Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So lead on 5/6 after Day 1 of the Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour. Magnus exploited blunders by Mamedyarov and MVL to win two of his three games, while Wesley won lost positions against both Caruana and Bacrot and nearly ended on an unlikely 100%. His polar opposite was Fabiano Caruana, who is rock bottom on 0/6 despite having two close to winning positions and one very comfortable one. Alexander Grischuk earned the right to be called Mr 11 seconds for his handling of the unusual Bronstein delay time control.
This year’s Paris Grand Chess Tour is taking place in the CANAL+ TV studios, and perhaps the intense atmosphere under the studio lights got to the players. There was also the presence of greatness!
Whatever the cause, none of the wins on the first day could be attributed simply to one of the players performing well, with countless blunders and other twists and turns. There was never a dull moment!
You can replay all the games so far, and check out the pairings, using the selector below. Click a result to open a game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results so far:
You can replay the day’s action with commentary from (it’s a long list!): IM Jovanka Houska, GM Yasser Seirawan and GM Cristian Chirila in St. Louis, and GM Maurice Ashley and GM Romain Edouard on site in Paris.
For a whistlestop tour of all the day's big events check out Jan Gustafsson's recap:
Now let’s focus on some of the day’s stories:
We highlighted blunders at the start, but one player who managed to go through the whole day without a single significant error was World Champion Magnus Carlsen. You might say he adopted, as he often does, the maxim of the 7th World Champion Vasily Smyslov: “I'll make 40 good moves and if you do the same the game will end in a draw”.
That applied in Round 1, where there was some concern about one of Magnus’s pieces…
…but he noted afterwards he “came up with an interesting concept against Grischuk”. Alexander was up to the task, though, and the game ended in a logical perpetual check (one move short of move 40).
In the following two games interesting, well-played encounters ended abruptly in blunders when Magnus’s opponents failed to keep up their end of the bargain. Mamedyarov said later he thought he had a normal position and could play for a win, but his 28.a4?? just lost on the spot:
28…Bf3! was the move that had to be prevented at all costs (28.Qd1!, 28.Qe3, 28.Qe2…). Shakh simply resigned, since there’s nothing he can do to stop Black planting a rook on e2 next move, with death throes to follow.
The same pattern repeated itself in Round 3, with Magnus saying he wanted to play on in an unclear position against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, despite realising he was unlikely to be better with his unsafe king. Then he played the seemingly innocent 30.Qe2, defending the kingside and preparing b5, to which Maxime replied 30…Kh8??
31.f4! turned out to be the third point of the move! It’s game over, though Maxime limped on for a few moves after 31…exf3 32.Qxe5. Magnus was perhaps as surprised as his opponent, commenting, “Maxime is very good tactically, so you don’t expect this kind of gift”. He summed things up, “I’m playing relatively well and my opponents are giving me chances, so it’s excellent so far!”
He’s also, of course, a time trouble junkie, and the unusual time control employed in the Paris Grand Chess Tour was always likely to become an issue. The players have 25 minutes (no surprise there), but instead of having a 10-second increment they have a 10-second “Bronstein delay”. That means that when your opponent hits the clock you gain 10 seconds, then time begins to count down normally, but if you make a move before those 10 seconds are over (whether after 1 second or 9 seconds), the clock returns to what it was showing before. Things get interesting when time is running out – if the clock drops to 0 you lose, as normal, but if you make a move just before your flag drops the clock is reset to 11 seconds (you get 1 extra second as a bonus). Then for the rest of the game you can never have more than that 11 seconds!
Against Carlsen in Round 1 Grischuk was a long way down on the clock but only ever got as low as 15 seconds. Normal service resumed in the next two rounds, though, with Grischuk reaching 11 seconds on move 40 of his wild Sicilian against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and then having to play until move 80 on that 11-second allowance. Of course if there’s one thing Grischuk is known for it’s remaining icily cool in such circumstances, and he managed to navigate countless pitfalls, even if he missed one clear winning shot in particular (see Jan’s video).
In Round 3 it took him until move 43 against Wesley So to reach 11 seconds, and he played on in those circumstances until they drew on move 82. He was on the back foot in that encounter after So played 28…e5!:
The pin of the knight leaves White with no choice but to take the pawn and give up his queen for a rook and bishop after Re8, though Alexander chose to play the zwischenzug 29.bxa5 first. It was a tough situation to be in, especially since Wesley was gunning to take sole first place with a perfect 6/6, but Alexander managed to establish a fortress. Don’t take your eyes off him in the upcoming games!
We’ve long since learned not to expect great things from Fabiano Caruana at fast time controls, though he can surprise us – for instance, by defeating Hikaru Nakamura in rapid and blitz in the match they played in St. Louis in 2015. At first it looked as though Maurice Ashley tipping him to win the tournament might be prescient, since against Wesley So in Round 1 he played one of the moves of the day:
31.Rf6!! with the idea that after 31…Bxf6 32.exf6+ Kg8 33.Be7! the board is suddenly cut in two and Black’s queen can’t defend the kingside. 33…Rxc3? would lose to 34.f7+!, as Fabiano had seen, which made it all the more regrettable that he didn’t play that move after 33…R4c7:
34.f7+! was anything but trivial (again, see Jan’s video), but it works, while after 34.Bd6? Rxc3 it was suddenly Black who was having all the fun, with Wesley going on to weave a mating net.
In Round 2 Fabiano played his fellow underperformer at fast time controls, Veselin Topalov. At first Caruana seemed to have complete domination of the board with the black pieces, then Veselin rustled up some counterplay, but it was still advantage Fabiano:
Here it seems White has defended the b2-pawn by covering f1-twice so the back rank can be defended. In fact, though, 28…Bxb2 still picks up a pawn, since 29.Rxb2 runs into the clever 29…e4! In the game after 28...Rhf8 it was Caruana’s pawns that dropped off one by one until defeat was inevitable.
It seemed lightning couldn’t strike thrice when Hikaru Nakamura let frustration with two draws in a row go to his head in Round 3:
I felt like I had to go crazy and create something, which was the wrong attitude.
Fabiano had a winning advantage, though as Nakamura noted, “it was never a one-move win”. He persisted and, of course, not only survived but went on to win. Nakamura summed up his day:
To be on +1 is fantastic, but I’ll have to play better tomorrow and the following day to stay in contention.
He’s joined on +1 by Topalov, with both players drawing two games and grabbing a win against Caruana.
Wesley summed up his approach:
A win is a win. I don’t care if I flag my opponent!
His first round comeback against Fabiano Caruana reminded him of how he’d beaten Carlsen from a “completely lost position” in the same round of the same event last year, while Wesley then went on to beat Etienne Bacrot from a position an exchange and a pawn down. Local wildcard Bacrot confessed to being unable to stand the relentless pressure of his elite opponents and struggling with the unusual time control, though he did get off the mark with a draw against Topalov in Round 3.
Only Grischuk, as we’ve seen, was able to stop Wesley from posting a perfect start.
Although there’s no way we could possibly cover them all, we were treated to some fine moves and ideas from the players. Two of them came shortly after each other in Round 3, with Nakamura and MVL launching pawns onto squares that were covered multiple times:
Maxime even did it with some Gallic flair:
You might point out that subsequently Nakamura should have lost and Maxime did lose, but let’s hope the players don’t draw any conclusions and give in to pragmatism!
The standings after three rounds look as follows, with 2 points for a win in rapid chess:
Another three rounds are to be played on Thursday, and we couldn’t start with a better match-up: Wesley So will have the white pieces against co-leader Magnus Carlsen in Round 4! Don't miss all the action here on chess24 from 13:45 CEST, while you can again warm up from 12:30 onwards with Banter Blitz with Jan Gustafsson!
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