The third leg of the 2021 Grand Chess Tour kicked off in the beautiful city of Zagreb, Croatia. This is the second Rapid & Blitz event of the series and it brings together some of the top players in the world including 5-time World Champion Vishwanathan Anand, the current World Champion Challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, and also the legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov, who will be switching with the local star, Ivan Saric in the Blitz portion of the event.
The players at the Opening Ceremony of the Croatia Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The day started in spectacular fashion bringing together both thrilling and attacking chess play. The first game of the day to finish was between Alexander Grischuk against Anish Giri,which followed the theory of the Morphy line in the Ruy Lopez, and finished relatively fast in a threefold repetition. Ultimately, the round ended with all three games won by white or a “whitewash” (a term used by the tournament commentators on today’s broadcast).
The main focus of round 1 was between Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Anton Korobov and Vishy Anand vs Jorden Van Foreest. “Nepo” didn’t fail to show his form in the first round. He made a typical positional piece sacrifice in the Steinitz Variation of the French. On move 23. Nxe6! allowed his pawns to march in an attempt to attack on the king-side. Korobov gave the piece back quite fast and it seemed that he could hold the position equal, though his king was weak. Black’s blunder came on move 32…Kf7??, where he probably underestimated Nepo’s Queen+Knight+Bishop attack, having to resign soon after.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the first game to finish in a victory for White. Shakh transposed from a Torre Attack to a Pirc pawn structure and took advantage of MVL’s king-side weakness to start an attack. Despite having the bishop pair protecting the king, White’s knights in the center proved menacing and once 20…Bxd4 was played, White was able to keep the pressure on Black’s king eventually leading into a winning endgame.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov keeping his calm at the Croatia Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The Viswanathan Anand- Jorden Van Foreest game didn’t fail to impress either, as the 5-time World Champion hadn’t been playing chess for over a year. Van Foreest has shown promise as a rising star with his recent win of this Year’s Tata Steel event. Anand may have surprised the young Dutch player with 6. g4!? in the Paulsen Variation of the Sicillian and as his name suggests - The Tiger of Madras - he went for a king-side attack without fear.Though there were mistakes made on both sides, it was Anand who seemed mostly in control throughout the game.
He went for a knight sacrifice 29. Nxf5 thinking of weakening Black’s king position and being able to penetrate with his queen and rook. That was the moment, Jorden could have played 29…Rh8 and stop all of White’s attack. Instead he took the knight and failed to be able to defend against White’s piece coordination.
Though it started in an interesting manner that left the commentators mesmerized as to what was happening on the board after 10 moves given so many pawn pushes in a Trompowsky Attack, the game between Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs Ivan Saric ended eventually in a draw.
Round two started with two draws in the games between Jorden Van Foreest vs Alexander Grischuk and Anish Giri vs Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Though in both games, it was White who pushed for the space, Black defended well and both games ended in a three fold repetition.
The man of round 2 was World Champion Challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, who played a brilliant attacking game, taking down the Superstar of the recent Superbet Chess Classic event, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Similarly to the first round, Nepo sacrificed a piece to take control of the center and keep Black underdeveloped and with most of his pieces on the back-rank. In an attempt to escape the passivity, Shakhriyar played 21…f6??, but it was more of a weakening move, than a saving one, as Nepo went on to eventually pushing his own f-pawn to completely restricting Black’s king and in the end traded to a winning endgame.
A happy World Championship Challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi at the Croatia Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Viswanathan Anand stayed balanced for the most part. However, going into the endgame, Vishy delayed the development of his Rh8 (he misplayed 21…Nh6 instead of 21…Rh6) and allowed White’s rooks to pressure his 7th rank. In an attempt to gain some activity, Black sacrificed a pawn, which eventually proved to be enough for MVL to convert the game.
The unexpected result of the round happened in the game Anton Korobov vs Ivan Saric.The game stayed equal for the most part, but on move 29, Saric probably overestimated his chances given his active rook in a2 and played 29...Be4 which proved to be a mistake and the chance Korobov was waiting for, allowing both his rooks to penetrate the 7th rank and passivize Black. From there, it was only a matter of technique for Korobov to convert the game.
In round three all eyes were on Viswanathan Anand vs Ian Nepomniachtchi.The game was far from uneventful. They played a theoretical line in the Paulsen variation of the Sicillian. The players closed the position around move 15 and though Anand started a pawn push on the king side in an attempt to weaken Black’s king, Nepo pushed his a pawn trying to follow the rule “when you are being attacked on the flank counterattack in the center or on the other side of the board.” Anand didn’t fear Nepo’s counterattack and went on playing 23. bxa4 destroyed his queen-side pawns, but it wasn’t enough for Nepo to find a way to win those weaknesses and the players agreed to a draw.
Two Legends at the Croatia Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Alexander Grischuk vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave followed a theoretical line of the exchange variation of the Grunfeld Defense. However, White was able to get an active rook on the 7th rank and break Back's king-side defense with the typical 17. e6 pawn push, it wasn’t sufficient to create a mating net and Grischuk had to accept the threefold repetition.
The game between Shakhiriyar Mamedyarov and Anton Korobov was far from boring. The players had both played this Classical Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense before, both against each other as well as themselves with both colors. However, despite White’s light square weaknesses around the king, Black does not have sufficient manpower to build up a good attack. The game ultimately ended peacefully with a perpetual.
The remaining two games of the day came with ups and downs for each player. Jordan Van Foreest most likely surprised Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the Advanced Variation of the Caro-Kann, being able to transpose to a good French pawn structure. Duda had spent a lot of time in the opening, probably trying to find a way to maintain an advantage. It was in the endgame that things started to become unclear for Black, as White doubled on the c-file. On move 33, Black went for 33…h5 to try to open up his h8-rook, but allowed White to activate his knight in g5.
Though he had the opportunity to win the f7-pawn on move 36, Duda preferred to keep his knight on g5 and have tactical ideas with Nh7-f6. In a time scramble, both players made inaccuracies allowing tactical ideas to the other side. It was Duda who lost the chance of converting the game. Instead of playing 52. f4?? and allowing Black’s rook to be set free, he could have played the simple move 52. Rf7 or 52. Ke3 after which Black would have surely resigned shortly. Despite having an extra bishop, Black’s passed a-pawn was enough to save the game.
The man of round three was surely the local star Ivan Saric, who showed amazing nerves in a difficult position against Anish Giri. He surprised everyone with 13. Rf1 in the Classical Variation of the Italian, when everyone expected Qd2. Keeping the king in the center was certainly an interesting idea, though surprising indeed. Black certainly had the edge on the king side for most of the game, but chose to focus on opening the center with 21…c6 allowing White to free and trade some pieces. After having been able to activate his rook, Ivan played a flawless game being able to outplay the super GM Anish Giri.
A happy Ivan Saric the Croatia Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Standings Day 1 Croatia Rapid and Blitz