Reports Jun 11, 2016 | 9:44 AMby Colin McGourty

Paris GCT, Day 2: Nakamura leads after rapid

Hikaru Nakamura has won the rapid section of the Paris Grand Chess Tour after a dramatic final round in which it seemed Magnus Carlsen would yet again finish top of the pile. The World Champion won an awesome game against Vladimir Kramnik, but Fabiano Caruana completed a disastrous streak of 6 losses in 7 games by blundering away a better position to let Nakamura finish on an unbeaten 14/18. Replay all the live commentary and check out Niclas Huschenbeth’s recap in the report below.

Sheer determination at the end saw Nakamura get the better of Sauron, at least for one day | photo: Lennart Ootes

The final day of the rapid section of the Paris Grand Chess Tour was a sprint of only four rounds, and all of them featured spectacular action. You can replay all the games using the selector below:

For a quick recap check out Grandmaster Niclas Huschenbeth’s account of the day:

You can also replay the full five hours of commentary by Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson. Note that DailyMotion are sponsoring the event, so the videos are embedded in their player rather than YouTube:

Let’s briefly go through the day’s action:

Round 6: Carlsen takes the sole lead

It was bottom vs. top in the Topalov-Carlsen clash, and though Veselin had the white pieces there was no bucking the trend. Magnus won an effortless game where he controlled both sides of the board before the Bulgarian resigned just as he was about to be crushed on the kingside. As Nakamura was held to a draw by Wesley So, that meant Carlsen had completed the comeback from his first round debacle to snatch the sole lead.

He was back! | photo: Lennart Ootes

Anish Giri got a nice first win of the event against Laurent Fressinet, while MVL crashed home against Fabiano Caruana. The US Champion’s 46.Rg1? was an invitation too tempting to ignore:

46.Nh3! not only sets up a deadly knight fork on f2 but threatens mate on g1. Caruana stumbled on for another five moves after 47.Rxg4, but the game was gone.

Round 7: Nakamura strikes back

The sole lead didn’t last long. It may not have been classical chess, but Giri did his thing of frustrating the World Champion, holding him to a 28-move draw. That gave Nakamura a chance to move back into the joint lead, and he seized it, beating MVL with Black almost as easily as Carlsen had on the first day. Once again, the opening went badly wrong for the French no. 1.

Vladimir Kramnik was having no trouble seeing tactics | photo: Lennart Ootes

Elsewhere Vladimir Kramnik got to enjoy himself:

22…Nxh3! 23.gxh3 Rxf3! meant Black had won a pawn and still had a raging attack, since 24.Qxf3 would run into 24…e4+.

Aronian-Caruana was ultimately an utterly convincing win for Aronian, but there was a moment that could have turned the game on its head. Fabiano had missed a trick related to the c5-pawn, but just two moves later he got the chance to put things right:

35…Rxc5!! was possible, since 36.Qxf7? leads to mate: 36…Rc1+ 37.Rg1+ Nf2+! 38.Kg2 Qg5+! 39.Kxf2 Qxg1# Fabiano instead moved the rook with 35...Rf6? - it simply wasn't his day.

Round 8: Not too weak, too slow

Nakamura regained the sole lead with a round to go after impressively converting an extra pawn in a rook ending against Aronian. Carlsen needed to beat his second Laurent Fressinet to keep pace, but in a thrilling endgame full of twists and turns he couldn’t quite manage. The one gilt-edged chance appears to have been on move 61, when 61…h5! would have been lethal:

White is caught in zugzwang – and a mating net! For instance, 62.Nd6 Rd2! wins the piece, since the threat is 62…Rd3 mate. It gets slightly more complicated after e.g. 62.Bd7 Rd2 63.Bb5 (to cover d3), but nothing Magnus couldn’t handle in his sleep. Instead he played 61…e4 and after 62.h5 the king could breathe and a draw was agreed ten moves later.

MVL and the black pieces - a powerful combination! | photo: Lennart Ootes

Kramnik crushed Caruana in a positional bind that became a tactical annihilation, while in the round’s remaining decisive game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored his 4th win with the black pieces. He lost to both leaders with White, which was all quite a turnaround from his recent French Top 12 appearance, where he was given 8 Whites in 10 games and won no less than 7 of them! He made a plea for next week's Grand Chess Tour event:

Round 9: Nakamura has the last laugh

On Day 1 all five last-round encounters were drawn, with the players clearly worn-out. Day 2 was shorter and couldn’t have ended more differently, with the only surprise being that all the games didn’t end decisively.

Wesley So has been lurking in the shadows, but he's within striking distance before the blitz | photo: Lennart Ootes

Wesley So has been keeping a very low profile, but after four draws in a row he beat Laurent Fressinet to climb to joint third place. Aronian beat Topalov, with the only consolation for Veselin being that with 0.5/4 he outscored Caruana on the second day! MVL – Giri was that unexpected draw, with Maxime unafraid to unleash a monster new move in a rapid tournament. 12.Rg1!!

Peter Svidler was hugely impressed and noted White simply plans to play g4-g5 and give mate – “it’s not so easy to stop!” Giri clearly agreed, and sank into a 13-minute think, a lifetime for a rapid game, before ultimately deciding on 12…Qd8!? 13.g4 Kh8 14.g5 g6 15.gxh6, jettisoning a pawn to give his king some respite. It looked very shaky, but Giri's counterplay against the uncastled white king came in the nick of time. He may even have been better before the players took a draw by perpetual check.

Anish, back on 50% with 7 draws, 1 win and 1 loss, was feeling better about the world:

At the top things couldn’t have been more tense. Carlsen boxed Kramnik into an uncomfortable passive position, but it seemed Vladimir had untangled himself to reach an ending a pawn down which was still “holdable” - or at least would have been against any other player on the planet! Magnus exchanged rooks into a pure 3 vs. 2 pawn ending where he had a knight to Kramnik’s bishop, then won it as if it was mere child’s play.

The Paris venue is the perfect stage for such drama | photo: Lennart Ootes

It looked as though the gods were again conspiring in Carlsen’s favour, since after playing an unconvincing opening Fabiano found himself a solid pawn up against Nakamura. He’d lost five of his last six games, though, and his sense of danger failed him when he played 54.b5?, allowing 54…f4!

Suddenly the white king is threatened by mate-in-1 on h1, and 55.Kh3 Bf3! slammed the door firmly shut again. White would have to give up a rook to stop a quick mate, so Fabiano instead resigned.

Hikaru Nakamura had every reason to smile! | photo: Lennart Ootes

That meant Nakamura had won the rapid section of the Paris Grand Chess Tour by a point, with 14/18 to Magnus’ 13.

Finishing ahead of the World Rapid Champion is a great achievement for the US player, but sadly for him there are no prizes for the rapid alone. No less than 18 rounds of blitz will now follow, when it’s needless to say that a single point is a very slender margin. 

How do you prepare for blitz? Of course you go to watch the opening match of Euro 2016, and when a player from West Ham, an English team you support, scores the winning goal, you sing about it for Norwegian TV!

We’re not sure if Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson have prepared in quite such a dramatic fashion for their commentary, but they’ll again be live from 14:00 CEST for Saturday’s 9 rounds of 5+2 minute blitz. Don’t miss it!

You can also follow the games using our free mobile apps:


See also:

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