Kramnik will join the field on Monday
Much like what we will see in the third stage of the Grand Chess Tour in Croatia, two wildcards in Paris have been invited to play only one section of the tournament each. Etienne Bacrot has played all nine rounds of quick chess, but will not take part in the two-day blitz section, in which the tenth player on the pitch will be none other than Vladimir Kramnik – in Croatia Ivan Saric will play the quick and Garry Kasparov the blitz.
Bacrot, one of the strongest French chess players of all time, has put on an excellent performance despite being clearly an underdog in terms of scoring. The 38-year-old finished the quick section in third place after scoring 3 wins, 2 losses and 4 draws. En route to a score of 10/18, he beat Richard Rapport, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana.
Two points ahead of the Frenchman (note that a victory was worth 2 points in the fast section) ended Wesley So in the only first place. The American star was the only player to finish the first half of the event undefeated, although second-placed Ian Nepomniachtchi suffered a loss in the 25-minute section.
The premises – Etienne Bacrot and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes
Round 7: So beats Caruana
At the start of Matchday 3, three players split the lead on 7/12, and two of them – Caruana and So – were immediately paired against each other. For the second time in less than two weeks, So beat his compatriot. While in Bucharest he had done it with the white pieces, in Paris he managed to score on the black side of a 5.Re1 Berlin defense.
The contenders threw no less than 17 theoretical shots, but already the “novelty” of Caruana was an imprecision. Five moves later, the world number 2 falters again.
22.Rxb7 was played after 6 minutes of thinking, but it was still a mistake. Of course, Caruana really wanted this move to work, as he was three pawns against one of the best technical players in the world.
The game continued with 22 … Kh8 23.Bd3 Bg8 (defend against the threat of Qxh7 #) 24.xc7 Nd6
The material balance has been reestablished with 25.Qxh4 Nxc7 26.Nxa8, but at what cost ? White knight is totally out of play on the corner – Black only needed three more moves to force his opponent to resign.
So’s 29-shot win over Berlin was very impressive, but Rapport’s 18-shot win with White over Peter Svidler’s Grünfeld was tactically more spectacular. The remaining three games ended with a draw.
Select an entry from the list to switch between games
Tony Rich and Garry Kasparov follow the games closely | Photo: Lennart Ootes
Round 8: MVL’s blunder
While Caruana suffered his second straight loss after pushing too hard against Bacrot, So scored another two points in round 8. Unlike his win over Caruana, however, the second win of the day came thanks to a blunder by a blow from his opponent.
In another theoretical battle, So and Vachier-Lagrave did not deviate from a previous correspondence match until the 20th move on a Grünfeld. In the line, White gives up a pawn to get a strong initiative. MVL was defending in exemplary fashion, however – until he gave up the game in one fell swoop.
Vachier-Lagrave wandered with 26 … Rd8, allowing 27.Tc8, when White catches their opponent’s Queen after 27 … Rxc8 28.Bxe7. The Frenchman immediately resigned.
Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi, who shared second place after 7 rounds, struggled in his game against Svidler, but showed good defensive skills to save a draw by perpetual failure. Much later in the round, Firouzja and Aronian also agreed to a draw – but only after 122 moves (!), Which included both players missing out on chances to win in a very complex fight.
122 moves later – Alireza Firouzja shakes hands with Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes
Round 9: Combative Chess
Three players ended the day with victories – Nepomniachtchi, Svidler and Vachier-Lagrave – but it was the match between Rapport and Caruana that caught everyone’s attention.
White is better here, but he still has to find the precise path to victory while facing a remarkably ingenious opponent – once the astonishing 36.d4 appeared on the board, however, it seemed that Rapport was on the way to achieve a memorable victory.
Kasparov called it “one hell of a blow”, and the engines agreed. Unfortunately for Rapport, Caruana continued to find strong defensive moves. The Hungarian played some inaccuracies and the match ended up in a 51-move draw. A sigh of relief was heaved by Caruana fans, who were in real danger of losing a third game in a row.
Richard Report | Photo: Lennart Ootes