The Unstoppable Magnus Carlsen

When we last checked in with the Croatia stop of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour, it looked like Ian Nepomniachtchi was off to the races, his full point lead over the field after three rounds a harbinger of success to come.

But that’s why, as the saying goes, they play the games.

courtesy STLCC

Magnus Carlsen has displayed indominatable fighting spirit as he has ascended the leaderboard, scoring +4 (6/8) after eight rounds of play to hold first place as today’s Round 9 is underway. Carlsen’s victories over Nepomniachtchi (Round 7) and Ding Liren (Round 8) are his first wins over both players in classical time controls, and he can achieve the highest recorded FIDE rating with 2.5 points in the final three rounds.

Wesley So is hot on Carlsen’s heels, standing alone is second place with +3 (5.5/8). Fabiano Caruana is one of three players, along with Nepomniachtchi and Aronian, tied for third place a full point behind So. Hikaru Nakamura is enduring a rough event, and he is tied for last place with Mamedyarov heading into today’s Round 9.

Here’s a recap of most recent three rounds.


courtesy STLCC

After two drawish rounds – only one game was decisive in Rounds 4 and 5! – and with the rest day looming, there were fireworks galore in Round 6. Perhaps Caruana put it best when, asked by Maurice Ashley if he were surprised by all the fighting chess, he said that

It’s clear that everyone has been playing both very risky chess and enterprising chess and a lot of people are off form, so I’m not at all surprised that there are a lot of decisive results today.

So picked up the shortest win of the round with a neat positional pawn sacrifice.

Wesley So (photo Lennart Ootes)

Carlsen-Nakamura (photo Lennart Ootes)

Carlsen defeated Nakamura in a 5.Bf4 QGD after Nakamura lost the thread around move 21.

Fabiano Caruana (photo Justin Kellar)

And Caruana claimed the full point in his game against Vachier-Lagrave, essaying a somewhat unfashionable line of the Neo-Arkhangel and winning in 37 moves.


courtesy STLCC

There was perhaps a bit of a rest-day ‘hangover’ on Wednesday’s Round 7, with five of six games drawn, and four of them drawn fairly uncontroversially. But Carlsen took some risks in his game against Nepomniachtchi, defeating the Russian for the first time at classical time controls.

On the surface the Karjakin-So game is just another elite GM draw, but a rare case of ‘chess blindness’ struck both players on move 20.

Wesley So looks on as Karjakin is interviewed by Maurice Ashley (photo Lennart Ootes)

While So’s 20. … Bd6 is an outright blunder, Karjakin missed the killing 21.Rxf5!, and instead played 21.Re2 after which the game was soon drawn by repetition. Incredibly neither player seems to have recognized their errors until Maurice Ashley asked Karjakin about it in the post-game interview.


courtesy STLCC

The story of Round 8 is Carlsen’s impressive victory over Ding Liren, his first win over Ding at classical time controls, and featuring a unexploded opening landmine left over from the 2018  World Championship Match.

Ding Liren-Carlsen (photo Lennart Ootes)

So-Nakamura (photo Lennart Ootes)

So defeated a clearly out-of-form Nakamura after Nakamura slipped in a tricky king and pawn ending.

Anish Giri found a tricky tactic to grab a win against Mamedyarov, delighting Yasser Seirawan and the Saint Louis crew immensely.

Caruana held the worse side of a rook and knight versus rook ending against Anand, while both Aronian-Nepomniachtchi and MVL-Karjakin were drawn.

The Croatia Grand Chess Tour will be contested from June 26th-July 8th, with rounds played at 4:30 local time / 10:30 EDT. There is one rest day on July 2nd.

Live round-by-round streaming coverage is available on the Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube channel:

English language: GMs Alejandro Ramirez, Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley, and IM Jovanka Houska.

Russian language: GMs Evegnij Mironhnichenko and Melik Khachiyan.

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