Magnus Carlsen is the joint leader after Day 1 of the Paris Grand Chess Tour, despite an incredible loss on time to Wesley So in a position where he had an extra queen. He hit back with three wins in a row over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana to end the day level with Hikaru Nakamura on 7/10. The American player had a much smoother time, losing no games and pressing Magnus in the last round of the day. Four rapid rounds will be played on Friday before 18 rounds of blitz on Saturday and Sunday.
Five long rounds and added delays meant the first day of the “rapid” part of the Paris Grand Prix stretched over seven hours, with the players clearly struggling by the end, though it still looked like a wonderfully staged event.
You can replay all the games using the selector below:
Grandmaster Niclas Huschenbeth has provided us with the following recap of the day’s events:
The day’s greatest drama took place in the first round. After a hard-fought game in which both Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So had chances, Magnus decided to live dangerously:
45.Nxb7! A brilliant roll of the dice. White gives up a piece for a pawn, but will later pick up the g7-pawn with check, when the h-pawn becomes a monster. Objectively it was still drawn, but the gamble paid off when Wesley ran out of checks and the h-pawn queened. The final position was overwhelming for White:
Magnus needs to show a little care (e.g. 59.b3 Qxa5# would be ill-advised!), but simply 59.Qh2, defending b2, or the cynical 59.Qxb7+ should win. When the online board showed Carlsen 0-1 So the assumption therefore was that Wesley had resigned and the players or arbiters had put the kings on the wrong squares to indicate the result… but no! Magnus had managed to lose on time in a totally won position.
He’d been there before, but at least being unaware of the time control provided some explanation for his loss to Veselin Topalov in Round 1 of Norway Chess 2015. In Paris, with a 10-second increment after each move, he’d simply forgotten about his clock.
Magnus seemed to be up against it, since he had the black pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the next round, but then his fortunes turned. Something went disastrously wrong in the opening for the French no. 1, and Jan Gustafsson summed up on our live commentary:
Looks like Angry Magnus will crush MVL in 20 moves from a position supposed to be slightly worse.
Carlsen then beat Levon Aronian in one of those trademark games where he first reduces his opponent to utter passivity and then grinds out the full point.
With Black tied down all that was needed was for the white king to apply the finishing touches - it was quite a march!
The third win in a row turned on a single move, Fabiano
That dropped a pawn to 13…Nxe4! 14.Bxe7 Nc5! – Fabiano fought on, but Carlsen isn’t the kind of person you want to give a central pawn for nothing. Magnus converted in 48 moves.
While Magnus was fighting to make up lost ground Hikaru showed why he’s perhaps the second favourite to win the event. He scored two convincing draws against Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri, and took advantage of the relative weakness of Laurent Fressinet and Veselin Topalov to grind out two technical wins. The pairings couldn’t have worked out better - for chess fans - since Nakamura then faced co-leader Carlsen in the final round of the day.
When Nakamura sank into thought as early as move 5 you wondered if he was going to endure more pain at the hands of his nemesis, but then Magnus began to play puzzling chess as well. His 9.a3 only left him behind in development, so Nakamura was able to ruin White’s pawn structure:
It didn’t look good, with Peter Svidler commenting, “I haven't seen Magnus play this disjointedly in a while”. The World Champion switched to damage limitation mode, though, and ultimately Nakamura felt he had nothing better than to take a draw by perpetual check. Both players could be satisfied with the outcome, which sets up the final day well.
No-one else could be entirely satisfied with their day. Anish Giri went into the tournament with high hopes, but scored four draws and got mauled by wounded animal Veselin Topalov. That was the Bulgarian’s only win, but was little consolation after suffering crushing losses with the white pieces to Fabiano Caruana and – and this had to hurt – Vladimir Kramnik.
All the other players had something to cheer, with Laurent Fressinet scoring an impressive endgame win against Caruana to keep him off the bottom of the table. Wesley So built on his win over Carlsen by beating Aronian, but lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who was involved in the other key game of the day for the current standings.
Vladimir Kramnik looked well on his way to go into the last round tied with Carlsen and Nakamura, but just couldn’t find the finishing touch against MVL. It has to be said, though, that the Frenchman’s defence had moments of brilliance:
Here he played 46…Re7!!, with the point that 47.Rxe7 Bg4! threatens mate, so White has nothing better than to bail out by giving perpetual check with 48.Rc7+ Kb5 49.Rb7+ and so on. As it turns out, that would have been the lesser evil for Big Vlad, who went on to play the disastrous 50.f5??
The only explanation for that move is that after 50…Bxf5 Kramnik hallucinated that he was giving mate with his rooks, forgetting that the e5-pawn is undefended and the king escapes. MVL took full advantage to bring home the full point (or rather two – wins in the rapid section count double) and join Wesley So in joint third position after five rounds:
There are still 22 rounds to go, so no-one can be written off just yet!
The last four rapid rounds will be played from 14:00 CEST on Friday, and you can watch the spectacle with expert commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler here on chess24.
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