GCT Croatia: Ready for Garry

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/10/2021 – After starting the rapid section of the Croatia GCT with back-to-back wins, Ian Nepomniachtchi never let go of the lead — the Russian goes into the final two days of action a full point ahead of a 4-player chasing pack. In the blitz section, Garry Kasparov will replace Croatian GM Ivan Saric. Saric had a great performance, scoring two wins, six draws and a single loss against his higher-rated colleagues. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Nepo still in the lead

The rapid section of the Grand Chess Tour event in Zagreb came to an end on Friday. Ian Nepomniachtchi is leading the standings table with 11/18 points (+2). The Russian drew all three of his games on the third day of competition. Four players go into the 18-round blitz section a full point behind him — Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Ivan Saric (note that wins are worth 2 points in the rapid and 1 point in the blitz).

Saric will not participate in the blitz section, as he will be replaced by Garry Kasparov. Much like in the Paris leg, the organizers invited a special wildcard, with the proviso that he will only play the second half of the event — in Paris, Vladimir Kramnik ‘replaced’ Etienne Bacrot. According to the regulations, the points collected by Saric and Kasparov will be added in the final standings table, so it is possible for the ever-competitive former world champion to get a ‘shared’ tournament victory.

Both Saric and Bacrot were the lowest-rated players in Paris and Zagreb, and both had strong performances, each scoring 10/18 points in the rapid. Kramnik did not have it easy in France, as he merely collected 5/18 points in the blitz — the lack of competitive practice, naturally, had much to do with the subpar performance. Kasparov will surely try to improve on his compatriot’s showing.

Ivan Saric

Ivan Saric had a good performance in Zagreb | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Three decisive games

The first two rounds on Friday saw all games ending in draws, mostly in encounters that were balanced from start to finish. In the third round of the day, however, three decisive results had a considerable impact on the standings table.

First, Duda beat Korobov after the latter failed to find a forcing continuation that would have given him a remarkable win with the black pieces.

 

Despite being a piece down and having a miserable bishop trapped on h8, Black can get a winning advantage by making the most of his passed pawn and the initiative on the queenside. After thinking for a bit over a minute, Korobov faltered with 27...Rb8+. The winning continuation (and a forcing one at that) started with 27...Qb4+, and Black wins after 28.Ka1 Rxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Rb8

 

White is in deep trouble. After 30.Qd2, the dark-squared bishop comes alive with 30...Bxf6 and Black’s pieces are perfectly coordinated.

None of this happened, though, as Korobov’s missed chance was followed by another mistake, and Duda went on to get the full point in a wild tactical struggle.

 

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Anton Korobov

Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Anton Korobov | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Much like Duda, Giri joined the chasing pack in the last round of the rapid section. The Dutchman inflicted Vishy Anand’s second loss of the event. 

 

Black is a pawn down, but he also has the bishop pair. In addition, White’s d5-knight is pinned at the moment. After reflecting for 3 minutes, Anand erred with 28...Bxa3, which does get the pawn back, but also allows White to simplify into a better position with 29.Nf6+ Kg7 30.Qxa3 Qxa3 31.bxa3 Kxf6 32.d5

 

Anand faltered again with 32...Kg7 (32...Rc2 or 32...h5 were better tries), and Giri went on to show good technique until getting a 51-move win.

In the first diagrammed position, Anand had the strong 28...Rd8.

 

Black makes the most of the pin. For example, after 29.Qb3 Black gains (at least) an exchange with 29...Bxd5 30.Qxd5 Bb4.

It was a painful miss for the Indian legend.

 

Anish Giri

Anish Giri discussing the game with Vishy Anand | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov defeated Jorden van Foreest to end the rapid section with a fifty percent score. The game concluded with a peculiar material imbalance on the board.

 

Things had gone south for White ten moves earlier. It is always tough to deal with such double-edged positions while facing a player of Mamedyarov’s tactical strength.

 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Jorden van Foreest

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov beat this year’s Tata Steel Masters winner Jorden van Foreest | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings - Rapid

Win = 2 points; Draw = 1 point

 

All games

 

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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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