The Paris Grand Chess Tour

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Paris leg, Grand Chess Tour
Paris, France
July 27-August 2, 2019

Final Standings, Rapid

1. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2775, 6.5/9

2. Alexander Grischuk RUS 2766, 6.0/9

3-4. Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2775, Viswanathan Anand IND 2764, 5.0/9

5-6. Jan-Krzysztof Duda POL 2729, Fabiano Caruana USA 2819, 4.5/9

7. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2754, 4.0/9

8-9. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2765, Daniil Dubov RUS 2700, 3.5/9

10. Anish Giri NED 2779, 2.5/9

Time Control: 25 minutes play-to-finish with a 10-second delay (not increment) starting move 1

Final Standings, Blitz

1-3. Viswanathan Anand, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Hikaru Nakamura, 10.5/18

4-5. Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana, 10.0/18

6-8. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexander Grischuk, 8.0/18

9. Anish Giri, 7.5/18

10. Daniil Dubov, 7.0/18

Time Control: Five minutes play-to-finish with a three-second delay (not increment) starting move 1

Combined Overall Standings (Rapid results count double)

1. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 21.0/36

2. Viswanathan Anand, 20.5/36

3-4. Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi, 20.0/36

5. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, 19.5/36

6. Fabiano Caruana, 19.0/36

7. Hikaru Nakamura, 18.5/36

8. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 15.0/36

9. Daniil Dubov, 14.0/36

10. Anish Giri, 12.5/36

The French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (or “MVL”) made full use of his homecourt advantage and won the Paris Rapid/Blitz Tournament, part of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. Let me clear something up. The tournament I wrote about last week, the Riga Grand Prix, was part of the FIDE Grand Prix which in turn is one of the qualifying events to the world championship.

The Paris event, on the other hand, is part of a circuit of chess tournaments called the Grand Chess Tour designed to promote competitive chess by including all of the top players in a coordinated series of private tournaments with good prizes. It is not part of the world championship cycle.

The Grand Chess Tour has had four (4) overall winners so far:

2015 – Magnus Carlsen

2016 – Wesley So

2017 – Magnus Carlsen

2018 – Hikaru Nakamura

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave followed up his good performance in Riga, where he was the losing finalist, with an excellent rapid performance and, although his blitz play was not as good (4.5/9 on the first day and 3.5/9 on the second), his opponents were not able to take advantage and he was able to hold on for the overall victory. The tournament win was a bit bittersweet — sweet because the Frenchman took home the $37,500 first prize (roughly P1.9 million) and bitter because whereas he started this tournament as the world’s highest rated blitz player by the end he had tumbled down to fourth by shedding 102 (!) rating points in the blitz.

This was not the only negative surprise in Paris. Daniil Dubov, the reigning World Rapid Champion, finished next-to-last in the rapid and dead last in the Blitz.

Hikaru Nakamura was the top scorer on the first day of blitz with 6.5/9, but that was about the only good thing that he accomplished in Paris. His overall seventh place was way below expectations, after all he was the defending Grand Chess Tour Champion, and his victory last year was due to his terrific performance in the Rapid/blitz legs rather than on the classical tournaments.

Enough about negatives! Let us look at the winner’s games. The “Frenchman with two names” was his usual aggressive self with the “drop of poison.” If you are wondering what the last phrase meant then you will understand after seeing the 49th move in the following game.

Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2775) – Caruana, Fabiano (2819) [B56]
GCT Paris Rapid (5.1), 28.07.2019

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.g3

I don’t think MVL has ever played this before. Ten years ago his staple was 6.Bg5, the Richter-Rauzer line, and lately he has been experimenting with the English Attack after 6.f3 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3. Anyway, from personal experience I can say that this White fianchetto system combined with N4e2 and Be3 is under-rated and actually quite dangerous.


The usual reply here is 6…g6, but obviously Caruana didn’t want the knight to retreat to e2.

7.Qxd4 g6 8.e5!?

MVL tries to punish Black for exchanging on d4. Usually this move is not good for White because Black has a knight which can go to c6, attacking both the queen and pawn, but since the Black knight is already off the board pushing the pawn to e5 is feasible.

8…dxe5 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Bg2 Kc7 11.0–0 Be6

Black is right — he should prevent White’s knight from getting to d5, which is what happens after 11…Bg7 12.Re1 Ne8 13.Nd5+ Kd7 14.Bd2 Nc7 15.Ba5! Nxd5 (15…b6? 16.Rad1!) 16.Rad1. The Black position is uncomfortable.

12.Re1 Nd7 13.Be3 a6 14.a4

MVL has a target — to go after b7.

14…Rc8 15.a5 Bg7 16.Ra4 Kb8 17.Rb4 Rc7 18.Rd1 Rhc8 19.Bf1 Ka8 20.Na4

MVL: “Objectively I might not be better, but it is difficult for him to untangle his pieces.”


[20…Rxc2? 21.Rxd7! Bxd7 22.Nb6+ is winning for White]

21.c4 e4

Caruana’s plan is to give up the exchange but in return get the squares d3 and f3 for his knight to work with.

22.c5 Ne5 23.Nb6+ Kb8 24.Nxc8 Kxc8 25.Rb6 Bd7 26.b4 Ba4 27.Rb1

Idea is b4–b5.

27…Nd3 28.Be2 Bc6 29.f3

Forces the knight to retreat. Why? Well, after 30.fxe4 Bxe4 (30…fxe4 opens up a diagonal for White’s bishop: 31.Bg4+ Kb8 32.Be6 headed for c4) 31.c6! Black’s bishop cannot move because it is the only thing defending his d3–knight. 31…Rxc6 32.Rxc6+ bxc6 33.Rb3 Ne5 34.Bxa6+ White is getting a dangerous passed pawn.

29…Ne5 30.fxe4 Bxe4 31.Rd1 Bc6 32.Bf4 Bf6 33.h4 Rd7 34.Rxd7 Kxd7 35.b5! axb5 36.Bxb5 Bxb5 37.Rxb5 Kc8

[If 37…Kc6 38.Rb6+ Kxc5 39.Rxb7 is even worse]

38.Bxe5 Bxe5 39.c6! Bd4+ 40.Kg2 bxc6 41.Rb1 h6 42.a6 e5 43.Rb7 h5 44.Rg7 Kb8 45.Rxg6 c5 46.Kf3 c4 47.Ke2 e4 48.Rg5 Be5 <D>


Now the finishing touch…

49.g4! hxg4 50.Rxf5 Bd4 51.Rg5 c3 52.Rxg4 Bf6 53.Rxe4 1–0

Tactics all around the board is the best description of the following game. Every time it seems that MVL has an easy mate Nakamura comes back and complicates the position. Finally Vachier-Lagrave manages to transpose to a clearly won endgame. Remember, this is blitz — 5 minutes for the entire game with a 3-second delay (the clock waits 3 seconds before starting — no time is added if you should move before the 3 seconds).

Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2799) – Nakamura, Hikaru (2806) [B07]
GCT Paris Blitz 2019 (13), 01.08.2019

1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Bd3 e5 5.c3 Nc6 6.0–0 Nf6 7.Re1 0–0 8.Nbd2 exd4 9.Nxd4 Nxd4 10.cxd4 c5 11.dxc5 dxc5 12.Nf3 Be6 13.Qe2 Re8 14.Be3 Rc8 15.Rad1 Qc7 16.b3 h6 17.Rc1 b6 18.h3 Qe7 19.Bf4 Kh7 20.Qe3 Red8 21.Ba6 Ra8 22.Ne5 Nh5?!

As is his wont Nakamura takes a risk — he allows White’s threat of Nc6 in exchange for getting the beautiful d4 outpost for his bishop.

23.Nc6 Qh4 24.Nxd8 Rxd8 25.Bh2

[25.Bg3 Nxg3 26.Qxg3 Qxg3 27.fxg3 Bd4+ would only emphasize White’s dark-square weaknesses]

25…Bd4 26.Qf3 g5 27.Bc4!

Excellent move. As in King’s Indian formations, Black’s white-squared bishop is essential for his kingside attack.

27…g4 28.hxg4 Bxg4 29.Qxf7+ Bg7

Maybe 29…Ng7 is a harder nut to crack.

30.e5 Rf8 31.Bd3+ Kh8 32.Qg6

The mate threat on h7 forces resignation? Not yet, Nakamura still has some tactical tricks.

32…Qxf2+ 33.Kh1 Bf5 34.Qxh5 Bxd3 35.e6 Bb5 36.e7 Re8 37.Re6

The threat is 38.Rxh6+ Bxh6 39.Qxh6+ Kg8 40.Qg6+ Kh8 41.Be5+ with mate coming up.

37…Kg8 38.Rd1 Qf7 39.Qd5 Kh7 40.Rxh6+ Kg8

[40…Bxh6 41.Qxf7+]

41.Re6 Ba6 42.Qc6 Rxe7 43.Qa8+ Bf8 44.Rxe7 Qxe7 45.Bd6! Qf7

Black has his own threat of …Qh5+

46.Qxf8+ 1–0

We will continue with our coverage of the Paris Rapid/Blitz tournament on Thursday.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.