Paris – Wijk aan Zee – Leuven

| Chess
| Leuven, Belgium

The Paris and Leuven Rapid and Blitz events constitute half the Grand Chess Tour 2016. Having grown up watching Amber Rapid and Blindfold as a young chess player and qualifying in time to compete in the last five events until 2011, I was thrilled to see the addition of two major elite events with fast time control this year.

The Paris stage did not disappoint. Great playing venue in central Paris, a good mix of players, and four exciting days of Rapid and Blitz. After a time loss against W. So in round 1, I scored 5 wins and 3 draws in the Rapid part (that counted double compared to Blitz) and with 6.5 points was in second place behind Nakamura at 7. The first day of Blitz went well for me, but also for Nakamura. We shared the lead with the others trailing far behind.

Unfortunately I suffered a real meltdown on the last day and Nakamura had secured a deserved victory even before the last two rounds. Beating him in a fine game in the last round (for the second day in a row), in what was maybe my best Blitz game overall together with my white win against Aronian, was a small consolation, and sufficient to end on a high note. Overall I have to be fairly satisfied with my play 3 out of 4 days, and with my overall +9 score in 27 rounds. Home-favorite Vachier-Lagrave came clear 3rd after a good last day performance.

I think we all look forward to the second event in Leuven starting with a simul event Thursday. Having spent most of January in Wijk aan Zee on the Dutch coast since my early teens, we took the opportunity to visit Wijk between the Paris and Leuven tournaments. It was pleasant and relaxing to be there in summer without the tournament (and winter storms) looming. The swim in the sea definitely was more comfortable than in January. After some sun both yesterday and today, a heavy rain shower contributed to the mixed picture we are used to from all the great Tata Steel (and previous Corus) events.

Last time I blogged with three rounds left of Norway Chess in Stavanger, and the finish turned out to be both exciting and successful for me. Maybe playing on home turf takes more energy. Anyhow, for some reason I was not in good shape in round 7 and 8. In round 7 I got the chance to play a novelty by Hammer against Kramnik. He didn’t find the best defense, and already after some 15 moves the rest was plain sailing for me. Not so in round 8. Aronian played an interesting variation as white and showed the creative style he is capable of. I did not respond well. I lost a pawn in the middle game, and short on time I blundered away the rest, having missed a mate threat down the line.

Against Eljanov in the last round, I needed to win, and fortunately I felt in good shape and very optimistic. I managed to gradually outplay him to secure my first Norway Chess victory! Once again I like to thank the organizer for this great elite event in Stavanger.