Grand Chess Tour - Paris: Magnus Carlsen wins Rapid phase

by Alex Yermolinsky
6/24/2017 – Though Magnus Calrsen did finish in clear first in the Rapid stage of the competition, Day Three saw his supremacy challenged with the rise of Alexander Grischuk, a past winner of the World Rapid and World Blitz titles, as well as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura tied just behind. With two days to go, and 18 rounds of blitz games worth half the total points, the title is all but decided yet. Large report with analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky.

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The Paris tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is running from June 21-25. It is a combination of Rapid and Blitz games. The ten participants are Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Etienne Bacrot. They will play nine rapid games, three a day, from June 21–23. The games start at 14:00h, 15:30h and 17:00h European Standard Summer Time. The Blitz tournament is on June 24 and 25, with nine rounds on each day, starting at 14:00h. The total prize fund is $150,000!

Note that the event is using the Bronstein mode: the players have 25 minutes for all the moves of a rapid game, and a ten second delay per move. This means that the clock does not run for ten seconds – the point is that you cannot accumulate time by playing very quickly in the Bronstein Mode.

Day three

All photos by Lennart Ootes

I'm wrong about everything. Yesterday I predicted Magnus Carlsen would run away from the rest of the field in the last three rounds of the rapid, and it turned out to be anything but.

It all started with another Carlsen-Karjakin game that would fit nicely in their World Championship match pattern. Once again, Magnus Carlsen was better, then he won a pawn, but Sergey Karjakin's trademark defensive resilience helped him save a draw in the ensuing knight endgame.

The game between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin was a loud echo of their world championship match in 2016

It wasn't much of a setback, since Magnus actually increased his lead to two points thanks to the following game by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Veselin Topalov gives Maxime Vachier-Lagrave some last minute advice... Tell us what you think that advice was in the feedback below!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Hikaru Nakamura

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.23"] [Round "7.5"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C53"] [WhiteElo "2796"] [BlackElo "2785"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. O-O a6 7. a4 O-O 8. Re1 Ba7 9. h3 Ne7 10. d4 Ng6 11. Nbd2 Re8 12. Bb3 Be6 {A slightly unusual twist.} ( 12... h6 13. Bc2 c6 14. Nf1 d5 {and Black equalized in Anand-Aronian, Sinquefield Cup 2016.}) 13. Bc2 h6 14. Nf1 exd4 {Hikaru goes for one of the known ways of resolving the tension in the center.} ({It's no longer possible to play} 14... d5 {right away, because} 15. exd5 {hits the bishop and Black loses e5.}) 15. cxd4 d5 ({No one feels up to} 15... c5 16. d5 {not after the Kramnik-Carlsen game, Norway Chess 2017.}) 16. e5 Ne4 17. N1d2 {[#]} Bf5 $5 { The idea of sacrificing a pawn this way is nothing new, but it has to be carefully considered in every possible situation.} ({Also possible was} 17... Nxd2 18. Bxd2 c5 19. dxc5 ({The idea to sac on h6,} 19. Qc1 {can always be dealt with:} Nh4 $1) 19... Bxc5 20. Bxg6 fxg6 {as} 21. Qc2 {wins nothing on account of} Qb6) 18. Nxe4 dxe4 19. Bxe4 Bxe4 20. Rxe4 Qd5 21. Re1 Rad8 22. Be3 {Maxime has a very healthy approach to opening problems - he takes what is given to him and tries to work with it. Thus, his qualified success against the Berlin. Here he realizes his minor pieces are passive, but a pawn is a pawn.} c5 $5 {Hikaru doesn't believe in blockade. His plan is to trade some pieces and keep on hitting the e5-pawn.} (22... Ne7 23. b4 Nc6 24. Qc2 { and the weakness on c7 doesn't help Black to restore material balance.}) 23. dxc5 Bxc5 24. Bxc5 Qxc5 25. Qb3 Qd5 26. Qe3 {[#]} f6 $2 (26... Nxe5 27. Nxe5 f6 28. f4 fxe5 29. fxe5 {Much better interpretation of the same idea was} Re6 { and now, with the knights gone from the board Black welcomes} 30. Rad1 Qxd1 31. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 32. Kh2 Rd5 {with open arms.}) 27. Rad1 $1 {Impeccable timing.} Qxd1 {One of the most difficult thing to do in chess is to evaluate positions with unbalanced material. Most of the time a pair of rooks will be a match for a queen, but not here.} ({Possibly better was} 27... Qe6 28. Rxd8 Rxd8 29. exf6 Qxe3 30. Rxe3 gxf6 31. g3 {but this pawn down ending is a hard sell.}) 28. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 29. Kh2 Rd7 30. Qb3+ Kh7 31. exf6 gxf6 {[#] The black king is dangerously open, but how to bring in the knight?} 32. Nd4 $1 {Simple, yet brilliant.} Re5 (32... Rxd4 33. Qf7+) 33. Ne6 b5 34. axb5 Rxb5 (34... axb5 35. f4 Red5 36. f5 $1 {Once Ne6 is supported Black won't have a chance, but} Rxf5 { meets with} 37. Qc2 Rfd5 38. Nf4 $1 {which is even stronger} ({than} 38. Nf8+ Kg7) {and wins by force after} 38... Rg5 39. h4) 35. Qc2 f5 36. Qc6 (36. g4 Rf7 37. Nd4 Rd5 38. Nxf5 {would have been enough.}) 36... Rf7 37. Nd8 $1 {As a true Frenchman, Maxime has a flair for the dramatics.} Re7 38. Qf6 a5 {Hikaru is powereless to regain coordination of his pieces.} 39. h4 f4 40. Ne6 Reb7 ({ Black's best bet was} 40... Re5 {to beg White to take the f4-pawn and trade knights.} 41. Nxf4 Nxf4 42. Qxf4 {White should prevail, as in} Rb5 43. g4 Reb7 44. h5 Rxb2 45. Qe4+ Kg8 46. Qe8+ Kg7 47. Qg6+ {taking h6 with check.}) 41. Nd4 $1 {Incredibly enough, the knight returns to the center, this time to the decisive effect.} R5b6 42. Qf5 Kg8 43. Ne6 Nxh4 44. Qg4+ Kh7 45. Nf8+ Kh8 46. Qxh4 Kg7 47. Nd7 1-0

Alexander Grischuk kept pace by downing the poor Fabiano Caruana. Those French defense structures can be very deceiving.

Swiss GM Romain Edouard, who has also been a key commentator in French, is fluent in English as well, and appears beside GM Maurice Ashley in the English commentary

Alexander Grischuk vs Fabiano Caruana

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.23"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2761"] [BlackElo "2808"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e6 {I'm not sure if the French is Fabiano's best opening, but by this point in the tournament he was ready to try anything.} 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 Be7 8. Qd2 a6 9. Be2 b5 10. O-O O-O 11. a3 Bb7 12. Nd1 f6 $6 {Black should have not touched that pawn, not until White makes his f4-f5 a possibility.} (12... Qc7 $142 13. c3 Na5 14. Qe1 Nc4) 13. c3 Rc8 14. Bd3 Na5 15. Qe2 fxe5 16. fxe5 cxd4 17. cxd4 Nb6 18. Nf2 Nbc4 19. Nh3 Nxe3 20. Qxe3 Nc4 21. Qe2 {On the face of it Black's position looks OK, but in reality he has a hard time defending his king.} g6 (21... Qb6 22. Kh1 {The last move in preparation.} b4 23. Nfg5 g6 24. Nxh7 {and everything comes down like a house of cards.}) 22. Rf2 Qb6 23. Raf1 {[#] Grischuk didn't forget how to build up his attacks. White's position is like a coiled spring.} b4 ({ Give him one move,} 23... a5 {and it's released:} 24. b3 $1 Nxa3 25. Qe3 Rf7 ({ Best chance is} 25... Rf5 {but it's very unlikely to work.}) 26. Qh6 Rg7 ({or} 26... Bf8 27. Qh4 Rcc7 28. Nfg5) 27. Nfg5 Qxd4 {and now White, if he so wishes can continue playing for mate.} 28. Nxe6 ({Obviously, there isn't much wrong with the materialistic} 28. Qxg7+ Kxg7 29. Nxe6+ Kg8 30. Nxd4 Bc5 31. Rf4) 28... Qxe5 29. Nhg5 d4 30. Rf7 Rxf7 31. Rxf7 Rc1+ 32. Bf1 Qe3+ 33. Kh1 { and it's all over.}) 24. axb4 Qxb4 (24... Bxb4 25. b3 Na3 26. Nfg5 Qxd4 27. Nxh7 {he have already seen this motif.}) 25. Nhg5 $1 Qb6 26. Kh1 (26. Nxh7 Kxh7 27. Nh4 Rf5 28. Nxg6 $1 {was crushing.}) 26... h6 ({Once again,} 26... Rf5 $8) 27. Bxg6 $18 Kg7 28. Bb1 hxg5 29. Qd3 Rf5 30. g4 Rcf8 (30... Nxb2 31. Rxb2 Qxb2 32. gxf5) 31. gxf5 exf5 32. Nxg5 Nxe5 33. Qg3 Ng4 34. Rxf5 Rxf5 35. Bxf5 Bxg5 36. Qxg4 Qh6 37. Bd3 Kh8 38. Rf7 1-0

The same pattern repeated in round eight. Magnus again tried to convert an extra pawn in, which this time was in a rook endgame, but it was Fabiano's turn to refuse to lose, and the game was drawn. Worse for Magnus was to see his pursuers, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, all win to cut down his lead to a minimum.

Azeri GM Shakriyar Mamedyarov is famous for his dynamic play and speed chess expertise

Before the last round Magnus was just one point (remember: rapid games count for double) ahead of Alexander and Shakhriar, who were to face each other. The game turned out to be one-sided and surprisingly easy for Grischuk.

Alexander Grischuk vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.23"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C83"] [WhiteElo "2761"] [BlackElo "2800"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3 Be7 10. Bf4 $5 {[#] Nothing new under the sun. This is a 19th century move!} O-O {A bit slow.} (10... Nc5 $1 11. Bc2 Bg4 12. h3 Bh5 13. Qe2 ( {A recent attempt to revive this line:} 13. g4 $5 Bg6 14. Bxg6 fxg6 15. Bg3 { Chirila-Prohaszka, 2008}) 13... Ne6 14. Bh2 Bc5 15. Nbd2 Ne7 16. Rad1 Qc8 { was Petrosian-Korchnoi, 1965}) 11. Nd4 {I already like White's position.} Na5 $2 ({Here it is:} 11... Nxd4 12. cxd4 f6 13. Nc3 fxe5 14. Bxe5 Nxc3 15. bxc3 $14 {Blackburne-Zukertort, 1887}) ({Best was} 11... Qd7 12. Bc2 Rad8 13. f3 Nc5 ) 12. f3 Nxb3 {First deviation.} (12... Nc5 13. Bc2 Nd7 14. Nd2 c5 { Alekhine-Euwe, Bad Nauheim 1937, and here} 15. Nxe6 fxe6 16. Bg3 g6 17. f4 { was simple and strong.}) 13. axb3 Nc5 14. b4 Nd7 15. Nc6 $1 Qe8 16. Nd2 Bh4 17. Bg3 Bxg3 18. hxg3 {White is just much better here, and the rest of the games brought no suprises.} f6 19. Re1 fxe5 20. Nxe5 Nxe5 21. Rxe5 Qg6 22. Nb3 Bf7 23. g4 Rfe8 24. Rxe8+ Rxe8 25. Qd2 Re5 26. Nd4 {[#]} h5 27. gxh5 Qxh5 28. Qf4 Re7 29. Kf2 Bg6 30. Rxa6 $18 Qh1 31. Ne6 Re8 32. Qd4 Qh6 33. Nxc7 Re7 34. Nxd5 Rf7 35. Ne3 Kh7 36. Ra7 Rxa7 37. Qxa7 Qh4+ 38. Ke2 Qh1 39. Qd4 Qc1 40. Qd2 Qb1 41. Kf2 Bd3 42. Kg3 Bg6 43. Qe2 Bd3 44. Qd1 1-0

That suddenly put a lot of pressure on Carlsen to deliver the goods against the very stubborn Etienne Bacrot. At stake was a clear first place, which of course doesn't yet equate to overall tournament success, but still, Magnus wanted it badly.

Magnus Carlsen vs Etienne Bacrot

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.23"] [Round "9.3"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Bacrot, Etienne"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2832"] [BlackElo "2708"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. c3 a6 7. a4 O-O 8. Re1 h6 9. h3 Be6 {Just like in the Vachier-Lagrave vs Nakamura game shown above, I'm not too big on this move.} 10. Bxe6 fxe6 11. b4 Ba7 12. Nbd2 Ne7 13. Nf1 Ng6 14. Ra2 Nh5 15. Be3 Bxe3 16. Rxe3 Nhf4 17. d4 Qf6 18. Kh2 exd4 19. cxd4 $14 e5 20. d5 {[#] Bacrot knew if his knight were evicted from f4 the weakness on c7 would seal his fate.} c6 $1 {Despite shortage of points in his scoreline I admire the fighting spirit showed by Etienne in this event. It is not easy to to compete against World's best.} 21. g3 cxd5 22. gxf4 d4 23. Rea3 Nxf4 24. Ne1 d5 $2 {This one, however, is an error in judgement. Black's compensation is of a long-term variety, largely based on a superior pawn structure, so there was no need to be desperate and destroy his own position.} (24... Rac8 25. Ng3 g6 26. Ne2 Kh7 27. Rf3 g5 {would have been good enough to keep things interesting. }) 25. Ng3 $1 Rac8 26. Ng2 Kh8 27. Qg4 d3 $2 {Same here.} (27... g6 28. exd5 Nxd5 29. Ne4 Qf5 30. Qh4 {is already looking bad for Black, but the game would continue.}) 28. Nxf4 exf4 29. Nh5 Qg5 30. Rxd3 dxe4 (30... Qxg4 $142 31. hxg4 g6 32. Rxd5 gxh5 33. Rxh5 Kg7 34. b5 Rc4 35. f3 Rb4 {There's always a ray of hope in rook endgames.}) 31. Rd6 Qxg4 32. hxg4 Rf7 33. Re6 Rcf8 $2 ({After} 33... Rc4 34. Rb2 e3 35. fxe3 fxe3 36. Kg3 Kg8 {White is still experiencing some technical difficulties, as} 37. Rxe3 g6 {traps the knight. Of course, one would expect Magnus to get the job done somehow, some way.}) 34. Rd2 Kh7 35. Rdd6 e3 36. fxe3 f3 37. Nf4 1-0

So this is where they stand before a double round-robin blitz that runs Saturday and Sunday. Carlsen's lead of one point over Grischuk, two ahead of Nakamura and three points over Mamedyarov and top Frenchman MVL, can hardly be called insurmountable with 18 games to play.

A lot can happen this weekend, but we should also remember that for Alexander and Shak this tournament is just a one shot deal. Their plan is to take the money and run, while Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave have to think in terms of the Tour standings. Considering Carlsen's overwhelming performance at the Norway Chess pre-tournament blitz, it is hard to bet against Magnus taking the whole 13 Tour points haul with him, but as they say, stranger things have happened.

Providing French commentary live, and later in the summary

The blitz will have its dark horse in Karjakin, who holds the title of World Blitz Champion from Doha at the end of 2016.

Am I forgetting anyone? Where's Wesley So? After an encouraging start – he was level with Carlsen after Wednesday – Wesley was not able to win a single game out of the remaining six. His play was flat and uninspiring, on par with his recent performance at Norway Chess. I cannot see So suddenly shaking the cobwebs off and coming back strong in the blitz. His last game in the rapid showed no indication of that coming, and worse.

Wesley So vs Sergey Karjakin

[Event "GCT Rapid Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.23"] [Round "9.4"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2812"] [BlackElo "2781"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2017.06.21"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nb6 7. O-O Be7 8. Rb1 a5 9. d3 O-O 10. Be3 Be6 11. Bxb6 {I don't believe White can get anything in this line.} cxb6 12. a3 f5 $1 (12... Re8 13. Nd2 Rc8 14. Nc4 Bc5 15. e3 f6 $14 {was seen in Karjakin(!)-Safarli, 2015}) 13. e3 Bf6 {Sergey finds a much better place for his bishop.} 14. Rc1 Kh8 15. Re1 Bf7 16. Nb5 Bh5 17. Qc2 Qd7 18. Nd2 Rad8 19. Nc4 ({Better was} 19. Bf1 $142 {but who wants to play like this?}) 19... Qxd3 20. Qxd3 Rxd3 21. Ncd6 {[#]White is already in a full escape mode.} Rb3 $6 ({There was a long line to calculate,} 21... e4 22. Nxf5 Bxb2 23. Bxe4 (23. Rc2 Bxa3 24. Bxe4 Bb4 $17) 23... Rb3 24. Nfd4 Nxd4 25. Nxd4 Bxc1 26. Nxb3 Bxa3 $17 {For some reason Sergey didn't go for it.}) 22. Nc7 Ne7 23. Ne6 Rb8 24. Rc7 Rxb2 25. Rec1 h6 26. h3 Rd2 $6 {[#]} 27. Nxf5 $2 {Wesley just miscalculated.} (27. Nc4 Ra2 28. Nxb6 {is, actually, very pleasant for White.}) 27... Nxf5 28. Rc8+ Rxc8 29. Rxc8+ Kh7 30. Be4 g6 31. g4 Nd6 32. Rc7+ Kg8 33. gxh5 $2 (33. Bxb7 Bh4 $17) 33... Nxe4 34. hxg6 Nd6 35. Rd7 b5 36. Kf1 b4 37. axb4 axb4 38. Ke1 Rd5 39. e4 b3 0-1

You read my predictions today, tomorrow I might have to eat crow. Sometimes I think my words have the twisted power to jinx the favorite and rejuvenate the underdog at the same time. Remember, I'm wrong about everything.

Final rapid standings


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Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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