Carlsen Downs Ding For 1st Time In Classical, Continues Dominance At GCT Croatia
With Carlsen closing in on 2900, can anyone stop him? | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen Downs Ding For 1st Time In Classical, Continues Dominance At GCT Croatia

| 104 | Chess Event Coverage

Magnus Carlsen once again submitted a near flawless performance in round eight of the Grand Chess Tour in Zagreb, not only defeating Ding Liren in classical for the first time in his career, but doing so with the black pieces. GM Alireza Firouzja (@Firouzja2003) reports.

Twitter took note of Magnus' exploits in the only way Twitter knows how:

After reaching an identical milestone in round seven versus Ian Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen took advantage of an ambitious 16.c7 by Ding and never relinquished his advantage for the remainder of the contest. Instead of choosing to advance his pawn, Ding could have gone 16.Rd1 d4 17.h4! that would have given a slight edge and may have saved his position at that early stage.

I was going to leave this to my friend GM Robert Hess, but decided I would do Game of the Day analysis myself:

"A win is a win, but this one is special," remarked Carlsen in his post-game interview. The win moves him to plus four in the tournament, a half point ahead of Wesley So who was victorious against Hikaru Nakamura after disposing of his American compatriot by confusing him in a game featuring a symmetrical pawn structure. To the naked eye, 21...dxc4 may look inaccurate, but if 21...Nf7 22. cxd5 cxd5 23. Nc3, then there is a lot of pressure on the d5 pawn. 

So held a decisive advantage from 36...Kf8?! but the game may have still been salvageable. Nakamura struggled to pull even through 50 moves until finally the game was completely out of reach. I thought it was a really nice win by So considering this was a Re1 Berlin and commented after it was done to a colleague:

Nakamura GCT Croatia
Nakamura struggled with consistency in the middlegame as he attempted to pull himself back from a losing position. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The final decisive game of the round came from the typically clever Anish Giri, who seemed excited at the prospect of switching his approach a bit:

My initial reaction to seeing Mamedyarov play 15...0-0-0 was that the move is crazy. I'm not joking. It was such a strange move by him that I could barely believe it. Maybe that shows how much respect I have for Mamedyarov.

15...Bb4!? was perhaps a better move, but either way I think after this, Mamedyarov had blown his chance and was simply lost, leading to resignation by move 31:

Giri played a beautiful 25.Rxa6! that may not have been the most precise choice but is fitting for his style. This closed out the game, and Mamedyarov soon resigned by move 31.

The win puts Giri on 3.5, putting him on par with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Sergey Karjakin, who settled for a draw in their match that wasn't particularly noteworthy. Going 10...h5 instead of 10...Nh4 may have been a bit more clever. You can see that from the Aronian-Karjakin game in round six where Karjakin also had Nh4 in which he lost a very nice game.

Both Karjakin and MVL currently sit 2.5 points behind Magnus and with only three rounds to go, they will likely find it difficult to catch the top player in the world in his top form.

Ian Nepomniachtchi was looking to stop the bleeding against Levon Aronian and was able to do just that through a highly accurate but uncommon Gruenfeld. I remarked that 17...dxe5 was very dubious and that 17...Bg3 was expected to be played with a little pressure on Black, but after dxe5 Black has a pretty easy game here and it led to a draw.

Nepomniachtchi GCT Croatia
Nepo is the master of the stare, and today he was the master of the three-fold repetition. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

You can take a look at these two draws in the new multi-game viewer:

One draw that was decidedly not boring took place between Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand. A colleague at the time asked me about Caruana taking 21 minutes for 16...c4?! When calculating a sac of a full pawn that early, which can quickly snowball into a significant material disadvantage without understanding the positional gain, you must be completely sure of your calculation and understand how the potential endgame may play out. I then decided that the positional advantage was minimal and that it was just out of desperation because the position was very bad regardless.

Fabiano Caruana GCT Croatia
Caruana managed to salvage a draw thanks to some innovative play in the endgame. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Luckily, Caruana didn't care about that and managed to claw his way back into a game which looked lost. After a series of inaccuracies by Anand including 24.Qf1?! as well as 36.Ne3?! Caruana was able to make his way back into the game through his trademark technique and defensive prowess:

With another historic day for Carlsen, all eyes are on the suddenly attainable 2900 rating. Still, with So sitting only 0.5 behind him in the standings at GCT Croatia and Carlsen still to face him with the black pieces, Carlsen will need to keep his eyes on the prize of closing out this tournament in the style and precision he's become known for.

Current results and standings for GCT Croatia are as follows:

Round 8 results for GCT Croatia
The round-eight results featured three decisive games. | Image: Grand Chess Tour.
Grand Chess Tour Standings Croatia
Standings after round 8. | Image: Grand Chess Tour.
The 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour takes place June 26 to July 8 at the Novinarski Dom in Zagreb, Croatia. This is one of the two classical events on 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 p.m. 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 with daily commentary by GM Daniel Naroditsky and WFM Alexandra Botez.

Below you will find all the games from GCT Croatia and can download each PGN:

This submission was edited for content by Nick Barton.

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