The second leg of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour kicked off in the city of lights: the Paris Rapid & Blitz brings together some of the top players in the world in a scintillating tournament. The full tour participants are joined by exciting wildcards in this event: French hero Etienne Bacrot, wunderkind Alireza Firouzja and World Champion Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi.
A beautiful playing hall awaits the battles of the 2021 Paris Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
A wild way to start the day. Richard Rapport’s unorthodox developing methods - fianchettoing a knight on g7 within the first 10 moves – proved to be less than successful as Etienne Bacrot obtained a permanent advantage and played a nice game to reel in the full point. With Radjabov vs. Aronian and Caruana vs. Nepomniachtchi ending in draws, the show was stolen by the last two games to finish. First Alireza Firouzja played in his characteristic uncompromising style, putting real pressure on Wesley So. After fumbling a promising position, the American player found himself under a furious counter attack. In time pressure, Firouzja was unable to find the correct continuation and let So escape with a point (rapid games count for double – one full point for a draw!).
In another heartstopper, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s king was chased all around the board, but Svidler’s queen and rook were able to successfully corral it. Even then, MVL had chances sacrificing his queen for only some passed pawns, but the Russian’s technique was immaculate and he converted a big win.
A big win for Peter Svidler, who turned 45 yesterday! | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Boss Ian Nepomniachtchi ready for battle | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Round two was marked by the weakness on h6! In three different games a sacrifice on the kingside was incredibly uncomfortable to deal with. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave successfully destroyed Teimour Radjabov’s position on the kingside, dealing the Azerbaijani his first loss of the entire Grand Chess Tour so far. Ian Nepomniachtchi played like an absolute boss and his sacrifice demolished Etienne Bacrot’s position, scoring a crushing two points out of this game.
The last sacrifice on h6 was hastily dodged by Peter Svidler defending against Alireza Firouzja, and with some help of his young opponent and plenty of tenaciousness Svidler survived with a draw. In the other decisive result of the round, Wesley So’s pair of bishops simply outmaneuvered Richard Rapport’s position – the Hungarian started with two losses in the tournament.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with commentator GM Cristian Chirila recapping his day in Paris | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The big news of round three was certainly the two wins! Levon Aronian found his first victory against Etienne Bacroft – whose king was being attacked by the crisscrossing bishops. The stranded king in the middle of the board was unable to be saved against the combined attack of Black’s pieces - the Frenchman lost his queen and then the game. With white, it was Teimour Radjabov that was unhappy with his fall from the previous round. Radjabov’s knights danced around the board and Alireza Firouzja’s holes in his position proved to be too difficult to handle in this rapid format: when the Azerbaijani’s knight landed on f6 his Black’s defenses simply collapsed.
Fabiano Caruana and MVL played an amazing game, with sacrifices on both sides, a long king walk, but somehow it all ended in peace. Peter Svidler was unable to put any pressure on Wesley So and that finished in a draw while Rapport was unable to prove his extra pawn against Nepomniachtchi.
Teimour Radjabov has two out of three decisive games so far! | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
A simply tumultuous set of games. The players left Bucharest in a fighting mood, and they didn’t hold back any punches in Paris. Despite the many decisive games, the tournament is still quite tight and the four leaders only have a +1 score, the minimum margin over their competitors. With rapid rounds counting double, expect plenty of action tomorrow as well!
Our coverage of the 2021 Paris Grand Chess Tour continues tomorrow, June 19 at 7:00 AM CDT with live coverage from GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley, Cristian Chirila and IM Almira Skripchenko exclusively on kasparovchess.com/grand-chess-tour.
Standings After Day 1