French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the sole leader of the Paris Grand Chess Tour after beating Anish Giri and crucially Fabiano Caruana on Day 2 of the event. Caruana looked set to bounce straight back but instead he crashed and burned from a winning position against Ian Nepomniachtchi, just as he had in Zagreb. Wild cards Daniil Dubov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda once again provided a lot of the fun, while Vishy Anand, co-leader at the start of the day, drew all three games. “If it’s cruise control, it’s a very old ship!” he said of his play.
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And here’s the live commentary on Day 2:
It’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave who is now the rapid world no. 2 after he scored 5/6 on the second day of the Grand Chess Tour in his home city of Paris. The day hadn’t gotten off to the best start for him when Anish Giri blitzed out 26 moves of preparation on the white side of a Najdorf, but Maxime’s decision to give up material for dynamic play ultimately justified itself. It’s been a tough, tough event for Anish, and once again he went astray:
The position has become a (k)nightmare and Giri is low on time, but as Maxime pointed out, White could still limit the losses to an exchange, e.g. 47.Rg2 Nf5+ 48.Kh2 Nxg7 49.Rxg7, and material would be level with a straightforward draw. Instead Giri blundered with 47.Kf2?, when after 47…Nd3+! it was time to resign. 48.Ke3 (defending the e2-rook) runs into 48…Nf5+ and the g7-rook is lost.
Maxime summed up:
So far it’s been a very lucky tournament. Of course I had a game where I lost without playing against Ian, but otherwise I won three games with Black and two of them at least I shouldn’t have won, against Daniil and against Anish. Yeah, it’s a great start for me and of course I’m feeling a lot fresher today than yesterday, when I could barely stay awake.
That already meant Maxime had caught Anand and Caruana in the lead, and the key game of the day was the clash between co-leaders MVL and Caruana in Round 5. Long gone are the days when top grandmasters would horde their novelties for important classical games, and Maxime came up with what he described as, “a nice idea against his [Richter-]Rauzer”:
8.e5 had been played before, but after 8…dxe5 predecessors had recaptured the pawn with the queen. Instead Maxime went for the pawn sacrifice novelty 9.Qxd8+!, commenting, “I gain a lot of initiative for a pawn”. On move 19 Maxime stopped to think for over 6 minutes, later saying that he couldn’t find a way to get a direct advantage:
The plan he “settled for” worked to perfection, however, with 19.Bf1 followed by Na4, c4, c5 and smoothly outplaying Fabiano. A number of elegant blows followed, including 49.g4! near the end:
Resignation came on move 50 of what had been a near perfectly played rapid game:
After that game Maxime revealed his “secret” had been to play Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 with a friend the night before!
In the final round of the day Grischuk repeated the 3.h4!? he’d played against MVL in perhaps the most impressive game of the recent Riga Grand Prix. Back then Maxime was caught off-guard, steered towards a Benko Gambit and won the semi-final in brilliant style, but this time round he was prepared and allowed the h-pawn to continue up the board:
In the end, however, the game fizzled out into a draw, which proved enough to give the French no. 1 the sole lead. Vishy Anand was left one point back after drawing all three games, though when Maurice Ashley commented he’d been on “cruise control” Vishy noted his first game of the day against Grischuk hadn’t been quite so smooth:
Today morning I was a whole pawn up and I came close to even being worse. So if it’s cruise control, it’s a very old ship!
Even the 19-move draw against Nakamura in the second game of the day had Hikaru worried: “Vishy could have punished me, and I was probably just losing in the middlegame”.
Caruana looked likely to bounce back and rejoin Vishy just a point behind Maxime when Ian Nepomniachtchi played the Pirc Defence and was busted by move 12. Nepo admitted missing a nice move:
With so many heavy pieces en prise Ian hadn’t noticed Fabi's quiet 24.axb3! was possible, after which White was winning until he went for 35.Qg5?
He'd overlooked the trick 35…Ng4! and suddenly it was all to play for again. Fabi still had an edge after switching to defence with 36.Re1!, but what followed was a repeat of Caruana’s disaster in Zagreb. First he let that edge slip, and then he blundered into a dead lost ending with 52.Bd7?
White would be winning if not for 52…h2!, when Black's outside passed pawns are too much to hold. The game only lasted another 10 moves.
Nepo called his play “just ugly” afterwards, adding:
Of course a very unlucky game for Fabiano, and of course it’s shame on me for playing that badly and blundering that much!
Fabiano’s other game was a draw against wild card Daniil Dubov, and while you could argue that was a missed win it would be hard to criticise the world no. 2 too much for getting bamboozled by his Russian opponent. 15…b5!!? was a quintessentially Dubov-style move in a Dragon Sicilian:
Perhaps better than the move was the explanation for it afterwards:
My preparation was definitely decent, but my memory is worse, so b5 was obviously played over the board… First of all he was blitzing out moves and basically if I play b5 two things can happen. First of all, he blitzes out, then he’s probably still in the book, then probably b5 was ok and is still alright. And if he will start thinking at least I will put him out of the book, which is already sort of an achievement…
So I thought at least b5, even if it’s stupid, then at least in the worst case I will lose on my terms. I will attack, I will sacrifice something and then resign, which is sort of a decent back-up plan!
“I am calling this bluff right now”, said Peter Svidler, who wasn’t convinced this was anything but home preparation. In any case, Fabiano spent a minute to take the bait and was being given a close to winning edge by computers until he fell for what Dubov called his “provocation” and played 19.g4?! After 19…Qb4! 20.b3 there was a solution to all Black’s problems:
20…Nxg4! 21.fxg4 Rxe2! 22.Nxe2 Qa3+ 23.Kb1 Rxb3+! and there was nothing better for either player than a draw by repetition.
Dubov was drawing a lot of praise…
…but that was to prove the high point of his day. He then lost to Grischuk (“It was a very interesting game until he blundered a piece”) and finally Nakamura, who found a very strong idea in the middlegame and got back to 50% by delivering mate on the board:
Dubov is yet to win a game in Paris, but Jan-Krzysztof Duda has managed to combine bold, original play with excellent results.
The Nakamura-Duda draw was a fantastic battle that Hikaru summed up with:
This first game against Jan-Krzysztof was insane. I think in the opening I was probably losing, then I was better, then I was winning, then I was probably losing again and then at the end I was probably winning, but it was just a big mess!
The crowning moment for Duda came in the second game of the day. He dared to repeat the g4-idea that had seen him beaten by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in their Riga Grand Prix quarterfinal:
Had the young Pole learned nothing? Well, you might say he’d taken the words of Mamedyarov back then to heart:
For me it’s very easy to play, because every time I play these lines, Rg1, g4 and attack, and after the game every time I check and the engine says, “very bad position, very bad attack”. I never play these moves a3, Qc2, but h4, h5 and I see if it’s mate or not!
Duda commented in Paris:
I tried the same opening as in the Grand Prix, the game which I lost with White, because I played Rg1 and g4, g5, and then started to think - it was probably the most stupid thing I could have possibly done! Because I thought ok, I can play h4, h5, but what next? And then I started to play some super-solid moves like a3, Qc2 and then got easily crushed. So this time I decided it’s better to play aggressively, especially when you play g4. And I decided not to waste time to play Rg1 but to play g4 immediately. The problem is that after Nxg4 I’m a pawn down…
This time Duda was richly rewarded, with 18…e5? a fatal mistake by his opponent:
19.Qxf5!! simply wins in all lines, with 19…exf4 running into 20.Bxf6! and the threat of mate on h7, when for instance 20…g6 is met by the crushing 21.Nxh7! After a bitter 5-minute think Mamedyarov struggled on with 19…Rad8, and he did manage to confuse his opponent enough to survive to an ending. Duda is also a fine endgame player, however, and he managed to trick Shakh with the innocent-looking 31.Ke2, only to shut the door with 32.Kf2! when Mamedyarov carelessly went after the h3-pawn:
The knight is lost after 32…Nxh3 33.Kg2, and after 32…Rg8 33.Nf4! the black position was totally paralysed and Mamedyarov resigned. “I really like how he plays chess!” commented an impressed Peter Svidler.
So after two days of rapid chess the standings look as follows, with Duda and Anand trailing MVL by a point:
Monday will be the last chance for the players to improve their position before 18 rounds of blitz on Wednesday and Thursday, with Maxime facing a challenge: he first plays Nakamura in Round 7 and then his two closest pursuers, Anand and Duda, in Rounds 8 and 9!
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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