Paris Rapid & Blitz: So grabs the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/21/2021 – Wesley So is leading the Paris Rapid & Blitz Tournament after getting an undefeated 11/18 score in the rapid section. On Sunday, the Filipino-born grandmaster won two out of his three games to go into the blitz phase of the event a full point ahead of Ian Nepomniachtchi. Eighteen rounds of blitz games will be played on Monday and Tuesday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Kramnik to join the field on Monday

Much like what we will see at the third leg of the Grand Chess Tour in Croatia, two wildcards in Paris have been invited only to play one section of the tournament each. Etienne Bacrot played the nine rounds of rapid chess, but will not participate in the two-day blitz section, in which the tenth player in the field will be none other than Vladimir Kramnik — in Croatia, Ivan Saric will play the rapid and Garry Kasparov the blitz.

Bacrot, one of the strongest French chess players ever, had an excellent performance despite being a clear underdog rating-wise. The 38-year-old finished the rapid section in sole third place after scoring 3 wins, 2 losses and 4 draws. On his way to getting a 10/18 score, he defeated Richard Rapport, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana.

Two points ahead of the Frenchman (note that a win was worth 2 points in the rapid section) finished Wesley So in sole first place. The American star was the only player to end the first half of the event undefeated, as even second-placed Ian Nepomniachtchi suffered a defeat in the 25-minute section.

Etienne Bacrot, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The locals — Etienne Bacrot and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 7: So beats Caruana

Going into day 3, three players were sharing the lead on 7/12, and two of them — Caruana and So — were immediately paired up against each other. For a second time in less than two weeks, So defeated his compatriot. While in Bucharest, he had done it with the white pieces, in Paris he managed to score from the black side of a 5.Re1 Berlin Defence.

The contenders blitzed out no fewer than 17 moves of theory, but already Caruana’s ‘novelty’ was an imprecision. Five moves later, the world number 2 faltered again.

 

22.Rxb7 was played after a 6-minute reflection, but it was nonetheless a mistake. Of course, Caruana really wanted to make this move work, as he was three pawns down against one of the best technical players in the world.

The game continued with 22...Kh8 23.Bd3 Bg8 (defending against the threat of Qxh7#) 24.Nxc7 Nd6

 

Material balance was restored with 25.Qxh4 Nxc7 26.Nxa8, but at what price? The white knight is totally out of play on the corner — Black only needed three more moves to force his opponent’s resignation.

So’s 29-move victory out of a Berlin was very impressive, but Rapport’s 18-move win with white against Peter Svidler’s Grünfeld was tactically more spectacular. The three remaining games finished drawn.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Tony Rich, Garry Kasparov

Tony Rich and Garry Kasparov following the games closely | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 8: MVL’s blunder

While Caruana suffered his second consecutive defeat after pushing too hard against Bacrot, So scored yet another two points in round 8. Unlike his win against Caruana, though, the second victory of the day came thanks a one-move blunder by his opponent.

 

In another theoretical battle, So and Vachier-Lagrave only deviated from a previous correspondence game on move 20 out of a Grünfeld. In the line, White gives up a pawn to get a strong initiative. MVL was defending exemplarily, though — until he gave away the game in a single move.

Vachier-Lagrave erred with 26...Rd8, allowing 27.Rc8, when White grabs his opponent’s queen after 27...Rxc8 28.Bxe7. The Frenchman resigned immediately.

Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi, who was in shared second place after 7 rounds, got in trouble in his game against Svidler, but showed good defensive skills to save a draw by perpetual check. Much later in the round, Firouzja and Aronian also agreed to a draw — but only after 122 moves (!), which included both players missing chances to win in a very complex struggle.

 

Alireza Firouzja, Levon Aronian

122 moves later — Alireza Firouzja shakes Levon Aronian’s hand | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 9: Combative chess

Three players finished the day with victories — Nepomniachtchi, Svidler and Vachier-Lagrave — but it was the game between Rapport and Caruana the one that grabbed everyone’s attention.

 

White is better here, but he still needs to find the precise path to victory while facing a markedly resourceful opponent — once the astounding 36.d4 appeared on the board, however, it seemed like Rapport was en route to getting a memorable victory.

Kasparov called it “ä hell of a move”, and the engines agreed. Unfortunately for Rapport, though, Caruana continued to find strong defensive moves. The Hungarian played a couple of inaccuracies and the game finally ended in a 51-move draw. A sigh of relief was breathed by the fans of Caruana, who had been in real danger of losing a third game in a row.    

 

Richard Rapport

Richard Rapport | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings - Rapid

 

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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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