GCT Croatia: Nepo leads as Kasparov struggles

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/11/2021 – It was a tough day at the office for Garry Kasparov in Zagreb. The former world champion scored ½ point in the 9 rounds of blitz played at the Croatia Grand Chess Tour. The strongest performer in the first half of the blitz section was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who collected 6½ points and goes into the last day of action a half point behind sole leader Ian Nepomniachtchi. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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MVL the top scorer on Saturday

No player managed to go through the first 9 rounds of blitz undefeated at the Croatia Grand Chess Tour, but two of them only lost once on Saturday — Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. While Giri collected 3 wins, though, MVL managed to get full points no fewer than 5 times, including a crucial victory over tournament leader Ian Nepomniachtchi. Thanks to his 6½/9 score, Vachier-Lagrave is now only a half point behind the Russian.

For Nepo, things did not start all that well on Saturday, as he lost 2 out of his first 4 games. However, the Russian star lined up 4 victories in the remaining rounds to keep his spot atop the standings table.

Even though the fight for first place in the tournament has heated up, most eyes were put on the retired grandmaster in the field, as Garry Kasparov once again agreed to face some of the strongest active players in the world in a blitz tournament. Given how much Vladimir Kramnik had struggled in Paris, it was to be expected that Kasparov would not have it easy against his young opponents. However, his 8 losses in 9 rounds were a bit painful to see.

Chess fans all over the world know how competitive the man from Baku actually is. Thus, we expect to see the 58-year-old showing some of the brilliant play he is so well-known for in the remaining 9 rounds.

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov | Photo: Lennart Ootes

MVL’s play was mostly impressive throughout, but he also had his fair share of luck to finish the day as the top scorer — as is usually the case in blitz events. The Frenchman saved lost positions against Jan-Krzysztof Duda and, most notably, against Garry Kasparov!

 

Things had gone badly wrong for White (MVL) in the opening phase of the game. At this point, the engines evaluate the position as completely winning for Black, as White’s rook and bishop on the queenside are mere spectators while Black is threatening to break through on the other flank of the board.

Kasparov, however, came from losing 6 out of 7 games, and lacked the confidence to find the sharp moves needed to convert his position into a win. Imprecise moves by the Russian slowly allowed White to untangle and, when time trouble reared its ugly head, the living legend blundered in an equal position and went on to lose the game.

 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Garry Kasparov

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ready to face the legend | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepo and MVL are clearly the main contenders to take first place on Sunday, but Giri’s chances should not be underestimated. The Dutchman stands a full point behind Vachier-Lagrave with 9 rounds to go, and has shown great tactical awareness on the first half of the blitz section.

Giri kicked off the day with a win over Vishy Anand. The Indian blundered into a mating net on move 35.

 

Black needed to block the check with 35...Nf8, which would have kept the dynamic balance in the position. Anand’s 35...Kg7, on the other hand, was swiftly punished by Giri — 36.Rg8+ Kh6 37.Bf4 (perhaps what Anand had missed?) exf4 38.Qxf4 Qxf2 39.Rg6+

 

Anand resigned, as after 39...Kh5 the light-squared bishop decisively joins the attack with 40.Bd1+. A pretty find by Giri!

 

Anish Giri

Anish Giri right after knocking down both kings in his game against Anton Korobov | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Despite his early loss, Anand managed to bounce back and finish the day with a strong 5½/9 performance, scoring victories over Kasparov, Duda, Anton Korobov and Jorden van Foreest. The Indian is in shared fourth place in the standings table, 2½ points behind the leader.

Van Foreest was in an uncomfortable position against the man from Madras when he blundered decisively with the white pieces.

 

43.Rb1 loses to 43...Nd2 44.Ra1 Rc2. Black not only captured the b-pawn — he also trapped his opponent’s: 45.Nd4 Rxb2 46.Ra3 Rb1+ 47.Kf2 Nc4. White resigned.

 

Viswanathan Anand

Still got it — Vishy Anand | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Overall standings 

Croatia Grand Chess Tour 2021

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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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