GCT Zagreb: Ding Liren beats Giri

by Antonio Pereira
7/1/2019 – A wild round was followed by a quieter one in Zagreb, as five games ended in draws, with most of them not living up to the level of excitement seen on Saturday. Only Ding Liren defeated Anish Giri to bounce back to 50% in the standings table. The other highlight of the day was Levon Aronian not managing to convert a big advantage — which emerged from brilliant play in the early stage of the game — against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Ian Nepomniachtchi defended well against Hikaru Nakamura and still leads. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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A gruelling schedule

Croatian citizen Garry Kasparov again gave expert insights during the commentary webcast of the Zagreb GCT. He mentioned how having such a busy schedule might lower the quality of the games among the elite players. With the Grand Chess Tour including more events and FIDE's Grand Prix in the mix, some players have few chances to catch long enough breaks to get back on their feet and show their actual level at the board. In addition, the tournament in Zagreb has only one rest day, after round six.

In round five, world champion Magnus Carlsen faced yet another former challenger in Sergey Karjakin, and achieved a comfortable 42-move draw with Black, while the leader Ian Nepomniachtchi also had Black against Hikaru Nakamura and defended a slightly inferior position until getting the half point after 65 moves. 

The most exciting game of the round certainly was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs. Levon Aronian, in which the Armenian played enterprising chess until getting a winning advantage, but it was not to be for Aronian, who ended up acquiescing to a draw after 39 moves. The only winner of the day was Ding Liren, who was Black and outplayed Anish Giri in a rook endgame.

Results of Round 5

Levon Aronian, Garry Kasparov

Former world champion Garry Kasparov has Levon Aronian thinking | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Ding back on 50%

World's number three Ding Liren lost in round one against Wesley So, but his victory over Anish Giri on Saturday helped him bounce back to an even score. The players left the opening with symmetrical pawn structures but plenty of pieces still alive. By move 41, the panorama had clarified, and Black was the one playing for two results:


There followed 41...xd6 42.exd6 c6 and Black went on to capture the pawn and bring his king to the centre of the board. Later on, the bishops left the board and a pure rook endgame with Black having an extra d-pawn was handled efficaciously by the Chinese, who took home the full point after 65 moves.

Anish Giri, Ding Liren

It was Ding Liren's first win of the event, and he got it against Anish Giri | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Aronian cannot find the win

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's play in Zagreb is reminiscent of the years in which the Azerbaijani went all-in at every turn, choosing the most risky continuations whenever he had a chance. He played a sharp game against Magnus Carlsen on Saturday and was all but busted the very next day against Levon Aronian. Mamedyarov had a strong centre but Aronian's initiative on the queenside was developing alarmingly quickly:


The Armenian spent less than four minutes on 19...xd4 and after 20.cxd4 xd4 Black's queenside pawns are just rolling down the board. The game continued 21.a1 b2 22.ab1:


Now Aronian invested more time before opting for the brilliant 22...c3. White captured the queen during the sequence 23.f3 xd2 24.xb2 cxb2 and it seemed like Aronian was en route to sign a memorable win. 

But the Armenian was spoiled for choice and was not able  to decide on a clear-cut plan. Most notably, on move 27:


The straight-forward idea of playing 27...♜8d3 followed by ...a4, ...a3, ...a2 was clearly winning, but Aronian opted for 27...c2 instead, and five moves later the computer was already showing triple zeros. It ended up being a very disappointing 39-move draw for Aronian, who has drawn all his games so far in Zagreb. 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Levon Aronian

Levon Aronian in hunter mode against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Other draws 

After his loss against Fabiano Caruana in the first round, US champion Hikaru Nakamura has kept things cool, drawing his remaining four games before his round six match-up against world champion Magnus Carlsen. On Sunday, he had the white pieces and was the one pushing against current leader Ian Nepomniachtchi.


There is material equality and perfectly symmetrical pawn structures but White has gained a big spatial advantage on the kingside. Nakamura kept trying to make something out of his slight positional trumps until move 65, but it was never enough to topple Nepomniachtchi's defences. 

Hikaru Nakamura

Current US champion Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

In 2016, the World Championship featured Sergey Karjakin as the challenger, and the Russian even got to score the first win in the eighth game against a visibly unsettled Magnus Carlsen. As we all know, however, Carlsen eventually prevailed. In Zagreb, Karjakin had the white pieces and could not get much out of the opening. For once, the world champion finished his game rather quickly, signing the draw in the following position:


Sergey Karjakin, Magnus Carlsen

Sergey Karjakin versus Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The second all-American clash of the tournament, Fabiano Caruana vs Wesley So, was a 41-move draw, while Vishy Anand could not make much of his game with White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and ended up splitting the point after 43 moves.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Ian Nepomniachtchi kept the lead | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Standings after Round 5


Commentary webcast

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

All games



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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