Without much as even a rest after the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament, the elite stars were once again back in action with the new season of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour kicking off earlier today with a five-day Rapid and Blitz marathon, as the word’s top players do battle over a series of five tournaments (also taking place in Leuven, St. Louis and London) throughout the year for a total prize fund on offer of $1,200,000.
And in a further boost for the tour’s credentials, the Paris leg will be televised by Canal+ Sport, the first chess event in France to be screened since 1995. The respective 2015 and 2016 Tour winners, Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So, head the field, and they are joined by Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxine Vachier-Lagrave, Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Veselin Topalov, and local wild card Etienne Bacrot.
And on the eve of the Paris leg, there was a ProAm tournament organized at the headquarters of sponsors Vivendi. Even Garry Kasparov got in on the act by taking part, but he and his partner, Gilles Betthauser, of Colliers International, lost in the semi-final. Favorites Magnus Carlsen and his partner, Stéphane Roussel, Chairman and CEO of Vivendi, looked the one’s to beat, but after effortlessly making it to the final, they lost to Veselin Topalov and his high-tech entrepreneur partner, Jean-Baptiste Roudelle.
And the story to the opening day turned out to be that of the contrasting fortunes of the two top Americans, that all started with an intriguing first-round pairing between Caruana and So, as the former had the latter’s king at his mercy, but somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
And the Paris blues continued throughout for Caruana, as he ended the opening day with three losses and at the foot of the table, while it was US champion So who profited from his earlier good fortune to go on to share the opening day honours with Carlsen, with both tied for first place on 5/6 (2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw), and both conceding draws to Grischuk.
Rapid Standings (Day 1)
1-2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wesley So (USA) 5/6; 3-4. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 4; 5-7. GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), GM Maxine Vachier-Lagrave (France), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 3; 8. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 2; 9. Etienne Bacrot (France) 1; 10. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 0.
GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Wesley So
Paris Grand Chess Tour, (1)
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d4 Nf6 5.c4 c6 The strategy of the Neo-Grünfeld is that both sides have tactical possibilities along the long diagonal. Some players will choose complete symmetry with cxd5 cxd5 and games that tend to end in draws after significant exchanges. 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Qb3 Nxc3 9.bxc3 0-0 10.Nd2 e6 11.e4 Nc6 12.e5 White isn't winning a pawn, as 12.exd5 Na5! 13.Qa4 exd5 and Black stands well with ...a6 and ...b5 coming. 12...b6 13.0-0 Ba6 14.Re1 Rc8 15.Qd1 Re8 16.a4 Na5 17.Re3 Qd7 18.h4! The h-pawn thrust throws Black into a quandary, as stopping it isn't possible. 18...Nc4 Black can't risk block the h-pawn with 18...h5?! , as then there would be more of a risk to his position after the swift follow-up of 19.g4! hxg4 20.Qxg4 and, with h5 coming next, Black's king is left exposed to the elements as White's queen, rook and several minor pieces combine for a lethal attack. 19.Nxc4 Bxc4 20.h5 English GM Simon Williams would be in his element here, as 'Harry the h-pawn' cares not for nuances and niceties by storming up the board! 20...a5 21.Ba3 If White can exchange off the dark-squared bishops, he would have control over the dark squares leaving Black's king vulnerable. 21...b5 22.Bd6 bxa4 23.Bf1 Bxf1 24.Kxf1 Rc4 25.Kg2 Caruana is going all-in with the attack on So's king, with Kg2 opening the h-file for his a1 rook. So so now has to react actively to stay in the game. 25...Bh6 26.Rf3 Rec8 27.Qd3 Bg5 28.Rh1 Kg7 29.g4 Qb7 Black's position is not without risk here, and there's no promise that the alternative fared any better with 29...Rxc3!? 30.Qxc3 Rxc3 31.Rxc3 gxh5! 32.gxh5 h6 33.Rb1 Qa7 34.Bc5 as White's pieces could well prove problematic in the long-run, as Black's queen does not have any good entry squares into White's position. 30.hxg6 fxg6 31.Rf6! The exchange sacrifice is just winning, as Caruana bludgeons a path through to So's king. And if So doesn't accept the sacrifice, there's a further sacrificial mating attack looming large. 31...Bxf6 There's no option now. If 31...Rxc3 32.Rxh7+!! crashes through for a mating attack. 32.exf6+ Kg8 33.Be7 The big threat is f7+ uncovering Black's king to a mating attack. 33...R4c7 Conversely, there's no time for 33...Rxc3 as 34.f7+ Kg7 35.Qxc3! and the f-pawn not only queens, but also mates! 34.Bd6? Unbelievably, Caruana missed the concept of the crushing win with 34.f7+! Kg7 (If 34...Kxf7? 35.Rxh7+ Ke8 36.Qxg6+ will quickly mate.) 35.Qe3 with a clear winning attack and no way to stop the deadly Qe5+ and a heavy loss of material. All Black can do is watch on now, as 35...Rxe7 36.Qe5+ Kxf7 37.Rxh7+ Ke8 38.Qh8+ Kd7 39.Rxe7+ Kxe7 40.Qh7+ wins the queen. 34...Rxc3! So is thrown an unbelievable lifeline, as now 35.f7+ is met by 35...Qxf7! 35.Qe2 Qf7 36.g5 h5! Hard to miss, but closing the h-file stops White's attack dead in its tracks. 37.Qb5 There's no other option now. If 37.gxh6 Kh7! safeguards the king and now the two Black rooks run rampant after 38.Be7 R8c4 39.Qe5 a3 40.Ra1 Rd3 41.Rxa3 Rdxd4 42.Rxa5 Rg4+ 43.Kh2 (If 43.Kf1 Rc1+ 44.Ke2 Re4+ wins the queen - and next will be the king!) 43...g5! and the queen mates next move on h5! 37...e5! If it wasn't for this move, allowing the Black queen to dramatically enter the fray via e6-g4, then White might have been able to hold this. But now, the die is cast. 38.Bxe5 Qe6 39.Rh4 Qf5 The queen and two rooks combining to make for a formidable mating force. 40.Qxd5+ Kh8 41.f7+ Kh7 42.Qb7 Qxg5+ 43.Bg3 Rxg3+! The decisive blow - now Caruana's king is at the mercy of So's queen and rook. 44.fxg3 Rc2+ 45.Kf3 Qf5+ 46.Ke3 Rc3+ 47.Ke2 Qd3+ 48.Ke1 Rc1+ 49.Kf2 Rc2+ 0-1