GCT Finals: Carlsen's streak still alive

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/8/2019 – Magnus Carlsen's last classical game of 2019 almost ended in defeat, as he was about to lose his (now) 107-game undefeated streak against Levon Aronian in the match for third place of the Grand Chess Tour finals. Meanwhile, in the fight for the title, Ding Liren obtained a nice win with White over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The British Knockout Championship took place alongside the GCT finals — Michael Adams won the event after beating David Howell in the final. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Ding gets convincing win

Both matches of the Grand Chess Tour finals reached the rapid and blitz phases with one of the players having a six-point lead. In the fight for first place, Ding Liren scored a fine positional win with the white pieces after having failed to take down Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in game one. In the match for third place, meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen escaped with a draw in the rematch classical encounter against Levon Aronian. Thus, the world champion kept his unbeaten streak — he has not lost a single of his last 107 classical games!  

Final C1 C2 R1 R2 B1 B2 B3 B4 Total
Ding Liren ½ 1             9
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½ 0             3
3rd place C1 C2 R1 R2 B1 B2 B3 B4 Total
Magnus Carlsen 1 ½             9
Levon Aronian 0 ½             3

Magnus Carlsen, London Chess Classic 2019

The streak continues, and the fans are still in awe of their hero | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Ding was excellently prepared to face the opening that ensued in his game against Vachier-Lagrave. He later told Maurice Ashley he had seen the exact position that showed up on the board after 16 moves:


The commentators had judged Vachier-Lagrave's 16...fc8 here as questionable, and the Chinese agreed, stating that he had not found a sensible idea for Black in this position. Ding was quite happy with his 17.e4 response, and soon gained control over the proceedings.

His positional superiority was so clear that he afforded to manoeuvre his rook back into a defensive position when he considered it necessary:


After doubling his rooks on the a-file, he decided to play 28.e1 here, fearing a sacrifice by White on e3. 

Ding's handling of his advantage was masterful. Vachier-Lagrave put all his hopes on his passer on the a-file, but when he had pushed his asset all the way down to a2, the Chinese struck with a lethal blow on the kingside:


48.xg7 was White's winning shot. Vachier-Lagrave resigned after 48...xg7 49.g1+ f8 50.f5+. Ding confessed afterwards (referring to the rook capture):

I checked it many times. I remembered that yesterday I played too quickly.


Ding Liren, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Ding Liren has dominated both games of the final | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The second classical encounter in the match for third place was a thriller, especially due to the fact that Magnus Carlsen was inches away from losing his astounding 100-plus unbeaten streak in the very last classical game of the year. For Levon Aronian, this would have been a great morale booster after his haphazard play in London, but it was not to be...

Aronian went for a bold approach right out of the gate:


The Armenian went for the throat with 11.h4, to which Carlsen responded in kind with 11...b5. The Norwegian's advance turned out to be overly optimistic, as Aronian slowly but surely got the upper hand. Carlsen felt he had a clearly worse position after 23.h3:


The world champion found what engines consider to be one of his best alternatives with 23...d5, giving up a second pawn — 24.exd5 a8 25.f3 b8 26.c2.

White was clearly in the driver's seat, and Aronian seemed to be en route to a noteworthy victory, but his clock kept ticking down and his rival continued to pose problems in the complex struggle. First, Carlsen bridged the gap with a nice trick on move 35; some five moves later, he faltered, allowing Aronian to recover his edge; and, on move 43, the Armenian used a good-looking trick...that did not quite work in his favour: 


Aronian played 43.f7, with the following line in mind: 43...xf7 44.f4 g6 45.xf8+ g7 46.d1 xf8 47.f4, forking queen and rook. Unfortunately for the Armenian, the queen endgame that arose gave Black chances to hold — Carlsen defended accurately and the draw was signed on move 81. The world champion explained:

43.f7 is a nice trick, but obviously it's unnecessary. Realistically, it just gets me back into the game, which I didn't really deserve.

As usual, the world champion was self-critical and honest while evaluating his play:

First of all, it was — objectively speaking — an awful game quality-wise. I just made so many mistakes, and I think he made a number as well. Obviously I was lost, completely lost, but I hung in there and managed to get this queen ending...

Maurice Ashley, naturally, asked him about his unbeaten streak, and a tired-looking yet contented Carlsen responded: 

It's befitting to end the year in classical chess with an escape, since I've had a few of those. And that's what you need to keep the streak going.


Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian was inches away from ending Carlsen's amazing streak | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Adams wins the British KO

It has already become a tradition for the London Chess Classic to host the British Knockout Championship alongside the main grandmaster tournament (now part of the GCT) and many other side events. This year's British KO saw the four strongest active players from the Isle reaching the semi-finals — Matthew Sadler is in fact the second highest-rated player from England, but he barely plays of late. In the end, Michael Adams prevailed, as he beat David Howell in the final. Adams had eliminated Luke McShane in the semis, while Howell had knocked out Gawain Jones.

Michael Adams

At 48, Mickey Adams is still going strong | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The semi-finals followed the following format: 2 classical games, followed by 2 rapid and 4 blitz games, followed by 2 blitz playoff games and an Armageddon blitz game if required to decide the winner of each match.

In the midst of the event, the organizers decided to use a different format for the final, with 4 rapid games followed by 6 blitz encounters. After drawing the first two rapid games, Adams scored two consecutive wins. The second of these wins saw the veteran hunting Black's king in the centre:


Howell was already in a difficult situation, but his 21...xe4 was a grave mistake, as it allowed 22.e7+ c8 23.xf7 c6 24.f8+ and White has a big edge. 

Back in August, Adams also won his seventh British Champion title in Torquay, when he finished a half point ahead of Howell.

David Howell

David Howell has been showing great results lately | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Semi-finals results
Semi-final 1 C1 C2 R1 R2 B1 B2 B3 B4 Total
David Howell 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 15
Gawain Jones 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 13
Semi-final 2 C1 C2 R1 R2 B1 B2 B3 B4 Total
Michael Adams ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ 0 1 15
Luke McShane ½ ½ 1 0 0 ½ 1 0 13
Final results
Final R1 R2 R3 R4 B1 B2 B3 B4 B5 B6 Total
Michael Adams ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ 18
David Howell ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 10
Scoring (semi-finals and final)
  • In the Standardplay games, a win shall score 6 points, a draw 3 points and a loss 0 points.
  • In the Rapid games, a win shall score 4 points, a draw 2 points and a loss 0 points.
  • In the Blitz games, a win shall score 2 points, a draw 1 point and a loss 0 points.

All available games - British KO


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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