As bad days at the office go, this one was pretty good for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave! Despite losing four games, including a gut-wrenching loss to his closest pursuer Alexander Grischuk, he increased his lead to two points before the final day of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. That was down to Grischuk not winning another game all day, with the star performers being Hikaru Nakamura, who scored 6.5/9 (+4), and Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fabiano Caruana, who both scored 5.5/9 (+2).
You can replay all the 2019 Paris Grand Chess Tour games using the selector below:
And here’s the live commentary on the first day of blitz:
After the first round of the day everything seemed to be going Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s way. He crushed Daniil Dubov in 28 moves and got to watch as Alexander Grischuk was ground down in 81 moves by Hikaru Nakamura. That increased MVL’s lead to a comfortable two points, and when he met Grischuk at the board in Round 2 it looked as though Maxime was going to move into a barely surmountable 3-point lead. 32…Re7? was the first sign that not all was well for the French no. 1:
Black is up an exchange and a pawn, but here Peter Svidler was almost screaming for his friend Grischuk to find the trick 33.Bg8+! Kxg8 34.h7+! and the h-pawn queens. Grischuk missed the point completely, however, as he continued 33.Rg3, but it soon became clear that Maxime was struggling to convert the win even before he allowed a second chance:
This time Grischuk did find 42.Bg8+!, and he went on to win without any trouble. He commented:
As they say, better lucky than good! Just a complete miracle, of course…
The thing is, I quickly got a hopeless position, he had like three minutes, and then he started thinking and I also started to think, like “how big of an idiot I am, just losing two games in a row without much fight!”, so I don’t know, now it’s a bit, how to say, surprising that I won, to say the least.
After the day was over Maxime saw that game as a key moment:
I definitely played very badly today. The turning point was of course this game against Sasha that I lost, because if I win this game I think basically I would have played much better, much more confidently and I think the tournament would be over by now.
Maxime was able to bounce back very quickly when Fabiano Caruana played the automatic 19…Kg8?? in the next game (19…e5!):
20.b4! was simply winning on the spot, since there was no defence against b5 to follow and winning the c6-bishop, though Fabi only resigned on move 39.
Maxime was back to a plus start to the day, but in the next round he misplayed the opening and lost to Hikaru Nakamura, and that yo-yo pattern continued all day as he scored 50% in the most dramatic fashion:
50% in an all-star field cost Maxime not only the no. 1 spot on the blitz live rating list, but no. 2 as well:
For Magnus Carlsen it meant that on the day he was celebrating a whole year unbeaten in classical chess (he last lost to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Biel on 31 July 2018) he again topped the rating list in classical, rapid and blitz.
Meanwhile back in Paris the good news for Maxime is that Grischuk didn’t build on that unlikely win. The 3-time World Blitz Champion was the joint worst performer of the day alongside Daniil Dubov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, scoring 3.5/9 (-2) and letting Maxime increase his lead by a point:
You could sum up Grischuk’s day with the game against Mamedyarov. After beating MVL he commented on his 3.h4, that he’d also played in the game he lost to Maxime in Riga and their draw in rapid chess in Paris:
I deserved to lose, but at least now I can stop playing this h4, because it was a matter of principle to win one game with it, so now I can stop, if I like. But I said to myself, I’m not going to stop until I win one game!
He then nevertheless played 3.h4 against Mamedyarov later in the day, with an enraged Peter Svidler quipping, “the trust has been broken!” Although the opening went well for Grischuk, karma did its job in the end, with Mamedyarov finding a nice sting in the tail at the end of a combination:
White would be drawing this, if not for 57…Rxd5+!, and rather than see 58.Rxd5 c6+ on the board Grischuk simply resigned. That Mamedyarov then lost the next three games gives you an idea of how topsy-turvy a day it was in Paris!
Despite a less than stellar day Grischuk still ended in second place, two points back, where he was joined by Ian Nepomniachtchi. The Russian began the day with a fine victory over Caruana and ended, like Caruana, with a 5.5/9, +2 score.
The most memorable image of his day, however, was after the one game he lost, from a drawish ending against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:
Fabi strung together three wins in a row at one point to remind everyone he’s not so bad at blitz, but as he started one point further back than Nepomniachtchi he goes into the final day three points behind MVL. He’s joined there by the blitz top scorer, Hikaru Nakamura, whose only stumble was, “a mouse slip over the board” against Caruana:
18…Nxe5 is playable, but 18…Bxe5? simply lost a piece to 19.Bxe5 Nxe5 20.Rxe5 Qxd3 21.Rxe8+ Rxe8 22.Rxd3. A winning streak at the end transformed his day:
That included the curiosity of giving mate on the board against Dubov for the second time in Paris. Hikaru was much more upbeat about his chances than 2nd place Nepomniachtchi had been, feeling that a 3-point gap was the maximum that was still bridgeable:
Obviously I have to play quite well, but again I think I’ve a shot and I would say after the game against Nepo on the final day of rapid all I really wanted was a shot. I think if I play well tomorrow everything’s up for grabs.
If that’s the case then Vishy Anand, also three points behind Maxime, is in with a shot as well. The Indian star had been in hilarious form during the Pro-Biz event on the rest day…
…and won three games on the first day of the blitz, though some of his three losses were more memorable. He blundered for a second game in a row against Mamedyarov, was beaten by a fine attack by MVL and stumbled into a very nice trick from Daniil Dubov when he played 23.Rad1?
Vishy is attacking the d4-knight, but it turns out the threat of mate on g2 is stronger! Dubov deflected the black queen with 23…Be5! (23…Bh4? doesn't work as after 24.Qh2! White is attacking two black pieces and wins) 24.Qg5 Bf4! and White resigned, as there’s no longer a way to defend g2.
It was an unusual day for a Grand Chess Tour blitz event, since we’re used to seeing at least one player (usually Magnus!) putting in a dominant performance, while others suffer. Instead, except for the late burst from Nakamura, no-one did exceptionally well and no-one collapsed. The worst score was 3.5/9, while bottom-placed Anish Giri beat MVL, Duda and Mamedyarov on the way to 4/9.
The win over Mamedyarov came in the first game of the day, and was Giri’s first win in Paris this year. It featured a beautiful move:
After e.g. the prosaic 31.Rd2 there’s still a tricky conversion ahead, but instead Anish uncorked 31.Rd6!!, with the point that 31…cxd6 32.Ne7! both attacks the black queen and threatens Qxf6 mate. Shakh tried to play on with 31…Qe8, but after 32.Rxf6 the white position was almost impossible to spoil.
So the standings with 9 rounds of blitz to go are as follows:
“I hope that today was only one bad day,” said Maxime, before adding some more choice French expressions:
I think, new day, new shit, new state of mind. I think that’s all I can hope for!
A 2-point lead is potentially huge, the equivalent of Maxime having a +4 score while others are on 50%, but then again, it’s blitz, and the advantage could be gone in just a couple of rounds. Nepomniachtchi summed up:
If Maxime keeps playing like today then ok, maybe we have some chances, but if not, if he plays his usual, it will be tough!
Don’t miss all the action that starts ONE HOUR EARLIER THAN USUAL at 14:00 CEST. Tune in for live commentary here on chess24.
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