Carlsen Still On Top In Paris, Nakamura Close Behind

Carlsen Still On Top In Paris, Nakamura Close Behind

| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

Magnus Carlsen still leads the Paris Grand Chess Tour but, with one day to go, Hikaru Nakamura is just one point behind. The American GM was the best blitz player on Saturday, scoring 7/9.

Carlsen and Nakamura drew their mutual game today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Our interview with Magnus Carlsen after nine rounds of blitz.

After a tumultuous evening, when Carlsen's interview with Maurice Ashley was the talk of the town on social media, the tournament saw another little controversy the next day.

On Saturday there was a small morning program for the players, who were taken to the Château d'Asnières (a 25-minute drive up north from the hotel) where they met with about a hundred children and their parents.

It was quite a relaxed morning actually, without any obligatory activities. The chess stars were just signing autographs, joining kids for selfies and playing an odd game with someone. It lasted about 45 minutes, followed by a small lunch. The whole thing lasted about two hours.


Chess players and young fans at the Château d'Asnières. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Whether this kind of activity should be organized on a playing day is another discussion (it's obviously not ideal for the players) but one thing was clear: the kids loved it.

So what was the controversy about? Well, the fact that Carlsen wasn't there.

One of the people "liking" this tweet on Twitter was in fact, Nakamura. It's well known in the inner circle that some of Carlsen's colleagues feel that he sometimes gets special treatment at tournaments. That might be true, but in this case, there was more to it.

Carlsen was suffering from a stiff neck and some back problems and actually needed that rest. His team had also requested a special chair for during play, which was granted.


Carlsen relaxing on a chair higher than the others. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

All this didn't prevent Carlsen from getting off to a flying start. He first defeated Caruana in a game that prompted commentator GM Yasser Seirawan to joke: "Can we call this a smoothie?"

Then he also won with the black pieces against Bacrot, from a position where the Frenchman was basically playing for two results only. But somehow the tables turned when the black king was nicely centralized.

Meanwhile, rapid runner-up Grischuk dropped 1.5 points in his first two rounds. He suffered an unexpected loss to Topalov, who said afterward: "He just panicked because he ran out of time. Alexander is one the greatest if not the best blitz player but he also likes to play with very little time and sometimes it's just a mistake."

In this round, Caissa was finally on Caruana's side. This time it was he who managed to pull a win out of a lost position vs Karjakin:


French rugby player Sébastien Chabal paid a visit today and played a game with the arbiter... | Photo: Maria Emelianova.


...whereupon Topalov, always in a good mood these days, took his chance... | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

null grab some attention and joke: "I'm going to play blindfold!" | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Caruana apparently needed three days to warm up because now he also beat MVL (and again from a virtually lost position). "I don't know if I would call it a turnaround just yet. I think I was due to win at least one game among these 27!" He would eventually score 6/9, just like Carlsen and MVL!


Perhaps Caruana just needed a reminder of his 2014 Sinquefield Cup victory to do much better today.
Here he poses at the World Hall of Fame Exhibition in the Château d'Asnières. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Meanwhile, Carlsen also kept winning. He defeated Topalov "smoothly" with that popular opening these days: 1.d4, 2.Bf4.


Carlsen beats Topalov, Grischuk onlooking. | Photo Maria Emelianova.

By then Grischuk and Nakamura were three points behind. The latter noted that Carlsen had played against the lower rated players, but still had to face Grischuk and MVL. "He has done his part of the job."

That was after Nakamura had beaten So. "Wesley is just having a bad tournament", he said.

How bad? Well, So won his first two rapid games, but in his next 16 games, he didn't score another win. That bad.

Carlsen duly moved to 4/4 with a surprisingly easy win over Mamedyarov with the black pieces. It just went wrong early on with that odd queen move to c2, and the Azerbaijani didn't stand a chance.

Ashley, perhaps trying to make up for yesterday: "It's all Magnus just now. He is the epitome of smooth."


Carlsen effortlessly moved to 4/4. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Grischuk dropped back half a point further as he drew with So. Nakamura held the margin at three points though as he temporarily put an end to Caruana's revival. 

But then the turning point came. Whereas Carlsen was in a class of his own until then, it suddenly went wrong against Grischuk.

Carlsen was "too weak too slow" and lost on time. Besides, in the final phase, he knocked over some pieces and twice adjusted them in Grischuk's time.


Carlsen-Grischuk was a somewhat clumsy performance
by the world champion. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Interestingly, this situation has been specially addressed in the players' meeting. Knocking over pieces and adjusting them after pressing the clock is not allowed, but the FIDE regulations don't specify a specific punishment. It's up to the arbiter.

In Paris, the arbiter had informed the players beforehand that, in case the opponent has 20 seconds or less on the clock, he may stop the clock and claim a victory. He actually reminded everyone of this at the start of the blitz, mostly because Carlsen hadn't attended the players' meeting.


Chief arbiter Stephane Escafre agreed on a punishment
few players will want to use. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Grischuk could have claimed a win two times, but didn't. Carlsen flagged on move 84, though Grischuk didn't spot it until two moves later! The players looked at the arbiter for a moment, but he had to declare the game as won for Grischuk since the one black bishop is theoretically still capable of delivering checkmate.


The start of round five of the blitz, or round 14 in the tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Now it was Nakamura's turn to do "his part of the job" by beating one of the lower rated players. He thus decreased the gap with Carlsen to two points.


After finishing their game, the players tended to stay in the playing hall and watch the others. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

However, in the next game, he failed to beat Topalov. Rather disappointed with that draw, he watched the end of Carlsen-Karjakin. Nakamura had no reasons to complain since Carlsen missed a win in the rook endgame:

Besides Carlsen, Nakamura and Grischuk, the other two main contenders were Mamedyarov and MVL. They played a truly crazy blitz game which started the same as their rapid game two days before, but this time the French player reacted much better.

And he knew about the infamous interview too! "You can say my win was not smooth & I won't get mad for it!" he said to Maurice Ashley. 

Nakamura scored a crushing win over Mamedyarov, and so he kept the pressure on the leader.

In fact, it was this round that Nakamura narrowed the gap to just one point, as Carlsen lost to MVL. After missing a win he suddenly got outplayed in an endgame by a firm and steady Vachier-Lagrave.

"It looks like something is wrong with Magnus since he lost on time," said commentator Romain Edouard. "Before that game, he was playing like a machine."


Some endgame magic by MVL. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

There was hardly a better moment to see Carlsen and Nakamura facing each other. With a win, Nakamura would catch the leader whereas MVL was just two points behind, and Grischuk two and a half.

The game was the tough kind of battle you could expect, with both players playing for a win at some point. 


Nakamura's facial expressions during the game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Before the blitz, Nakamura had posted on Facebook that he had registered for his first half marathon.


He was going for the long run by not playing 82...Ne6 (as suggested by Seirawan) but choosing some more torture, and indeed it was won for White one moment.


A long and fighting draw in Carlsen-Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The situation at the top didn't change much in Saturday's final round, with both leaders winning their games. Nakamura was successful with two rooks against Karjakin's three minor pieces. 

Carlsen was somewhat lucky to get the full point against So:


A welcome last-round win kept Carlsen ahead of Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

"Basically I was playing a bit too slowly from the start. It was only in the game with Grischuk that I got punished," said Carlsen in an interview with (at the top of the article). "Then, the next couple of games were decent as well up to a certain point but again I collapsed in timetrouble against Maxime."

"Clearly the last couple of games were just garbage. I was exhausted and just hustling. The last game I didn't care about the quality at all; it was just about hustling. Fortunately, I managed to."

Paris Grand Chess Tour | Blitz, Round 9 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Nakamura,Hikaru 2792 2990 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 7.0/9
2 Caruana,Fabiano 2782 2894 0 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 6.0/9 22.75
3 Carlsen,Magnus 2851 2886 ½ 1 0 ½ 0 1 1 1 1 6.0/9 22.25
4 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2783 2894 ½ 0 1 0 ½ 1 1 1 1 6.0/9 21.75
5 Karjakin,Sergey 2776 2853 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 5.5/9
6 Grischuk,Alexander 2779 2775 ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 4.5/9
7 Topalov,Veselin 2725 2702 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 3.5/9
8 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2784 2654 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 3.0/9
9 Bacrot,Etienne 2688 2567 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 2.0/9
10 So,Wesley 2789 2494 0 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1.5/9

Paris Grand Chess Tour | Overall (Round 18) Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf Pts
1 Carlsen,Magnus 2851 2932 20
2 Nakamura,Hikaru 2792 2938 19
3 Grischuk,Alexander 2779 2852 17,5
4 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2783 2873 17
5 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2784 2755 14
6 Karjakin,Sergey 2776 2794 13,5
7 So,Wesley 2789 2653 10,5
8 Caruana,Fabiano 2782 2716 9
9 Topalov,Veselin 2725 2661 8,5
10 Bacrot,Etienne 2688 2567 6

Note that for these tables the ratings of the Grand Chess Tour's
Universal Rating System have been used.

Previous reports:

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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