Fabiano Caruana convincingly beat Hikaru Nakamura in the first round of Day 1 of the Paris Grand Chess Tour to take over the world no. 2 spot on the rapid rating list. He never looked back, only conceding a draw against Vishy Anand, who also beat Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri to share the lead. The closest pursuers are Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, with the young Polish player’s win over Alexander Grischuk the clear game of the day.
You can replay all the games from the Paris Rapid and Blitz using the selector below:
And here’s the live commentary on Day 1 of the event:
It seems the players were out to take advantage of Magnus Carlsen not playing in Paris, as the first day saw only 4 draws in 15 games. The participants ended up split neatly into pairs (note there are two points for a win in the rapid section of the Paris Rapid and Blitz):
Let’s take a look at them in turn:
First rounds can define a tournament, and Nakamura-Caruana was a big game. Not only was it a clash between two US stars, but it pitted the world no. 2 on the rapid rating list, Hikaru Nakamura, against the no. 3, Fabiano Caruana. Defending Grand Chess Tour Champion Nakamura had finished rock bottom in Zagreb and needs a good event in Paris to get back on track for qualifying for the London finals this year, and with the white pieces he had every reason to push against Fabiano – although trailing by almost 75 points on the classical rating list Hikaru has won more than twice as many rapid and blitz games in their previous meetings.
In hindsight, however, Nakamura regretted the ambitious kingside pawn pushes he went for:
What I did I think in a classical game would have been completely fine, but in a rapid game it was a very bad decision to go all-in with this.
His point was that he had to burn up time finding ways to press for an advantage, while Caruana was just reacting and could build up an edge on the clock. Gradually Black took over and Fabiano commented of his 30…Qc7!, taking control of c2:
He can’t move the bishop from e4, that was the point of Qc7, and if he can’t do that it’s just a disaster. The bishop is there forever and there was really nothing he could do.
Peter Svidler came into his own at this point as he explained how tough it was for White to find a move and pointed out the potential plan with a5, Qd6 and h6, with the idea of getting the black queen to h4 and threatening a swift mate. Sure enough, play continued: 31.Rf1!? a5! 32.Bd2 Qd6! 33.a4 h6! and here 34.g6?! was already desperation. The game didn't last much longer:
That win already took Caruana above Nakamura into 2nd place on the live rapid rating list:
Not bad for a poor speed chess player? Fabiano reacted:
People actually disregard results when they criticise my rapid results, because I’ve played all these matches and I’ve won like 80% of them, and tiebreaks, so I don’t know. I’ve had some kind of atrocious tournaments, then the people just look at those and forget my good results.
His day would get better in the next round as Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s decision to play the Petroff against someone who had prepared the Petroff for a World Championship match proved to be a mistake. One of Caruana’s seconds, Alejandro Ramirez, confirmed in the St. Louis studio that the novelty 13.a3! was a move they’d feared, since it required Black to play very accurately to survive. Duda did for a few moves, but then 18…Rfe8? could have been lights out immediately:
Duda saw after making his move that it loses to 19.Nxf7! Bxf7 20.Rxe7! Rxe7 21.Qg5!
Curiously, however, Fabi thought for a minute before playing 19.Qf4!?, after which Black came close to equalising completely. The time advantage in such a sharp position nevertheless proved important, and Fabi did find a killer blow later on to take home the full two points.
Vishy Anand also won his opening two games, with the first featuring a remarkably easy victory over Ian Nepomniachtchi. By the time 22.c5! appeared on the board it was clear things had gone very badly wrong for Black:
The day began not that great because I was maybe over-optimistic against Vishy. I just wanted to win with Black, and I allowed White some very nice and simple play with c5, and I thought that the king will be exposed on the kingside, but in fact I never had time.
In the second game of the day Vishy won a pawn against Anish Giri, but the encounter looked destined to end in a draw before the former World Champion pounced on a rook ending mistake by his young opponent. In the final game of the day Vishy was the player in trouble, but he managed to hold a difficult position against Caruana so that we had co-leaders at the end of Day 1.
None of the other players in the tournament avoided defeat.
One point back are the French and Polish players with three names, who both won two games. Maxime had come straight from the disappointment of losing the Riga Grand Prix final, but his fighting spirit saw him get off to a good start. He admitted he’d been “let off the hook” by Daniil Dubov, who played a novelty to gain a big opening advantage, but then used up too much time looking to preserve winning chances and ended up sinking to defeat.
Then in Round 2 MVL got some measure of revenge for the Riga Grand Prix final by beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who might have held a difficult ending if he’d been willing to play passively. That meant two wins with the black pieces for Maxime, but he spoilt his day somewhat by losing with White to Ian Nepomniachtchi in a topical line of the Caro-Kann.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda had a similar start, finding himself in deep trouble out of the opening against Anish Giri until his opponent unexpectedly gave up a piece on move 35. If that hadn’t happened Duda assessed it as, “just a completely random game”, but after the sacrifice he was on top and managed to win the endgame. In the next game against Caruana he also went astray in the opening, but then in the final game of the day it was 21-year-old Duda’s chance to shine!
He was able to blitz out his moves in a hyper-sharp line where Grischuk was either unprepared or forgot his preparation, since the extraordinary positions had appeared in a book…
…and up to 15.Rg1 it had all been played in Tiger Hillarp Persson vs. Jonny Hector from the 2014 Danish Team Championship:
Here Hector played 15…Qxh2 and Duda explained after the game that he remembered that 16.bxc6! Qxg1+ 17.Kd2 was completely crushing for White. Grischuk instead defended c6 with 15…Ne7!? and Jan-Krzysztof was on his own. As so often in such cases, Duda’s first independent move, 16.Nd2?!, was a mistake. The right choice was the other one Duda was considering, 16.Rxg2! – as he commented, “of course it’s always risky not to kill such a pawn on g2 immediately”.
That meant the thriller went on, however, with Duda still the favourite due to his healthy advantage on the clock. Grischuk is no slouch when low on time, however, and 20…Be7 was another move that surprised Duda:
He was forced into playing the brilliancy 21.axb7! Rxa4 22.Rxa4 0-0 23.Ra8, when only 23…Re8 was an inaccuracy (23…cxb5! is a draw, claims the silicon beast):
The three minutes Duda spent here gave the commentators just enough time to work out why the computer was recommending the stunningly cold-blooded 24.Kd2! before Duda played it! 24…Kf8? was the final mistake, as it allowed White to end a minor masterpiece with 25.Rxe8+! Qxe8 26.Bxd5! Bd8 27.Bf4! Ba5+ 28.Kd1:
Impressive stuff from the young Pole. How is he finding life playing against the world’s best?
I’m feeling more comfortable in rapid and in blitz than in classical chess, and I am actually kind of getting used to these guys! Of course it’s stressful, but I think there is no pressure on me. Nobody really expects anything from me, I think, here, so I’m just having fun and enjoying playing chess.
Svidler disputed that last statement, since he feels people are already beginning to expect a lot from Duda.
Both these players can have ambitions to win any rapid and blitz tournament, but they got off to mixed starts. They both suffered one heavy loss, Grischuk to Duda and Nepomniachtchi to Anand, scored one draw where they could have got more, and also won a convincing game. Nepo beat MVL, while Grischuk outplayed Nakamura in an impressively smooth positional manner, first sacrificing a pawn for positional domination and then winning back and converting extra material.
Hikaru’s spirits were lifted after two defeats by a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the last round of the day. Nakamura was grateful to his opponent for playing ambitiously in a quiet position rather than going for a draw.
Wild card Dubov suffered a painful defeat in what should have been a winning position against MVL in the first game, but did well to stabilise with draws against Nepomniachtchi and Giri.
That draw for Giri was all he had to show for the first day, after losing positions he shouldn’t have lost against both Duda and Anand. For Mamedyarov, meanwhile, it’s unlikely he’s too bothered about a couple of rapid defeats coming so soon after his triumph in the Riga Grand Prix. He’s one player who may really benefit from Tuesday’s rest day before the blitz starts on Wednesday.
Before that, however, we have two more days of rapid chess. Tune in from 15:00 CEST for live commentary here on chess24.
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