Zagreb GCT: Playing it safe

by Antonio Pereira
7/7/2019 – Round ten of the Grand Chess Tour event in Zagreb finished with all six games drawn. Wesley So had the white pieces against leader Magnus Carlsen and decided to use a safety-first approach which resulted in a 36-move tie. Only Caruana v Mamedyarov, by far the longest game of the day, saw the players creating some imbalances at the board. In Sunday's final round, Carlsen will have White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and So will face Levon Aronian with the black pieces. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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No drama whatsoever

While round nine showed how enticing a draw between two elite players can be, round ten was a guidebook to what is pejoratively known as a "grandmaster draw". Pretty much all participants of the Zagreb GCT decided to play it safe on the same day, which resulted in five out of six games finishing at around two hours after the start of the round. Thus, the standings table remained unchanged and Magnus Carlsen will be able to secure his eighth consecutive tournament victory on Sunday with a win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.  

Three out of six games on Saturday finished with an opposite-coloured bishops endgame, two ended up with perfectly symmetrical pawn structures in a rook endgame, while Vachier-Lagrave v Ian Nepomniachtchi was the only encounter that saw both queens surviving until the finish line.

The final round on Sunday will have the same starting time as all ten previous rounds. Only Magnus Carlsen or Wesley So can win the whole thing — Carlsen will have White against Vachier-Lagrave and So will play with Black against Nepomniachtchi.  

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Results of Round 10

Grand Chess Tour Zagreb 2019

Croatian fans gave the players a warm welcome on Saturday | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

A little less than two hours after the round kicked off Vishy Anand signed a 45-move draw with Sergey Karjakin. The Indian ace had faced a Berlin Defence and, after having had a tough tournament in Croatia, decided to simplify and go into an absolutely drawn position with opposite-coloured bishops and symmetrical pawn structures. This is how the board looked when the game had ended:


Right when the former world champion was being interviewed by Maurice Ashley, Wesley So and Magnus Carlsen shook hands, which meant the Norwegian would go into last round with a half point advantage over his closest pursuer. Ashley took that chance to ask Anand for his opinion, as he is someone well-versed in dealing with fights for first place in top tournaments. This is what he had to say:

There isn't one answer for this situation. I mean, of course Wesley had White and he could have pressed more, but he's coming off a difficult year and suddenly he has what is really a very good result — you know, tour points, prize money, everything — so I can also understand he didn't want to take excessive risk today.

Viswanathan Anand

Former world champion Viswanathan Anand | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Wesley So had gone for a tame line against the world champion, following theory until move 14, when his novelty was an invitation to further simplify the position:


There followed 15.e5 xe5 and complete liquidation was achieved by move 36. 

The first one to go have a conversation with Maurice Ashley was Carlsen. Was he happy with the result? This was his response:

Sure, I'm happy with the draw, and it seems that, you know, Wesley wasn't gonna go all-in, that's not the way he plays, so he just tried a little bit, and I can understand that — it's not like it's only first place that's worth something here...I mean, it's a qualifier for the final and everything. He has played an excellent tournament.

It was Wesley So's turn, and he was rather apologetic regarding his decision to play it safe:

Coming into this game, I was quite in a bad mood because yesterday I played very badly, and I feel that my level of play is going down, and of course I'm playing the best player in the world, who is a hundred rating points [above] anybody else and is clearly on fire. So I wasn't particularly thrilled.

The American also pointed out the fact that it has been a long tournament — eleven rounds with a single rest day — echoing what Levon Aronian and Garry Kasparov had mentioned earlier in the event.

Magnus Carlsen

Will world champion Magnus Carlsen get an eighth tournament victory in a row? | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

Anish Giri v Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave v Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren v Levon Aronian followed suit, signing similarly quiet draws, so only two players were left in the playing hall.

Mamedyarov plays the Scandinavian

Fabiano Caruana is currently sharing third place, after having scored two wins and a loss (against Nepomniachtchi, from a completely winning position), but he has talked about how he is not happy with the quality of his play. On the other hand, his rival from round ten, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, is sitting on 'minus two' and is not having the greatest of years.

But the Azeri grandmaster is known for showing a good attitude almost no matter what. And, against Caruana, he decided to play 1...d5 against the king's pawn opening.

The longest game of the day saw both players getting small chances that were duly neutralized by the opponent. 


Fabiano Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov were left alone on the stage | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The final round will be played on Sunday, with Carlsen v Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian v So the highlights of the day. We should not forget that the world champion's rival is the current number one in the blitz ratings — after having taking down Carlsen three times in a row at that speed of play. Also, Aronian is not one to run away from a fight. You can follow the games live on our page, with running machine commentary, openings analysis, engine evaluation, and a lot more. 

Ding Liren

Ding Liren will face Mamedyarov in round eleven | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Standings after Round 10


Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, IM Jovanka Houska and GM Alejandro Ramirez

All games


Final round pairings

Round 11 - Sunday, July 7th (14:30 UT = your local time)


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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