgame.

Unfortunately, the quiet 27…Qb7! thenappeared on the board, a little intermediate move that had completely escaped my attention! A cold shower that quickly made me realize that the World Cup was over for me…

The game ended with 28.Qh8+ Ke7 29.Qxg7 (29.Qxe8+ Kxe8 30.Rxa6 Qxa6+ 31.Kg2 Qd3 32.Be3 offered no fortress prospects; black will push his Kingside pawns to destabilize white’s construction) 29…Rxa1 30.Nf5+ Ke6 31.Nd4+ Kd5 and white can resign.

Le tombeur de Maxime en pleine concentration avant la partie décisive (Photo : Fide).
Maxime’s winner in full concentration mode before the decisive game (Photo: Fide).

Obviously, the outcome of the World Cup wasn’t what I’d expected, given that this tournament was really my big goal for the year. So it’s a disappointment in terms of the result, but much less so in terms of the content. I think I need to build on the momentum of this World Cup. Of course, there are still a few details to iron out, but my level of play is clearly higher than what I’ve been able to show over the past year.

I’ll be playing in a few Rapid and online tournaments at the end of August and throughout September, before returning to the classical games at the European Club Cup, which takes place in Albania, October 1-7. My club Asnières will clearly be aiming for the podium, so i twill be an important challenge, as well as excellent preparation for the Grand Swiss (October 25 – November 5), my last chance to qualify for the 2024 Candidates. In any case, I intend to arrive on the Isle of Man with ambition and well-prepared…

Maxime’s games:

Just before leaving for Baku, Maxime achieved a feat that only Wesley So and Nakamura had achieved before him: winning both editions of the famous weekly « Titled Tuesday » on Every Tuesday, two successive blitz tournaments bring together an average of around 500 titled players. On July 25, Maxime won both, with scores of 9.5/11 and 10/11. Among the participants were Carlsen, Nakamura, Caruana, So, Duda, Kramnik, Kamsky, Fedoseev etc., and a host of GMs. The only thing missing for Maxime was the icing on the cake: after securing the second tournament win with 10/10, Maxime conceded his only loss of the day to Nakamura, while trying to achieve 11/11 perfection!

Team time

La cathédale de Chartres

The month of June was punctuated by two major team competitions, the first of which was the French Championship, held once again in a beautiful and spacious room of Chartres town hall, the city that some claim boasts the most beautiful cathedral in the world…

Top 16 in Chartres

I joined my Asnières team for the third-round derby match against Clichy, which we unfortunately lost. On my board, I drew with white against Amin Bassem, in a Spanish opening where I failed to capitalize on the advantage I’d gained in the opening. A result that immediately put us in a bit of a bind, but we made up for it afterwards 😊.

On a personal level, I’ve made a lot of draws. In fact, I’ve done nothing but draws! (6, including 4 with black).

An ultimate draw against an old friend… (Photo : Ffe).

In particular, there was this game against Andrei Sokolov, which lasted 6 hours (Mulhouse-Asnières, Round 4). In this inferior endgame, he showed great defensive resources, as few people would have held this position; in any case, at his Elo (2464), hardly anyone! And even at higher Elos, I find it hard to believe that so many would have defended this endgame. He did it, reminding us of his status as a former Candidates finalist, and all credit to him for that!


Here, I considered that 47…Rfd3 or 47…Rad3 offered little winning chances, so I decided to give up the d6 pawn with 47…Kxg5. Andrei told me after the game that he thought putting a Rook on d3 would have given better chances; for my part, I felt that exchanging my d6-pawn for his two g-pawns offered the best practical prospects. After 48.Rxd6 Kxg4, he began to find all the good moves, starting with 49.Kg2!.Any other move would have lost, e.g. 49.Rxc6? Ra1+ 50.Kg2 Rg3+ 51.Kh2 Rh3+ 52.Kg2 Rah1! with a nice mating net; or 49.Rxf3? Kxf3 50.Rf6+ Kxe4 51.Rxf7 Rf3+! and the pawn endgame is winning. After 49…Rg3+ 50.Kh2 Rh3+ 51.Kg2 Rag3+ 52.Kf1 Rh1+ 53.Ke2 Ra3, he still had to find 54.Rd3! (54.Rxc6? Ra2+ 55.Ke3 Rh3+ is trivial, but the refutation of the natural 54.Rd2? is less so: 54…Kg3! and White is in zugzwang. If the Rf2 moves, it’s 55…Rh2+; if the Rd2 moves on its column, it’s the same in reverse [55…Ra2+]; and if 55.Rb2 Rh4! picks up the e-pawn with interest, ditto after 55.e5 Rh5) 54…Raa1, and only now 55.Rd2!, which is again an only move (55.Rg2+? Kf4 56.Rf2+ Ke5! and the King’s return in the center is decisive, avoiding 56…Kxe4?? 57.Re3+ Kd4 58.Rf4 mate!). I still continued 55…Rhe1+ 56.Kd3 Ra3+ 57.Kc2 Ra7 58.Kd3 Rg1, but after 59.e5 and a few precise last moves, Andrei pocketed his deserved half-point!

Analysing with the 1987 Candidates finalist… (Photo : Ffe).

A few days later, I returned to Chartres to play in the « Poule Haute » (upper half of the championship), with only decisive matches on the program, notably the one against multiple title-holder Bischwiller. I have to admit that my games in this top group were not very exciting. I had black three times and white once.

With black, I was clearly neutralized in all three games. And with white against Vidit, I couldn’t make anything of my tiny advantage.

But the most important thing is that, after two very lively matches at the end of the top group, against Chartres and Bischwiller, we finally clinched the championship title! A big bravo to the whole team, to the captain, and to the ever-active support of the town of Asnières!

Icing on the cake, despite my absence due to the Global Chess League in Dubai (see below), Asnières completed the double by winning the French Cup in early July 😊.

L'équipe d'Asnières
Asnières champion de France 2023 (Photo : Ffe).

Global Chess League in Dubaï

Global Chess League (GCL). This is a new and completely different event from what we’re used to. Under the aegis of Indian giant Tech Mahindra and FIDE, this new League sees teams representing franchises compete in Rapid games. For this first edition, 6 teams were formed, with drafted players, a bit like in the NBA. The other special features were as follows: each team of 6 is made up of an Icon player, 2 super-GM’s, 2 women and a junior. In each match, one team has the same color on all boards. For scoring purposes, victory is valued at 3 points (as in soccer, for example), and a win with black even awards a bonus point. Finally, it’s a round-robin championship system, with the top two teams contesting a grand final on the last day.

With the participation of several Top 10 players (Carlsen, Nepo, Anand, Rapport), this first edition was a real eye-catcher. For my part, I was the Icon player on the Mumba Masters team, named after Mumbaï’s Indian company U Sports.

What I really liked was being able to build up a good team atmosphere, which was the case. Of course I knew Sasha (Grischuk), but I was less familiar with our Indian friends Vidit, and the women Dronavili and Koneru. Uzbek junior Sindarov completed the picture. Around the captain, GM Narayanan, who played his role well, we managed to create excellent relationships. It’s worth noting that a number of U Sports staff members were also on hand to make life easier and boost cohesion.

With the participation of several Top 10 players (Carlsen, Nepo, Anand, Rapport), this first edition was a real eye-catcher. For my part, I was the Icon player on the Mumba Masters team, named after Mumbaï’s Indian company U Sports.

What I really liked was being able to build up a good team atmosphere, which was the case. Of course I knew Sasha (Grischuk), but I was less familiar with our Indian friends Vidit, and the women Dronavili and Koneru. Uzbek junior Sindarov completed the picture. Around the captain, GM Narayanan, who played his role well, we managed to create excellent relationships. It’s worth noting that a number of U Sports staff members were also on hand to make life easier and boost cohesion.

L'équipe Mumba Masters
Mumba Masters team presentation (Photo : GCL).

As far as the matches were concerned, it was rather strange because we played an average of one game a day, which broke the rhythm a little. As a result, we had quite a lot of free time for preparations, even if, for the first half of the tournament, we didn’t know the colors until 30 minutes before the game. All in all, this new competition turned out to be quite enjoyable, although quite nerve-wracking on the last two days, when we qualified for the final by the skin of our teeth, before going on to play a Homeric tie-break in the final!

Before this final sprint, I’d played quite a few interesting games, even if most of them ended in draws; a lot of mutual neutralization, both with white and black.

Here is an overview of my two only decisive games:


Against Vishy, I used the Petroff and remained quite far in my home preparation. I knew there were positions in this line where I shouldn’t be afraid to « throwing wood ». I felt like I was growing wings. I knew it was a bit optimistic, but that it could also go well, which was almost the case…

Here, Vishy saw at the last moment that after 24.Nh5? there’s 24…g4! which hurts a lot, among other things because of the X-ray between the Rc5 and the Nh5. As a result, he played 24.Bxd4 and that’s when I should have taken the Knight wisely and obtained an unclear position after 24…fxg3 25.Bxc5 bxc5 26.Qxc5 gxh2+ 27.Kxh2 Rf7; it’s very hot because I have the 2 Bishops. Admittedly, Bh4 is locked in, but I can always play …g4 if I need to, and on his side, he can’t penetrate on the e-file.

Instead, I got carried away and started calculating like a madman 24…a5? 25.Qb3+ Bd5 26.c4 Bxc4 (I had also considered 26…Bxf3 27.Bxc5 Bxe2, but after 28.Bxf8 [28.Qxb6 should work too], I don’t have a shadow of a compensation 😊) 27.Qc3 Rd5, but I forgot 28.Bf6! which, by the way, wasn’t the only good move, and then it gets really bad. 28…fxg3 29.Re7 Qd6 30.Rg7+ Kh8 31.Rf7+ Kg8 and further proof of my blindness at this point, I thought Vishy was going to take the draw, but he actually repeated once, before delivering the lethal 32.Be7! which put an end to the debate!

It was a complicated game where I felt I could get through, which is why I took maximum risks. Well, it didn’t work out, but the team won the match!


En route to victory! (Photo : GCL).

In the next match against Magnus, I faced a Berlin wall in which I managed to get some pressure going into the endgame. I was happy, but Magnus more or less neutralized me in the next phase, albeit at the cost of a lot of time.

All he had to do was find 34…c5! 35.bxc5 Rc6 (or even 35…Re6), and in both cases it’s a draw. On the other hand, after his mistake 34…Rd6? 35.Re3 Rd2? (better to admit you’ve gone wrong and defend with 35…Rc6 36.Kxh4 Rc4) 36.Rxc3 Rxf2 37.Kxh4, there are too many weaknesses (in fact, all his pawns!) and it’s become untenable in practice, especially with so little time on the clock.

At the end of the return phase, we secured our place in the final by crushing the Magnus team in the last round (4 black wins and 2 draws!).


Here I committed what Magnus would later call a « lucky blunder ». My first idea was the natural 33…Rd7 but then I saw that 33…Rd6 seemed possible, with the additional possibility of transferring the Rook to f6. But just when I played 33…Rd6? I realized that there was 34.Ne2, with the black Queen overloaded. Fortunately, I managed to keep the poker face on while he was thinking! Though he won the exchange after 34…Qe4 35.Qxd6 Qxe2, Magnus had a very hard move to find to maintain the advantage. 36.Rf1! would have put me in difficulty, because after 36…Bd3 (36…Qxb2 37.Qc5! is overpowering) 37.Ra1 Qxb2 38.Re1 Qd4 39.Qe7 c3 (39…Qxd5 40.Re5!) 40.d6 with the same position as in the game, except that the Bishop has been drawn to d3 and therefore no longer controls the d7 square! White wins. A very difficult trick to envisage in a Rapid game, and Magnus continued more naturally with the immediate 36.Ra1? Qxb2 37.Re1 Qd4 38.Qe7 c3 40.d6, but with the Bishop on f5, I had time to play 40…Kg6! and force a draw after 40.Qf8 c2 41.Qg8+ Qg7 42.Qe8 Qc3 43.Qg8+ Kh6 44.Qf8+ Kg6.

Just before the final… (Photo : GCL).

The real highlight of the Global Chess League was undoubtedly the final between my Mumba Masters team and the Triveni Continentals led by Aronian. Having won a game each in both rapid and blitz, we had to settle the tie in sudden death, another new feature of the League, which is a bit like a soccer penalty shoot-out. One of the 6 chessboards is drawn at random, and the winner of the blitz wins. In the event of a draw, another is drawn, and so on… It took 4 sudden-death blitz games to name a winner! And it was on the junior chessboard that everything was finally decided. Our team-mate Sindarov had already beaten Norway’s Bjerre four times in the tournament (!), and he was still pushing on with pawn up in the endgame when he completely forgot a mate in 1 move, bringing this beautiful new competition to a particularly cruel close!

The historic moment when Bjerre delivers mate and gives his team the final victory (Photo : GCL).

This unprecedented scenario was certainly very exciting for the spectators, but it was also very stressful to play, and even worse to watch in the sudden death session! At the start of this one, I preferred not to be drawn, but after the second game (a draw between Grischuk and Yu Yangyi), I felt it might be better to go up on stage and have a go at Aronian, but fate didn’t give me the chance.

Of course there are regrets, but after a while it’s all too quick, there’s too much tension, and it’s all down to nothing…

Enjoy your summer of chess!

As for me, the next event will be the World Cup in Baku, where I’ll start in the round-of-64 on August 2, against the winner of the preliminary round match between Austria’s Dragnev (2576) and Israel’s Kobo (2548).

Maxime’s games :

Maxime’s games in French Team Championship:

Maxime’s games in Berlin :

Maxime’s games in Dubaï :

Between the two team competitions covered in this article, Maxime spent a week in Berlin, playing the European leg of the Armageddon circuit. 8 players, a single-elimination blitz format, with the fashionable formula of a main bracket and a losers’ bracket, ensuring that no-one is eliminated without losing 2 matches.

A special feature of this Armageddon is that all games are played in the Berlin studio and filmed for TV.

Maxime finished third in the tournament, behind Rapport and Duda, who took the two qualifying spots for the Grand Final in September.