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    Entries in Grand Chess Tour Paris 2017 (1)

    Sunday
    Jun252017

    Carlsen Wins the Paris leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour

    The 2017 Grand Chess Tour (GCT) kicked off this past week with a rapid & blitz event in Paris. (The second leg kicks off this Wednesday in Leuven, Belgium, with the same format but a slightly different cast of characters.) On Wednesday (the 21st) the ten players began three days of rapid play (three rounds per day), and on Saturday they played a blitz round robin, followed by another blitz round robin (with colors reversed) on Sunday. Rapid games were counted double, so a maximum of 18 points was available from each format, and the totals were combined to determine players' overall placement and the number of GCT points they received.

    The winners were Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who both finished with 24 points. Carlsen went undefeated in the rapid stage, scoring 14/18, while MVL dominated the blitz with 13/18. A two-game rapid playoff ensued, won by Carlsen 1.5-.5 (he won the first game with White and gave a charity draw in game two in a near-winning position to clinch the match). He thus received 12 tour points, while MVL got 10. (Tour standings can be found here.)

    Back to the event. Magnus Carlsen started out in beast mode, going undefeated through the rapid portion and winning his first four blitz games as well. It wasn't just his results that were good - he wasn't just fortunate or opportunistic - he played the kind of excellent chess that led him to be a triple world champion in 2014, winning everything in sight and enjoying a huge gap between his closest challengers on the classical rating list.

    In the rest of the field, someone else would star too - but it generally wasn't the same person two days in a row. For instance, on day 1 both Carlsen and Wesley So finished with 2.5/3, but So's fine score wasn't achieved so impressively, and indeed he quickly fell back. He lost to Carlsen in round 4, drew his next four games, and lost to Karjakin in the last round. On day 2 Nakamura impressed with 2.5/3, drawing in round 6 with Carlsen, and having gone 2/3 on day 1 his total was good enough to leave him...half a point behind Carlsen, who also went 2.5/3 on day 2. (Technically a point behind, on the 2-1-0 scoring, but let's bracket that for now.) Like So the previous day, however, Nakamura started day three with a loss and was out of the race for first in the rapid section. The hero of day 3 was Alexander Grischuk, who went 3-0. Carlsen only went 2-1, so Grischuk even managed to gain some ground. It was a fine result, but not quite enough to catch up. The final standings of the rapid competition look like this (here the doubling will be included):

    1. Carlsen 14
    2. Grischuk 13
    3. Nakamura 12
    4-5. Vachier-Lagrave, Mamedyarov 11
    6. So 9
    7. Karjakin 8
    8. Topalov 5
    9. Bacrot 4
    10. Caruana 3

    That's correct: Caruana scored three points, or 1.5/9. He lost his first three games - from two winning positions and one that was vastly superior - drew in round 4, and then lost his next three games as well. (Almost an Inverse-Sinquefield Cup.) He drew the last two games but still finished the rapid in last place - but this sad state of affairs would not carry over to the blitz.

    Caruana was one of the heroes of the blitz, except for the first game, which he lost to Carlsen. Carlsen started off on fire, as noted above, winning his first four games. But then things started going a bit screwy. He lost on time in round 5 to Grischuk from a position that was just about impossible to lose, but he spent a second or two too long trying to figure out how to maintain some small practical winning chances. After this he failed to convert a serious advantage against Sergey Karjakin, and then lost very unnecessarily to Vachier-Lagrave. Carlsen drew his next two games, and only a win over his new customer So in round 9 let him finish the day still in the overall lead.

    Carlsen scored 6/9 in the blitz for 20 points overall; Nakamura was in second with 19 after scoring 7/9 in the blitz. Grischuk had slipped to third after a poor first day; the three-time world blitz champion only scored 4.5 points to wind up with 17.5 overall. But two other players had a strong first day, both scoring 6/9. One was Vachier-Lagrave, who was now up to fourth with 17 points overall, and the other was Caruana. After the loss to Carlsen he went 6/8 to reach a more respectable total, though he remained in the bottom half of the table. Etienne Bacrot continued to struggle, which wasn't surprising for the lowest-rated player in the field (by far), but he didn't have the worst score. That unfortunate distinction went to So, who duplicated Caruana's result in the rapid: three draws and six losses. It's a tough field.

    On day two of the blitz, the pattern noted above recurred: Nakamura faltered. He went =2, -3 in the first five games, losing to MVL, but then also to So and Bacrot. While Carlsen too started out with a loss (to the resurgent Caruana), he then righted the ship with two wins. After a further two draws the event seemed to be over, but then things got interesting. First and foremost, Carlsen fell apart, losing in consecutive rounds to Karjakin, MVL, and Nakamura. Nakamura finished strongly with wins in rounds 15, 17, and 18 (the last round), but his loss to Mamedyarov in round 16 put him out of the running for first. Nevertheless, while Carlsen entered the last round a point ahead of Nakamura, he had not only been caught, but even surpassed, by Vachier-Lagrave.

    Vachier-Lagrave beat Nakamura in round 10, So in round 11, Bacrot in round 13, Mamedyarov in round 15, and Carlsen in round 16. When he drew in round 17 with Karjakin, he entered the last round half a point ahead of Carlsen. MVL had Black against Grischuk, and played well enough to draw; he never came within sniffing distance of a win. To force a tiebreak, Carlsen had to win with White; fortunately, his opponent was Wesley So. That's a crazy thing to say, given So's results in pretty much every event the past year prior to this one, but So had a terrible time in Paris, and this year it seems like Nakamura has transferred his old curse against Carlsen to his countryman. So was badly outplayed from the beginning, and then blundered a piece on move 24 and resigned immediately.

    Thus Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave finished tied for first overall, and as noted above, Carlsen won the playoff. Here are the final standings in the blitz:

    1. Vachier-Lagrave 13
    2-3. Nakamura, Caruana 11
    4-5. Karjakin, Carlsen 10
    6-7. Grischuk, Mamedyarov 9
    8. Topalov 6.5
    9. So 6
    10. Bacrot 4.5

    Overall:

     

    1-2. Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave 24 (of 36)
    3. Nakamura 23
    4. Grischuk 22
    5. Mamedyarov 20
    6. Karjakin 18
    7. So 15
    8. Caruana 14
    9. Topalov 11.5
    10. Bacrot 8.5