Paris Rapid & Blitz: An entertaining first day of action

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/18/2021 – Four players finished day 1 of the Paris Rapid & Blitz Tournament with a +1 score. Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Peter Svidler are sharing the lead after three rounds of rapid games. Wunderkind Alireza Firouzja drew his first two games and lost against Teimour Radjabov, as he made his Grand Chess Tour debut on his 18th birthday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Birthday boys

Two of the wildcards playing at the Paris Rapid & Blitz Tournament had birthdays this week. While Peter Svidler turned 45 on Thursday, Alireza Firouzja made his debut in a Grand Chess Tour event on the very day he turned 18 years old. The two players are known for their dynamic style, and both of them showcased their characteristic fighting spirit on an entertaining first day of action.

Svidler finished among the four players sharing the lead on 4/6 points (in the rapid section, a win is worth 2 points and a draw is worth 1 point), while Firouzja ended the day with a -1 score, as he drew his first two encounters and lost with the black pieces against Teimour Radjabov in round 3.

Sharing the lead with Svidler are Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian and Wesley So. In a very appealing clash of round 4, So will have the white pieces against the ever-fighting Nepo.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

World Championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 1: Svidler and Bacrot strike first

Etienne Bacrot was invited to play in the rapid section of the event, as his place will be taken by none other than Vladimir Kramnik in the blitz. The Frenchman, who entered the world’s top 10 in 2005 and had a peak rating of 2749, kicked off with a win over Richard Rapport. Bacrot played principled chess to counter Rapport’s unorthodox play.

In the other decisive game of the round, Svidler defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with the white pieces. The Russian had more space in a closed structure, and decided to play the one pawn break available in the position on move 53.


White was obviously the one fighting for a win after 53.h5 gxh5 54.g6, when MVL correctly went for 55...Rxg6 56.Nxg6 Bxg6. Svidler needed to work hard to get the win, though. After missing a couple of opportunities, the Russian had a rook for no fewer than 4 pawns.


It was a brave defensive effort by the Frenchman, but he could not stop Svidler from getting an 89-move victory.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Peter Svidler

Peter Svidler kicked off with a great win | Photo: Bryan Adams

Round 2: Kingside attacks

The second round was truly entertaining, with imbalanced positions prompting the players who had white to go for attacks on the kingside, almost invariably. So, Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave all won their games with the white pieces.

MVL’s attacking victory over Radjabov was remarkable. 


White has given up his bishop on h6, a logical decision given how out of play Black’s bishops are on the b-file. The engines applauded MVL’s sacrifice, but by the time the diagrammed position was reached, they thought the worst had passed for Black, who needed to play 27...Ke6 to continue with the defence. Instead, Radjabov’s 27...Qg6 was duly punished by the Frenchman — 28.Nh6+ Kg7 29.Ngf5+ Kh7 30.Qe2


MVL correctly retreated with his queen to e2, leaving the third rank open for the rook to join the attack on the g-file. Radjabov soon gave up his queen, and Vachier-Lagrave did not falter until getting the full two points on move 41.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 3: Imbalanced positions

More fighting chess was seen in the last round of the day. Perhaps the most exciting game of the round was the one that faced Fabiano Caruana with white against Vachier-Lagrave, with the two excellent calculators avoiding big mistakes until agreeing to a draw. Both players finished the day with a fifty percent score.

Radjabov bounced back from his loss in round 2 by beating Firouzja with the white pieces, while Aronian obtained the one win of the day with black against Bacrot. Commentator Cristian Chirila later asked Aronian how he felt about finally playing over-the-board instead of online chess. The Armenian responded:

In online chess you blunder much more. [...] I’m not from that generation of computer kids, so I think I blunder much more online than over the board.


Standings after round 5



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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