Paris Rapid & Blitz: Caruana and Anand share the lead

by Antonio Pereira
7/28/2019 – Exciting chess was the norm in the first three rounds of Rapid at the Paris Grand Chess Tour. Fabiano Caruana and Viswanathan Anand kicked off with wins in rounds one and two and drew their direct encounter to share the lead on 5 out of 6 (wins in Rapid are worth two points). Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jan-Krzysztof Duda are their closest chasers, on 4 out of 6. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Carlsen's former challengers on top

This is the first event of the Grand Chess Tour without Magnus Carlsen in the field, so the players have a chance to inch closer to the world champion in the overall standings. Wesley So and Ding Liren, who are in second and third places respectively, are not among the participants either, which gives Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana a shot at surpassing them and climbing to second place.

Day one of action in the French capital saw Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave and Vishy Anand getting wins in the first two rounds, but Caruana and Anand went on to draw in round three, while Vachier-Lagrave was defeated by Ian Nepomniachtchi. Nonetheless, the Frenchman is sharing third place with Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who beat Alexander Grischuk in the most thrilling game of the day.

Grand Chess Tour Paris 2019

Grischuk checking on his colleagues' games | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Round 1: Turnarounds

While the eventual co-leaders Caruana and Anand got rather straightforward victories after getting good positions out of the opening, Vachier-Lagrave and Duda turned the tables in their games to get off to a winning start in Paris.

Daniil Dubov has upped his game in the opening after helping Carlsen in last year's World Championship match. And with the white pieces against Vachier-Lagrave, the young Russian got a comfortable positional edge in a materially balanced position with two pairs of rooks and light-squared bishops still on the board. However, on move 29, he simply chose the wrong plan:


White played 29.a3, trying to take advantage of the pin along the b-file, but he should have kept improving his pieces with 29.♖bc1, with the idea of increasing his edge on the centre and the kingside. After the text move, Vachier-Lagrave — never afraid to go for tactical skirmishes — answered with 29...f5, and the position was already balanced. 

By move 50, Black was the one in the driver's seat with a pawn to the good and White's initiative on the kingside completely neutralized. When Vachier-Lagrave played 54...g6, forcing the exchange of bishops, it was clear he would be the one getting the two points awarded for a rapid win:


54...g6 followed and the French grandmaster went on to get a 62-move win.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is playing  in home soil | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

On an adjacent board, out of an Italian Anish Giri got a large positional edge with Black due to his initiative against Duda's king. In the complicated middlegame that ensued, the Dutchman cashed in his positional advantage for a material one, getting two knights and a pawn for a single white rook. But suddenly, on move 35, Giri incorrectly decided he could give up a piece for a passer on the a-file:


There was no need to complicate matters with 35...xa4, as Giri played — the normal 35...♚f8 would have kept Black's edge. The game continued 36.xe8+ g7 37.xe5+ xe5 38.8xe5 and White was the one an exchange up. Duda played the technical phase proficiently and got the win after 54 moves.

Anish Giri

Giri had the better position but could not convert | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Alexander Grischuk and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov signed the only draw of the round, while — as mentioned above — Caruana and Anand got clean wins against Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi, respectively. 

All games from Round 1

Round 2: Three still perfect

Caruana, Anand and Vachier-Lagrave continued their perfect start in round two, while Giri and Nakamura suffered their second straight defeats — the current US champion lost against Alexander Grischuk. Once again, only one of the five encounters finished peacefully, the all-Russian face-off between Nepomniachtchi and Dubov.

One of the biggest battlegrounds of the 2018 World Championship match was the Petroff, as Caruana used it effectively all throughout the year and during his showdown with Carlsen. In Paris, Caruana was the one facing his pet defence against Duda, and he had a novelty waiting to be unveiled:


Carlsen played 13.c4 here and then missed some winning chances later on. And in Paris, Caruana got to show 13.a3. The American had the variations that followed all worked out and ended up getting a comfortable 45-move win over his Polish opponent.

Fabiano Caruana

A Petroff expert, Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Meanwhile, Vachier-Lagrave was seeking to avenge his loss in the final match-up of the Riga GP against Mamedyarov. The Frenchman obtained a slightly better position in the middlegame, and his rival faltered by allowing him to grab a pawn on move 28:


Mamedyarov went for an active defence with 28.fc1, when 28.f3 was called for, despite the fact that White's light-squared bishop would have easily been left out of play on the kingside. After 28...xc1+ 29.xc1, Black captured the central pawn with 29...xe4 and converted his material advantage competently.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Time to get revenge for Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

In Giri v Anand, the players reached a rook endgame with Black having an extra pawn on the queenside. Such endgames, with 3 pawns versus 2, can go either way in a practical game, as the defensive side has many resources at his disposal, but at the same time it is difficult not to err while a pawn down.

Giri faltered on move 52:


White allowed his rival to take his rook to the strong g5-outpost after 52.b7 g5, when he could have started by giving a check with 52.♖b8+, when the black monarch will either be confined to h7 or will have to concede to be checked incessantly on the open board. From this point on, Anand showed great technique to get his second straight victory in Paris.

Anish Giri, Vishy Anand

Former world champion Vishy Anand during the post-mortem with Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

All games from Round 2

Round 3: A memorable win for Duda

Co-leaders Anand and Caruana went into a positional Sicilian, in which Black (Caruana) had the upper hand during the middlegame. But it is never easy to break the "tiger of Madras", and Anand ended up holding the draw after 52 moves. In the other draw of the round, Dubov missed a chance to use his passer on the c-file to get an advantage against Giri, so the Dutchman got to score his first point of the event.

After two losses, the GCT defending champion Hikaru Nakamura bounced back with a win over Mamedyarov. Vachier-Lagrave, meanwhile, was facing Nepomniachtchi, who had the better pawn structure on the black side of a Caro-Kann. By move 21, it was clear that Vachier-Lagrave's bold opening play had left him with a host of weaknesses on his position:


White had nothing better than 22.d1 and after 22...c4 23.xa4 0-0 Black had finally completed his development. Nepomniachtchi activated his rooks and, with precise piece play, forced his opponent's resignation on move 35.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomnachthi is on 3 out of 6 | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The highlight of the round, however, was Duda v Grischuk. White played 3.b4 out of a Reti and things got sharp quickly. This was the position after eleven moves:


Both knights were under attack and both were captured with 11...exf3 12.axb4. It was clear that the tactical skirmish would go on for a while, with White advancing ferociously on the queenside while his king stood vulnerable to attacks. 

A tense balance was kept until Grischuk faltered on move 24:


Instead of 24...f8, Black needed to go 24...g5 — the idea is that after 25.xe8+ xe8 26.xd5, if Black had pushed his g-pawn he could have gone 26...cxd5, and White does not have 27.♗f4 covering b8. Nonetheless, Grischuk would have been in deep trouble even in that line, but given the tactical difficulties of the position he could have also dreamed of finding some sort of defensive scheme had the game continued with its tense up-and-downs.

After the text, Duda only needed four more moves to get the win, though. 

Jan-Krzysztof Duda

The ever fearless Jan-Krzysztof Duda | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

All games from Round 3

Standings after Round 3


Commentary webcast

WGM J. Shahade, GM P. Svidler, GM A. Ramirez and GM M. Ashley


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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