GCT Croatia: Saric stops Nepo

by André Schulz
7/9/2021 – After five rounds at the Croatian leg of the Grand Chess Tour, Ian Nepomniachtchi had a 2-point lead in the standings table (a win is worth 2 points in this phase of the event). But then local representative Ivan Saric defeated the leader in a beautiful game. Nepomniachtchi remains in first place, nevertheless. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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A 1-point lead

Things were looking great for Ian Nepomniachtchi after five rounds at the Croatia Grand Chess Tour event. The Russian had finished day 1 with a comfortable 2-point lead, and had kept his commanding lead in the first two rounds of day 2.

Nepomniachtchi started the day with a win over Alexander Grischuk. The World Championship challenger used a small trick to gain a pawn.


22.Be4 With a threat that Black ignores.

22...Be7 [22...dxe3 23.fxe3 Rdc8 White is slightly better with the bishop pair.]

23.Bxc6 Rxc6 24.Bxd4 This was the intention. White has won a pawn. Now follows the technical conversion.

24...Rdc8 25.Bc3 f5 26.Kf1 Kf7 27.Rc2 g5 28.Ke2 Ke6 29.Rdc1 h5 30.h3 Bd6 31.Bb2 Kd5 32.g4 hxg4 33.hxg4 fxg4 34.e4+ Ke6 35.d4 R6c7 36.d5+ Kf7 37.Rg1 c4 38.bxc4 Rxc4 39.Rxc4 Rxc4 40.Kd3 Ra4 41.e5 Bc5


42.Rc1 Rc4 [42...Bxf2 43.e6+ Kg6 44.d6+–] 43.Rh1 Rf4 44.e6+ Kg6 45.Be5 Rxf2 46.d6 Rf5 47.Ke4 1–0

Ian Nepomniachtchi | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the fifth round, the leader drew Jan-Krzysztof Duda. His immediate pursuers were Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Viswanathan Anand. Vachier-Lagrave had beaten Duda and then drawn Ivan Saric. Anand drew against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and then defeated Anton Korobov in a difficult game.

Viswanathan Anand | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the last round of the day, however, Saric put a stop to Nepomniachtchi’s undefeated streak. In a long theoretical variation in the Sveshnikov — up to move 23 there was still a predecessor — a rook-and-bishop endgame ensued, in which Saric had a small advantage with the black pieces, thanks to his control of a half-open line and the more active bishop.


23.Ke2 Rab8 24.a3 g6 25.h5 Kg7 26.Rh3 Rfc8 27.Kd3 Kf6 28.hxg6 hxg6 29.Rh7 The rook is not well placed here.

29...Rc7 30.Be4 Kg5 31.Ke2 [31.Kc2]

31...b4 [31...Kxg4?? 32.Rg1+ Bg3 33.Rxg3+ Kf4 34.Rh4#]

32.cxb4 axb4 33.a4 b3 34.Kf3 Rb4


35.a5 Rxe4 Temporarily gaining a piece. In the end, it is actually an exchange sacrifice.

36.a6 [36.Kxe4 f5+]

36...Rd4 37.a7 e4+ 38.Kg2 Rxa7 Black has to give back a rook, but he als0o gets a passed pawn on the b-file and a few extra pawns.

39.Rxa7 Rd2 40.Kf1 Rxb2


41.Rb7 Kxg4 42.Rh8 Be5 43.Rhb8 Rb1+ 44.Kg2 b2 45.Rxf7 White is still resisting, but it will not be enough.

45...Rd1 46.Rfb7 Rxd5 47.Rb4 Kf5 48.Rf8+ Ke6 49.Re8+ Kd7 50.Reb8 Rd1 51.R4b7+ Ke6 52.Rxb2 Bxb2 53.Rxb2 d5 54.Rb8 d4 55.Rg8 Kf5 56.Rf8+ Kg5 57.Re8 Kf4 58.Rf8+ Ke5 59.Re8+ Kd5 60.Rg8 d3 61.Rxg6 d2 62.Rg8 Kc4 63.Rd8 Kc3 0–1

Standings after round 6

Win = 2 points, Draw = 1 point


All games



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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