Grand Chess Tour - Paris: Magnus Carlsen dominates

by Alex Yermolinsky
6/23/2017 – For chess fans, Day Two in the Paris tournament in the Grand Chess Tour was a wonderful day to follow the games. The players produced inspired attacks with sacrificed pieces, creative strategy, and all-round fighting spirit. Once more, the big name was Magnus Carlsen, who displayed the brilliant form that had been lacking since his world title defense last November. Close behind is Hikaru Nakamura, trailing by just half a point. Report and many analyzed games by GM Alex Yermolinsky.

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The Paris tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is running from June 21-25. It is a combination of Rapid and Blitz games. The ten participants are Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Etienne Bacrot. They will play nine rapid games, three a day, from June 21–23. The games start at 14:00h, 15:30h and 17:00h European Standard Summer Time. The Blitz tournament is on June 24 and 25, with nine rounds on each day, starting at 14:00h. The total prize fund is $150,000!

Note that the event is using the Bronstein mode: the players have 25 minutes for all the moves of a rapid game, and a ten second delay per move. This means that the clock does not run for ten seconds – the point is that you cannot accumulate time by playing very quickly in the Bronstein Mode.

Day two

All photos by Lennart Ootes

Yesterday Magnus Carlsen was the beneficiary of a couple of blunders. In Day Two he hardly needed any. First, he faced his co-leader, Wesley So, and finally produced a really good game.

In the very first round of day two, Magnus Carlsen showed just how good he was feeling, and played a majestic game against Wesley So

Wesley So vs Magnus Carlsen

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "4.3"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2812"] [BlackElo "2832"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. c3 d6 7. Re1 a6 8. Bb3 Re8 9. h3 h6 10. Nbd2 Be6 11. Nf1 Bxb3 12. Qxb3 d5 {[#]I'm no expert on this structure, but it seems to me Black has fully equalized here.} 13. Be3 { Not sure about this one either} (13. Ng3 Qd7 14. Bd2 Bb6 15. Rad1 Rad8 16. Bc1 $11) 13... Bf8 $1 14. Rad1 Na5 $1 (14... d4 $6 15. cxd4 exd4 16. Bd2 {is quite fine for White.}) 15. Qc2 c5 16. exd5 {Understandable.} ({Wesley wasn't keen on giving Magnus tons of space after} 16. Ng3 Nc6 17. Bc1 d4 {as White's play on the K-side is going nowhere:} 18. Nf5 Kh7 19. g4 g6 20. Ng3 b5 21. g5 Nd7 22. gxh6 Bxh6 23. h4 Nf8 {etc.}) 16... Qxd5 17. Bd2 Nc6 18. Ne3 Qd7 $15 { The Classic Maroczy Bind of a Bogo-Indian variety. White is very short of ideas here.} 19. Nc4 Qc7 20. a4 b5 21. axb5 axb5 22. Na3 Qb7 23. c4 b4 24. Nb5 Rad8 {[#]} 25. Ra1 $6 (25. Bc1 Re6 26. b3 g6 27. Bb2 Qe7 28. Re3 Bg7 29. Rde1 Nh5 30. g3 $15 {I realize this is no great shakes, but I see nothing better for White but stay put.}) 25... Qd7 26. Ra6 Re6 27. Qa4 {Fishing for chances.} ({Instead,} 27. Rea1 {was tactically sound:} Qxd3 28. Qxd3 Rxd3 29. Nc7 Red6 30. Nb5) 27... Qxd3 $1 {[#] No hesitation from Magnus. The King is back.} 28. Bxh6 $5 {This is a clever try, the best Wesley could come up with.} ({On} 28. Nc7 {Magnus would flex his muscles with} Nd4 $1 29. Nxe6 (29. Nxd4 Rxa6 30. Qxa6 cxd4 {is just plain hopeless.}) 29... Nxf3+ 30. gxf3 Qxd2 $1 31. Nxd8 Qxe1+ 32. Kg2 Nh5 {[#] The finish is very instructive:} 33. Qa1 Nf4+ 34. Kg3 Qd2 35. Nc6 Nd3 36. Qf1 Ne1 37. Nxe5 g5 $1 38. Rf6 Bd6 {Look at the pathetic role played by the white queen.}) 28... gxh6 {Carlsen goes materialistic.} ( 28... e4 $5 29. Ng5 Re5 30. Rxc6 gxh6 31. Rxf6 Rxg5 {would not yet gain Black any extra pawns or pieces, but with the white forces scattered all over, the spoils of war wouldn't be long in coming.}) 29. Nc7 Nd4 {In Rapid (and even more in Blitz!) it's essentual to trust your calculations and go all the way.} ({Magnus refused to get distracted by} 29... Red6 30. Rxc6 e4 31. Nh2 Qd2 $19) 30. Nxd4 Rxa6 31. Qxa6 Rd6 $1 32. Nc6 Qf5 $1 33. Nd5 (33. Qa8 Qd7 {hits both knights.}) 33... Qe6 {This is how far Carlsen had to calculate, and no one can find a fault in his work. Impressive.} 34. Qa8 Rxc6 35. Re3 Ne8 36. Rg3+ Kh7 37. Rf3 e4 38. Rf4 Ra6 39. Rxf7+ Qxf7 40. Qxa6 Bg7 41. Qc6 Bd4 42. Kh2 Ng7 43. Ne3 Qf4+ 0-1

Actually, Round Four featured some of the best games of the tournament so far. Hikaru Nakamura delighted his fans with the following performance.

Hikaru Nakamura has managed to keep pace with the world champion, and trails by only half a point

Hikaru Nakamura vs Etienne Bacrot

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Bacrot, Etienne"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2785"] [BlackElo "2708"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "51"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. d3 b6 6. Nbd2 Bb7 7. e4 dxe4 $5 8. dxe4 Nc6 9. a3 a5 10. e5 Nd7 11. Re1 Nc5 12. Qe2 O-O {[#] Black is playing dangerous games by leaving his king short of defenders, but things are far from simple.} 13. h4 (13. Ne4 Qd5 14. Nc3 Nd4 15. Nxd5 Nxe2+ 16. Rxe2 Bxd5 17. Nd4 $14 {is nice for White, but from Black's perspective it's much superior to getting mated.}) 13... h6 ({Here, and on the next two moves, Bacrot should have been looking at} 13... Qd5 $1 {Centralization is the key. The obvious tactical point is} 14. Nf1 $4 Nd4 $19) 14. Nf1 a4 {Inconsequential.} (14... Qd5 15. N1h2 (15. Rd1 Qe4 {Black always welcomes a queen trade in this structure.}) 15... Nd4 16. Qd2 Nf5 {That knight will help Black to shore up his K-side defenses.}) 15. N1h2 Qc8 $2 (15... Qd5 16. Bf4 Rfd8 17. Qe3 Qc4 18. Rac1 Nd4 $11) 16. Ng4 Rd8 {[#] Bacrot shows his contempt for White's imposing build-up.} (16... h5 17. Ngh2 Ba6 18. Qe3 {and White will go on with g3-g4}) 17. Nxh6+ $1 {Punishment comes his way.} gxh6 18. Bxh6 f5 ({Better chances of defending are offered by} 18... Kh7 {particularly if White follows a direct line,} 19. Bg5 ({ I like} 19. Be3 Kg7 20. Qc4 Rh8 21. Rad1 {more.}) 19... Nd4 20. Nxd4 Bxg5 21. Qh5+ Bh6 22. Qxf7+ Kh8 23. Bxb7 Qxb7 24. Nxe6 Nxe6 25. Qxe6 Bg7 26. Qg4 { The four pawns are nice, but White no longer has the firepower to checkmate the black king.}) 19. exf6 Bxf6 20. Ng5 Qd7 21. Qg4 Bg7 22. Rad1 Qe7 23. Rxd8+ Rxd8 24. Nxe6 Rd4 25. Qxg7+ Qxg7 26. Nxg7 {A business-like demolition job by Nakamura.} 1-0

In the next game Nakamura made an important step forward by winning with black against Grischuk. For a long time Hikaru was on the defensive, but his magic held, and eventually Alexander drifted into his customary time trouble. Nakamura seized his chance in the notorious rook and bishop against lone rook endgame. Alarmingly so, this isn't the first time the Russian fails to defend such endings. I recall his loss to Gata Kamsky in the Istanbul Olympiad in 2012. Perhaps, a remedial session at ‘What Every Russian Schoolboy Knows’ is in order.

Another contender who emerged from the pack today is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. His forceful, yet elegant play is well-suited for faster time controls.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E60"] [WhiteElo "2800"] [BlackElo "2796"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 c6 4. Bg2 d5 5. Qa4 Nfd7 $1 6. cxd5 Nb6 {A standard spot for the king's knight in the Grunfeld.} 7. Qd1 cxd5 8. Nc3 Nc6 {[#]} 9. a4 $5 {Shak always seeks new ideas.} (9. Nf3 Bg7 10. O-O O-O {is known to be comfortable for Black.}) (9. e3 $5 Bg7 10. Nge2 O-O 11. O-O Re8 12. b3 e5 13. dxe5 Nxe5 {Topalov-Giri, London 2015.}) 9... e6 $2 {This is exactly what White was hoping for. The fate of Bc8 is sealed.} ({Compare to} 9... a5 10. Bf4 Bf5 $1 11. Nb5 Rc8) 10. Nf3 Bg7 11. h4 h6 12. O-O O-O 13. b3 Re8 14. Bf4 $1 { Not allowing Black to break out with e6-e5.} a6 15. Qd2 Kh7 16. Rad1 Bd7 17. e4 $1 {Shak gets down to business.} dxe4 18. Nxe4 Nd5 19. Rfe1 Qb6 20. h5 $1 g5 21. Bd6 {[#]} Rad8 {Now the black rooks get tangled up.} ({Problem is,} 21... Red8 {invites} 22. Nexg5+ hxg5 23. Nxg5+ Kg8 24. Bxd5 $1 exd5 25. Qd3 f5 26. Qf3 Qa5 27. h6 {with mate just around the corner.}) 22. Bc5 $1 ({In this setting} 22. Nfxg5+ hxg5 23. Nxg5+ Kg8 24. Qd3 f5 25. Bxd5 exd5 26. Qf3 { meets with} Nxd4 27. Qxd5+ Be6 $1 {That's where Re8 comes in handy.}) 22... Qc7 23. Nd6 Nxd4 $6 {Desperation, Nevada.} (23... Rf8 24. Nc4 {wins the exchange, as the other threat is Bb6.}) 24. Bxd4 (24. Nxd4 Qxc5 25. Nxf7 Rc8 26. Nxe6 Bxe6 27. Qd3+ Kg8 28. Rxe6 Rxe6 29. Bxd5 Rce8 30. Nd8 {wouldn't be too shabby either.}) 24... Qxd6 25. Nxg5+ $1 Kg8 (25... hxg5 26. Bxg7 Kxg7 27. Qxg5+ Kf8 28. h6 e5 29. h7 {and White QUEENS.}) 26. Ne4 Qb8 (26... Qf8 27. Bc5 Ne7 28. Qb4 {looks very depressing.}) 27. Bxg7 Kxg7 28. Qb2+ 1-0

I was looking for Fabiano Caruana to bounce back today from his dreadful 0/6 (remember, the points count twice in the rapid) performance yesterday. After all, in spite of three losses, he had built inspired winning positions in two of the games, so the potential for a big score was certainly there. However, it just wasn't meant to be.

An indecisiveness in Fabiano Caruana's decision making is getting him into constant time trouble, and he ended the day on a terrible 0.5/6, or 1.0/12 since each rapid game is worth two points

Sergey Karjakin vs Fabiano Caruana

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "4.4"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C07"] [WhiteElo "2781"] [BlackElo "2808"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. Ngf3 cxd4 6. Bc4 Qd7 7. O-O Nf6 8. Nb3 Nc6 9. Nbxd4 Nxd4 10. Nxd4 a6 11. Bg5 Qc7 12. Bd3 Bd6 13. h3 Be5 14. c3 h6 15. Bh4 Bd7 16. Re1 O-O-O 17. Qf3 Bxd4 18. cxd4 Bc6 19. Qe2 Rxd4 20. Bg3 Qa5 21. Rac1 $6 (21. Qe3 Qd5 22. Bf1 $44) 21... Qd5 22. Rxc6+ bxc6 23. Bxa6+ Kd7 24. Rc1 Ke7 25. Bb7 Ne4 26. Bxc6 Nxg3 27. fxg3 Qxa2 28. Qe5 Rhd8 29. Kh2 Kf8 30. Bf3 Qxb2 31. Rc7 {[#] Karjakin had been reduced to playing for tricks ever since he lost his d4-pawn..} Qb8 $2 (31... Qb4 {would put the end to it.}) 32. Qc5+ Kg8 33. Qe7 Rf8 34. Bh5 {Suddenly, White's got something going.} Qd8 $2 { Still, there was no reason to panic.} (34... Rd2 $1 35. Bxf7+ Kh8 36. Bg6 (36. Bxe6 $2 Rxg2+ {and Black mates.}) 36... Rg8 37. Be4 Re2 $17) 35. Bxf7+ Kh8 36. Qxd8 Rdxd8 37. Bxe6 $11 {Just like that, all his winning chances are gone.} Rf2 38. g4 g6 39. Rc5 Re2 40. Bf7 Kg7 41. Bd5 Rd7 42. Bf3 Rb2 43. Rc6 Rbd2 44. Kg3 R2d6 45. Rc8 g5 46. Ra8 1/2-1/2

Once again, Fabiano is getting the positions, but he is leaving himself with too little time to convert. I'm afraid this is no accident, because it happens all the time. It's beyond the pale for a player of Fabiano's caliber to sink to a 2703 Rapid rating. Is he really over 200 Elo weaker than Magnus Carlsen? Of course not, and there is no way Magnus, or anyone else who walks this planet, should be expected to score 77% against Fabiano in any kind of chess. So you say, it's just rapid, wait till they meet in classical time control tournaments? The problem is, losing is contagious. First you start by losing from good positions, then you graduate to losing all-around bad games.

Here is a case in point:

Fabiano Caruana vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "5.4"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C81"] [WhiteElo "2808"] [BlackElo "2800"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Qe2 Nc5 10. Nc3 Nxb3 11. cxb3 Be7 12. Be3 $5 (12. Rd1 {would transpose to known theory. Fabiano himself had a first-hand experience with this position } O-O 13. Be3 Qd7 14. h3 Rad8 15. Rd2 {was Caruana-Giri, Sinquefield Cup 2016}) 12... O-O 13. h3 Qd7 14. Rad1 {An attempt to improve on his own play.} f6 $1 15. exf6 Rxf6 16. Ng5 Rd8 17. Rfe1 {This is the idea. The other rook comes in handy on the e-file.} Rf5 {[#]} ({Better was} 17... Rg6 18. Nxe6 Qxe6 19. Kh1 Qf5 20. f4 h5 $1) 18. Nce4 $2 {It's amazing what a bad form can do even to a great player. Barely a couple of moves out of book, in a position he had played and studied before, Caruana goes astray.} ({The logical} 18. g4 { would practically force Black to sac the exchange:} Re5 (18... Rff8 19. Bc1 { will cost Black his d5-pawn.}) 19. f4 Bxg5 20. fxe5 Be7 {Granted Black isn't dead yet, but how can White reject this position?}) 18... h6 19. Nxe6 Qxe6 20. Ng3 Re5 {[#] Already White is the one under pressure.} 21. Qd3 (21. f4 Rxe3 22. Qxe3 Qxe3+ 23. Rxe3 Bc5 {is unneerving, but} 24. Nf5 $1 Rf8 25. Rc1 {seem to hold.}) 21... Bc5 22. Rc1 Bb6 23. Re2 $2 {When it rains, it pours....} (23. a3 Re8 24. b4 $15) 23... Nb4 24. Qd2 d4 25. Bf4 Rxe2 26. Nxe2 Nxa2 27. Re1 Re8 28. Kf1 Qxb3 29. Nxd4 Rxe1+ 30. Kxe1 Qa4 31. Nc2 Ba5 32. b4 Nxb4 0-1

The next game shows how unwise it is on the part of  Magnus Carlsen’s opposition to cut him any breaks when he's struggling. Sooner rather than later Magnus' confidence comes back, and he begins to steamroll through his competition.

Veselin Topalov has been unable to get into gear so far

Magnus Carlsen vs Veselin Topalov

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "5.5"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Topalov, Veselin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D76"] [WhiteElo "2832"] [BlackElo "2749"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 d5 6. cxd5 Nxd5 7. O-O Nb6 8. Nc3 Nc6 9. d5 Na5 10. e4 c6 11. Bf4 Nac4 12. Qe2 Bg4 13. h3 Bxf3 14. Bxf3 cxd5 15. exd5 {[#] A fairly common Grunfeld structure.} Re8 (15... Nd6 {Carlsen-Wei Yi, 2016}) 16. Rac1 e5 $2 {An unfortunate idea. Helping White's Bf3 into the game is not recommended.} 17. dxe6 Rxe6 18. Qc2 g5 19. Rfd1 Qe7 20. Bd2 Rd8 ({ The only way to justify g6-g5 seemed} 20... Nxd2 21. Qxd2 {but in a few moves,} Re5 22. Kg2 Rf8 23. b3 f5 24. a4 a5 {the game would turn into a typical Carlsen endgame. I wouldn't rate Black's chances of survival too optimistically.} 25. Qd6 $16) 21. Nd5 $1 Nxd5 22. Qxc4 Red6 23. Re1 Qf6 24. Qg4 h6 25. Rc8 $1 Bf8 26. Bxd5 ({Magnus didn't seem to trust} 26. Re8 Rxc8 27. Qxc8 Qxf3 28. Rxf8+ Kg7 29. Rh8 Rg6 {although White stands better after} 30. Rg8+ Kh7 31. Re8 Qd1+ 32. Be1 {as Black's problems with his king seem permanent.}) 26... Rxd5 27. Bc3 Qg6 (27... Qd6 $142) 28. Re8 $2 {[#]} (28. Qf3 Rxc8 29. Qxd5 {is still much better for White.}) 28... Rxe8 $2 {Veselin was really low on time.} ({He missed his only chance:} 28... Rd1+ 29. Kh2 Rxe8 30. Rxe8 Qd3 $1 { as} 31. Qb4 Rh1+ $1 {draws by perpetual.}) 29. Rxe8 Qb1+ 30. Kh2 Qf1 31. Be1 Kg7 32. Qf3 1-0

Magnus and Hikaru concluded a productive day at the office by playing a long, but largely uneventful draw in their head-to-head game. It's interesting how similar Carlsen's strategy was to his game from Round One against Grischuk. In both games Magnus accepted a small structural weakness early, only to frustrate his opponents with a measured and calm defense.

It was a long but uneventful game between the two leaders, Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen

If things continue this way tomorrow I expect Carlsen to wrap up the rapid chess part of the tournament rather easily.

Next to the championship-level chess, demonstrated today by Carlsen, Nakamura and Mamedyarov, the following example looks like a pick-up blitz game from the Sokolniki Park in Moscow.

Sergey Karjakin vs Alexander Grischuk

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "6.2"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C07"] [WhiteElo "2781"] [BlackElo "2761"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. Ngf3 cxd4 6. Bc4 Qd6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Nb3 Nc6 9. Nbxd4 Nxd4 10. Nxd4 a6 11. Re1 Qc7 12. Bf1 Be7 13. Qf3 O-O 14. Bf4 Bd6 15. Bxd6 Qxd6 16. Rad1 Qb6 17. Qb3 Qc7 18. c4 Bd7 19. Nf3 Rfd8 20. Ne5 Be8 21. Qe3 a5 22. b3 b6 23. g3 Rac8 24. Bg2 h6 25. Bf3 Rxd1 26. Rxd1 Qc5 27. Rd4 a4 28. Kg2 axb3 29. axb3 b5 30. h4 bxc4 31. bxc4 h5 32. Qf4 Qa5 33. Nd3 Qc7 34. Ne5 Qa5 35. Qe3 Qc5 36. Kg1 Rb8 37. Qf4 Rc8 38. Rd2 Qa5 39. Qd4 Rc5 40. Re2 Qc7 41. Kh2 Kh8 42. Qf4 Kg8 43. Qd4 Kh8 44. Qe3 Kg8 45. Re1 Ra5 46. Kg2 Rc5 47. Qd4 Kh8 48. Qa1 Kg8 49. Re3 Ra5 50. Qe1 Rc5 51. Kh2 Kh8 52. Qe2 Kg8 {[#] There's nothing wrong with Black's position, but Grischuk was down to seconds on his clock. I'd mention that this tournament is played with the Bronstein Clock, which is known in the United States as "delay". Unlike the increment time controls, time is not added to the clock if a move is played under the allocated ten seconds of "free" time.} 53. Bxh5 {In this situation Karjakin felt obliged to do something, but in the process he also let his clock run dangerously low.} Nd7 54. Nxd7 Bxd7 55. Rc3 (55. Re4 g6 56. Bf3 Bc6 57. Re3 Bxf3 58. Qxf3 Rxc4 $11) 55... Bb5 $1 56. Ra3 $2 Rxc4 57. Ra8+ Kh7 {and here came the blunder} 58. Bf3 $4 (58. Bg4 Qc5 59. Ra5 $1 {and White holds.}) 58... Rxh4+ 0-1

This is how Alexander Grischuk rose to +1, and Sergey Karjakin sank to -2. Alexander can still do well in the tournament, although we shouldn't forget that he's a wild card in this year's Tour, and this might be his only appearance in top level events for the foreseeable future. Unless he qualifies for the Candidates, that is.

With one loss, and two draws, day two was not the best for world no. 2 Wesley So

Karjakin's struggles in Rapid chess are well-documented. He looked totally out-matched in the tie-breaks of the World Championship match in 2016, but then again, he was facing Carlsen, of course. On the other hand, even though Sergey played poorly in the World Rapid in Doha at the end of 2016, he came back to win the World Championship Blitz title just a few days later. Is this his game plan for this event as well? Botch the rapids and clean up in the blitz?

What else to talk about? How about more Caruana misery:

Fabiano Caruana vs Etienne Bacrot

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "6.4"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Bacrot, Etienne"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A21"] [WhiteElo "2808"] [BlackElo "2708"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Bb4 3. Nd5 Bc5 4. e3 Nf6 5. b4 Be7 6. Nxe7 Qxe7 7. Bb2 O-O 8. Nf3 d6 9. d3 b6 10. Be2 Bb7 11. O-O Nbd7 12. Nd2 h6 13. d4 Nh7 14. d5 f5 15. a4 c6 16. dxc6 Bxc6 17. a5 Ndf6 18. b5 Bb7 19. a6 Bc8 20. f4 Re8 21. fxe5 dxe5 22. Qb3 Ng5 23. Nf3 Nf7 24. Nh4 Ne4 25. Nxf5 Qg5 26. Ng3 Nd2 27. Qc3 Nxf1 28. Rxf1 Bg4 29. Ne4 Qh4 30. Bd3 Be6 31. c5 bxc5 32. Qxc5 Rec8 33. Qb4 Rc4 34. Qb3 Rac8 35. Bxc4 Bxc4 36. Qc2 Be6 37. Qb1 Rb8 {[#]} 38. Nc3 $6 {Once again, a good game gets spoiled by time trouble.} ({Instead, the inventive} 38. Ba3 $1 { would set up} Bc4 39. Nf6+ $1 gxf6 40. Qg6+ Kh8 41. Be7 {and White wins.}) 38... Bc4 39. Rf2 Ng5 40. Qf5 Rd8 41. Qxe5 $4 {This is a full point turnaround. } ({White had to throw in} 41. b6 $1 {The idea becomes visible after} axb6 ( 41... Be6 42. Qxe5 Qg4 43. Qg3 Qxg3 44. hxg3 axb6 45. Rf1 Ra8 46. Ra1 $16) 42. a7 Be6 43. Qxe5 Qg4 44. Qb8 $1) 41... Qg4 $1 {The twin threats cannot be stopped.} 42. h4 (42. Kh1 Rd1+) 42... Nh3+ 43. Kh2 Nxf2 44. Qe7 Rf8 45. b6 Bf1 0-1

Etienne Bacrot was one of the wild-card invitees, and was certainly happy to put an end to his equally miserable losing streak, by beating Fabiano Caruana

With two thirds of the way through the rapid I can see a line separating the field in two distinct halves. The players with a plus score will, in most likeliness, finish in the top half; while the bottom half seem destined to languish there.

One undefined variable is top French player, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who so far has played better than his 50% score indicates. As a parting gift, I'd like to present his nice win over Veselin Topalov, the game I didn't have the time to properly annotate.

At 50%, top French player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has been a bit of a question mark. He is certainly capable of fantastic results in rapid and blitz, but so far he has not been able to do better than break even with two wins and two losses.

Veselin Topalov vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.22"] [Round "6.5"] [White "Topalov, Veselin"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2749"] [BlackElo "2796"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. f3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. Be3 h5 9. Qd2 Nbd7 10. Nd5 Bxd5 11. exd5 g6 12. Be2 Bg7 13. O-O b6 14. c4 O-O 15. Rac1 a5 16. Qd1 a4 17. Nd2 Nc5 18. Nb1 Re8 19. Nc3 e4 20. f4 Nd3 21. Bxd3 Ng4 22. Bf2 exd3 23. Qxd3 Ra7 24. Bd4 (24. Nb5 $1 Nxf2 (24... Rae7 25. Bh4) 25. Rxf2 Rae7 26. Rcf1 Re3 27. Qd2 Bf6 28. Nd4 $14) 24... Rae7 25. Bxg7 Re3 26. Qd2 Kxg7 27. f5 Qh4 28. g3 (28. h3 Rxh3 29. gxh3 Re3 30. hxg4 Rg3+ 31. Qg2 Rxg2+ 32. Kxg2 Qxg4+ 33. Kf2 Qf4+ 34. Ke2 Qxc4+ 35. Kd2 g5 $13) 28... Qg5 29. Qd4+ f6 30. Qf4 $1 (30. fxg6 Nxh2 $1) 30... Qxf4 31. gxf4 h4 $5 (31... a3 $5) 32. Nxa4 h3 33. Rc3 gxf5 34. Rxe3 Rxe3 35. Nc3 Kh6 36. a4 Kh5 37. a5 $6 (37. c5 bxc5 ( 37... dxc5 38. d6) 38. a5 Re8 39. a6 Rg8 40. Rf3 Nh6+ 41. Rg3 Ra8 42. Rxh3+ Kg6 $11) 37... bxa5 38. c5 dxc5 39. d6 Re8 40. Rd1 Rg8 $1 41. Re1 $2 (41. Rd3 $8 Ne5+ 42. Rg3 Rxg3+ 43. hxg3 Nd7 44. Kh2 Kg6 45. Kxh3 Kf7 46. g4 fxg4+ 47. Kxg4 Ke6 48. Nb5 $11) 41... Ne5+ 42. Kf1 Nf3 43. Re2 Rd8 44. Nb5 Kg4 $19 45. Re7 Nxh2+ 46. Kf2 Kxf4 0-1

No, this is not a picture of the NASA flight control center, this is the inside of the Canal+ studios where the competition is being held. Every night at 11pm, a one-hour show summarizing the day's action is broadcast on the famous cable channel. Canal+ was the first cable channel in France.

Standings after six rounds


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Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.
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KevinC KevinC 6/24/2017 02:23
@dumkof, the word "dominate" has the connotation of how you are doing compared to others. He is leading, and playing great, but not dominating by the definition of the word. Sorry.
Mark S Mark S 6/23/2017 07:11
@Materex with accurate play, the position would be equal with equal pawns and 2 pieces per side. 36.Nf6+ is not necessarily winning but with that move,white would recover his lost minor piece.
Mark S Mark S 6/23/2017 07:07
I like almost all analysis of Alex Yermonlinsky here at Chessbase, but on the first featured game above So-Carlsen I can't believe Alex missed the drawing line of white at the end of the game after all those complications with 36.Nf6+!! which could continue like: 36. Nf6+ Kg7 37. Nxe8+ Kh8 38. Nf6 Rc8 39. Qf3 Bg7 40. Nh5 Re8 41. b3 e4 42. Nxg7 Kxg7 43. Qg3+ Kh7 44. Qc7 Qe7 45. Qf4 Qe6 46. g4 Kh8 47. Kg2 = That line equalizes everything, I think So didn't realize that after 37.Qxf6 Qxe8 the c6 rook is under attack and Qf6 overloaded and cannot defend the Bf8 which would fall too after white plays the unstoppable Rg3+ and the black K is forced to leave his Bf8. Just a minor thing, but it simply means these Top 1 and Top 2 can also miss simple tactics if low on clock, considering So has 3 minutes before move 36 and Carlsen has exactly 2 minutes plus of course there is 10 second clock delay per move. If So didn't miss this 36.Nf6+ tactic then the score could have been halved 1/2-1/2 for these chess elites.
Materex Materex 6/23/2017 07:07
Yermolinsky missed 36. Nf6 in the So vs Carlsen match, with white advantage.
DaTribe DaTribe 6/23/2017 06:59
I would say Kevin is correct. We could be positive and blow smoke out of the rear or be realistic and say Magnus is playing very well, but we surely cannot say "dominate".
dumkof dumkof 6/23/2017 04:30
Kevin, he scored 5/6, with a 3063 rating performance! What more do you want? :)
Let's be a bit more positive and constructive.
KevinC KevinC 6/23/2017 02:39
I guess a 1/2 point lead is now what passes for "dominates"? I expected a two-point lead.