GCT Croatia: Nepo starts strong

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/8/2021 – Two wins and a draw gave Ian Nepomniachtchi a commanding lead after day 1 at the Croatian leg of the Grand Chess Tour. Not only was the World Championship challenger the only player to end the day with a plus score, but he also showed excellent form in the first three games of the rapid section. Plenty of exciting chess was seen in Zagreb, with living legend Viswanathan Anand showing that he still has what it takes to fight on an equal footing with the world’s elite. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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A minute of silence

The third event of this year’s Grand Chess Tour started with a minute of silence for the premature passing of Yury Dokhoian, who died last week at the age of 56. Dokhoian was Garry Kasparov’s second for about ten years, until the former world champion’s retirement in 2005. Kasparov, who holds Croatian citizenship since 2014, is in Zagreb, as he will be playing the blitz section of the event throughout the weekend.

Kasparov published a heartfelt article honouring his long-time coach. In a tweet, he noted: “Preparing now for an event in Zagreb makes me remember and miss him even more. A great coach and even better person and friend.”

Three out of the five tournaments from this year’s tour are rapid and blitz events. In these contests, the rapid section grants twice as many points as the blitz section — a win grants 2 points and a draw grants 1 point in the rapid. After his strong start on day 1, Ian Nepomniachtchi has a 2-point lead over a seven-player chasing pack, currently on 3/6 points.

The challenger to the World Championship started with two whites, and he made the most of them, beating Anton Korobov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov before drawing Vishy Anand with black in the last game of the day.

Grand Chess Tour 2021

A minute of silence for Yury Dokhoian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 1: Battle of generations

Besides Nepo, Mamedyarov and Anand kicked off the tournament with wins. The Indian legend faced Jorden van Foreest, the youngest player in the field. By the time Van Foreest was born, in April 1999, Anand had already played two World Championship matches, against Kasparov in 1995 and against Anatoly Karpov in 1998 (FIDE World Championship).

In a sharp struggle, Anand went all-in for an attack on the kingside, giving up a knight on move 29.

 

White is threatening to infiltrate along the h-file, but his king is also vulnerable, as the black heavy pieces are ready to make use of the open a and c-files. Anand went for the direct 29.Nxf5, a daring sacrifice which in fact is not approved by the engines. Black could defend and actually get the upper hand with 29...Rh8, but Van Foreest did not find the manoeuvre — his 29...exf5, in contrast, allowed White to decisively infiltrate starting with 30.Qh7+.

In the opposite-coloured bishop endgame, with rooks still on the board, Anand showed good technique until getting a 54-move victory.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Viswanathan Anand, Jorden van Foreest

Vishy Anand (51 y.o.) and Jorden van Foreest (22) | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 2: More wins for White

For a second round in a row, three out of the five games finished decisively, and all of them favoured the players with the white pieces. Korobov beat Ivan Saric, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave bounced back from a loss by beating Anand, and Nepomniachtchi got the better of Mamedyarov.

Much like in his first game, Nepo gave up a piece to get a strong initiative in the centre.

 

17.e5 bxc3 and capturing on f6 is not good for White. However, Nepo had foreseen the correct continuation — 18.Nxc3 Nh5 19.g4 Bf8 (attacking the queen) 20.Qd2 Ng7 and, although Black has kept his extra piece, his army is cramped and uncoordinated.

A move later, while trying to untangle his position, Mamedyarov faltered with 21...f6. Nepo did not falter in conversion, as he went on to get a convincing victory.

 

Grand Chess Tour 2021

The playing hall in Zagreb | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 3: Saric beats Giri

Anand stopped Nepomniachtchi’s winning streak, while in the only decisive game of the round, Saric got the better of Anish Giri. Amid a manoeuvring battle, it was Saric who went for a pawn break first.

 

Commentator Sagar Shah was having trouble figuring out who was playing for a win in the preceding moves, as the rooks moved up and down the board along the a and b-files, trying to find the correct time to infiltrate the opposite camp.

Saric finally played 36.d4, and Giri responded with the imprecise 36...Rb6. After 37.Rd8 exd4 38.cxd4 Bb4 39.Nxb4 Rxb4 40.Rxd6 Nxg3 41.hxg3 White was a clean pawn up in a rook endgame.

 

The engines do not think White has a large advantage, but having the initiative carries more weight in a rapid game. Saric needed no fewer than 30 moves to convert his edge into a win.

 

Ivan Saric

Local hero Ivan Saric | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Standings after round 3

Win = 2 points, Draw = 1 point

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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karavamudan karavamudan 7/8/2021 04:51
Different styles of marking respect. While many have their heads bowed, three don't - not sure if they closed their eyes.
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