Carlsen Cruises to GCT Croatia Win; So Second

Bobby Fischer stunned the world when he won the 1963/64 US Championship with 11 wins in 11 games. So shocking was Fischer’s feat that it is said that runner-up Larry Evans, who scored a respectable 7.5/11, was congratulated after the final round for “winning the tournament” while Fischer had “won the exhibition.”

Wesley So consciously evoked this famous bit of Fischer lore during today’s post-game interview with Maurice Ashley:

Perhaps this is So’s trademark modesty at work, as he had an excellent result in Zagreb, scoring 7/11 and taking clear second place. But there can be no doubt that Magnus Carlsen is playing astounding chess these days, and his +5 score (8/11) against a field of this calibre must go down as one of the best tournament perfomances since Karpov in Linares 1994.

Here’s a look back at how the final rounds shook out.

ROUND 9

Carlsen continued to dole out surprises from his store of World Championship inspired novelties in his game against Levon Aronian. 15. 0-0-0 surprised both Aronian and the commentators, and the resulting game was “one of the best played draws [I’ve] ever seen,” as Alejandro Ramirez described it.

Wesley So had to ride his luck against Ian Nepomniachtchi to hold his opponent to a draw and stay half a point behind Carlsen. So was prepared to resign as soon as his opponent found the crushing 36.Qd5!, but after 36.Qe2 there was just enough in the position to give So the perpetual and the shared point.

This set up the Round 10 matchup between first place Carlsen and second place So, a game that Carlsen told Maurice he was looking forward to.

In other results, Caruana drew with Ding Liren, Karjakin drew Giri, and Nakamura split the point with Vachier-Lagrave. Mamedyarov had the only win of the round, defeating Viswanathan Anand in a 5.Bf4 QGD.

ROUND 10

Trailing Carlsen by half a point, and playing with the advantage of the White pieces, fans and commentators were wondering how So would try and catch the leader. He passed up a chance at the Catalan, preferring a very solid variation of the 4. Qc2 Nimzo-Indian instead. The game followed Mamedyarov-Carlsen (Wijk aan Zee, 2018) through 14. Rxc2, but Carlsen’s new idea 14. … Bd7 was not sufficient to change the evaluation of the position, and the players drew in 36 moves.

Some Twitterati criticized So for playing so solidly, effectively handing Carlsen a effortless draw. But the players themselves, including Anand and Carlsen, were more understanding.

So, for his part, did not shy away from the practical reasons for his decision.

In some ways the So-Carlsen draw set the tone for the round. All five remaining games – Caruana-Mamedyarov, Giri-Nakamura, Ding-Aronian, Anand-Karjakin, and MVL-Nepomniachtchi – were also drawn, with Caruana’s game against Mamedyarov being the most fighting of the bunch.

ROUND 11

Coaches always exhort their players to “finish strong,” and that’s exactly what Magnus Carlsen did, impressively defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 37 moves. Carlsen challenged MVL in his favored Grünfeld Defense, and after a questionable exchange of bishop for knight on move 14, MVL was inexorably ground down by Carlsen’s steady hand.

Nepo-Giri (photo Lennart Ootes)

Anish Giri continued his second-half resurgence with a win over the slumping Ian Nepomniachtchi. Nepo went for a speculative attack with 13.Nxh7, but it turns out that the well-prepared Giri already knew the move and its refutation. By move 20 it was clear that Nepo had miscalculated, and Giri collected the full point without much difficulty.

The four remaining games – Aronian-So, Karjakin-Caruana, Mamedyarov-Ding, and Nakamura-Anand – were drawn.

courtesy STLCC

Carlsen receives $90,000 and 20 Grand Prix Points for his first place finish in Zagreb, while So went away with $60,000 for his efforts. Aronian and Caruana each earned $35,000.

The next stop on the 2019 Grand Prix Tour will be the Paris Rapid & Blitz, played in Paris, France, from July 26th-August 2nd. After that it’s back to Saint Louis for the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz (August 8-15) and the Sinquefield Cup (August 15-30).

The 2019 Tour wraps up with the Superbet Rapid & Blitz (Bucharest, Romania, November 4-11) and the Tata Steel India Rapid & Blitz (Kolkata, India, November 20-27). Four players will advance to the GCT Finals, held as part of the London Chess Classic (London, UK, November 30-December 10). CLO will have coverage of all these events.

Comments

  1. Fabulous unheard of US chess international coverage from Hartmann. There is a news sheriff in town. A wonder. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

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