Magnus Carlsen won the rapid section of the Paris Grand Chess Tour, but the day will be remembered for his outburst beginning, “What do you want me to do?” when Maurice Ashley suggested the final win had been less than smooth. Elsewhere the star was Alexander Grischuk, who did win three smooth games in a row, making it five wins in his last six games. He’s just one point behind Magnus with 18 rounds of blitz to follow, though he called that a big gap, given Magnus’ “idiotic ability to win many games in a row!”
Replay all the action from the rapid section of the Paris Grand Chess Tour 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 rewatch the whole live show from St. Louis and Paris below:
Jan Gustafsson again provides a recap of the day’s action, taking a look at some key moments of chess action and controversy:
On the face of it, the World Champion had little reason to complain about Day 3 of the Paris Grand Chess Tour. He went in to it in the sole lead and never lost the sole lead, starting and ending the day a point clear of his nearest rival. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. As we pointed out before the round began, he was facing three of the bottom four placed players and was no doubt hoping to build up a bigger lead before going into the mayhem of blitz. Then there was the first game against Sergey Karjakin, where he took big risks in the opening and saw them eventually pay off, only to miss a win at the death in a queen and pawn ending:
Only 57.Qe8+! is winning, while after 57.Qe5 Qd3! Minister of Defence Sergey Karjakin was able to get his king and queen in place to stop White’s pawn. How did Magnus take that? It was a flash back to the 2015 Rapid and Blitz in Berlin!
Then it was Fabiano Caruana who hung on for grim death to
hold a position a pawn down, and it was only the fact that Magnus’s rivals had
been taking points off each other that meant he retained the sole lead.
Then came the final game against Etienne Bacrot, where, it has to be said, Magnus did absolutely nothing wrong. He accepted a bold knight sacrifice and then showed his class, for instance here:
23.Rea3! looks odd, puting the rook behind one of its own pawns, but having the rooks defend each other ensured no loose pieces would drop off for the remainder of the game. After 23…Nxf4 24.Ne1! Magnus consolidated until on move 37 Etienne resigned, forced to admit that he was, by that point, simply a full piece down.
The win gave Magnus overall victory in the rapid part of the tournament, but he was clearly stressed even before what became a train wreck of an interview with Maurice Ashley:
As it’s interesting to speculate on what triggered the outburst, we’ve transcribed the encounter in full:
Maurice Ashley: Well, we’re with the king of rapid. Magnus Carlsen has taken at least that title, not that it means anything as far as this tournament is concerned, but at least he’s shown that he is the best player in the world and is starting off the Grand Chess Tour quite well. Magnus, you seemed to have some hiccups earlier today, you didn’t have really smooth performances. This game wasn’t that smooth either. It looked a little bit unclear. What was your feeling overall as the game was transpiring?
Magnus Carlsen: I mean what do you want me to do? So I take the piece, and then, I mean of course he hasn’t done anything particularly wrong, of course it’s not going to be lost. What do you want from me?
I don’t want anything. I just want to see chess getting played.
But I mean you’re talking about that the game wasn’t smooth and again, what do you want me to do? I mean, do you want me to get a huge advantage from the opening and then to push it all the way, is that the only way you can win a smooth game? Is that your point?
No, not at all, Magnus, but certainly the game was tricky enough, and I’d like to get your thoughts on how…
Yeah, I’m just feeling that the whole way you’re approaching it is trying to belittle the whole thing. That’s my only issue.
Apologies, Magnus, we definitely have respect for you as a World Champion, so don’t take any offence to what we’re trying to say. We’re just trying to do commentary. You’ve got this out of the way now, it’s time for blitz. Your thoughts on the rest of the tournament?
I mean it’s looking ok. Grischuk is doing extremely well, but I’m hopeful that I can continue to win "not so smooth" games!
Magnus, thanks so much for your thoughts and good luck in the rest of the games.
The interview inevitably created a great debate afterwards. Was Magnus in the right? Well, technically it was unfair to criticise the “smoothness” of the last game, but it’s harsh to jump on a throwaway question from a commentator who had been working hard to follow five rapid games simultaneously while juggling interviewing and providing analysis for the live show. If the content of the answer was justified, it could just as easily have been delivered light-heartedly, or Magnus could have ignored the specific question, as professional sportsmen usually do, and just given his general views on the day.
On the other hand, it was great TV, and it does no harm to see raw emotions on display in chess.
Just as football needs characters like Jose Mourinho…
…angry Magnus can boost the popularity of chess! The tournament was featured on top Norwegian news sites.
It was hard not to see the funny side when Maurice immediately went into his next interview with Alexander Grischuk by asking him about his “smooth victory” in his game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but it wasn’t just trolling! Grischuk himself had started the day by describing his win over Fabiano Caruana as “pretty smooth” – you won’t see many easier attacks among players at this level:
27.Bxg6! Kg7 (27…hxg5 is mate-in-8 starting 28.Nxg5) 28.Bb1 hxg5 29.Qd3 Rf5 30.g4 and the misery continued for Fabiano.
Grischuk then made very easy work of Etienne Bacrot and went into a big showdown with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who had four wins and two draws since losing to Magnus Carlsen. Alexander soon built up a big advantage and though it was… yes, pretty smooth… he was clearly thinking of how he’d blown just such a position against Hikaru Nakamura the day before. He told Maurice his thought processes:
I was happy to have a rock solid position and my thoughts were mainly, Sasha, don’t blunder, don’t blunder!
Jan covered that game in his video, and the 100% record on the final day left Grischuk only a single point behind the leader. He was talking down his chances, though:
Being one point behind Magnus is like being three points down to normal people, because he has the idiotic ability to win many games in a row! So in fact it’s quite a big gap, but what can I do? I cannot control other games, I just have to play myself.
Ok, this might be pushing things, but in Round 7, when he was blown away by Grischuk, Caruana had hit rock bottom:
He called it a “nightmare” and noted, understandably, “this is the worst result I can remember in a very long time”. On where he could go from there: “I just play the next game, although I don’t want to!”
It’s a feeling we can all share, and therefore it was good to see things improve as he tripled his points total with draws against players as good as Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. At the end of the latter game it even looked for a moment as if he might be winning:
Maxime’s 42.Qxh6+! ended that illusion, but it was at least a fun way for the game to end. After 42…gxh6 43.Rxh6+ the black king could go on a long walk, but there’s no escaping the checks.
Fabiano still finished bottom on a terrible 3/18, but the good news is that with 18 rounds to go he can definitely hope to overhaul some of those close to him. Bacrot is only one point higher, with Topalov a point above him, while Karjakin and So also have very little to cheer about. Wesley’s bright start with wins over Caruana and Bacrot has been followed by five draws and two losses.
The players are bunched together at the top, with Nakamura and Mamedyarov both scoring one win, one draw and one loss on the last day of rapid, allowing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to close the gap with two wins and a draw. His second win was a third in a row if you count the day before, with Maxime commenting:
Of course it’s a great streak to have. This is what rapid and blitz are all about: getting a streak on and you catch form and confidence – all those things. Of course once you’ve done that the hard part is to keep it going!
As you can see from the standings, the situation at the top could easily change in just a couple of rounds:
So what now? Well, we have 18 rounds of 5-minute, 3-second delay blitz, with 9 rounds played on both Saturday and Sunday from 14:00 CEST onwards. The blitz games count normally, with 1 point for a win and 1/2 for a draw. The pairings are already out:
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