Croatia Grand Chess Tour
June 26-July 8, 2019
1. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2875, 8.0/11
2. Wesley So USA 2754, 7.0/11
3-4. Levon Aronian ARM 2752, Fabiano Caruana USA 2819, 6.0/11
5-7. Anish Giri NED 2779, Ding Liren CHN 2805, Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2775, 5.5/11
8. Sergey Karjakin RUS 2748, 5.0/11
9-11. Viswanathan Anand IND 2767, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2774, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2779, 4.5/11
12. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2754, 4.0/11
Average Rating 2782 Category 22
Time Control: 130 minutes play-to-finish with 30 second delay before the clock starts on every move
Magnus Carlsen has just won his eighth consecutive tournament with an overpowering 5-win 6-draw result in the Zagreb leg of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. The moving spirit behind this event is former World Champion Garry Kasparov. As you may know Kasparov tried to run for President of Russia in 2008 against Vladimir Putin but failure to find a sufficiently large rental space to assemble the number of supporters that is legally required to endorse such a candidacy forced him to withdraw. Kasparov blamed “official obstruction” for the lack of available space.
Ever since then he has found it difficult to live in Russia and moved out of the country. He currently resides in New York City but travels often, especially to Zagreb since he obtained Croatian citizenship in 2014.
Zagreb with a population of 1.1 million is the largest city in Croatia by far and contains a quarter of the total population of the country. They are a chess-mad nation and literally multitudes would show up at the tournament venue to follow the games and, in old-time courtesy, applaud the players at the conclusion of their games.
This almost fanatic fervor apparently inspired Magnus Carlsen to go for the win in every game. In fact, he managed to defeat two players (Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren) from the elite who he had never managed to take down in a classical game ever before.
Carlsen’s score against Nepo before they met in Zagreb was 0 wins and 4 losses. Here is how he dealt with the former Russian and European champion in round 7.
Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2775) — Carlsen, Magnus (2875) [B30]
Croatia Grand Chess Tour Zagreb CRO (7.1), 03.07.2019
Nepomniachtchi started the tournament with three straight wins (against Anand, Caruana and Mamedyarov” but just had his momentum snapped by Ding in the previous round and fell to his first loss. This allowed Magnus and Wesley to catch up with him for the lead, but by this victory Magnus now took over 1st place.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Bc4 g6
This could not have been a surprise for Nepo, for Magnus had played this exact line against Vachier-Lagrave in last year’s Sinquefield Cup.
The game with MVL continued 5.h4 h6 6.h5 g5 7.Nh2 Nf6 8.d3 d6 9.Nf1 Bg4 10.f3 Be6 11.Ne3 Bg7 12.Ncd5 0–0 13.c3 Rb8 14.a4 a6 15.g4 b5 16.axb5 axb5 17.Bb3 (17.Ra6!? can also be tried) 17…Ne7 18.Nxe7+ Qxe7 19.0–0 the game was headed for a draw. Vachier Lagrave, M. (2779)-Carlsen, M. (2842) Saint Louis 2018 1/2 37.
5…h6 6.h4 d6 7.h5 g5 8.Nh2
Now the game strongly resembles MVL vs Carlsen. This knight is also headed for e3, same as in that game.
8…Bg7 9.Ng4 Nge7 10.Ne3 0–0 11.Bd2 Kh8 12.g4
Closing out the kingside and now the action moves over to the queenside.
12…Rb8 13.a4 Nd4 14.Ncd5 Nxd5 15.Nxd5 Ne6 16.f3 Nf4 17.Qb1
A bit of a controversial decision. Carlsen: he went for a very ambitious plan with the queen to a2 and so on. The problem, of course, is that his king lacks shelter, so the opening of the position is always going to be good for me.
17…Be6 18.Qa2 Qd7
With the idea of …Bxg4.
19.Rg1 b6 20.Bc3
Nepo’s idea is 21.Nxd4 exd4 22.Bxg7+ Kxg7 23.Kd2 when White is the one with the better prospects.
20…Bxd5! 21.Bxd5 a6 22.Bd2 Qe7 23.Rf1 b5 24.axb5 axb5 25.Kf2 c4 26.Bxf4
[26.dxc4 bxc4 27.Bxc4 d5! opens up the position in the center, which obviously White with his exposed king does not want]
26…exf4 27.Rad1 <D>
POSITION AFTER 27.RAD1
This is a bluff, Carlsen’s own words.
And Nepo blinks. The correct response is 28.exf5! Qe3+ 29.Kg2 Qe2+ 30.Kh3 how can Black continue? Try to get his rook on the 2nd rank? 30…cxd3 31.cxd3 Rbc8 but then 32.Rde1 Qd2 33.Rd1 holds.
Based on the body language of the players, after this move Nepo knew he was lost, and the remaining moves came quite quickly.
[29.fxg4 Qh4+ 30.Ke2 Bd4]
29…Qh4+ 30.Ke2 Qh2+ 31.Rf2
[31.Ke1 g3 followed by …g2.]
Nepo resigned because Kxf3 Qxh5+ drops his rook.
After drawing all seven games he had played against Ding Liren before Zagreb Magnus finally nailed him in round 8.
Ding, Liren (2805) — Carlsen, Magnus (2875) [E05]
Croatia Grand Chess Tour Zagreb CRO (8), 04.07.2019
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0–0 6.0–0 dxc4 7.Qc2 b5 8.a4 b4 9.Nfd2 Nd5
The usual move here is 9…c6. As confirmed by Magnus in the post-game conference, this was opening preparation for his world championship match with Caruana last year which he didn’t get to use. Developed by one of his seconds, GM Daniil Dubov, the idea is to activate black’s two bishops. You will see later how this works.
10.Nxc4 c5 11.dxc5 Ba6!
Black’s dark-squared bishop, which is usually “bad” when its access is blocked by the e6–pawn, now has full scope.
12.Ne3 Nd7 13.Nxd5 exd5 14.c6 Rc8 15.Bf4! Nc5 16.c7 Qd7 17.Nd2
Since move 10 Ding, smelling opening preparation, was taking his time between moves while Magnus was blitzing out his. By this time the Chinese GM was already an hour behind on the clock.
He can’t take the pawn because of 18.Bxg5 b3! (Not 18…Bxg5? right away because 19.Qxc5 Bxd2 20.Rfd1 Rxc7 21.Qa5 one of the bishops will fall) 19.Qc1 Bxg5 20.Qxc5 Bxd2 21.Rfd1 Rxc7 now the white queen cannot go to a5, and so he ends up down a powerful bishop.
18…f6 19.Bd4 Rxc7 20.Qd1 Ne6 21.Nb3 Bc4 22.Na5?!
A better idea is 22.Be3! followed by Nd4.
22…Nxd4 23.Qxd4 Kg7 24.Rfc1 Bxe2 25.Rxc7 Qxc7 26.Re1?!
Taking the pawn 26.Qxd5 Rd8 27.Qe4 Bd3 is more to the point but Ding was probably afraid of losing his knight on a5
26…Bc5! 27.Qxd5 Re8! 28.Qb7?
Correct idea wrong execution. After 28.Qc6 Qxc6 29.Nxc6 Bh5 30.Rc1 White will win either the a7 or b4 pawn.
28…Qxb7 29.Nxb7 Bf8 30.Bc6
Ding misses his chance to activate his pieces with 30.Nd8! Rxd8 (30…Bh5 31.Ne6+ Kg8 32.Bc6 Re7 33.Bd5 Bf7 34.Bc4 white is at least equal) 31.Rxe2 Rd1+ 32.Bf1 Bc5 Black still has a slight edge, but nothing serious anymore.
30…Re7 31.f3 Bc4 32.Rxe7+ Bxe7
It is Carlsen’s two bishops vs Ding’s bishop+knight with both sides having three pawns on the kingside and two on the queenside. A draw, right? Carlsen gives a display of how powerful the two bishops working together can be and just overpowers Ding.
33.Kf2 f5 34.Ke3 Bg8 35.Kd3 g4!
Fixing the h2 pawn as a target.
36.Na5 Bc5! 37.Nc4
Ding is going after Black’s f5 pawn.
37…Bg1 38.Ne3 Be6 39.fxg4 fxg4 40.Ke2 h5
[40…Bxh2? 41.Kf2 Black is going to lose his bishop]
41.Bd5 Bd7 42.Bb3 Bxh2 43.Kf2 h4 44.gxh4
44…Be5! 45.Nc4 g3+ 46.Kg1 Bf4 47.Bd1 Bc6 48.b3 Kh6 49.a5 Be4 50.Kf1 Kg7 51.Kg1 Kf6 52.Kf1 Ke6 53.h5 Kd5 54.a6 Kd4 55.Bg4 Kc3 56.Be6 Bc2 57.Na5 Bc7 58.Nb7 Bd3+ 59.Kg1 Bxa6 0–1
Magnus: “A win is a win, but this one obviously is special.” Indeed it is, both in terms of importance in the standings and in chess content.
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant, he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.