Reports Aug 2, 2019 | 11:25 AMby Colin McGourty

MVL’s “horror-show” win | Paris Winners & Losers

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has won the Paris Grand Chess Tour, $37,500 and the maximum possible 13 Grand Chess Tour points for a victory without tiebreaks, but it was a traumatic final day for the French no. 1! He crawled over the line as the day’s joint worst performer, with Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Grischuk keeping up relentless pressure. There was a surprise twist, however, as Vishy Anand surged at the end to snatch 2nd place, with only 21-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda scoring more points on the final day.

Maxime finally got his hands on the trophy! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

You can replay all the 2019 Paris Grand Chess Tour games using the selector below:

And here's the live commentary on the final day:

Now let's get to the winners and losers of the Paris Grand Chess Tour:

WINNERS

1. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

For a Parisian like Maxime to win in his home city was special | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Seldom can the urge to put the clear winner of an event in the “losers” section have been stronger than in the aftermath of Maxime’s victory in Paris… but that would be going too far! When the events of the final two days are forgotten the basic facts will remain: Maxime took first place in his home super-tournament and picked up the maximum $37,500 and 13 Grand Chess Tour points.


After starting with a brilliant four wins in five rapid games, he was the sole leader for the next 22 rounds, all the way to the end of the tournament. Perhaps it was the burden of leading in Paris that weighed on him so heavily, particularly since as the world blitz no. 1 he was expected to cruise home on the final two days.

Instead he lost four games and won four on the first day of blitz, later saying he hoped that was “only one bad day”. It wasn't, as he again lost four games on the final day, but this time only won two, with his 3.5/9 equalling the joint worst score of the day by Daniil Dubov and Anish Giri:


Once again things had started well with a convincing win over Dubov, who he scored a clean sweep against, but there were already signs in the shaky draw against Grischuk that not all was right with the Frenchman. Despite losing the next game to Caruana he hit straight back with his best game of the day, against Nakamura, but although that left him again two points clear with five rounds to go, what followed was agony for the Frenchman and his fans.

This was the day's high point for Maxime, at least until he was crowned champion | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Amazingly after three losses in four games he still went into the final round with everything in his own hands - a win would give him the title and a draw would guarantee at least a playoff - but the game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was again a rollercoaster:


27…Bxh3! is almost immediately indefensible for White, with the f2-pawn fatally weak after 28.gxh3 Nxh3 while the queen is ready to come to the h-file. Normally Shakh would go for such a line in an instant, but luckily for Maxime the choice of 27…Nd3?! 28.Kg1 Qxb2 also looked crushing, with Black set to be two pawns up in an ending:


Here, however, Maxime uncorked a move that ultimately won him the Paris Grand Chess Tour: 29.Nxe4!. 29…Nxe4? loses to 30.Qxb2, since the rook on d8 is hanging, while after 29…Qxc2 30.Nxf6+ gxf6 31.Nxc2 White was no worse. Maxime in fact had winning chances of his own, but in the end the way the game finished was in keeping with the hesitant play the French star had shown throughout the blitz section:

Maurice Ashley asked Maxime about joy afterwards, at a moment when the French no. 1 perhaps felt like Napoleon after “winning” the Battle of Borodino:

It is joy, of course, but right now it’s mostly relief, because today and even yesterday was something of a horror show, and I’m really not pleased with the way I played. Of course I won in the end, so it’s really relief, but it’s too soon to call it joy!

Once again, though, Maxime won everything it was possible to win, and he did it in his home city with family and friends nearby. As he put it, “once it kicks in, will be a great feeling!”

2. Vishy Anand

Vishy Anand and some of the other players relax between games | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

On the final day all eyes were on Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi, which was understandable – for every round of the day they were the closest pursuers, and in fact it was only in the final round of the day that Vishy was within touching distance of Maxime. He’d started the day three points back, and although Hikaru had insisted that was still a bridgeable gap the gap had grown to 3.5 points after the second round of the day, and was still the same with five rounds to go. By that stage, however, Vishy, once the world’s undisputed speed chess king, was on a roll!


You might say he almost single-handedly ensured Maxime took the title, since he beat Nepomniachtchi and Grischuk in a surge of 4 wins in 6 games, just when the leaders were struggling. If Maxime had lost the final game, which as we’ve seen was a very strong possibility, Vishy would have reached a playoff against Maxime for the title. As it was he fell just short, but picked up a deserved $25,000 and 10 Grand Chess Tour points for clear 2nd place. Not bad for a 49-year-old who has to deal with ridiculous calls for him to retire!

Vishy could, if anything, have scored more points on the final day, since there was a chance at the very end of the one game he lost, to Dubov:


69…Bb4!! was the saving resource. If White takes the bishop then of course the a-pawn queens, while the plausible 70.g6+?? is a losing blunder, since after 70…Kg8 Black is threatening not just to queen the a-pawn but to play Bd2 with mate. So White would have to move the bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal, but after Bd2 to follow the white passed pawns would be paralysed. Instead after 69…Kg8 70.Kg6 Bf8 Vishy lost on time in a lost position.

Another chance was against Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the first game of the day, when his opponent survived a position a clear two pawns down. That was to be the springboard for a brilliant final day for Duda…

3. Jan-Krzysztof Duda

The 21-year-old Pole was a highly anticipated wild card in Paris, and he more than justified his selection by ending in 5th place. If anything the feeling was he could have done better, since he spoiled his great start in rapid chess with losses in the final two games, then scored only an average 4/9 on the first day of blitz.

Duda was one of the players to beat the leader | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

On the second day, however, we got to see the Duda who almost hunted down Magnus Carlsen on a truly brilliant final day of the World Blitz Championship in St. Petersburg last year:


Final day blitz scores:

1. Duda: 6.5
2. Anand: 6
3-6. Nepomniachtchi, Grischuk, Caruana, Mamedyarov: 4.5
7. Nakamura: 4
8-10. MVL, Dubov, Giri: 3.5

His claims to fame including beating Maxime and scoring a clean sweep against Alexander Grischuk, for whom he’s already become something of a nemesis (Grischuk didn't even lose two games against any other player). He not only won a lot of games but showed relentless fighting spirit and stylish chess:


Here against Caruana, for example, White has numerous promising options, but Duda’s 29.Rxa5! bxa5 30.c4! was both the best and most elegant. The Polish player looks ready to become a regular in elite events, even if for now his classical chess remains a little behind his rapid and blitz.    

4. Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen, who recently celebrated going over a year unbeaten in classical chess, is now back to being the world no. 1 at not just classical and rapid chess but also blitz, after Maxime shed an astonishing 102 live rating points in just two days:


Apart from the statistics, it was also a case of no-one convincingly stepping in to fill the vacuum left by the absence of the World Champion, who if he doesn’t have enough Grand Chess Tour points already looks certain to confirm qualification for the London finals in Saint Louis later his month:


LOSERS

1. Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru was the top scorer on the first day of blitz with 6.5/9, but his hopes were hit when he lost to Grischuk in the first round of the second day, and he went on to score 4/9 (-1) and take just 7th place and four Grand Chess Tour points in Paris. There were worse performances, but this one stands out due to the higher expectations for the US star. He is, after all, the reigning Grand Chess Tour Champion, a title he won on the back of his brilliance in rapid and blitz events. 

The last two Grand Chess Tour events haven't gone Hikaru's way | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour  

Coming after a disastrous last place in the Croatia Grand Chess Tour this was his chance to bounce back, but he failed to take it, and a lot now rests on the incredibly tough 12-player Sinquefield Cup, where he’ll be looking to show that Zagreb wasn’t a true reflection of his classical chess skills.

2. Ian Nepomniachtchi

The dream never quite materialised for Nepo | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Ian Nepomniachtchi features here for completely different reasons, since for two days he led the battle to overtake Maxime. For 7 of the last 9 rounds he was the closest pursuer, and he cut the lead to a single point in the most dramatic fashion in Round 14 when he crushed Maxime in just 22 moves:


22.Qf7! is the kind of simple double attack you don’t get to play often against arguably the world’s best blitz player.

In the next round there was finally a chance to catch Maxime, who was put to the sword by Giri, but Nepo fumbled the opportunity to beat Dubov:


45…Rg7+ followed by 46…Rg1 was winning, but after 45…Nxd4?! Daniil managed to escape into a drawn pawn endgame. That still took Nepo within half a point of the leader, but his disgust dragged on for 15 minutes:

Peter Svidler commented (at least this is what we think he said):

If I was there, I would probably tell him, “You won a 1 vs. 1 rook ending against Shakh. Stop moaning!” And then he would hit me in the head with a hamster.

The next game against Giri could serve as the definition of “on tilt”, as Nepo was soon busted out of the opening and decided just to keep throwing pieces onto the fire:

The shock was that it worked, with Giri’s choice on move 24 less than optimal:


24…Qxd6! and, after giving a check or two, White will face the cold reality that he’s down a huge amount of material. Instead after 24…Bxf6?! 25.Re1! it suddenly wasn’t so simple and the game ended in a draw 8 moves later. 

That meant Nepo was still perfectly poised to challenge Maxime with two rounds to go, but instead he lost to Grischuk and Anand and finished in third place. 

Nepo losing to Grischuk in the penultimate round saved MVL again | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

A book should be written about grandmaster hand-shaking technique! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

He scored 7.5 GCT points and earned $17,500, but once again he could have retweeted his quote after finishing joint 5th in Croatia despite starting with 3/3:

Of course his co-chaser Alexander Grischuk could also regret not taking advantage of MVL’s struggles, but as Grischuk was only a wild card in Paris he had less at stake… plus of course he got to play one of the three best games of his career during the rapid section!

3. Anish Giri

Sometimes you just have to laugh! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

We have to end with Anish Giri, whose four losses and two draws on the first two rapid days made a hole he never came close to digging himself out of, but on the other hand – it seems he had a good time in Paris. You might paraphrase a saying usually applied to golf as, “Chess is a family vacation spoiled!”

There were also some chess reasons to be cheerful:

This game against Maxime could easily have become the defining moment of the last day:


In this sharp Najdorf all previous games had gone 17.Qxf3, but Anish instead went for the novelty 17.gxf3!? He was in top form when he talked to Maurice Ashley after the game:

I’m very motivated when I play Maxime, because I usually play on the side of the playing hall, either on one corner or the other corner, and only when I play Maxime do I get to sit elsewhere, a little bit closer to the middle, so I feel that’s my moment to shine!

My coach gets very annoyed when I play novelties in not very relevant games, and today I played a novelty in the most irrelevant game like ever for me, because I’m by far the last anyway, and this is actually a very fun idea with gxf3, and very dangerous for Black.

Giri described 21…Rf8?! as already a mistake and could then have wrapped things up sooner, but he in any case went on to win in 32 moves. Fortunately for Maxime’s sanity that didn’t alter the fate of either first or last place.

A memorable group portait with the Arc de Triomphe in the background | photo: Justin Kellar, Grand Chess Tour 

So that’s all for the Paris Grand Chess Tour, but for the Grand Chess Tour as a whole the break will be very brief. Already a week on Saturday, Magnus Carlsen will be back to challenge Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and co. in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. Keep tuned to all the chess action here on chess24.

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