After the second day of competition in the first event of the Grand Chess Tour, Nakamura holds a small lead over Magnus Carlsen

The first half of the Grand Chess Tour’s Paris tournament has been essentially a two-man show involving Hikaru Nakamura of the United States and Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the World Champion in classical and rapid chess.

After Nakamura and Carlsen finished the first day of the rapid competition tied for first, the two players continued to jockey for the lead on Day 2. Carlsen pulled ahead first by beating Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria in Round 6:

Topalov, Veselin vs. Carlsen, Magnus
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 6 | 10 Jun 2016 | 0-1
22. b4 White prevents Black from moving his pawns on the queenside, after which White can play a3-a4 to attack the pawns. This looks like quite an effective plan and it seems like Black has no counterplay on the other side, but Carlsen has other ideas.
22... h5! 23. a4 a5! Before doing anything else, Carlsen trades off a weak queenside pawn to make sure Topalov can't do much over there.
23... bxa4 24. Rxa4 Would leave Black with a weak b-pawn that will likely eventually be lost.  )
24. Rb1
24. Qxb5? Rfb8  )
24. bxa5? b4 And Black will take the pawn on e4.  )
24... axb4 25. Rxb4 bxa4 26. Raxa4 Ng4! 27. Nf1 h4! The kingside no longer feels so secure for White.
28. f3 hxg3 29. hxg3 Nf6 30. Qg2 Qh6! Of course, Carlsen avoids exchanging queens.
31. Qh2 Qg5 32. Qd2 Qh5! Black again avoids exchanging queens. The h-file is also ripe for an invasion.
33. g4 Qh8! Odd as this retreat looks, White is dead lost. Black will soon invade the dark squares by playing Nh7-g5 and there is nothing White can do about it.

Nakamura drew level in Round 7 by defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, while Carlsen drew against Anish Giri of the Netherlands. Nakamura then took the lead by beating Levon Aronian of Armenia in Round 8 while Carlsen was once again held to a draw, this time by Laruent Fressinet of France.

Of Nakamura’s two wins in Rounds 7 and 8, I particularly liked the one over Vachier-Lagrave. It was very clean and the foundation for it was laid early on:

Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 7 | 10 Jun 2016 | 0-1
c6! Black prepares d5 to take control of the center.
14. Rb1 d5 15. Ba2
15. exd5 White could have tried this, but it would give Black a strong pawn center.
15... cxd5  )
15... h6! Preparing Be6
16. Qc2 Be6! Now Black is able to take on e4 without weakening the f7 pawn.
17. c4
17. exd5 It might have been time for this move.
17... cxd5  )
17... dxe4! 18. Nxe4 Nxe4 19. dxe4 Qe7 White is left with a passive bishop on a2 and a horrendous pawn structure. White soon sacrificed a pawn to free his bishop, but never got enough compensation and Nakamura went on to win easily.

The last round of the day produced a fair amount of drama. Carlsen won in his trademark style by slowly grinding down Vladimir Kramnik of Russia from a position that looked very equal.

Nakamura again matched Carlsen by beating Fabiano Caruana of the United States. It was a wild game in which both sides had chances at different moments, but ultimately Caruana made a major error just when it seemed that the game was going to end in a draw:

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 9 | 10 Jun 2016 | 0-1
54. b5?? Not Caruanas finest moment.
54. Kg3 This looks like the best move to me, as it stops Blacks threat. Other moves hold, too  )
54. Rf6  )
54. Re6  )
54. Ra6  )
54... f4 And Whites king is caught in a mating net.
55. Kh3 Bf3

With the rapid portion of the tournament over, Nakamura leads with 14 points (five wins, with each worth 2 points, and four draws), while Carlsen has 13 points (five wins, three draws and a loss). Giri and Wesley So of the United States, who beat Carlsen in Round 1, are tied for third with 11 points apiece.

One of Giri’s nicest wins was his 22-move demolition of Fressinet in Round 6:

Giri, Anish vs. Fressinet, Laurent
Grand Chess Tour | Paris | Round 6 | 10 Jun 2016 | 1-0
a6? Too slow. Black is making a lot of pawn moves and neglecting his development.
10... O-O Black looks fine to me. The computer even recommends taking on c6 voluntarily, highlighting the uselessness of 10. a6  )
11. Bxc6+ bxc6 12. Qe2 g5?! Weakening the kingside. Now Black's king will be unable to find a happy home on either side of the board.
13. Bf2 Bxf2+ 14. Qxf2 Qe7 15. O-O-O Blacks king will not be long for this world.
15... a5 16. Nd4 Bd7 17. h4! g4 18. Nf5 Qe5 19. f4! Nxe4 20. Nxd6+! Qxd6 21. Nxe4 Qe7 22. Qd4

The blitz portion of the tournament is Saturday and Sunday. That may be more of the same as Carlsen and Nakamura are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively, in that discipline. 


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.