Ding Liren is 2019 Grand Chess Tour Champion

Ding Liren capped off a tremendous 2019 with a win Sunday at the Grand Chess Tour Finals, one of many important titles decided at the 2019 London Chess Classic.

Ding Liren (photo Ootes)

Ding defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by a score of 16-12 to take the 2019 GCT title, riding two wins in the classical and rapid components of the match to take the crown. Magnus Carlsen finished in third place, besting Levon Aronian 17-11.

The Grand Chess Tour Finals were composed of games in three time controls, each with different point values:

  • Classical games (2): 6 points for a win, 3 points for a draw
  • Rapid games (2): 4 points for a win, 2 points for a draw
  • Blitz games (4): 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw

If a match was tied after these eight games, a rapid tiebreak round was to be contested, followed by a single Armageddon game. In only once case were tiebreaks needed.

Semi-Finals

Semi-Final Classical Rapid Blitz Playoff Final Points
Carlsen 1 1 2 0.5 14.5
MVL 1 1 2 1.5 15.5

 

Semi-Final Classical Rapid Blitz Final Points
Aronian 1 0 1.5 9
Ding 1 2 2.5 19

Ding-Aronian (photo Ootes)

Ding’s win over Aronian was not terribly surprising, given his form over the past six months and Aronian’s ongoing respiratory problem, which forced to withdraw from the final stop of the FIDE Grand Prix tour starting on Wednesday. Still, even a slightly weakened Aronian is a formidable competitor, so Ding’s incisive play made an impression in this match. His first win in the rapid section was particularly memorable.

Carlsen-MVL (photo Ootes)

Much more surprising, given his form at the just-completed Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz, was Carlsen’s narrow loss to Vachier-Lagrave. The two drew all games in the classical and rapid portions, and swapped wins in the blitz, forcing a rapid (G/10+5) playoff.

In the first game, Carlsen repeated his Game 1 line against Vachier-Lagrave’s Najdorf, and MVL took advantage of this passive approach to the opening to grind Carlsen down in 82 moves.

Carlsen then did his best to complicate in the return game, but he blundered on his 23rd move, giving Vachier-Lagrave a significant advantage. MVL chose a ‘safety first’ approach to the position, eschewing risky continuations and moving swiftly to draw and advance to the Finals.

Finals

Finals Classical Rapid Blitz Final Points
Ding 1.5 1.5 0.5 16
MVL 0.5 0.5 3.5 12

 

3rd Place Classical Rapid Blitz Final Points
Aronian 0.5 1 2 11
Carlsen 1.5 1 2 17

 

While both the Final and 3rd Place matches were hard-fought, there was little question after the first two days of play that Ding and Carlsen would be victorious. Ding, in fact, had clinched the GCT title with his game 4 draw in the Rapid, rendering the blitz games meaningless save for rating. He showed both his tactical flair and his resoluteness in defense in the two classical games, saving a difficult double queen ending in Game 1, and winning Game 2 with style.

Both confident and modest in the post-game interviews, Ding expressed his happiness at his victory, and described his plans to rest and prepare before the Candidates tournament.

Carlsen’s path to victory was a bit narrower, with his win in Game 1 of the Classical round pushing him over the top.

Ding takes home $150,000 for his win in London, and nearly $300,000 overall for Tour play. Second place earned Vachier-Lagrave $100,000, while third place finisher Carlsen wins $60,000. Of equal importance is the fact that with their top three finishes, Carlsen, Ding, and MVL all qualify for the 2020 Grand Chess Tour.

Adams, Praggnanandhaa, Smirnov and Cohen Also Win!

The London Chess Classic is a true chess festival, featuring the GCT Finals, the British Knockout Championship, and the London Chess Classic Open along with a slew of side events and the annual London Chess Conference.

Mickey Adams defeated David Howell to claim the 2019 British Knockout title, while the “third place match” between Gawain Jones and Luke McShane was an exhibition featuring Vladimir Kramnik’s proposed “no castling” rules. Are the Jones-McShane games a glimpse of the future? Have a look for yourself.

Praggnanandhaa-Smirnov (photo Ootes)

The London Chess Classic FIDE Open was won by two juniors: 14-year-old R Praggnanandha and 18-year-old Anton Smirnov, both with 7.5/9.  This result pushes Praggnanandha over the 2600 barrier.

A number of Americans played in the side events:

Weekend Open: Lawrence Cohen
Weekend U2050: Dylan Mize
Weekend U1825: Samprabhu R Rubandhas, Cecil Sloan

Weekend U1600: Kai Hanache
Weekday U2050: Chris Baumgartner, Ari Chaney, Lawrence Cohen
Weekday U1750: Mark Engelen, Cecil Sloan

Rapid U2050: Ritwik Chauhan

Blitz: James C. Flowers, Vikas Rajasekaran, IM Dmitry Schneider

In an curious twist of fate, Cohen (IL) and Chaney (FL) found themselves paired against one another in the first round of the Weekday U2050, with Cohen winning the all-American matchup. He explained to CLO that:

Personally I did not expect to travel all the way from Chicago to London just to play someone from Florida in the first round.  The standard for many tournaments is to use the same rating system for all players.  As a result of that my opponent was listed as a FIDE unrated player and we were paired.

Asked for his general impressions of the event, Cohen told CLO:

The annual London Chess Classic featured the Finals of the Grand Chess Tour, but also a number of other events. This included

  • a 9 round FIDE (open) rated norm event tournament,
  • two different 5 round tournaments in different rating classes,
  • the annual British Knockout,
  • a (English) Women/Girls Rapid Play tournament,
  • a scholastic tournament,
  • a 1 day rapid tournament,
  • a 1 day “super blitz” tournament,
  • a simul by GM John Nunn,
  • a simul by GM Jon Speelman,
  • and a lecture by Sadler and Regan on (their new book) Game Changer.

There are many things to do and sites to see in the London area, of which I saw a few. (After all, I did play 10 games of chess over 8 days!) Seeing the live commentary and interviews by GM Maurice Ashley, as well as being able to sit in the auditorium and watch the GCT live in progress, was quite an experience. Entry into any of the events gave the festival participant a pass for the entire 10 days of the London Chess Classic. It was only £45 in advance to play in one of the 5 round events, but it was £25 for a one-day spectator pass.

Overall the events were fairly well run, especially considering how many events were going on. There was even a free movie at a local cinema for the participants. However, that was only listed only on one poster by the registration area and not announced to the participants. This was an interesting event to watch and participate in as a chess player.

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