Ding Beats Giri As Nepomniachtchi Maintains Croatia Grand Chess Tour Lead
Anish Giri versus Ding Liren was the only decisive result of the day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Ding Beats Giri As Nepomniachtchi Maintains Croatia Grand Chess Tour Lead

IM Rakesh
30 | Chess Event Coverage

Round five of the Croatia Grand Chess Tour saw as many as five games end in a draw. World number three Ding Liren was the lone winner as he defeated Anish Giri. Ian Nepomniachtchi drew Hikaru Nakamura to maintain his one-point lead. 

After a blazing start with several decisive results, we are now witnessing a high percentage of draws, a common sight in elite tournaments. Of a possible 30 games, 23 have ended peacefully, a very high drawing percentage of 76.67. Interestingly, Black scored more wins than White. Thanks to Ding's win in this round, it's four versus three for Black.

Playing as Black, tournament leader Nepomniachtchi employed his pet Grunfeld against U.S. Champion Nakamura who went for the unusual side line 5.Na4. The opening seemed to catch Nepomniachtchi off-guard, and he started spending more time in the opening.

The Russian GM soon managed to equalize. He did allow some counterplay in the endgame, but it was too little, too late and then the players repeated moves for a draw.

Nepomniachtchi is typically expressive but more so after Nakamura's opening choice. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
Nepomniachtchi thought long and hard about Nakamura's 5.Na4. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Maintaining his one-point lead over Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So, Nepomniachtchi will play the world champion in round seven on July 3, which is after the first and only rest day.

Six more rounds are still to be played, and not everyone has Nepomniachtchi as the favorite. The 13th world champion Garry Kasparov opined: "Nepomniachtchi is yet to play Magnus and as long as this game is not played, I would consider Magnus the favorite."

Kasparov also commented: "The schedule this year is too packed after FIDE added four Grand Prix events. It's not just bad for the players but also for the fans. We want them to be fresh, we want them to play brilliant games."

Kasparov always speaks his mind. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen faced his former challenger Sergey Karjakin as Black in a game that was quite anti-climatic. The post-game interviews had much more content than the game itself!

Carlsen played his usual dubious opening in the Queen's Gambit Declined that he and one of his seconds (Nils Grandelius of Sweden) employ from time to time. He was never in big trouble, and after a series of exchanges they duly split the point.

The world champion looked focused as ever. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
A rather peaceful draw between Karjakin and Carlsen. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

During the post-game interview, Karjakin said: "I would like to say my thanks to Anish Giri because I would never know this line exists, but he wrote on his twitter something about this line and that it was played by some Magnus seconds [Grandelius], at least knew this line exists. I looked a little bit before the game."

Later, Karjakin made a bold statement saying: "I think these top players like Nepomniachtchi and Magnus don't know openings. They get bad positions out of the opening."

World number three Ding played the black side of a Semi-Slav against world number four Giri. Ding was the one who had a small edge and was always pressing.

Initially the Chinese GM didn't take his chances in the middlegame to get a big advantage. Just when it looked like Giri had survived the worst, first he gave up a pawn for no reason and then blundered in a somewhat difficult rook-and-pawn endgame. Thanks to this win, Ding is now back at 50 percent.

Ding is all smiles after his first victory at the event. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
Anish Giri lost just two days after he had turned 25. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Azeri star Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was again involved in the most exciting game of the round. He and Armenian number one Levon Aronian played out a draw in which all three results were possible throughout the game.

The players in action during their pulsating draw. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Norwegian GM Jonathan Tisdall hailed Mamedyarov's resourceful play by tweeting: "Shakh unshackled again. Man is staking out some serious turf in the Twilight Zone."

Garry Kasparov had some improvements for Aronian. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Grand Chess Tour commentator GM Alejandro Ramirez exclaimed: "I wouldn't be surprised if Levon gets checkmated. I wouldn't be surprised if Mamedyarov gets checkmated. I wouldn't be surprised if they make a draw. Nothing at this point surprises me."

A visibly happy Mamedyarov after the game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The all-American derby between Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So is the story of an opening gone wrong for the world number two. Caruana made a questionable choice with 16.Nc5 that wrecked his queenside pawn structure for a half-open b-file.

So got things under control and had the luxury of playing for two results. The advantage was too little, and Caruana intruded with his major pieces at the right time to force a repetition.

The Ambassador of Israel to Croatia, Ilam Mor, makes the ceremonial first move for Caruana. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
Caruana had to defend today but did so successfully. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand of India and French number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played out a rather tame draw. Neither player tried too much nor made any inaccuracies. Neither side got any tangible advantage either. They frequently exchanged pieces in a Sicilian Rossolimo that Anand tried against Black's Sicilian.

Official photographer Lennart Ootes has been clicking beautiful pictures of the players. He now presents you with an opportunity to identify the players with just their eyes. Drop your answers in the comments below.

2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour | Round 5 Standings

Graphic: Spectrum Studios

The 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour takes place June 26 to July 8 at the Novinarski Dom in Zagreb, Croatia. This is one of two classical events of the tour this year. The time control is a new one with 130 minutes for each player with a 30-second delay from move one.

The games start at 4:30 pm local time (CEST), which is 10:30 a.m. Eastern and 7:30 a.m. Pacific. You can follow the games here as part of our live portal.

Official commentary of the Grand Chess Tour by the Saint Louis Chess Club.

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