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    Entries in Paris Rapid & Blitz (3)

    Tuesday
    Jun142016

    Paris Rapid & Blitz: Nakamura Takes First, But the Jinx Continues

    Is it possible to say "Poor Hikaru Nakamura" after he wins the rapid section, ties for first in the blitz, and takes first overall in the Paris leg of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour? Maybe so, in light of the ongoing tragedy that is his head-to-head rivalry with Magnus Carlsen, though I think he prefers the overall outcome to one where Carlsen won the event but Nakamura won the head-to-head.

    When we left off in the previous post Nakamura and Carlsen were tied for first, but Nakamura won one more game than Carlsen on day two, finishing half a point ahead in normal scoring (7/9, to Carlsen's 6.5; Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave tied for third-fourth with 5.5 points apiece). As the rapid games count double compared to the blitz games, Nakamura led by a point, 14 to 13 heading into the blitz.

    The blitz was a double-round robin, with one round robin per day. Nakamura got off to a hot start, an undefeated 6.5/8, which was half a point better than Carlsen and good enough for a point and a half lead overall. They were paired in the final game of the day, with Nakamura getting the white pieces. Carlsen was well-prepared, but 17...Qd5 seemed to be an inaccuracy. After Nakamura's 18.Bf1 Carlsen thought for almost three full minutes before reconciling himself to a pawn-down ending where only two results were possible. (At least outside of the Twilight Zone.) Nakamura failed to activate his king and allowed Black to create a passed e-pawn, and then he even allowed Carlsen's king to penetrate to the point where his own king was in a mating net. In the end, Carlsen even managed to win the game, taking the lead in the blitz, cutting Nakamura's overall lead to a mere half a point, and doubtlessly ruining Nakamura's mood.

    On day two Nakamura came out shaky, losing to MVL in round 2 and drawing in rounds 1 and 3. Carlsen started by defeating So with Black in the first round, but when he lost to Fabiano Caruana - who had been having a terrible tournament up to that point - the wheels started to come off from him as well. That gave Nakamura time to clear his head, and with two rounds to go Nakamura led the blitz by a point and a half.

    It didn't last - but fortunately for Nakamura, it didn't need to. Nakamura drew quickly with White in the penultimate round to clinch a tie for first in the blitz, and overall tournament victory. It should have clinched clear first in the blitz, as Carlsen was "dead" lost against Laurent Fressinet, but he received a near-miracle when Fressinet played 38.Rc8??? instead of the obvious 38.Bc8. (Actually, practically any other move maintains the win, and even after the terrible rook move White was still winning.) It kept going downhill after that, and one panicky move after another allowed Carlsen to win, closing to within a point of Nakamura going into their last-round matchup. Needless to say, unfortunately, Carlsen's hypnotic powers came through once again. White (Carlsen) was better after his 32nd move, but not winning until Nakamura's reply, which was a blunder. After 32...Ne4?? 33.Nh4 Black has no good answer to the threatened 34.Ng6 followed by 35.Rh8#.

    So they split the blitz and Nakamura won overall first. MVL had a great performance on the second day of the blitz and finished just half a point behind them in that discipline, which also gave him third place overall.

    In passing: The Veselin Topalov-Vladimir Kramnik grudge match was a bit of a push: Kramnik won their rapid game, while Topalov won the blitz match 1.5-.5. Since the rapid counted double, Kramnik outscored his foe, but Topalov's win in the second game of the second day of the blitz started Kramnik on an incredible tailspin. Kramnik drew his first game that day, with Black against Anish Giri: so far, so good. In round 2 he lost to Topalov, however, and finished the day with only one more draw, going a dismal 1-8. (His only other draw was against Levon Aronian in the penultimate round.) Also in passing: Carlsen did manage a win over Giri on the first day of the blitz, but their rapid game was a draw and Giri promptly beat Carlsen on day two of the blitz.

    Next week they'll do it all over again in Leuven, Belgium, except with Viswanathan Anand taking Fressinet's place.

    Friday
    Jun102016

    Paris Rapid: Carlsen & Nakamura Tied After Day 1

    Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura each scored 3.5/5 - translating into 7/10, as the rapid games count double (presumably the point is that the later blitz games will count singly). That 7/10 score puts them a point ahead of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So; two points ahead of Vladimir Kramnik; three points ahead of Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Laurent Fressinet, and Anish Giri; and four points ahead of Veselin Topalov (who had the further indignity of losing his individual game with Kramnik, and with the white pieces). The rapid portion of the contest will finish today (Friday).

    Carlsen could have had 9/10 (4.5/5), but in an unloseable position in round 1 he got distracted deciding between two winning continuations and lost on time to So. Another bit of (sort of) bad luck is that his usual customer - Nakamura - "forgot" to lose to him and drew pretty comfortably. They'll meet twice more in the blitz, and it should not be forgotten that Nakamura has beaten Carlsen in blitz tournaments. It could happen again, and if it does that might help him overcome his woes against the world champion in classical events. Time will tell.

    Thursday
    Jun092016

    Paris Rapid & Blitz Starts Today

    When the Norway tournament organizers withdrew their event from the Grand Chess Tour earlier this year, the decision was made to replace that classical tournament with a pair of rapid & blitz round robins. Those events will be held back-to-back; the first in Paris, starting today, and the next one in Leuven. The events feature the same players, and probably have the same format as well. (Feel free to correct me my assumption is mistaken!)

    The rapid portion (25' + 10") begins today (Thursday, 2 p.m. local time = 8 a.m. ET) and is a single round-robin that will last two days, followed the next two days by a double round-robin blitz (5' + 2"). The dramatis personae are:

     

    • Magnus Carlsen
    • Vladimir Kramnik
    • Fabiano Caruana
    • Levon Aronian
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Hikaru Nakamura
    • Anish Giri
    • Wesley So
    • Veselin Topalov
    • Laurent Fressinet

     

    Perhaps the event could be even more interesting if the last two or three players were replaced with players who are higher-rated in rapid and blitz (e.g. Ian Nepomniachtchi), or for that matter Garry Kasparov. Still, it's a great field and the event should be a feast for the spectators.