Maxime is a chess prodigy who won his first French Championship (Under 8) as a 6-year-old. He went on to become a grandmaster at 14, won the adult French Championship at 16, crossed the 2700-rating barrier at 17 and won the World Junior Championship at 19. Unusually for a player at the very top of the chess world he gained a university degree, in mathematics, which he completed in 2010.
In Biel 2009, MVL finished ahead of Vassily Ivanchuk, Alexander Morozevich, Boris Gelfand and Fabiano Caruana before going on to win the tournament again in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Other supertournament successes include first place in Dortmund 2016, where he scored four wins and three draws to finish ahead of Fabiano Caruana and Vladimir Kramnik, cross 2800 and rise to world no. 2.
In the 2017 Sinquefield Cup he finished top ahead of Magnus Carlsen, who he beat in their individual encounter.
The French no. 1 is also regularly in the top 5 on the blitz and rapid rating lists.
When it comes to the World Championship title Maxime has
suffered frequent heartbreak in his attempts to qualify for Candidates
Tournaments. In 2017 he lost an Armageddon game to Levon Aronian in the World
Cup semifinal when a win would have qualified him for the Candidates, while also just missing out in the Grand Prix and by rating. 2019 was almost an exact déjà vu until he was handed a lifeline when Teimour
Radjabov withdrew from the Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia at
the last moment. MVL took up the place as the next highest on the average
rating list for 2019.
It turned out getting a chance to play at the last moment was the perfect chance for Maxime to go into the event fresh and under less pressure, and he went on to lead at the halfway stage after beating Ding Liren and then crucially his co-leader, Ian Nepomniachtchi. The result of their individual games is the first tiebreaker.
The tournament being stopped midway because of the virus situation in Russia is potentially ideal for Maxime, who now also has the chance to prepare properly for the second half. Maxime seemed understandably distracted when chess moved online later in 2020, though his surprisingly poor results may also have been related to his decision not to play his main openings such as the Najdorf Sicilian and the Grünfeld.
The Candidates will obviously be Maxime's main focus in 2021, but before that he has the chance to prove he can compete online. As a fantastic rapid and blitz player he has every chance of doing it.
Photo: Georgios Souleidis
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