GCT Finals: Evenly matched

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/4/2019 – Two more draws were signed on Tuesday at the Grand Chess Tour semi-finals in London. Magnus Carlsen once again looked to surprise Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the opening, to which the Frenchman responded with cautious play. Meanwhile, Ding Liren found himself in an inferior position in his game with White, but Levon Aronian was not in physical conditions to push for more. Rapid and blitz games will decide the finalists on Wednesday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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No six-pointer win

When a football match is played between two teams in similar — usually leading — positions in the standings table, the match is said to be a six-pointer. Getting a win not only adds three points to the team that got the victory but also denies three points to the losing squad. At the Grand Chess Tour finals, getting a win in a classical game literally gains the winning player six points, getting him a considerable advantage before the rounds of rapid and blitz. In this year's semi-finals, no one collected a six-pointer, as all four games ended in draws.

After signing an eventful draw on Monday, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen explored a line of the Ruy Lopez that the world champion had tested with Black against Fabiano Caruana at the Zagreb GCT event. Back then, Caruana had got a favourable position, but was not able to score a full point. With 11.b3, Vachier-Lagrave deviated from that game, following a line used by Hikaru Nakamura at the Sinquefield Cup — also against Caruana:


Carlsen called 11.b3 "the safe way to play here". The ensuing variations gave the world champion what he described as "very easy play". When it was Vachier-Lagrave's turn to make his 17th move, the Frenchman took his time — more than 15 minutes — before going for simplifications:


'MVL' needed to evaluate specific continuations before choosing the forcing 17.c4. Talking to Maurice Ashley, Carlsen explained:

Basically his mindset here was that he's trying to equalize, since, even though his structure is better, the knight on a3 is so bad that there isn't anything [else] to do for him.

The world champion had a slight edge, but when he realized 21...♛b7 did not get him real chances to fight for more, he opted for 21...d7 and went on to force a draw. 

This means two of the strongest players in quicker time controls will decide their match-up in Wednesday's rapid and blitz encounters. Two rapid games, with each win worth four points, will be followed by four blitz games, with each win worth two points. A fine spectacle is in store for the fans. Vachier-Lagrave:

It's gonna be a tough fight tomorrow, but I hope I can play my trumps. [...] I think it will be vital not to get out-prepared like I did today, so I'll need to be more ready for the openings, and I think it can be a fair fight.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The other semi-final saw Levon Aronian getting a superior position out of the opening with the black pieces. Things seemed to be delving into regular paths until Ding Liren decided to force the issue with a pawn push:


China's number one later declared that he saw nothing better than 11.g4, describing his play in the ensuing middlegame as "unnatural". After hearing Ding's interview, commentator Alejandro Ramirez gave some insights into the Chinese's declarations. Ramirez referred to Ding's use of the phrase "normal position", something that according to his experience with other Chinese players usually means "equal position". Apparently, Ding felt he needed to look for an advantage after Aronian's unprincipled exchange of pawns on move 8, which pushed him to look for more when the position did not really call for such measures.

As the game progressed, Aronian had reasons to be optimistic. But suddenly, on move 25, he went for a repetition:


The draw was signed after 25...h4 26.f3 h8 27.d2 h4 28.f3 h8. Aronian did not attend the usual post-game interview, but Ding excused his rival by mentioning the fact that he still feels under the weather. With his typical mild demeanour, Ding concluded:

It seems he's not in his best physical shape, but I'm not in my best playing shape (smiles).   

Thus, the finalists of the 2017 World Cup — Aronian won that match-up — also go into the deciding third day of the semi-finals with the score tied. 


Ding Liren

Ding Liren | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Commentary webcast

Commentary by Jennifer Shahade, Peter Svidler, Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley

Schedule of the Grand Chess Tour Final

Times in UTC.

Date/Time Event Round
December 2, 16:00 Carlsen vs Vachier-Lagrave
Aronian vs Ding
Semi-final, Game 1
December 3, 16:00 Vachier-Lagrave vs Carlsen
Ding vs Aronian
Semi-final, Game 2
December 4 Semi-finals Rapid & Blitz  3-8
16:00 Rapid Game 1
17:30 Rapid Game 2
19:00 Blitz Game 1
19:30 Blitz Game 2
20:00 Blitz Game 3
20:30 Blitz Game 4
21:15 Playoff (If necessary)
December 5 Pro Biz Cup  
December 6, 16:00 Final Classical Game 1
December 7, 14:00 Final Classical Game 1
December 8 Final Rapid & Blitz  
14:00 Rapid Game 1
15:30 Rapid Game 2
17:00 Blitz Game 1
17:30 Blitz Game 2
18:00 Blitz Game 3
18:30 Blitz Game 4
19:15 Playoff (If necessary)

Closing ceremony to follow


6 points for a win, 3 points for a draw and 0 points for a loss in the two Classic games
4 points for a win, 2 points for a draw and 0 points for a loss in the two Rapid games 
2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw 0 points for a loss in the four blitz games


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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