I’ll be there!

Gibraltar 2018

I’m going to participate in the Candidates’ Tournament in Iekaterinburg after Teimur Radjabov’s withdrawal! Here’s a short article because I suddenly find myself in time trouble 🙂 .

It all started on Wednesday, when I was coming back from a few days vacation in New York. FIDE contacted me to tell me that there was a possibility that one of the qualifiers would not participate in the Candidates Tournament, without telling me who, nor why. According to the rules, I was the first substitute. Friday morning, after Teimour’s forfeit was announced, I was officially invited to participate.

Of course, it was a big surprise for me, even though I had read Teimour’s statement after his World Cup victory, questioning his participation in the Candidates. I also knew that the coronavirus epidemic could disrupt things at any time. But still, I didn’t expect anyone to withdraw at all, especially so close to the event.

Obviously, I’m delighted to have this opportunity, even if that’s not how I originally wanted to qualify.

I will arrive in Iekaterinburg on March 12. My priority between now and the start of the tournament is to get everything in place logistically as quickly as possible so that I can concentrate on the chess prep.

Although I’m in at such a short notice, I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, so I’m certainly not going to be a picky eater.

My goal is March 17, the day of the first round – against Caruana… It’s up to me to focus on chess to be ready that day.

One last word: thank you all for your messages!

Official site: https://en.candidates-2020.com

Gibraltar power 9


This is indeed the 9th time I’ve been here for the Grand Open at the beginning of the year in Gibraltar’s Caleta Hotel, a tournament that I particularly enjoy. After the tension of the last months of 2019 with the Grand Chess Tour and the qualifying tournaments for the Candidates, it was nice for me to play an Open, most of the time with opponents I had never played against before.

Round 1: MVL – SUKANDAR (2402) 1-0

This game against an Indonesian IM was a good warm-up to get into the tournament. There were many lines to calculate, after 14…Qb6 already, a move that forced me to sacrifice a pawn. Generally speaking, there were quite concrete things to evaluate, including a few nice lines 🙂 . For example, after 22.b4 :

Mvl-Sukandar, Ronde 1.
Mvl-Sukandar, Ronde 1.

My opponent played 22…Qa7, but in case of 22…Qxc4, I had planned 23.Nb6 Qxb4 24.Nxa8 Rxa8 25.f6! exf6 26.exf6 Ne8 (26…Re8 27.Qc3) 27.Nxc6 bxc6 28.Rxa6!.

Derby français (Photo: www.saund.co.uk/John Saunders).
French derby (Photo: www.saund.co.uk/John Saunders).

Round 2: FLOM (2510) – MVL 1/2

The French IM played a line from the Grunfeld Exchange that I knew, of course.

Flom-Mvl, Round 2.
Flom-Mvl, Round 2.

In this position, I was well aware that 20…Bxe5 was leading to a draw. So I decided to play something else, but well, that didn’t bring much; I remembered that 20…Bd7 was probably not so good, but playable to avoid an immediate draw. But then I felt wings sprouting; indeed, after 21.Rhg1 Bb5 22.Rc3 Kh8 23.f4 Rd5 24.Kc2 Bxd3+ 25.Rxd3 Rc8+ 26.Kd2 Rcd8 27.Rxd5 Rxd5+, I didn’t expect 28.Kc2, but 28.Ke2. Then I realized that if I allowed him to play 29.Rd1, it would be a draw right away. So I calculated 28…f6? to continue the game, for example after 29.exf6 Bxf6 30.Rg6 Rf5. But he played 29.Rg6! and I then realized that there is no 29…fxe5 30.fxe5 Rxe5? because of 31.Bd4, white’s King being on c2, and not on e2! So I had to give two pawns away and pray that it would work… Well, it seemed like it should draw anyway after 30…Bxe5 31.Rxh6+ Kg8 32.Rxe6 Fd4, but it was a bit of a sport, let’s not kid ourselves.

Indeed, the final position is the famous Vancura draw in the Rook endgame, known for a century. So if there is any refutation, it would already have been found 🙂 .


In fact, I got Vancura’s position, but with a pawn on h5 in addition, which however plays no role. I had a little scare because it took me a little while to find the exact path to the draw, but I finally managed it before my opponent tested my knowledge! After 51…Rf6 52.Kc5 Rf5+! (but not 52…Rh6? 53.Kb5 Rxh5+ 54.Kb6 Rh6+ 55.Kb7 and the fact that there is no check on the 7th costs the game) 53.Kc6 Rf6+ 54.Kd7, I saw the drawing pattern with 54…Rb6 (in this exact position, 54…Rf7+ is even simpler). 55.Kc7 Rf6 (only move) 56.h6+ Kh7 (only move) 57.a7 Rf7+ (only move!) and as soon as the White King wants to get out of lateral checks, he must let the Black Rook pass on the a-file, with a trivial draw.

In the half-light (Photo: www.saund.co.uk/John Saunders).
In the half-light (Photo: www.saund.co.uk/John Saunders).

Round 3: MVL – BARON (2529) 1-0

A power outage was the highlight of the round 🙂 . It affected the whole neighbourhood! Luckily, the Caleta Hotel had quite a few small desk lamps that worked without electricity, which were to be used for the closing ceremony. Some brave players had chosen to continue the game in this kind of subdued atmosphere… Others, including my opponent Tal Baron, kept thinking in half-light, clock stopped; which turned out to be counterproductive in his case, since he made a fatal miscalculation as soon as play resumed!

Round 4: VAIBHAV (2593) – MVL 1/2

Round 5: MVL – SANAL (2569) 1/2

After a near-theoretical draw against Vaibhav, I had white against the Turkish GM Sanal; the only one of my 6 white games that I didn’t win 🙂 .

That game had gotten off to a bad start due to a miscalculation…

Mvl-Sanal, Round 5.
Mvl-Sanal, Round 5.

Here, I had anticipated 13.d4, but finally, the position after 13…Qc7! 14.dxe5 dxe5 15.Nxe5 0-0! 16.0-0 (16.Bf4 Rd8) 16…Qxe5 (16…Rd8 17.Qe1) 17.Bf4 Qh5 18.Bxb8 Bg4, I didn’t like it.

So I played 13.h3 0-0 14.c4, with the idea of surrounding the b3 pawn. But it’s a slow plan and I think he didn’t react very well because he let me regain the advantage. Except that I myself mishandled the position back, and I even had to be careful in the endgame in order to draw.

All in all, the first half of the tournament was quite uneven, with a few games where I calculated rather well, and some quite ugly games, I’m thinking in particular of those against Flom and Sanal.

Facing Russian GM Dina Belenkaya during the blitz tournament, under Ivanchuk's watchful eye! (Photo: Niki Riga).
Facing Russian WGM Dina Belenkaya during the blitz tournament, under Ivanchuk’s watchful eye! (Photo: Niki Riga).

Round 6: MVL – PERALTA (2574) 1-0

A rather well-controlled game on the whole, notably because I refuted his conception in the opening :

Mvl-Peralta, Round 6.
Mvl-Peralta, Round 6.

I didn’t know 10…Na5 immediately, and I found on the board the very interesting move 11.h4!?, while 12 other moves had already been tried in this position!

I don’t know if it’s that strong, but in any case, he fell directly into my trap, because after 11…h5?! 12.Ne3 Nxe3 13.fxe3, I already have a clear advantage. We’ll move on to the final episode of this game, already well documented on specialized websites 🙂 . In a completely winning position, I played a move that let him back in the game, but he had the same hallucination as me, thinking he was being mated, and he resigned!

Round 7: KARTHIKEYAN (2606) – MVL 1/2

Karthikeyan is a young Indian who beat me in the last round last year, despite my Najdorf turning out pretty well for me. This time, he played the opening well and managed to get the advantage, but luckily he underestimated his position twice, and allowed me to stabilize the game.

Nice to analyse with Mvl by his side! (Photo: Niki Riga).
Nice to analyse with Mvl by his side! (Photo: Niki Riga).

Round 8: BASSO (2600) – MVL 1/2

Round 9: MVL – CAN (2600) 1-0

After another draw with Black in a very theoretical Grunfeld against Italian GM Basso – without ever being able to play for the win – I faced the Turkish Can in the penultimate round :

I think he made it easier for me by quickly entering a Queenless middlegame:

Mvl-Can, Round 9.
Mvl-Can, Round 9.

Can certainly thought that the position was not so dangerous, but in fact it seems to me really inferior because in addition to the isolated pawn, the Bb7 is badly placed and the a6-pawn is weak too. Here, he should still have tried to be active by 17…Re4 18.Bg3 Rde8 19.Kf1 Bc6, rather than allowing 17…Nf8?! 18.a5!, and the position becomes a long torture for Black after 18…Ne6 19.axb6 Bxb6 20.Bd2 Nd4 21.Nxd4 Bxd4 22.Bd3!. Maybe I had a more concrete solution after 22…Re6 23.Ra4 Ff6 24.Rb4 Bc8. Instead of 25.Ra1, 25.Rxe6 fxe6 26.Rb8 (idea 27.Ra8) probably would have won the a6-pawn. But then, do you want to make concrete decisions in this position? Not at all, actually! Because even if I take a6, Black may have counter-play with …Rc8 and …e5. There are a lot of details to check, and the position does not require such an approach from a practical point of view, in my opinion.

Round 10: MVL – MAGHSOODLOO (2674) 1-0

A win in this last round game wold give me a small chance to finish in the leading pack, and I had the pleasant surprise of doubling white against the former world junior champion. I played 1.d4, which seemed to me a relevant choice against this specific opponent.

Mvl-Maghsoodloo, Round 10.
Mvl-Maghsoodloo, Round 10.

J I got an ending a pawn up, but it was definitely a draw. Here, the easiest for him was 30…Rxc5! (instead of 30…Rd8) 31.dxc5 Ne4+ (31…Nc4 should also be a draw, but the possible pawn ending to be foreseen from afar after 32.Rc3 Rc8 33.c6 bxc6 34.Bxc4 dxc4 35.Rxc4 Kd5 may be frightening) 32.Bxe4 dxe4 and Black will end up ok without difficulty. In the game, after 30…Rd8 31.Rac3 Rd7 32.a4, he certainly didn’t need to give me the c6-square with 32…b6? 33.Rc6 Rdd8 34.Ke2 Rd7 35.Rc1 Rh8 36.a5! and black’s position only holds by a thread. I may not have played optimally afterwards, but it’s always difficult not to allow any counter-play at all.

The famous "Battle of the Sexes" party. Here Mvl in the ring, with former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova (Photo: www.saund.co.uk/John Saunders).
The famous “Battle of the Sexes” party. Here Mvl in the ring, with former world champion Antoaneta Stefanova (Photo: www.saund.co.uk/John Saunders).

The balance of this tournament is contrasted; 5.5/6 with white is very correct, but drawing all my black games against weaker players on paper cannot satisfy me. Of course, I finish in the leading group at 7.5/10 (with 6 other players). But as a symbol of the year, I ended up 5th in the tie-break (Elo performance), a very small point behind the fourth and last player qualified for the tie-breaks awarding the £ 30.000 first prize 🙂 .

I don’t have any tournaments scheduled before April or May, so it’s a good time to take stock and find ways to improve!

No need for the federation to bring together one of the strongest french teams ever. Maxime, with Etienne Bacrot (2669 Elo), Maxime Lagarde (2655), Romain Edouard (2653), Christian Bauer (2625), Yannick Gozzoli (2599), Matthieu Cornette (2556), Fabien Libiszewski (2526) and Kévin Bordi (2288), is playing the prochessleague 2020. After 6 rounds, the French are 2nd in the Central Division.

Les parties de Maxime à Gibraltar :

Les parties de Maxime en ProChessLeague

December in black and white

Londres 2019

I arrived in London on December 1st, in a familiar environment and in a city I like, to compete in the Grand Chess Tour final, with the same 4-player format than the previous year.

I learned of my qualification at the last minute, as it depended on the results of the other players, especially Anand. It wasn’t the most likely, but I qualified instead. It obviously overloaded my December calendar, at a time when the qualification for the Candidates was about to be decided. But I was pretty happy to be qualified anyway. The challenge was highly interesting; first playing against Magnus of course, and then the second match as well, against Aronian or Ding Liren. So I was motivated, in a format that generally suits me well. The match against Magnus was very, very tense. In the first game, for example, it was really extremely complex and anything could have happened. It ended up being a perpetual after we missed a lot of stuff. After several other draws, I was the first to win in the Blitz, from a position where I had nothing at all, by the way. However, he struck back immediately, in a game where, on the contrary, I had a very good position, but made further bad decisions. Generally speaking, the level of our match was still quite high. Maybe the key moment was when I defended the last Blitz with little time on the clock and a definitely unpleasant endgame.

Carlsen-Mvl, London Game 8; the pawn on c6 means a tedious defense ahead for black.
Carlsen-Mvl, London Game 8; the pawn on c6 means a tedious defense ahead for black.

Then of course, there was the first game of the tie-break with black, which was completely crazy; the advantage changed sides all the time, it was so tactical, but I ended up winning. After that, all that was left to do was to draw the second game; which I did .
Of course, I was very happy to win a 10-game match against the world champion, especially with a mix of cadences. Psychologically, it was a boost, because who else can claim such a result? Unfortunately, we had to go on to the final, and Ding Liren made me come down from my cloud right away, by putting me under enormous pressure in the first classical game. After that, he wasn’t precise enough in an ending that was completely lost for me. Well, I hung in there as best I could, and he freaked out a few times. I finally held the draw in a crazy four-queen position!

Mvl-Ding Liren, London Game 1; no, M. Ding, black doesn’t have any mate in this position!
Mvl-Ding Liren, London Game 1; no, M. Ding, black doesn’t have any mate in this position!

In the second game, I found myself in trouble from the start in an English opening. I misjudged the position, and with the advantage, it was clinical from him. It’s mostly a game where there hasn’t been much to do. I wasn’t alert enough, and he was impeccable….. Then in the Rapids, I tried to come back but it quickly went wrong! I still saved the honor by winning the Blitz match by a wide margin.

Overall, the balance of the Grand Chess Tour 2019 is not so bad, as I ended up second for the third year in a row.

Then, the switch to the FIDE Grand Prix was complicated because I couldn’t arrive in Jerusalem until late Tuesday afternoon after a long journey, while the tournament already started the next day. The good news, though, is that the draw looked rather good. Unfortunately, I could see right away that I wasn’t playing at my best. Already in the first game against Topalov I was in great danger; I managed to hang on and I remained unscathed by a little bit of a miracle, but I was really close to disaster. So I decided not to take any undue risks in the classical games. Especially since I quickly understood that the bonus points would serve absolutely no purpose, which was indeed the case. The important thing was to be qualified after each round…

So I focused on the Rapids. First against Topalov, and then against Andreikin, after my opening in the first classical game petered out into a draw, due to a memory error!
On the other hand, in the Rapids, it went well; against Andreikin, the first game was ultra hot. But in the end, I saw more stuff than he did, so it’s only natural that I won 🙂 .

Then there was the decisive match against Nepo, and I have to admit I didn’t make the right decisions, that’s for sure. First, I was surprised by the rare 8.Be3.

Nepomniatchi-Mvl, Jerusalem, ½ final first game.
Nepomniatchi-Mvl, Jerusalem, ½ final first game.

So I wasted a lot of time looking at 8…Ng4 9.Bg5!?, which could have been his idea. On 9.e5, which he played, I had several possibilities, not only that of taking e3. But I said to myself: “We’ll go for the simplest”; unfortunately, the simplest in question was not the best… So he took a large advantage, but then he allowed me counterplay. The critical moment was obviously after 19.Qa3…

Nepomniatchi-Mvl, Jerusalem, ½ final first game.
Nepomniatchi-Mvl, Jerusalem, ½ final first game.

Of course, I saw the natural 19… c5 20.dxc5 Qc8, which I remember having rejected because of 21.exf6 Bxf6 22.Bc4! Bxh4+ 23.Rxh4 Nxh4 24.Rd6!. I haven’t analysed the game at all since then, but on the board, it looked very suspicious for me. What happened in the game after my choice 19…fxe5 20.dxe5 Qe8 (with the idea of counterplay based on …Qc6-b6), is that I realized only after he played 21.Bg2 that the planned continuation 21…Bxe5 22.fxe5 Nxh4+ 23.Kg1 Nxg2 was refuted by the dreadful intermediate move 24.Ne4! and White wins.

Le duel contre Ian Nepomniachtchi
1st game versus Ian Nepomniachtchi – Photo : www.worldchess.com

With my back to the wall, I managed to introduce a good opening idea in the second game. And I got a very good position; unfortunately spoiled by bad decisions… First of all, 15.Nf4 was less accurate than 15.Bd2!.

Mvl-Nepomniatchi, Jerusalem, ½ final game 2.
Mvl-Nepomniatchi, Jerusalem, ½ final game 2.

But above all, 19.b4? turned out to be really catastrophic, instead of the normal 19.Nfe2 which kept the edge. In fact I completely forgot while playing 19.b4 – too fast! – that the black’s Queen was going to land on c4 via a6.

Mvl-Nepomniatchi, Jerusalem, ½ final game 2.
Mvl-Nepomniatchi, Jerusalem, ½ final game 2.

And finally, there is the last big mistake 25.Ng3? instead of 25.Nd3. In fact, after 25…f5, I wanted to go 26.e5 f4 27.Bxf4 gxf4 28.Nh5, but I quickly realized that Black is winning after 28…Bxe5! 29.dxe5 0-0-0!. As a result, I accepted to be worse after 26.exf5, and I quickly offered a draw. Anyway, there was really nothing to do here, except to lose! And I’ve lost enough games stupidly in must win situations, remember Jakovenko two years ago in identical circumstances…

Eliminated, I caught an early plane the next morning and found myself having to wait at home for the Nepo-Wei Yi final match. My destiny was no longer in my hands, but a victory for the Chinese would still have sent me directly to the Candidates! Unfortunately, the coin fell on the wrong side again, but I still made the decision not to give up the Rapid & Blitz World Championships in Moscow. I knew I was completely cooked physically, but in terms of effort it was less complicated anyway, and still quite fun. I also know that I have an ability to bounce back, so I went to Moscow full of innocent enthusiasm 🙂 . But let’s be honest, I’ve done a bit of a mess there… I’ve had three disastrous days, the first and third Rapid, and the first Blitz; that’s only two ok days… In the end, finishing 14th in the Rapid and 4-5th in the Blitz in these conditions, There’s not much to strut about, but given my state of form, I’ll take it! And given the level of my games, I have to take it even more 🙂 .

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave lors du championnat du monde de blitz. Photo : Dmitry Ikunin | http://ikunin.ru
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Moscow. Photo : Dmitry Ikunin | http://ikunin.ru

Now let’s look ahead to 2020, which is going to be a much lighter season. It will be an opportunity for me to get back to basics, both technically and physically. In terms of events, I will play in Gibraltar at the end of the month, Norway Chess at the beginning of June, and I will participate in the Grand Chess Tour 2020 for which I am qualified.
These are the only certainties at the moment!

If you want to know more about everything concerning the world championship cycle, the qualification for the Candidates, Laurent Vérat’s open letter on wild-card, the controversy that followed, but also the relationships between French players of the elite, the possible French naturalization of Firouzja, and many other subjects, read without delay the long interview given by Maxime a few days ago to www.chess.com .

Maxime’s games in London:

Maxime’s games in Jerusalem:

Maxime’s games in the Rapîd World Championship:

Maxime’s games in the blitz world championship:

Hamburg: the sprint is launched!

Hamburg GP

There are still two places to be distributed on sporting criteria for the Candidates’ Tournament, via the 2019 FIDE Grand Prix which is coming to an end. The Hamburg tournament has just ended, and the final stage is scheduled from December 11 in the heart of the historic district of Jerusalem.

In Hamburg, it was therefore a question of getting ahead before the sprint… For the occasion, the large port city of northern Germany had made a theatre available for the event. Some have been disturbed by the level of the organization. For my part, I have few complaints about the playing hall. Just that it was a little difficult to reach the toilet level; there was a big staircase to climb, not a very convenient access during a game. But it is true that it was linked to the configuration of the premises, in the heart of an old theatre. For the rest, I didn’t have noise problems to deal with, I found the room quiet, quite spacious too, even when there were 16 of us. Maybe a little dark, but hey… It was no luxury, but there was really nothing to complain about, unlike what we saw in Zagreb this summer! (Editor’s note, stage of a Grand Chess Tour event).

Press conference with Mvl, top seed (Photo: Nadja Wittmann).
Press conference with Mvl, top seed (Photo: Nadja Wittmann).

Round of 16:

MVL – WEI YI (2724) 1.5-0.5

In the first game, I was able to place a nice prep against the Najdorf, which had been cooked by Matthieu Cornette during the Top 12 in May. He sent me a file by email during the Norway Chess in June. I liked the idea of playing 6.g3 without putting the Bishop in g2, and I decided to try it at the next opportunity! So it worked well and I took and advantage out of the opening.

Later, I wasn’t sure about my move 21.Nd5.

Mvl-Wei Yi, round of 16, first game
Mvl-Wei Yi, round of 16, first game

Of course, after 21…Nxd5 22.exd5 Rc7 (if 22…Rc5 23.Nxb6 Rd8 24.Bc4! followed by b4-a5 is very favorable to white) 23.Nxe5 (now 23.Nxb6 would be worse because of 23…Rb8 24.a5 Bc8!, idea …Bg4 and he has counterplay) 23…dxe5 24.d6 Rd7 25.dxe7 Rxe7 26.Rd6, with a clearly superior endgame, but not sure it is objectively winning. Before the pure Bishop endgame, I’m not sure what I could have done better? I had considered 35.Rxe5 (instead of 35.Bf1) 35…Rc1+ 36.Bf1, but he has 36…Kf6! and after 37.Re3 Bd5 38.Ra3 (and not 38.Rd3? as I had initially planned, because of 38…Bc4 39.a7? Rxf1+!) 38…Bc4 39.a7 Bxf1 (39…Rxf1+? was loosing very nicely after 40.Kg2 Rd1 41.a8=Q Bd5+ 42.Rf3+! counter-check 🙂 ) 40.f3 Bc4+ 41.Kf2 Bd5 and draw.

Mvl-Wei Yi, round of 16, first game
Mvl-Wei Yi, round of 16, first game

In the transition to the Bishop endgame, he stumbled with 42…Kd4? 43.Rxc5 Kxc5 44.Re3 +-, while 42…Rxb5 43.Bxb5 f4! should have guaranteed the draw. During the game, I was counting on 44.g4!?. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t have been enough; after for example 44…Kd4 45.Bd7 Kc5 46.Bc8 Kb6 47.Kc3 Kc7 48.Bb7 Bxb7 49.axb7 Kxb7 50.Kd4 Kc6 (but not 50…e3? 51.fxe3 f3 52.Kd3 Kc6 53.Kd2! Kd5 54.Ke1 Ke5 55.Kf2 Ke4 56.h3! zugzwang, while 53.e4? would have missed the target: 53…Kd6 54.Ke3 Ke5 55.Kxf3 Kd4 56.h3 Kc5! – only move – 57.Ke3 Kc4 =) 51.Kxe4 Kc5 52.Kf5 Kd4 53.Kg6 Kd3! (not the other route 53…Ke4? 54.Kxh6 Kf3 55.Kxg5) 54.Kxh6 Ke2 55.Kxg5 f3 56.h4 Kxf2 57.h5 Kg3 58.h6 f2 59.h7 f1=Q 60.h8=Q Qf4+ =.

All in all, I would say that it was a pretty controlled game (1-0, 51 moves).

Launch of the tournament (Photo: Nadja Wittmann).
Launch of the tournament (Photo: Nadja Wittmann).

Najdorf again, but with reversed colours, for the second leg. In the 6.Nb3 variation, it was Peter Svidler who explained to me after my match against him in the World Cupthat the easiest way was 6…e6. I was obedient and actually got a good position pretty quickly, before even taking over.

I know there are people who didn’t understand why I often accepted draws in favourable positions during these mini KO matches. First of all, because the Elo race from the Candidates’ perspective has been over for me for some time . Secondly, because in this context, ensuring the bonus point remains the most important. And finally, I have no reason to spend two more hours playing, because the energy saved for the next round is also a factor. (1/2, 27 moves).

¼ Final:

MVL – TOPALOV (2740) 1,5 – 0,5

In the first game, I played a kind of delayed Benoni with black. I managed to keep delaying taking on d5 for a long time, and I regretted finally doing it on the 14th move.

Topalov-Mvl, 1/4 final, first game.
Topalov-Mvl, 1/4 final, first game.

If I had started with 14…a6, I would have allowed 15.Nf1 exd5 16.exd5 with a structural change, even if 16…Ta7 now would still have been comfortable for me. So, I preferred 14…exd5 15.cxd5 (15.exd5 Bf5! would now be inferior) 15…a6 16.Bf1 Nd7 (now that the c4 square is free, after 16…Ra7, white would have 17.Nc4 Rae7 18.Bg5! h6 19.Bh4 g5 20.Bg3 and if 20…Nxe4 21.Nxe4 Rxe4 22.Rxe4 Rxe4 23.Nxd6 with a clear advantage) 17.Na2 (I was rather expecting 17…f4, but as a good Benoni player himself, Topalov felt it was dangerous after 17…Bd4+ 18.Kh2 Nf6 19.Nf3 Bg4! 20.hxg4 Nxg4+ 21.Kg3 Bf2+ 22.Kh3 Qd7, like after 18.Kh1 Nf6 – or even 18…f5!?) 17…Ra7 18.Nc4 Ne5 with a balanced position.

The critical moment afterwards was when he decided to give the exchange with 28.Re3!?.

Topalov-Mvl, 1/4 final, first game.
Topalov-Mvl, 1/4 final, first game.

An interesting sacrifice in practice, especially since 28.Rd3 f5 was not particularly attractive to him. After 28…Bf4 29.Bf3 Bxe3 30.Bxe3 Rc8 31.Qd4, I saw the variation 31…Qe5 32.Qxb4 Rc3 33.Ff4 Rxb3! 34.Qxb3 Qxf4 more or less forced the draw, with the other move order looking identical 31…Rc3 32.Qxb4 Qe5. Except that starting with 31…Qe5?! gave him the extra option 32.Qa7!, and the position really gets out of control; 32…Be8 33.g3 Rc3, and then he should have played 34.Ff4!, even if it’s counter-intuitive not to put the Bishop on the long diagonal. After 34…Qf6 35.Qb8, I would have had to find 35…Rxf3 36.Qxe8+ Kg7 37.e5 Qf5 38.exd6 (38.e6 fxe6 39.dxe6 g5 40.Be3 Rxe3!) 38…Qxd5! 39.d7 Qd1+ 40.Kg2 Rxf4! – only move – 41.gxf4 Qd5+ 42.Kg3 Qd3+ 43.f3 Qd1! with perpetual.

Topalov-Mvl, 1/4 final, first game.
Topalov-Mvl, 1/4 final, first game.

In the complications, he erred with 36.Bf1? Rxb3 and white can no longer generate counterplay. (0-1, 44 moves).

I had seen that 36.Kg2? didn’t work either, because of 36…Qxe2 37.Qe7 Qf3+! 38.Kh2 Rc8. But the paradoxical move 36.Kh2! would have saved white: after 36…Rc7 (certainly not 36…Qxe2? now, because of 37.Qe7 Rc8 38.Qf6 Kf8 39.Qxd6+ Kg8 40.Qf6 Kf8 41.d6 +-) 37.Qxc7 Qxd4 38.Kg2 Qxe4+ 39.Bf3 Qe5 40.Qa5! =.

Let’s discuss the game! (Photo: Valeria Gordienko/World Chess).
Let’s discuss the game! (Photo: Valeria Gordienko/World Chess).

I controlled the secong game with white pretty well, playing the Exchange variation against the French, recently used a few times by Etienne Bacrot.

I locked everything up, but the important thing in these cases is to play with a plan, however basic it may be, and not to wait stupidly; in this case, a4 then b4-b5.

Mvl-Topalov, 1/4 final, return game.
Mvl-Topalov, 1/4 final, return game.

Dans la position finale, je ne me suis pas rendu compte que 27.Ta1! était si fort. Mais encore une fois, si je gagne ça ne change vraiment rien… (1/2, 26 cps).

In the final position, I didn’t realize that 27.Ra1! was so strong. But again, if I win it doesn’t really change anything… (1/2, 26 moves).

1/2 Final :

MVL – GRISCHUK (2771) 0.5-1.5

With white, I was surprised by his choice of the Arkhangelsk Spanish. As a result, I hesitated between 13.Bc2 and the resulting ton of theory, and 13.Be3, which is less risky. I chose the latter and got a very small plus, but I started making small miscalculations…

Mvl-Grischuk, 1/2 final, first game.
Mvl-Grischuk, 1/2 final, first game..

Especially when here I played 23.Ba4?! and instantly noticed that I was allowing 23…Nd5!. What Sacha and I both missed is that after 24.Nc6, black doesn’t only have 24…Qh4 25.g3, but also 24…Qf6! 25.Qxd5 Qxf4, and the position turns in his favor. So, while Sacha was thinking, I had decided, in case of 23…Nd5, to go for 24.Qf3 with a slight advantage for black.

Maybe if I had focused a little more on the position, I would have chosen 23.Ba2 with the idea Qd2-Rad1, and a microplus for white.

The rest of the game was a quick path towards the draw (1/2, 27 moves).

The start of a fatal game (Photo: Nadja Wittmann).
The start of a fatal game (Photo: Nadja Wittmann).

In the second game, in my usual English line with black (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e3), I had decided before the beginning of the tournament that I would not play again 5…Nxc3, but rather 5…e6.

Grischuk-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game
Grischuk-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game

During the game, I chose to avoid 12…Bb7 13.d5 exd5 14.Bxd5 Rad8 15.c4, even if it seems to be ok for black. I preferred 12…Rd8, with the idea that in case of 13.d5, I was ready to play 13…Na5 14.Bd3 c4 15.Fc2 e5!?.

After 13.Be3 Na5 14.Bd3 Bb7 15.h4!, I realized how unpleasant this kind of position was. So I played 15…b5!?… and after 16.Bxb5 Bxe4, I was all focused on 17.Ng5. He didn’t play it because of 17…cxd4 18.cxd4 a6, but I was rather on 17…Bf5!? 18.g4 Bg6 19.h5 Bxg5 20.Bxg5 Rd5 which seemed very messy to me. So when he played 17.dxc5, he took me by surprise and I reacted badly with this inopportune 17…Bxf3?, which I analyze as being just a bug in the understanding of the position. I thought about 17…Bd5, first choice of the machine, but I didn’t believe it… On the other hand, I rejected the natural 17…Bxc5 because of 18.Rxd8+ Rxd8 19.Bg5 Rb8 20.Qxe4 Rxb5 21.Rd1 and with such badly placed pieces, the position looked suspicious to me.

After 18.Qxf3 Bxc5, we both missed the 19.Bg5 Be7 20.Rd7! refutation, which was hard, but not impossible to find: 20…Rxd7 21.Bxd7 Rb8 22.Bxe7 Qxd7 23.Qg3 Nc6 24.Bf6 g6 25.Qf4 with great danger on black squares.

Nevertheless, after 19.Bf4 Qb7 20.Qe2, white remained better. But I thought to myself that, since the opening was not successful, I was bound to have a bad time, but maybe not so catastrophic.

Then, it seems he missed a machine win with 26.Qe4! instead of 26.Qd1?!. He didn’t play it because of 26…Qc1+ 27.Kh2 Rf8, and if 28.Rxa7 Qc5! with quadruple attack, but the computer improves this variation with 27.Bf1! Qc6 28.Qd3, and claims that white’s advantage is decisive.

The semi-finals seen from above (Photo: Valeria Gordienko/World Chess).
The semi-finals seen from above (Photo: Valeria Gordienko/World Chess).

In the game, after 26…h6 27.g3 Rf8 28.Rxa7 Nc6 29.Rd7 Ne5 30.Rd8, I saw this endgame Q+N vs Q+B with the passed a pawn coming, and thought I should find some resources. The truth is that it’s really hard to be precise in this position, a very difficult one to play. I chose the endgame transition 30…Qc7 31.Rxf8+ Kxf8 32.a4 Ke7;in fact, I wanted to have the King in the center, and not cornered after 30…Rxd8 31.Qxd8+ Kh7. I thought it was more important than keeping my Queen active; but again, these are really extremely difficult decisions to make.

Grischuk-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game
Grischuk-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game

Then, he offered me a little respite with 37.Qd7?! ; I had seen that in case of 37.Qa8!, threatening to take my King for a walk, I would have been in dire straits!

After move 40, I realized that if I kept Queens, I wasn’t going to hold the position. It is counter-intuitive, because normally you tell yourself that the Queen will allow you to generate counterplay and leave the white’s King at a distance. But in reality, as my Knight is out of the game, it is actually the Q+B couple that does too much damage, especially after forcing me to weaken the white squares by touching my f7 pawn!

After that, the resulting minor pieces ending is too hard to evaluate, I still don’t know if it is a win or not.

Grischuk-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game
Grischuk-Mvl, 1/2 final, return game

What is certain is that I should have played 47…Ke6! (instead of the defensive withdrawal 47…Kf6? 48.Kh5 Kg7 which gives white a clear plan to win: attack the d5 pawn on the long diagonal, force it to move to d4, then come back with the King towards e4 to surround it) 48.Kh5 d4 49.Kxh6 Kd5 and if it exists, which is well possible, it would take Sesse to show us the win ! It’s too hard, there’s too much to calculate 🙂 .

Anyway, Sacha played very well in this game. Sometimes you just have to accept that you haven’t played a good game and that your opponent has. (1-0, 53 moves).

All in all, even if it ends on a bad note, the tournament is not a bad one either. I am currently in second place, a qualifying one for the Candidates. I am a little ahead of my pursuers, and my fate in my hands before the last tournament in Jerusalem.

FIDE Grand Prix standings before the last tournament (Wikipedia).
FIDE Grand Prix standings before the last tournament (Wikipedia).

But what’s rather funny is that as far as the qualification for the Candidates is concerned, it doesn’t really change much whether I’m eliminated in the first round in Jerusalem, or whether I make the semi-finals! If Mamedyarov or Nepo go far, I better go far too. Otherwise, I can still score 0 and qualify. The difference in percentage of chances of qualifying between losing in the first round and going to the semi-finals may climb from 40 to 80%, whereas we have the impression that it should be from 20 to 100%! Finally, it should not be forgotten either that all players who have between 1 and 5 points in the overall ranking still have a theoretical chance to qualify, certainly infinitesimal for the former!

What is certain, however, is that clearly, the drawing of lots will be decisive…

I will also say a word about the announcement made by the Russian Federation concerning the famous wild card for the Candidates….

In principle, giving this privilege to a Russian is not a big concern in itself. Not only was it quite expected , but I’m not that fond of qualifying through this method; I think the wild card should definitely be deleted…

On the other hand, the timing of the announcement was really crazy. As in 2017, they do not wait for the tournaments to be completed, they do not wait for the cycle to be completed. As a result, they generate an unclear situation. What happens if, for example, Karjakin or Jakovenko is 3rd in the Grand Prix?

And then, why make us play a match for third place at the World Cup? I played that match, I won it, and it’s no use at all.

I will end on a positive note by congratulating Sacha Grischuk on his success in Hamburg, and for what looks like a quasi-qualification for the Candidates!

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The Ile-de-France Chess League and the Beaux-Arts de Paris organized, within the framework of the autumn festival and Anna Boghiguian’s exhibition « The square, the line and the ruler », several chess activities. Especially on October 31, for Halloween, there was a « Meeting of Spells » in the form of an Escape game « Arts, chess and mathematics », in which Maxime participated, a few days before his departure for Hamburg.

Played in the Chapelle des Beaux-Arts – staged for the occasion – this Escape Game consisted in solving mathematical, logical and artistic puzzles using the game of Chess, and this in limited time.

By the way, Maxime’s team won… 🙂

Maxime’s games :