Zagreb GCT: Carlsen and So catch up with Nepomniachtchi

by Antonio Pereira
7/2/2019 – The last round before the only rest day in Zagreb saw former sole leader Ian Nepomniachtchi suffering a first loss — against Ding Liren — which allowed Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So to catch up with him on 4 points out of 6. Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian also won, while the only draw of the day was seen in Anish Giri versus Vishy Anand. The action continues on Wednesday, when Nepomniachtchi will have the white pieces against Magnus Carlsen. | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

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Five winners 

After the last four rounds combined only saw three decisive results, five out of six games on Monday had a winner. The fact that sole leader Ian Nepomniachtchi was among those relinquishing a full point meant that two other players caught up with him in shared first place. Three chasers are merely a half point behind, which means everything is still up for grabs in Croatia's capital.

Ding Liren scored a second win in a row, this time with White, over the early leader of the event. Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So also won with the white pieces, taking down Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, respectively, and are now co-leaders. The other winners of the day were Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana, who are both sharing second place with Ding Liren on 3½ out of 6. 

Results of Round 6

Zagreb Grand Chess Tour 2019

It was certainly an exciting round | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

Following a perfect 3/3 start, Ian Nepomniachtchi saved two half points in rounds four and five — fortune was undoubtedly smiling on the Russian, but Lady Luck turned her back on him in round six. The first player to take him down in Zagreb was Ding Liren, who played enterprising chess against Black's uncastled king:


Given the positional flaws in Black's position, it made sense for Nepomniachtchi to go for a direct thrust on the kingside with 18...h5. But, following a well-known instructional advice, Ding Liren responded to an attack on the flank with a central push — 19.e4. Both players continued their plans subsequently: 19...h4 20.exf5 xf5 21.ae1+ d8.

White's pieces were adequately placed to go for an attack against the unprotected king, and Ding Liren proved he knows how to handle a position that calls for active, forthright manoeuvres. When he got to double on the e-file, it was pretty clear he would be leaving the playing hall victorious:


32.e3 followed and there is little Black can do in terms of putting up resistance. Resignation came after 32...c7 33.e6 d7 34.d6 c8 35.h1.

Ding Liren

Ding Liren is now on plus one | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

New co-leaders

It has always been a particularly tough task for Hikaru Nakamura to face world champion Magnus Carlsen in classical chess. In addition, it was not of much help to go into a sharp position while following an Anand vs Carlsen game from the 2014 World Championship match. Both players were spending quite a lot of time in the early middlegame, as they were in the midst of a complex tactical struggle:


Nakamura's 21...ec8 was worse than the alternative 21...♝f6, which would have taken care of the dangerous long diagonal — after the text, Carlsen played 22.b2, precisely lining up his queen and bishop. The game continued 22...c5 23.e3 xb3 and now Carlsen made use of his battery:


After the sequence 24.xg7 g4 28.xh6, the defences around Black's king were insurmountably damaged. Nakamura created counter-chances against White's g2-pawn, but Carlsen was already in control and neutralized his opponent's attempts without much difficulty. The world champion simplified into an endgame a pawn up and got the victory after 43 moves.

Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura is not happy with his position | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

Meanwhile, Wesley So quietly joined the leading pack by taking down Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with the white pieces. The Azeri played with fire for a third day in a row, but this time did not leave unscathed. In fact, he was swiftly punished for recklessly advancing his kingside pawns:


So confessed later on that he was proud of his 20.c6 in this position. The idea is that after 20...xc6 he can bring his knight to the attack with tempo: 21.d4 b7 22.b5. The American conducted the rest of the game in exemplary fashion and pushed his opponent to resign as early as move 29:


29.e8 was the killer blow. Mamedyarov played 29...e6 and resigned due to 30.♘xf6+ ♚g7 31.♘g4+ ♞xd4 32.♕xd4+ (three forcing checks) and Black's king is in dire straits.

Wesley So

Wesley So climbed to shared first place | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

Aronian and Caruana climb to second place

After his missed chance in round five, Levon Aronian showed some good preparation with White in a Berlin Defence against Sergey Karjakin. The Armenian gave up an exchange in order to make the most of his initiative in the middlegame:


Soon after 27.xf6 gxf6 28.f4 White pushed his passed pawn on the e-file to the seventh rank, hampering Black's mobility for the rest of the game. Aronian slowly but surely improved his pieces — including the king — while marshalling his kingside pawns down the board. By move 53, Black was already in a desperate situation:


Karjakin gave up his bishop with 53...f7 and resigned after 54.gxf7+ xf7 55.g5.

Levon Aronian

The ever entertaining Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour 

A shorter game was seen in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Fabiano Caruana. Two Sicilians connoisseurs this time explored a sharp variation of the Ruy Lopez. The position seemed to be dynamically balanced, but a mistake for either side was prone to be costly. On move 27, Vachier-Lagrave gave his opponent a chance to carry out a nice break in the centre:


White's 27.d3 gave way to 27...e4, when capturing with 28.fxe4 is bad due to 28...♞e5. The Frenchman opted for 28.c3, but now Black was able to improve his knights with 28...e5 29.f4 d5. Caruana had the initiative and did not look back until getting the win eight moves later.

Fabiano Caruana

The second highest-rated player in the world Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour 

Standings after Round 6


Commentary webcast

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

All games

Tuesday is a rest day, and round seven takes place on Wednesday, July 3rd at 16:30 CEST (14:30 UT / 10:30 AM EDT).



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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