French player wins world speed chess tournament in Warsaw shootout

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French chess player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has won the open section of the FIDE World Blitz Chess Championship, held in Warsaw, Poland, collecting his first major trophy.

The open section of the World Blitz Chess Championship, organised by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), ended in a tiebreak shootout on Thursday, with Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeating local star Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2-1.

Third place went to 18-year-old Iranian-French grandmaster Alireza Firouzja.

In the Women's competition, the winner was 17-year-old prodigy Bibisara Assaubayeva from Kazakhstan, who also finished alone in second place in the women's rapid format.

It was the first world championship title for 31-year-old grandmaster Vachier-Lagrave, one of the world's top-rated players, who came very close to this title in 2015 but had to settle for silver. The top spot earned him a cool 60,000 dollars in prize money.

'Historic'

"It was thrilling, there was a lot of emotion and the French public were behind him, he was really focused," Eloi Relange commented to France Info after the competition. The president of the French Chess Federation hailed the event as "historic" for France.

In the ultra-fast blitz format, players have three minutes from the start, gaining 2 seconds for each move made.

The rapid category, players have 15 minutes with ten second increments.

These make up two of the three categories of tournament in world chess championships held annually, the most prestigious being the longer format.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, known by his nickname MVL, is renowned for his "extremely fast" calculations, according to Kevin Bordi, who manages Blitzstream, a leading French chess channel.

'Acrobat'

"He sees things very quickly, he's very fast. He's not afraid to play with initiative," Bordi says.

"He has a brilliant mind, it's functioning at 100 kms an hour," agrees grand master Fabien Libiszewski, a close friend to MVL.

"He's an acrobat," says MVL's first trainer Eric Birmingham, who said even as a 5 year old, MVL soaked everything up and showed exceptional learning abilities.

In longer format competitions, MVL is currently ranked 12th in the world.

The world title is currently held by Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen.

Vachier-Lagrave contested in the Candidates Tournament back in April, coming second to Russian player Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Getting to an international level such as this requires strict discipline, with endless practice rounds and memorising multiple variations for opening moves, something MVL admits is not always easy.

In his book "Chess player" he admits he was "born" with a talent for chess and in everyday life says he has the tendency to be "a bit lazy".

"I need to feel there is pleasure involved," he explained to AFP. "I'm not like other athletes who need to hurt themselves while training."

'Normal' life

MVL goes as far to say that he prefers to distance himself from the cut-throat world of competitive chess, where there has been no shortage of figures who push themselves to extremes.

"I don't want to close myself in...if I were to only see a chess game all the time I'd get bored," MVL says, describing the typical life of a 30-something living in Paris.

He enjoys staying out late, going for runs in the Luxembourg gardens and supporting his favourite football team (Lyon).

But he says games are still a big part of his hobbies -- he loves to play cards, be it poker, tarot, as well as video games and board games -- anything involving a bet.

"I can separate what happens in real life and what happens on a chess board," MVL says. "Clearly I'm not going to start to hate all my opponents now."

"He's a really cool guy. Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov are killers. Not Maxime," concludes Birmingham.

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