American Grandmaster Wesley So Wins 2021 Paris Rapid & Blitz Tournament
Chess tournaments are full of emotion, but they are also a series of battles, tests of preparation, endurance and an evaluation of the tenacity of the competitors. Rapid and blitz tournaments take it to the next level with the shorter time controls and multiple rounds played each day. This differentiates the players who are capable of taking advantage of a hot streak and running away with the lead from the players who fail and let their subsequent results cloud their mentality for future games.
The Paris Rapid and Blitz was the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour, a series of international events featuring the world’s best chess players. After a brilliant victory by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the Superbet Chess Classic, it was a question of who would be able to keep pace or overtake the Azerbaijani player. He held the lead as the full tour players only participate in two of the three rapid and blitz events, and Mamedyarov’s schedule did not involve a visit to France.
After the nine rounds of rapid, it was already clear that the tournament would be a two-horse race. The fight for first place was led by American grandmaster Wesley So, a previous 2016 Grand Chess Tour winner. Despite suffering one loss in the rapid portion to Levon Aronian, So played crisp, clean and powerful chess throughout the tournament. The methodical defeat of his fellow American competitor, Fabiano Caruana, was one of many examples of So’s computer-like precision that he displayed over five days of rapid and blitz play.
Trailing slightly behind the American was one of the event wildcards, Ian Nepomniachtchi, the 2021 World Champion Challenger, who will compete against No. 1 Magnus Carlsen later this year.
Nepo, as he is known among the commentators and fans, had an overall amazing event. He was able to win multiple games in a row and was rarely in danger of losing but ultimately he did not score as many full points as So did. Nepo’s final score of 21.5 would have been good enough to win the event in 2019 but not this year. So was simply unstoppable and secured first place with 24.5 points, three points ahead of Nepo. So took home the $37,500 prize.
The tournament was certainly a disappointment for Fabiano Caruana and Teimour Radjabov, two full tour participants who desperately needed more tour points after lackluster performances in the previous Superbet Chess Classic Tournament held in Bucharest. Caruana finished eighth, Radjabov finished last, and with these results, they can probably say goodbye to their chances to win the ultimate 2021 Grand Chess Tour prize.
Another showstopper of the event was young Alireza Firouzja, born in Iran but residing in France. The grandmaster turned 18 just as the event started. He had many chances to win in the rapid portion but finished last after not being able to take full advantage of his positions. His comeback in the blitz portion was remarkable. He played uncompromising chess, experimented with every opening, created chances out of nowhere, and he was the second-best blitz scorer of the event. His performance was so good in blitz that he jumped from last place to a tie for third with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, proving that while Wesley So may have won this event, rising star Firouzja can be a contender for a future Paris Rapid & Blitz crown.
The third leg of the Grand Chess Tour resumes in Zagreb for the Croatia Grand Chess Tour. This rapid and blitz event will feature 11 players including legendary world champions Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand. Watch all the action from July 7-July 11th exclusively on kasparovchess.com.
Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez is the current coach of St. Louis University’s chess team, the reigning World Blitz University Champions. He has participated in one World Championship, one World Cup, three Olympiads and obtained second place at the 2013 U.S. Chess Championship.