The last day of the rapid portion of the 2021 Paris Grand Chess Tour, gave us a series of intense and interesting games. Some players surged, while others tumbled hard, but it was American GM Wesley So that found himself with the most consistent play and landed in the top position as the players move into tomorrow’s blitz portion.
So finds himself in first place, but chased closely by Nepomniachtchi
The day started with a minute of silence for chess legend Carol Jarecki, who sadly passed away recently. | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Going into the round, it was clear that the all-American matchup between Fabiano Caruana vs. Wesley So would be crucial for the standings. In a sharp variation of the Re1 Berlin, it seemed that both players were well prepared but So was just one step ahead! Immediately after preparation, Caruana made an inaccuracy and after that it was an amazing display of technique and precision by So. Flawless move after flawless move eventually toppled Caruana’s position for a huge win – and with the black pieces.
A huge win for So against Caruana set the tone of the day | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Richard Rapport tried an enterprising 3.h4!? against Peter Svidler’s Grunfeld, and with smashing success. After some dubious decisions, Svidler’s position was untenable after only 18 moves and he was forced to resign.
Etienne Bacrot had some winning chances against Teimour Radjabov, but the Azerbaijani defended precisely and kept his point for a draw. The other two games were drawn uneventfully.
Rapport’s h-pawn gave him his first win of the tournament | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The first game to finish was an amazing shock: So sacrificed a pawn to pressure Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Grunfeld, but the Frenchman navigated the complications well and he was close to equality. However, a horrific and unfortunate blunder by MVL was immediately punished and So found himself with his second win in a row as he won his opponent’s queen with a simple combination.
Svidler had a strong advantage against his countryman Ian Nepomniachtchi, but the resourceful World Championship Challenger tricked his opponent and forced a perpetual. Radjabov and Rapport split the two points without much happening. Caruana, perhaps hungry for points and feeling the pressure, tried too hard against Bacrot, who got the best of the American in a Rauzer Sicilian. With this win, Bacrot joined Nepomniachtchi in a surprising tie for second behind So. The longest game of the round was the marathon and rollercoaster of a game between Firouzja and Aronian. Blunders, time pressure, a long rook endgame – the game had it all. The two points were eventually split after an astonishing 122 moves of chess!
Bacrot took full advantage of Caruana’s bad form | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The final round of the day was full of action and excitement as the only “simple” draw was between Bacrot and So; finishing an amazing run by Bacrot who will be replaced with former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik for the blitz portion!
But there certainly was action everywhere else; MVL tried a piece sacrifice against Firouzja, but the phenom defended like a magician. Just as the game was petering out to a draw in a technical rook endgame, Firouzja finally fumbled and MVL took the two points. Although young phenom Firouzja had a myriad of opportunities in the rapid portion, surprisingly he is entering the blitz in last place.
Garry Kasparov not only watched the games, but he gave candid commentary live! | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Aronian, also exhausted from his previous round, blundered quickly against Svidler allowing the Russian to collect an easy pair of points. Rapport had Caruana against the ropes, on the verge of dealing the third loss in a row to the World #2. After playing an excellent move, Rapport’s follow up was lackluster and Caruana mustered defenses just on time to give a perpetual and save a point from the day.
Caruana had a bad day at the office. He will need a monster score in the blitz to fight for first. | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Nepomniachtchi played an absolute brilliancy against Radjabov, but his conversion was extremely poor. The game became a strange roller coaster with both kings running around the board, but in the end the Russian player was able to prove superiority and collected two points, ending the Rapid portion only one point behind American So.
It wasn’t clean, but Nepomniachtchi got the job done against Radjabov | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The action continues with the blitz portion - don’t miss the debut of Vladimir Kramnik in the 2021 Grand Chess Tour. Our coverage of the 2021 Paris Grand Chess Tour continues tomorrow, June 21 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.