Wesley So triumphs at the Paris Rapid & Blitz Tournament

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/23/2021 – Thanks to a remarkable performance in the second half of the blitz section, Wesley So won the Paris Rapid & Blitz Tournament with one round to spare. The Filipino-born grandmaster finished the tournament three points clear of second-placed Ian Nepomniachtchi, after losing only one out of the 27 games played in the French capital. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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A two-horse race

Wesley SoWesley So’s triumph at the second event of this year’s Grand Chess Tour was nothing short of impressive. Just to paint a picture of how imposing the American was in Paris, let us note that two years ago, in the previous edition of the event, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got tournament victory with a 21/36 score, while this year, So finished three points clear of second-placed Ian Nepomniachtchi with 24½ points. The man from Bacoor won 11 games, drew 15 and only lost once across the five days of competition.

Notwithstanding, Nepo prevented his colleague from simply wiping out the field. The World Championship challenger entered day 5 a half point behind the American, and managed to keep up with the eventual tournament winner’s pace until round 14 — in the next two rounds, So won twice in a row while Nepo collected two half points, thus widening the gap to 1½ points with two rounds to go.

The excellent form So had consistently shown in the online series organized by the Play Magnus Group carried over to the over-the-board event in Paris. Unlike his performances in the online events, this triumph impacted his ratings — he climbed 12 places in the live rapid list and is currently placed third in the blitz ranking. 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alireza Firouzja also had strong showings in the City of Light, as they shared third place with 18/36 points each. Consistency was lacking for both players, though, with Firouzja making up for a subpar performance in the rapid section by being the second top scorer in the blitz.

The third event of the Tour is scheduled to kick off two weeks from now in Croatia, with living legends Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand included in a star-filled lineup.

Grand Chess Tour Paris 2021

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Three of the five wins So scored on Tuesday were obtained in consecutive rounds. The streak started in round 14, when the American grandmaster defeated Levon Aronian (shared 5th place, with 17½/36) from the white side of a Ragozin Defence.

 

The players entered a theoretical line in which White gives up material to get the initiative. A couple of inaccuracies by Aronian led to a surprisingly quick defeat. In the diagrammed position, So lifted his rook with 21.Rd3, and Black already needs to be extremely careful. The game continued 21...Rfe8 22.Rg3+ Kf8 (22.Kh8 is also hopeless, due to 22...Rh3) 23.Qd6+ Re7

 

24.Re1 Re8 25.Rge3, pinning and winning! Aronian resigned.

 

Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian beat Vladimir Kramnik in round 12 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

So won three in a row in rounds 14-16, which served to widen the gap with Nepo, who scored back-to-back victories in rounds 13 and 14. Facing Vachier-Lagrave with black, the Russian employed the French Defence to beat the local hero.

 

After a long struggle, Nepo had a slight advantage in a materially balanced knight endgame. In the above position, with Black to play, the Russian could not simply go for the a2-pawn with 60...Nc3 due to 61.Kd3 Nxa2 62.Nxa2 Kxa2 63.Kc2 and the black monarch is stuck in the corner.

Nepo did not give up trying, though, and transferred his knight to the other flank, looking to provoke a mistake by his opponent. His stubbornness paid off, as MVL faltered on move 64. The 70-move win not only showcased Nepo’s fighting spirit, but also his excellent endgame technique — note that the clock was dangerously ticking down in the 5-minute encounter (with 2-second increments).

 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi about to win a tricky knight endgame | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Good tactical awareness in an endgame also gave Firouzja a full point in his game from the penultimate round against Nepo.

 

Already in a better position, the youngster found 40.Rxh7+ to enter a winning bishop vs. knight ending after 40...Kxh7 41.Bd3+ Kg7 42.Bxc2 Nxc6.

Nine moves later, Nepo resigned, granting So tournament victory with a round to spare.

 

Alireza Firouzja

Alireza Firouzja on his way to the playing venue on Monday | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings - Rapid

 

Final standings - Blitz

 

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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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Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 6/24/2021 08:19
Am i the only one that sees physical facial traits of similarity between the face of a grown man Wesly So and Rafael Nadal?

Okay, i admit, i watched Roland Garos intensively lately....

I guess i was watching too much Tennis?

Lol :)
Gerald C Gerald C 6/23/2021 06:06
Etienne Bacrot.
Gerald C Gerald C 6/23/2021 06:06
V. Kramnik's score was miserable. Why wasn't Eenne Bacrot allowed to continue his winning streak ?
Doe111 Doe111 6/23/2021 10:41
Alireza Firouzja is not playing under the Iranian flag, please remove the flag
psamant psamant 6/23/2021 08:12
Feels a bit sad to see Kramnik at the bottom... he won just two games, that too, against Svidler and Radjabov, who are probably closer to his age. There is no denying Father Time!
Rambus Rambus 6/23/2021 07:49
Iran flag for Firouzja? Has he returned there after their general election?
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