Last year the Grand Chess Tour made its debut on the chess scene with a star-studded elite field headed by World Champion Magnus Carlsen (who won the inaugural tour title) and a trio of top-notch events in Stavanger, St. Louis and London. And this year, despite the minor setback of losing Norway from their schedule, they’ve added a touch of pizzazz into the classical mix with two new back-to-back rapid and blitz tournaments held in Paris and Louven, Belgium.
First up was Paris, and it kicked-off at the same time as the European Football Championship was kicking off in the French capital - and not that you would have realised it, as a certain soccer-loving Magnus Carlsen got caught up in the carnival of it all by singing the Dmitri Payet-song (who scored the stunning winning goal) after France’s opening match win over Romania!
The four day Paris GCT, sponsored by the French mass-media group Vivendi, was held in the glitz 'n' glamour venue of the Maison De La Chimie and featured nine rounds of rapid matches and 18 rounds of blitz with ten world-class players - and up for grabs was $150,000 in total prizes and GCT points being awarded based on the combined results from both events.
Norway's Magnus Carlsen led the cosmopolitan field in Paris (and also next week in Louven) that also included: Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Maxime Vachier Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Wesley So (USA), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Laurent Fressinet (France).
But Carlsen soon found himself involved in an exciting two-horse race for both the rapid and blitz title with one of his leading rivals at the speed game, as former US Champion Hikaru Nakamura was back to his brilliant best following the disappointment of losing his US title to Caruana, as he first pipped the world champion to the rapid title.
Photo © | Paris Grand Chess Tour
Rapid final standings
1. H. Nakamura 7/9; 2. M. Carlsen 6.5; 3-4. W. So, M. Vachier Lagrave 5.5; 5. V. Kramnik 5; 6-7. A. Giri, L. Aronian 4.5; 8. L. Fressinet 2.5; 9-10. V. Topalov, F. Caruana 2.
GM Maxime Vachier Lagrave - GM Hikaru Nakamura
Grand Chess Tour Paris Rapid, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 Once again at elite level, the Berlin Defence; an antidote to sharp play, and a tough defence for White to storm - hence MLV's quiet play with 4.d3, allowing a form of transposition into a Giuoco Piano. 4.d3 Bc5 5.c3 0-0 6.0-0 Re8 7.Bc4 d6 8.b4 Bb6 9.a4 a5 10.b5 Ne7 11.Be3 It looks like White can steal a march in the attack with 11.Ng5 - but Black has instant equality after the simple 11...d5! 12.exd5 Nexd5. Also after 11.Qb3 d5! works well, because now if 12.exd5 Nf5!? and with the knight coming to d6 to threaten ...e4 and/or playing ...Bg4, Black has excellent compensation for the pawn. 11...Bxe3 12.fxe3 Ng6 13.Nbd2 White has to be careful, as Black has a solid position and going for f7 can backfire: 13.Qb3 Qe7! 14.Ng5 d5! 15.exd5 Ng4 16.Nxf7 Qh4 and Black is winning. 13...c6 14.Rb1 d5! Always a good move in such positions, and a common theme we've seen in other lines above. And here again, this is just simply good for Black who now begins to take command of the position with his better-placed pieces jumping into the attack. 15.Ba2 h6 16.Qc2 Be6 17.c4 dxe4 18.Nxe4 Nxe4 19.dxe4 While White's doubled isolated e-pawns stop Black's pieces jumping into key attacking squares (particularly the knight), in the long-run they will prove to be a liability. 19...Qe7! (See Diagram) Nakamura is looking to play ...Qc5 which will totally paralyse MVL's position, not only hitting e3 but also consigning White to a miserable life for his bishop on a2. 20.bxc6 bxc6 21.c5 There's no other option than to sacrifice the pawn - the threat of ...Qc5 was too strong. At least this way, MVL has some life for his pieces. 21...Bxa2 22.Qxa2 Qxc5 23.Rb7 Qxe3+ 24.Kh1 Rf8 25.Qc4 Rab8 Nakamura follows the golden rule of what to do when you go material ahead: you look to exchange off pieces as quickly as you can. 26.Qxc6 Rxb7 27.Qxb7 Qe2 28.Qb5 Qxe4 29.Qxa5 Ra8 30.Qc7 Rxa4 Nakamura has maintained his two pawn advantage, exchanged of a set of rooks, and still has the better pieces left on the board. The rest of the game is just a formality now. 31.h3 Qd5 32.Qc8+ Kh7 33.Rb1 e4 34.Ng1 Rc4 35.Qe8 Nh4 36.Rb8 Qd2 0-1 White resigns, as he soon runs out of checks after 37.Qg8+ Kg6 38.Rb6+ f6 39.Qe8+ Kh7 and Black will soon win.