Day three, and the last day of the rapid portion of the GCT Croatia Grand Chess Tour brought another dramatic day of chess. It may have seemed like a quiet day as there were only three decisive games. However, there were many hard fought games with plenty of action making it a thrilling day of missed opportunities and excitement for the spectators.
Current Standings after Round 9 - the final round of the Rapid portion
The first game to finish in round seven was between Ivan Saric against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. They played a theoretical line of the Open Spanish where Black was able to equalize. Even if he was able to activate his rook on the 7th rank, there was no way for White to continue putting pressure and the players agreed on a draw after a threefold repetition.
Although the Meran variation in the Semi-Slav is known to be a solid defense for Black the game between Alexander Grischuk against Anton Korobov showed otherwise as Grischuk went for an e4-e5 push to take away Black’s king defender and tried focusing on a king-side attack. Despite a two-piece sacrifice 16. Nxe6 followed by 17. Bxg7, White didn’t have sufficient pieces to mend an attack and the game ended in a perpetual.
The game between Anish Giri and Ian Nepomniachtchi was a highlight for the fans given the leader’s loss in yesterday’s last round. For many players it is often difficult to come back after a tough loss, but Nepo kept his calm. They opted for a Closed Catalan where most pieces got traded off into a rook and knight versus a rook and bishop endgame. Black had a passed d-pawn, but neither player had a way to improve and they agreed on a draw.
The talented Dutch Grandmaster Jorden Van Forest surprised the top French player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave(MVL) with 10.h3N in the Najdorf Variation of the Sicillian (10. Be2 would have been the typical move in that position) and within the next few moves the position was certainly more favorable for White. When MVL tried the typical 22...d5 to equalize, he failed to realize that 23. Nc5! Followed by the capture of his bishop in b7 and f4-e5 would have given White a huge advantage.
Jorden missed that opportunity as well and a few moves later going for the greedy 26.exd5?? To win a pawn, he gave up the advantage after the beautiful 26...Nd3 which allowed Black to trade pieces into an equal endgame. The game didn’t stop there though as the tables turned when white played 33. Re4? (instead of 33. d6) allowing Black to gain activity on the backrank. Black’s activity was so strong that the two pawns down he had at that moment weren’t even important. It seemed that MVL was in control and ready to convert the game, but Jorden fought until the end. He found a way to give up an exchange, but ultimately created a fortress that allowed him to save the game.
Jorden Van Foreest post game discussion after a hard-fought game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Another game that kept the viewers on the edge was the one between Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Viswanathan Anand. After getting an equal position from the Berlin Defense, Anand started pushing for the advantage. He attacked White’s center with f5 and upon being allowed to capture in e4 he found a way to trade into a better endgame with 30...Bxb4! giving up two pieces for a rook and two pawns. Although those pawns seemed menacing, White found a way to keep them from advancing further. After trading a pair of rooks, Anand found a way to get his remaining rook active and attack White’s pawn weaknesses on the other side of the board and the Polish Grandmaster failed to find a way to defend.
Unfortunately for Anand, there were a number of occasions where only moves were necessary to win the game. His last miss was 65...h3??. He pushed the pawn too soon allowing White to find a way to trade his g-pawn for it and save the endgame. Instead he had to give a few checks to push White’s king either back which would have allowed for his own king to advance, or forward which would have kept it away from the h-pawn. With little time on the clock, only the computer could have probably found the best continuation, so the game only ended in a draw.
Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a dynamic endgame battle against Viswanathan Anand | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The first game to finish in round eight was the one between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Jorden Van Foreest. The opening choice of the Exchange Variation of the Slav suggested a quiet game, but Ian had some tricks up his sleeve and focused on the weakening of Black’s king-side with 10. f4 and further for the typical bishop sacrifice 17.Bxg6. Unfortunately for him, due to the lack of enough pieces there wasn’t a way to continue the attack and he had to concede a three-fold repetition.
The game between Anton Korobov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was a hard fought game in the Najdorf Sicillian, where Black gave up his a-pawn for piece activity compensation. Despite the extra pawn, a bishop versus a knight and more space, White failed to find a way to push his majority on the queen-side without trading into a rook endgame. Once arrived in the rook endgame, Black kept his rook active and he was never in trouble to hold the game to a draw.
Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played a theoretical line in the Gruenfeld Defense where many of the moves seemed forced to keep the balance. They traded into an opposite-color bishop endgame in which they agreed on a draw.
Viswanathan Anand had some positional advantage after the opening in his game against Ivan Saric. After 13...0-0 it seemed that White could have put some pressure on Black’s king with 14. Bh6 followed by Rae1 and some potential rook-lift as an attempt to keep the initiative and delay Black a little longer from the development of his bishop in c8. After 14. Qd4, Black was able to finish his development, trade his central weaknesses and the game was well played until the endgame where the players agreed on a draw in a rook and three pawn endgame on each side.
Alexander Grischuk in deep thought | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The most complicated game of the round was the game between Alexander Grischuk and Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The Najdorf Defense was the opening choice of these two players and after the end of the theory White had the opportunity to win the b7-pawn, but chose not to do so. Instead, Grischuk went for 22. b3? That allowed the trading of the queens into an equal endgame. Black was able to trade his bad dark-square bishop and lend into a bishop rook versus knight rook endgame, where it was Black that had more active pieces. Black chose to take the bait and with White’s a-pawn, but allowed White’s rook to get active on the back-rank and Grischuk was able to find a way to repeat the position. Instead of 34...Rxa2?, Black could have waited a few moves and tried to restrict White’s rook activity on the c-file with 34...Be8 or 34...Kh6 to make sure his king would escape the mating net it stayed on, which was precisely the idea used by Grischuk to draw the game.
Round nine brought even more excitement as well as some decisive games. The biggest turnaround of the day happened in the final round between Jan-Krzysztof Duda against Anton Korobov. The opening choice was the Saemisch Variation in the King’s Indian, which is known to lead to some sharp lines and decisive results depending on who gets to attack the other king first. On move 18, Duda made a huge mistake that led the computer to give a decisive advantage to Black. Duda played 18. Nb1??, instead of the typical 18. Na4 which would have kept White’s king safer. It was Black’s attack that seemed faster and with the a1-h8 diagonal opened it seemed that Black was going to convert the game soon. Starting with move 21, where Black chose to complicate and open up the position with 21...d5?, instead of the quiet 21...Nd7 which would have kept White from any king-side attack, while Black could take time to regroup and take advantage of White’s weak king. Though complications are generally good, they typically give the other side a chance to fight back and that is exactly what happened in the game. Duda captured Black’s knight in f6 and with that he also blocked Black’s piece “Beast” - the bishop on h8 which would have normally created a lot of damage on the long diagonal. The last time Black could have kept his decisive advantage was with 27… Qb4+ followed by a rook trade and pressure on the b-file, which would have forced White to give up the queen and soon conceded the game. Instead, Black played 27...Rb8 first, but now the pressure on the b file wouldn’t have worked anymore as White had sufficient defense with his two rooks. It was a few moments later that White was able to play 29. e5! turns Black’s bishop into a “big Pawn” , making it completely detached from where the action took place, and with his king safe and an extra piece, Duda was able to win the game.
The game between Ivan Saric and Alexander Grischuk was a clean game for the Berlin Defense. Saric was well in control throughout the entire game even sacrificing a pawn with 28. Nd5, but keeping a fortress, which Grischuk wasn’t able to break and they eventually agreed on a draw. This was certainly a fantastic overall performance by the Wildcard and Croatian star Grandmaster Ivan Saric.
Ian Nepomniachtchi had a hard fought game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Though after the opening it seemed that the game was headed for a draw, it was MVL that made the first wrong knight maneuvering idea as an attempts to maybe repeat the position he brought his knight to be traded in e4, which gave Black the opportunity to put pressure on White’s weak pawns. A few moves later, Black was able to win White’s h-pawn and gain some advantage. It was on move 37 that Black mistakenly traded his passed and more advanced b-pawn for White’s a-pawn and with that gave Black the chance to create a fortress. Though Nepo kept pushing, it wasn’t enough to break MVL’s defense and the game eventually ended in a draw.
Another hard-fought game was the one between Jorden Van Forrest and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. It was an Open Ruy Lopez that stayed equal for a very long time. Eventually Mamedyarov pushed to attack on the king-side and was able to go into an unbalanced two rooks versus rook knight and bishop endgame, where the rooks proved more powerful. It seems that the young Dutch player was holding well, but in time scramble he failed to calculate the pawn promotions until the end and found himself in a position without an escape and he had to concede the game.
Anish Giri playing it cool | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Bryan Adams
The most dramatic result happened in the game between Anish Giri and Viswanathan Anand. The game was equal after the opening and though it seemed that it was Anand who was pressing with the control on the c-file and the bishop pair, he misplayed 28...Bxa3? instead of 28...Rd8 , allowing White a very strong d-passed pawn. White trying to save a rook endgame, he found a skillful set-up to hold a fortress despite having two pawns down. Alas, he blundered with 47...Rc4?? instead of 47...Rc2 followed by hxg4 which would have given Black the opportunity to save the game. After the move of the game, Giri was able to create and support his f passed pawn and win the game shortly after.
The action continues tomorrow with the blitz portion of the event with the debut of Garry Kasparov replacing Ivan Saric in the 2021 Croatia Grand Chess Tour.