GCT Finals: Carlsen wins, Vachier-Lagrave escapes

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/7/2019 – Two long and exciting games kicked off the final stage of the Grand Chess Tour in London. Ding Liren had a large advantage but could not convert it into a win against a resilient Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Magnus Carlsen defeated Levon Aronian with the white pieces to get ahead right out of the gate in the match for third place. The duels continue on Saturday, starting two hours earlier than usual. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Four queens on the board

Peter Svidler in the commentary booth called the start of the final stage of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour "a tremendous day of classical chess", pointing out that this is "everything you could wish for and more". And we can only agree, as we saw Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave reaching an endgame with four queens of the board, while Magnus Carlsen showed his usual ruthless technique to take down an out-of-sorts Levon Aronian.

Going into the second classical game of the series, Carlsen has a huge six-point lead, which means a draw will put him as a clear favourite before Sunday's rapid and blitz stages. In the meantime, Ding will try to redeem himself from the missed chance, and he will do it with the white pieces. The weekend rounds start two hours earlier than usual, at 14:00 UTC (15:00 CET, 9:00 EST).

London Chess Classic 2019

The Pro Biz Cup, where players paired up with entrepreneurs, took place on the rest day — the protagonists posing in front of a nice painting | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

In the first game of the final, Ding got a slight edge out of the opening, but the lack of material on the board seemed it would be hard for him to make much of it. However, he did find the way to stir trouble on the kingside when given the chance. Later, he confessed he felt proud of his pawn push on move 34:


Black needs to do something quickly if he wants to take advantage of the white knight being so out of play — thus 34...g5. Understandably, Vachier-Lagrave felt the need to spend some time at this point, but after almost half an hour he opted for 35.d2 instead of 35.hxg5, the best defensive attempt according to Ding. 

When the minor pieces left the board, Black had a winning queen endgame. Ding was pushing his edge proficiently — Vachier-Lagrave considered resigning at some point — but these positions are known for being tricky. Five hours had passed since the beginning of the round and the players were already calculating possible ensuing endings with four queens on the board...and the Chinese suddenly faltered:


Ding thought that he had mate if he queened first after 66...c2, but as the game continuation showed that was not the case. He needed to play 66...fxg6 in the diagrammed position, when the white queen cannot both continue to check the king and defend the f3-pawn.

The game continued 67.gxf7 c1 68.f8♕, and Ding tried to mate the white king until move 90, but to no avail. The game was drawn. After the miraculous escape, Vachier-Lagrave told Maurice Ashley:

Of course it's good news not to have lost this game, but that's probably the only positive I can take from it. [...] The play I showed today is unworthy of the final, so I have to correct that tomorrow.

The ever-polite Ding looked at the bright side after having missed a huge chance to get a considerable edge on the score board. He said, smiling:

At least I played a very good middlegame. I created chances.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ding Liren

It was a tough first game of the final | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

By that time, Magnus Carlsen had already secured a six-point lead over Levon Aronian in the match for third place. As the commentators mentioned more than once, playing for third must not be the most pleasant feeling for someone as competitive as the world champion, but that did not prevent him from winning game one. It must be pointed out that Aronian has been feeling under the weather all throughout the week — he even withdrew from the last stage of the Grand Prix in Jerusalem, citing medical issues.

In the game, Carlsen out-calculated his rival in the middlegame, giving up an exchange before entering a favourable endgame a pawn to the good:


White is two pawns up, but needs to coordinate his pieces before moving forward. Carlsen found 41.xe6 here, eliminating the bothersome knight in order to harmonize his position. Aronian had to give back the material some moves later, going into an ending with rooks and bishops of opposite colours. White's passed c-pawn was unstoppable. Resignation came on move 66.


Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian

Aronian is not having a good week in London | 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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