Etienne Bacrot on reliving the winning feeling

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
9/20/2021 – Etienne Bacrot went into this year’s World Cup without any expectations, including qualifying for the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix, a series of three tournaments that will serve as a qualifying route for the next Candidates. Understandably so, as the last time the French Grandmaster had played in a Fide Grand Prix was in 2013. "Based solely on my rating (2658), I could not have qualified for the Grand Prix. It’s crazy that I made it this time," Bacrot said on the sidelines of a rapid tournament that was held in Asniéres-sur-Seine near Paris on September 11 and 12. | Photo: Pascal Simon (Archive)

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The 38-year-old, who is an eight-time French national champion, had an impressive run at the recently held World Cup in Sochi that saw him reach the quarterfinal, with the victory in the fourth round securing him a Grand Prix spot. The unique feature of Bacrot’s four encounters was that each of them was decided in the rapid tiebreakers. "While the results were great for me, in each tiebreaker, my opponents had equal chances of winning," he said.

Bacrot reckons his best performance of the tournament was in the third round against GM Pavel Ponkratov. After the two players had scored a win each in the classical games, Bacrot won the rapid tiebreak 1.5-0.5.

Here's the crucial second game of the tiebreak:


The fourth-round encounter between Bacrot and Kacper Piorun went down to the wire as Bacrot found himself in a must-win situation with the black pieces in the tiebreaker. This was after their two classical games ended in draws and Piorun had won the first rapid game with Black. "Given that the winner of this encounter would qualify for the 2022 Grand Prix, it wasn’t surprising the match was so intense," said Bacrot, who won the crunch game with black pieces to level the tie.


He subsequently won the next two rapid games to move into the quarter final.

The win meant Bacrot was pitted against Magnus Carlsen in the quarter final. "Obviously, it was going to be extremely tough for me. But I had prepared well for the match. Moreover, because of my role as a second to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, I knew the kind of lines Magnus played. I had never beaten him, so I thought let's give it a try," Bacrot added.

Magnus Carlsen at the World Cup 2021 | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova/FIDE

The Frenchman felt he had chances against the World Champion with the white pieces. "He gave up some pawns and I couldn’t see how I was worse. Perhaps, I should have played for a draw. But I couldn’t resign myself to doing it as I had more time on the clock and I thought my position was better. But he played extremely well. In fact, I got completely outplayed. It isn’t a nice feeling, but it was still a tough game. I don’t think many players would have found all the moves he did," Bacrot said.


In the second game too, Bacrot thought he had some chances. "But Magnus found a move (h4) that took me completely by surprise. After h4, I couldn’t do anything." Bacrot lost the second game and bowed out of the tournament. "I was hoping Magnus would take it easy. But I faced him when he was playing at his best," Bacrot said with a smile.


According to Bacrot, playing in the Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour in June turned out to be ideal preparation for the World Cup. The Paris event was a rapid tournament featuring the world's top Grandmasters.

Bacrot gave a good account of himself in the rapid section, finishing third behind Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Vladimir Kramnik replaced Bacrot in the blitz tournament. "Playing in Paris was a great experience. Prior to the GCT, I hadn’t played a tournament for close to nine months. 

"The other event that helped me get in shape for the World Cup, was  the French club championship (Top 12)," he said. Bacrot is the captain of Bischwiller which won their third consecutive ‘Top 12’ championship this May.

Interestingly, despite a strong run in the World Cup, Bacrot lost a few rating points. But he isn’t bothered by it. "I don’t care about my rating that much. What’s more important is that I feel my moves are flowing smoothly. The last time I did this well was in 2015 when I reached a rating of 2740. I guess I should use this time and play more," he said.

Bacrot is looking forward to the Grand Swiss which takes place in October. He will also be participating in a tournament in Malmo, Sweden starting on September 23 besides occasionally turning up for rapid tournaments, like the one in Paris last weekend, which he convincingly won by scoring 10.5 points in 11 rounds.


Rencontre Etienne - Le Champion


Dhananjay is a Paris based journalist and a chess enthusiast. While he enjoys playing the game, he is more fascinated by the drama and history associated with it.


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