MVL wins Croatia GCT with a round to spare, Anand shines

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/11/2021 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the clear winner of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour’s third leg, played in Zagreb. The Frenchman had an undefeated 6½/9 performance on Sunday, and managed to secure first place with a round to spare. Vishy Anand had a great day as well, as he also scored 6½ points in the second half of the blitz section to get sole second place. Anish Giri finished third, while Garry Kasparov continued to struggle against his younger opponents. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“Caissa is a jealous mistress”

After merely scoring a half point in 9 rounds on Saturday, things kicked off well for Garry Kasparov on the last day of action in Zagreb. The former world champion beat Jorden van Foreest with white in his first game of the day, but went back to his losing ways the very next round. In the end, 2 more draws in the remaining 8 rounds meant he finished the tournament with a 2½/18 score. The self-critical chess legend apologized on Twitter:

Sorry I couldn’t do better for the fans who gave me so much support at [the Croatia Rapid & Blitz tournament]. But time is undefeated, and Caissa is a jealous mistress who punishes anyone who ignores her as much as I do!

Maxime Vachier-LagraveIn the same tweet, Kasparov congratulated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Vishy Anand and Ivan Saric. While Saric impressed with his 10/18 performance in the rapid (despite being the lowest-rated player in the field), MVL and Anand were ruthless on Sunday, as both of them scored 6½ points in 9 rounds to climb to sole first and second places respectively.

For MVL, this might be the start of a much-wanted recovery after his lacklustre start to the year. The Frenchman recently told Dhananjay Khadilkar in Chalons-en Champagne:

It’s good that we finished this edition of the Candidates once and for all and move on to another cycle of tournaments. One of my aims is to get back in the top 10 very soon. The other is to qualify for the next Candidates which is not going to be easy. But it’s going to be an exciting challenge.

Thanks to his great performance in Zagreb, the 30-year-old climbed to fourth place in the blitz-chess world ranking, while he might as well secure a ticket to the next Candidates in the upcoming World Cup in Sochi — the Frenchman reached the semis in three out of the five World Cups he played in, including the last two editions!

The other big winner in Zagreb was 51-year-old Vishy Anand. The Indian legend finished in sole second place in the quickplay tournament ahead of blitz specialists Anish Giri, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Remarkably, this was the first over-the-board tournament Anand plays in a bit over a year and a half (since Wijk aan Zee 2020). The veteran is currently the fifth highest rated blitz player in the world!

Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand

“How did you do it?” | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand

“I don’t know, the moves just kept appearing in my head!” | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepo cannot keep up the pace

World Championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed bound to win the tournament, as he finished all first four days of action in the sole lead. Besides being in excellent form, he was probably still using some ‘leftovers’ from the great theoretical preparation that allowed him to win the Candidates back in April. However, his four draws and single win on Sunday meant he would only get shared fourth place in the final standings.

Ahead of Nepo, in sole third place, finished Anish Giri — the Dutch star had perhaps the most stable performance throughout. In round 13 of the blitz, he held Van Foreest to a draw in a rook ending a pawn down.


Endgame specialist Karsten Müller took a closer look at the technique needed to keep the balance in this tricky position, and noted:

Of course, usually blitz games are not analysed, but in this case the players are extremely strong. And by the way: I had one endgame training session for 5 days with Anish in Hamburg, and one with Jorden in the Netherlands!


Anish Giri

Fully focused — Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov kicked off the day 4 points behind the leader, but an impressive run of 5 wins in the first 6 rounds on Sunday left him 1½ points behind MVL with 3 rounds to go. Unfortunately for the Azerbaijani, losses against Anton Korobov and Giri in the last stretch of the event left him in sole sixth place in the final standings.

In round 11, Shakh had a queen and a dangerous passer against Nepo’s pair of active rooks. 


As GM Müller demonstrates in his analysis below, White could have held the draw with the impressive 37.a6, while Nepo’s 37.Rxb7 allowed the h-pawn to decide the game in Black’s favour. The power of coordination!


Garry Kasparov, Maurice Ashley

The tournament is over — Garry Kasparov had a bad event, but he dominated the world of competitive chess for a bit over two decades! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Final standings

Croatia Grand Chess Tour 2021

Click to enlarge

All games - Blitz


All games - Rapid



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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