GCT Paris: So takes slim margin to blitz

by Klaus Besenthal
6/23/2018 – Another single round-robin of rapid chess was completed in Paris over the past three days. This weekend the French capital hosts a double-round blitz tournament, with the scores of the two tournaments combined to produce an overall winner. As before in Leuven, the lead in the standings is in the hands of the American Wesley So, but this time his margin is much narrower, as he has only one point more than his compatriot Hikaru Nakamura and the Russian former World Blitz Champion Sergey Karjakin. Today, So calmly drew all three of his games. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Opening package: 1.b3 and Black Secrets in the Modern Italian Opening package: 1.b3 and Black Secrets in the Modern Italian

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It's still anyone's tournament

The rapid portion of the tournament has half as many games but is worth exactly the same as the blitz, since points scored are doubled in the overall ranking. Wesley So's four victories, three draws one loss yield him 6 / 9 using "normal" scoring, and therefore 9 / 12 on the official standings. Recall that his margin following the rapid half in Leuven was three points and that was just barely enough to hang on in the blitz, which the devout Christian deemed tantamount to a "miracle". This time he will have a much tougher time fending off the challenge from Nakamura, Karjakin and Aronian (barring divine intervention).


Where things stand after Friday's play

Round 7

So and Nakamura were the first two players to go for a coffee this afternoon. After the exchange of the c and d-pawns, a Queen's Gambit accepted had turned into a symmetrical structure, in which an early queen swap left White without the right to castle. But that did not matter: further exchanges led to a draw after just 22 moves. Thus, either Sergey Karjakin or Levon Aronian, playing each other had the opportunity to catch up with So, however, a similar picture emerged: symmetrical structure, heavily reduced material — the draw was unavoidable. Wesley clung to his lead.


Hikaru Nakamura maintains his chances for overall victory | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Even before the Karjakin and Aronian shook hands, French local hero Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the "basement duel" against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The Azerbaijani grandmaster did not manage to put pressure on Vachier-Lagrave's king which remained in the centre for 23 moves (don't try this at home kids!), and when the Frenchman finally castled, Mamedyarov found himself in big trouble.


Viswanathan Anand, has been making mostly draws, but staying in the hunt, and as a black against Alexander Grischuk he sacrificed an exchange at an early stage. The compensation was extremely pieces and a better structure. Grischuk still had an advantage, but he couldn't find a way forward, and eventually was forced to give back the exchange, creating an unusual situation that defies conventional wisdom.


Despite an open centre, with pawns on both flanks Anand's two knights are not inferior to Grischuk's bishops. The Indian ex-world champion walked a bit of a tightrope but still managed to reel in a half (or rather whole) point.

In the lower half of the standings, there was another direct duel between a world champion (Vladimir Kramnik) and a player who would like to become so (Fabiano Caruana). Already down the exchange, Kramnik did not want to trade the queens too, but that was a mistake and allowed Caruana a direct assault on 'Big Vlad's' king. After three draws and three losses, the Carlsen challenger finally achieved his first victory in Paris!


Caruana rebounded from his weak start | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Results of round 7


Round 8

Wesley So had a tough pairing once again after Nakamura: Black against Karjakin, his closest rival, who was only one point behind before the game. But the players tread carefully. Once again a symmetrical position resulted, this time from a Spanish game. In the end, Karjakin had a bit of a long-term edge here, in the form of a noticeable space advantage. But that was not enough to win, and so the gap between these two players in the table remained at one point. 

The next question was whether Aronian would be able to win his game against Caruana to catch up with So. But that did not work at all. For Caruana, the Grand Chess Tour may not have the highest priority in the face of the upcoming London match, but if the opponent makes a blunder, he will, of course, capitalise:


Caruana smiling

That's more like it! | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

In the Anand vs Nakamura game fans were asking themselves: What is Anand doing? The Indian gave his queen for rook bishop and pawn which made for material equality using the latesd precise calculations for piece values: 5.25 + 3.55 + 1.0 = 9.8. Given the value of a queen of 10.0, this meant approximate equality. Anand pursued a fortress-like position he should not have lost, but here, too, a single bad move spoiled everything. Nevertheless, especially for rapid chess, a highly impressive game between the two super-grandmasters:


Anand's assault on the top of the table stalled, and the 9th round would have to serve to determine the winner of the rapid tournament in Paris.


Anand plays enterprising chess in Paris | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Results of round 8


Round 9

Vishy would once again be involved in determining the best rapid player, because he faced So with black. Both players acted very cautiously and the result was an inevitable draw. Anand proved his humor by improvising a little joke at the end of the game:


For So it was the third draw in the third game that day without losing his lead, although there remained a chance he would share it, on the outcomes of the games of Nakamura and Karjakin. However, luck (or higher power) was on his side: Karjakin was slightly worse for a long time against Caruana, down a pawn, but could draw in a blitz finish; Nakamura, in turn, had a rather feckless extra pawn against Mamedyarov, but could not exploit it. So, once more, nothing changed at the top.

We'll see how Wesley fares on the weekend.

Results of round 9


Final rapid standings


Round-up shows

GMs Daniel King and Erwin l'Ami looks at the highlights of the first three days.

All rapid games


Commentary webcast

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

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson


Klaus Besenthal is computer scientist, has followed and still follows the chess scene avidly since 1972 and since then has also regularly played in tournaments.


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