The Grand Chess Tour gets underway in Paris. Carlsen and Nakamura share the lead after Day 1.

The Grand Chess Tour — a series of elite tournaments with a total prize fund of $1.05 million — was organized last year for the first time. It’s back, albeit with a couple of changes. Norway Chess (now called Altibox Norway Chess, after its main sponsor), one of the three tournaments that made up the series last year, exited the tour and has been replaced by two shorter tournaments devoted entirely to rapid and blitz chess.

The first of those tournaments, which is being held in Paris, started Thursday with the first day of a two-day rapid competition. The field includes Vladimir Kramnik of Russia; Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So of the United States; Levon Aronian of Armenia; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet of France; Anish Giri of the Netherlands; and Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria.

It also includes Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Champion in classical and rapid chess, which automatically makes him the clear favorite. But things did not go so well for him in Round 1 against So:

Carlsen, Magnus vs. So, Wesley
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 1 | 09 Jun 2016 | 0-1
Qa1 Carlsen lost on time in this completely winning position
59. Qxb7+! This simple human move immediately ends the game
59. Qh2 The computer found this, but its tougher to find over the board  )
59... Kxb7 60. Qg7+ Kb8 61. b3 and Black is toast

Carlsen was not discouraged by that setback as he rallied with three consecutive wins. I particularly enjoyed his win over Caruana, who let down his guard:

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Carlsen, Magnus
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 4 | 09 Jun 2016 | 0-1
13. Ne2? A serious blunder. Before this move, chances were equal.
13... Nxe4! Carlsen is always on the lookout for tactics and finds this one easily.
14. Bxe7
14. dxe4 Bxg5  )
14... Nc5 15. Bd5 Bxd5 16. Qxd5 Qxe7 And Caruana is down a pawn. After this, he was not able to offer much resistance.

Nakamura has a reputation for possibly being the best rapid and blitz player in the world (though his ranking is just behind Carlsen in both disciplines). He played very well on Day 1, including punishing an error by Topalov in Round 2:

Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Topalov, Veselin
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 2 | 09 Jun 2016 | 1-0
Nd4? Not the best move Topalov ever made.
15. Nxd4! exd4
15... Bxg2 This may have been Topalov's idea, but it fails to a pretty zwischenzug:
16. Ne6! fxe6 17. Kxg2 Black's pawn structure is a disaster  )
16. Bxd4 Bxg2
16... Bxd4 17. Qxd4  )
17. Bxf6 Qxf6
17... Qd5 18. Qg4 g6 19. e4  )
18. Kxg2 And White is up a pawn. Nakamura went on to win.

After four rounds, Nakamura and Carlsen were tied for first with 3 points and faced each other in Round 5.  Carlsen played a shaky game, but Nakamura was not able to take advantage:

Carlsen, Magnus vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 5 | 09 Jun 2016 | 1/2-1/2
12. Bb5?! This is asking for trouble
12... a6 13. Ba4
13. Be2 Admitting the mistake the move earlier seems prudent  )
13... b5 14. Bb3 Re8+ 15. Ne2 Bg4 16. O-O Bxf3 17. gxf3 White's pawn structure is weakened on the kingside, but with so many open lines and opposite-colored bishops, it is not really easy for Black to do much.
17... Ra7 18. Rc5 Rd7 19. Nc3 Rd6 20. Rxd5 Nc6 21. Rxd6 Qxd6 22. Re1 And White had survived the worst of it. The game was drawn after another 13 moves.

While the tournament features rapid games, a lot of the play is still very high quality. For example, I was very impressed with Fressinet’s accurate display of both technique and calculation in a complex rook endgame with Caruana:

Fressinet, Laurent vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 3 | 09 Jun 2016 | *
47. Kd7! Rb3 48. Kc7 Rc3+ 49. Kb8 h2 50. b7 Ra3 It looks like Black should be able to make a draw with a perpetual attack on the rook, but Fressinet has other ideas.
51. Rc1 Rc3 52. Rxc3! h1=Q 53. Kc8! And the pawn on b7 cannot be stopped from promoting.
53... Qh8+
53... Qe1 attacking the rook allows an in-between check
54. Rc7+  )
54. Kc7 Qh2 55. Rc5! Patient
55. b8=Q? Too soon
55... Qxe5+ Wins the rook, and probably the game  )
55... Qxf2 56. Rc6! Still no checks
56. b8=Q Qxc5+  )
56... Qa7 57. Kc8! Again threatening to queen
57... Qa4 58. Rc7+! And finally White ends up with an extra rook
58... Kg6 59. b8=Q White escaped the checks and won without much trouble

Day 2 on Friday will feature four more rapid rounds. It will be interesting if anyone can catch Carlsen and Nakamura as they fight for first place.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.