GCT Paris: Nakamura by a nose

by Alex Yermolinsky
6/25/2018 – Sergey Karjakin seemed unstoppable after Saturday's first nine rounds of blitz, however, Nakamura finally emerged as the winner of the Paris Grand Chess Tour. Hikaru fought until last minute and finished one and a half points ahead of the field. Meanwhile, Wesley So played it safe to get clear third and keep the lead in the Tour overall standings. | Photos: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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A three-horse race

While I had been following the first stage of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour — Your Next Move in Leuven — quite closely, my schedule did not allow me to catch more glimpses of the live action.

As in Leuven, Wesley So was able to win the rapid section, albeit not with the same huge margin. While in Leuven, he managed to just barely eek out a win, this time around several of the blitz specialists were able to quickly close the gap on the first day. Karjakin grabbed the lead after winning six (including against So) and losing two with just a single draw on the day.

But on Sunday "Surging Sergey" stalled, and he won only one game, which was still enough to take clear second place in the combined standings.

We all saw how Wesley struggled in the blitz portion in Leuven, and his start in Paris was no different.

 

So lost his lead, but not his head, as the following game at the start of day five attests.

 

For the rest of the tournament Wesley kept his composure, basically trying to draw every game. His openings with Black held, and the final score of +2-2=14 was good enough to finish third overall and keep the Tour lead after the first two events.

So played it cool in the final day of blitz | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The hero of the day was Hikaru Nakamura, who finally was able to win a tournament after taking a backseat so far in 2018. Hikaru's blitz skills need no further advertising, and today he particularly shined in his trademark tactical defence.

 

So and Nakamura

A draw with So and a win over Mamedyarov sealed the tournament for Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

With the tournament win already in the bag, Nakamura nonetheless pushed hard for a win at the end of the last round game after Caruana blundered away a big advantage.

 

Watching the games I could not shake off a feeling that this year's Tour field was split in half. Nakamura, Aronian, MVL, Karjakin and So are the players who have consistently done better than the rest, and it reflects in the standings.

Nakamura pushed for a win in his last game against Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Sergey Karjakin has all the reasons to be disappointed with the way he finished up in Paris, same as a week earlier in Leuven, and — rather more importantly — three months ago at the Candidates in Berlin. It seems Sergey plays his best when he is down and out, but as soon as he makes his trademark comeback and takes the lead, his strategy changes into protective mode. In the second day of Paris Karjakin did not win a single game out of the last six. The slide started here.

 

The “Minister of Defence” moniker Sergey had earned for his defensive heroics in the last two years did not live up to its reputation, as Karjakin lost another long endgame against one of his principled rivals.

 

Karjakin was certainly ready to fight | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Levon Aronian is going through his recovery program after the Candidates debacle. Not everything was perfect in Paris, but Levon battled on. Despite being eight points behind So in the Tour standings, Aronian is still there rounding up the list of contenders.

 

As fans, we all appreciated Kramnik's valiant efforts at the Candidates. Vladimir was the creative force even if to the detriment of his final result. If he could not get the tactics done in a classical time control, how could he expect to do better in blitz? Other players, such as Anand and So, who felt unsure of their ability to handle the tactics, played with some reservations, but Kramnik never took his foot off the gas pedal while falling off the cliff.

 

Everybody makes mistakes in blitz, but Kramnik's blunders were simply atrocious. One wonders if Vladimir would have been better off staying at home. At least, he only made a commitment for one tournament as a wild card.

Kramnik's uncompromising chess was present in Paris | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

I am terribly saddened by Grischuk performance in both Leuven and Paris. I hoped he would be well rested and poised to compete in the Tour. Instead, in many of his games, Alex appeared flat and poorly motivated. I hate to say this, but the years of chess clock abuse may be catching up with Grischuk.

 

Of all players who did not have good results in neither Leuven or Paris, we should worry the least about Caruana. Fabi knows what his main job is, and he knew he was going to take some beating in faster time controls even if he were in his best shape. I do not think his taking the last place will damage Caruana's confidence come November.

 

Why not show up for a low-pressure event and have fun games such as this one?

Final combined standings

Final standings

Round-up shows

GM Simon Williams checks in on the action from the second day of blitz.

Final blitz standings

 

Blitz games and commentary

 

Commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Jovanka Houska, Alejandro Ramirez (St. Louis)
Maurice Ashley and Romain Edouard (Paris)

Links



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.