Tuesday, January 18

MVL, world chess champion out of the boxes

Far from the cliché of the cold or cracked chess player, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who on Thursday became world champion in ultra-fast format, traced his route to the top by cultivating a “quiet life” outside of competitions.

By winning in Warsaw the world championship of “blitz”, where the players have three minutes at the start, to which are added two seconds per stroke played, “MVL” raises his first world trophy in seniors, at 31 years old.

This cadence is one of the three categories where a world championship is contested every year, but the most prestigious of the titles, by far, is the long game where the thinking time is counted in hours.

His victory in this fast format is obvious for this player who is “very strong in arithmetic” and therefore has an advantage when time for reflection is limited, according to Kevin Bordi, host of Blitzstream, the first French-speaking chess channel, on which MVL occurs regularly.

“He sees very quickly, he is very lively. He is not afraid to play for the initiative,” he explains.

“He has a brilliant mind, things go at 100 an hour in his brain”, also notes the international grand master Fabien Libiszewski, one of his relatives.

“He’s an acrobat” on the chessboard, also believes Eric Birmingham, his first trainer when he made his debut at the age of 5 at the Créteil club. He remembers a “real sponge” with extraordinary learning abilities.

In the long game, “MVL” is currently the twelfth best player on the planet. He narrowly missed his chance to challenge current world title holder Magnus Carlsen, finishing second in the Candidates’ tournament in April, behind Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Played in December, the title match saw another success for Norway’s Carlsen.

– Pleasure –

He admits to having “the intelligence of a chess player”. “I was born with”, explains in a light drawl the young brown man wearing a jacket adorned with a large white K, logo of the internet platform Kasparovchess, of the legendary Garry Kasparov with whom he has a partnership.

But at such a level, you obviously also need a drastic discipline, preparations for relentless games, memorization of endless variations of openings … And it is not always easy for those who admit in their book “Player of” chess “(Fayard),” a slight tendency to laziness “.

“I need to go through the notion of pleasure,” he told AFP. “Compared to other athletes, I may have a little less ability to hurt myself” on the job.

The chess world is rich in tutelary figures with troubled minds, burned by chess; fictional characters like Loujine the mad hero of Vladimir Nabokov in “The Loujine Defense”, or of course Beth Harmon from the series “The Lady’s Game”; but also players from the past like Bobby Fischer, Paul Morphy, Akiba Rubinstein …

In this harsh world of fierce competition, MVL keeps the chessboard at bay to spare itself.

“I don’t want to shut myself up (…) if I only had to see the game of chess, I would get bored of it”. So, when he’s not in tournaments around the world or online, he has an almost banal life of a Parisian thirty-something who likes to go to bed late, watch and bet on sport (he is a fan of the Olympique Lyonnais) or jogging in the Luxembourg Gardens, not far from the apartment bought thanks to his earnings (around 200,000 euros per year currently).

But under this “quiet life” the fire of the game is smoldering. “I play a lot, cards, poker, tarot, video games, board games. Everything is an opportunity to play, to bet.”

“He likes to play, anything,” abounds Eric Birmingham.

– Nice guys –

“There are fierce players and nice guys. I am a fierce player,” said the American Bobby Fischer, chess legend who had notably managed to steal the world crown from the Soviet Boris Spassky in the middle of the Cold War, in Reykjavik. in 1972.

MVL “is a very nice person,” says Kevin Bordi. “Maxime is a real good guy. Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, they are killers. Not Maxime”, according to Eric Birmingham.

“I can sort things out between what happens in real life (…) and the clashes on the chessboard. Clearly, I’m not going to hate everyone now.”


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