Recap Article

2016 Paris GCT Recap Day 3

After two days of rapid, it was time to speed things up even more as the blitz portion of the tournament kicked off on Saturday. The day started and ended the same way: with Hikaru Nakamura in the lead and Magnus Carlsen trailing right behind. Everything that happened in between was complete madness full of blunders, good and bad nerves, and even an illegal move! Faster time controls have the downside of lowering the quality of the games while increasing the levels of excitement, but no one was ready for the nonstop action that they witnessed. There were a few changes in the standings for the rest of the field. Most notable ones were Levon Aronian surpassing Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana recovering from his slump.

Before the round started, the players attended an event where they met with local young chess enthusiasts and spent some time with them signing autographs, playing and taking photos. Maybe they were inspired by the youthful spirit, as it became clear right from the first round that they came to fight. The tension started in the first round with Magnus Carlsen drawing Wesley So, while in the all American match Nakamura delivered another blow to already suffering Caruana and extended his lead by 2 points. In another shocking turn of events, both Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov hung their pieces in one move. Blunders are common in a blitz game but not the elementary ones at this very high level.

Nakamura and Carlsen kept pace up until the 4th round, when Magnus Carlsen beat the long time #2 in the world Levon Aronian while Nakamura did not manage to win with an extra piece in a tricky endgame and only drew. This put Carlsen only one point behind Nakamura. At the same time, Anish Giri was dominating the blitz portion with an impressive 3.5/4. Unfortunately for him, he lost to Nakamura and Carlsen back to back. Given his less than impressive finish in the rapid, his powerful start became less significant.

The most impressive turn of events was Fabiano Caruana’s streak of four wins in a row in the last four games. The U.S. champion only had 1.5/5 and it seemed like it was going to be another gut wrenching day for him. Somehow, somewhere he found the inner strength to pull himself together and beat Kramnik, Giri, Topalov and Fressinet in a row. This was a very impressive feat, as it requires a lot of mental fortitude to bounce back from the emotional blow of losing several games in a row. Hopefully, he has more fighting spirit left in him.

The last two rounds were extremely dramatic and frankly, somewhat amusing. In a very complicated endgame against Nakamura, Topalov either forgot or didn’t know the proper way to promote a pawn, pressing the clock with a pawn on the back rank before switching it with another piece. This, of course, is against rules, and sadly for the Bulgarian in blitz that means an automatic forfeit. Nakamura wasn’t too sympathetic towards his opponent in the postgame interview, mentioning that the same thing had happened to him and that “everyone knows the rules.” Carlsen simply annihilated Fressinet, as the Frenchman’s French defense crumbled in less than 25 moves.

The last round pairings worked out perfectly as Nakamura and Carlsen were facing off. Nakamura was 1.5 points ahead of Carlsen, so his lead was still guaranteed. However, with these fast time controls, anything can happen and every point is precious. Historically, Nakamura has an abysmal score against Carlsen, never having beaten him in a classical game. Nakamura prides himself as one of the best blitz players in the world, so it was a great opportunity to free himself from psychological spell that Carlsen seems to have on him. Nakamura had an extra pawn in the endgame but Carlsen had more active pieces and the easier play. Playing under those circumstances with only seconds left on the clock is extremely hard, so it is no surprise that Nakamura stumbled and lost. Carlsen showed the true spirit of a champion by declining a draw offer down a pawn because he felt as if the tides were turning and he really needed the win, as he revealed in the postgame interview. With Carlsen now only half a point behind Nakamura, day two promises to be full of excitement!


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GM Gukesh D & GM Viswanathan Anand
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