French chess master says Covid break made international tournament extra tough

French Grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished second in the Candidates tournament.
French Grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished second in the Candidates tournament. ©

The Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi has won the Candidates chess tournament and will now play for the world championship title. He finished half a point ahead of French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a competition that spanned a period of more than one year due to the Covid pandemic - the longest break in the game's history.


"Overall, the result is disappointing but I am glad that we finished the event," Maxime Vachier-Lagrave told RFI from Yekaterinburg, where the event was held.

MVL as he is popularly known, was in joint lead with Ian Nepomniachtchi going into the second half of the 14-round event which started on 19 April. Seven rounds had been played more than a year ago after which the tournament was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Vachier-Lagrave didn't have a good start to the second half as he suffered two losses in the first four games, severely denting his chances of winning the event.

"There have been two parts to the second half of the tournament. In the first four games, I had lots of difficult decisions to make over the board. I made at least six serious mistakes in critical positions which is what cost me so much in those games. If you want to get a shot at the title, you have to play much better in such moments," he said.

While Vachier-Lagrave lost to Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk in rounds 8 and 11, he drew against Ding Liren and Anish Giri in the ninth and tenth round respectively. 

"The second half consisted of me getting into great positions with white and trying to fight with black, particularly against Nepomniachtchi, which I half managed," he added.

Vachier-Lagrave defeated Kirill Alekseenko in the 12th round and faced the tournament leader Nepomniachtchi in a must-win game in the next round.

However, the Russian Grandmaster held Vachier-Lagrave to a draw and won the tournament with a round to spare after Giri lost to Grischuk.

Test of resilience

Vachier-Lagrave ended the tournament on a high after beating Wang Hao in the final round to finish second in the standings, half a point behind the winner.

Speaking about the tournament, which was the longest ever in chess history, Vachier-Lagrave said the year-lond wait for the resumption was extremely tough. "It was really strange, especially for the past six months. In every event I played, whether online or over the board, the Candidates was always on the back of my mind. This also partly hurt my chances in these events," he said.

Though the 30-year-old didn't succeed in winning the tournament, he said there were some positives he could take from it.  "I passed the test of resilience and of keeping the fighting spirit even when it was over for me."

He however conceded that getting another chance to compete in the Candidates and winning it, is going to be difficult.

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