Vachier-Lagrave Sole Leader After Day 1 Of Croatia Grand Chess Tour
Garry Kasparov seemed to inspire a spectacular first game between Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Vachier-Lagrave Sole Leader After Day 1 Of Croatia Grand Chess Tour

| 12 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave came into the 2024 SuperUnited Croatia Rapid & Blitz after drawing all nine games in Bucharest, but in Zagreb, Croatia he began by winning a wild game against the player who was replacing GM Magnus Carlsen, GM Levon Aronian. The Frenchman also beat GM Ivan Saric to end the day on 5/6, with GMs Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So a point behind. 

Day two starts Thursday, July 11, at 9 a.m. ET / 15:00 CEST / 6:30 p.m. IST.

SuperUnited Croatia Rapid & Blitz Standings After Day 1

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the early leader. Image: Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen Withdraws

The Grand Chess Tour suffered a heavy blow when it was announced that the world number-one, who won in spectacular style in Poland this year and had scored a perfect 9/9 day in Croatia in 2023, would be unable to play due to family reasons. 

Aronian was drafted in as a 10th wildcard on this year's Grand Chess Tour, with Saric and GM Vidit Gujrathi the other wildcards. Only the nine regular tour players are eligible to win the tour and a $100,000 bonus prize, and they need to play both classical events (the Superbet Chess Classic in Romania and the Sinquefield Cup) and two of the three rapid and blitz tournaments (after Croatia we have the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz).   

Levon Aronian always livens up a tournament. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The event in Zagreb will be crucial for the overall tour standings, since only leader GM Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu and world number-six GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov are missing.   

Grand Chess Tour Standings Before SuperUnited Rapid & Blitz Croatia

Rank Player FED POL ROU CRO STL SIN GCT Points Prizes
1 Praggnanandhaa R 7 9.25 16.25 $78,750
2 Gukesh D 1 9.25 10.25 $65,750
3= Fabiano Caruana 9.25 9.25 $68,750
3= Alireza Firouzja 9.25 9.25 $58,750
5 Anish Giri 3 5 8 $30,833
6 Nodirbek Abdusattorov 5 2.5 7.5 $25,500
7= Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 5 5 $21,833
7= Ian Nepomniachtchi 5 5 $21,833
9 Wesley So 2.5 2.5 $14,500
1 Magnus Carlsen 13 13 $40,000
2 Wei Yi 10 10 $30,000
3 Jan-Krzysztof Duda 8 8 $25,000
4 Arjun Erigaisi 6 6 $15,000
5 Kirill Shevchenko 4 4 $10,000
6 Vincent Keymer 2 2 $8,000
7 Bogdan-Daniel Deac 1 1 $10,500
8 Levon Aronian 0 $0
9 Vidit Gujrathi 0 $0
10 Ivan Saric 0 $0

In terms of tour points, the last event had seen a four-way tie at the top (Caruana took the Superbet Classic title and an extra $10,000 by winning the playoff) and many draws, so that a lot in Zagreb rested on who could break the deadlock. The French number-two got off to a perfect start. 

Vachier-Lagrave Takes The Sole Lead

Vachier-Lagrave is, like Carlsen, still only 33, but he's representing a generation of players at risk of being swept away by the wave of new talent now reaching the very top. His recent tournaments have been uninspiring, and adding draws in French and German team championships to his nine draws in Romania made it 17 in a row. That sequence would finally end in round one in Zagreb. 

Aronian vs. Vachier-Lagrave was a truly wild game, with the Frenchman admitting to being surprised in the opening but welcoming the chaos that ensued: "We got a crazy position. I think I was in trouble, but at the same time Levon had spent a lot of time, so even if I blundered a few things I have some chances. When the dust cleared I was already one or two pawns up!" 

That's our Game of the Day, which has been analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below:

After that win, Vachier-Lagrave was inspired, giving up an exchange and then a pawn for an attack against local Croatian wildcard Saric.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got back to winning ways. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The winning move near the end was entirely logical, but also beautiful—40.Ke2!.

Vachier-Lagrave was the sole leader on 4/4 (there are two points for a win in rapid chess), and managed to keep ahead of the rest when he made a draw against So in the final round of the day. He was a pawn down in the endgame, but that was nothing for a man whose approach to chess Carlsen once christened the "French School of Suffering." 

Caruana And So In Pursuit

The players Vachier-Lagrave beat both bounced back, though unfortunately for Indian fans they did it by beating Vidit. Aronian sacrificed pawns with abandon, commenting: "It’s not every day you get to allow your opponent to have his pawns on f6 and c6!"

Vidit's nightmare first day saw him lose to Saric after going for a knight fork on move seven when it was a blunder, instead of on move 6, when it was normal opening theory.

Gukesh and Caruana are giants on the chessboard, but... Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

His day had begun with a loss to Caruana, who spoiled a winning position but was given a reprieve when Vidit was down to just three seconds on his clock.

Caruana then drew against GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alireza Firouzja to end the day in second place, where he was joined by So, who also started with a win after GM Gukesh Dommaraju blundered by grabbing a pawn with 39...Qxe6?. So pounced to put his winless event in Bucharest behind him.

It wasn't all decisive games, however, with Firouzja, GM Anish Giri, and Nepomniachtchi all starting with three draws. Nepomniachtchi has now made 15 draws in a row, including the last three rounds of the FIDE Candidates.

Firouzja and Caruana on the stage in Zagreb. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

He had some chances to break that sequence against Aronian in round three, but soon the task switched to how to make a draw in an opposite-colored bishop endgame when the tournament regulations say you can't offer a draw. 26 moves later, Aronian and Nepomniachtchi had managed! 

Three rounds of rapid chess will be played on Thursday and Friday each, before the players switch to playing nine rounds of blitz on Saturday and Sunday.

How to watch? You can watch the 2024 Superbet Rapid & Blitz Poland on the Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube channel. The games can also be followed from our Events Page.

The live broadcast was hosted by IM Jovanka Houska, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko.

The 2024 SuperUnited Croatia Rapid & Blitz is the third event on the 2024 Grand Chess Tour and runs July 10-14 in the Westin Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia. The 10 players first compete in a single rapid round-robin with a time control of 25 minutes plus a 10-second increment per move, followed by a blitz double round-robin with a 5+2 time control.

Previous coverage:

Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

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