Ding Liren Wins 2019 Grand Chess Tour
Ding Liren with the 2019 GCT trophy. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Ding Liren Wins 2019 Grand Chess Tour

PeterDoggers
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73 | Chess Event Coverage

Ding Liren won the 2019 Grand Chess Tour in London after beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 16-12 in the final. Magnus Carlsen claimed third place with a 17-11 win against Levon Aronian.

Ding won the first prize of $150,000 while runner-up Vachier-Lagrave earned $100,000. They automatically qualified for the 2020 Grand Chess Tour together with Carlsen, who took home $60,000 (and a GCT total of $302,500, a bit more than Ding). Aronian won $40,000.

2019 Grand Chess Tour final standings prizes
The 2019 Grand Chess Tour final standings and prizes. Image: Spectrum Studios.

Winning the first rapid game and drawing the second, Ding secured victory against MVL before the blitz, in which the Chinese GM scored just 0.5/4 when it didn't matter anymore. Aronian and Carlsen both won one rapid game before Carlsen secured his victory by drawing the first blitz game.

"I feel very happy after six days of competition," Ding started his brief speech after receiving the trophy from the organizer, Malcolm Pein. "I play very well when I can totally focus on the games. If I do not do that, as you can see in the last games, I lost badly. So it shows that with my best shape I can compete with anyone else."

And that "anyone else" includes Carlsen.

That's what Ding has shown in the past year: that he is capable of topping everyone in the world, including the world champion. He won the Sinquefield Cup by beating Carlsen in the playoff, last month he also defeated Carlsen twice in Kolkata, and now he finished first in London.

His second place in the World Cup placed him into the Candidates' (although he would have qualified by his rating anyway), and that's where we'll see him next:

"The next big tournament, I think, is the Candidates', so I will have many months to rest and to prepare," Ding said.

2019 Grand Chess Tour London Chess Classic stage spectators
The spectators' perspective. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Ding entered the last day in London with a six-point lead thanks to his win in the second standard game. With another excellent win in the first rapid game, he more or less ended Vachier-Lagrave's hopes of a miracle.

Briefly commenting in the official broadcast, Garry Kasparov applauded MVL's choice of the Benoni but didn't like the combination of ...Na6 and ...Bf5. Kasparov added: "If you have to play ...Bf8, that's already a very bad sign."

Ding had expected the line, and his choice of playing 6.d5 was ambitious: "In the end I decided just to play for a win."

Ding showing his game for the live broadcast on a touch screen. Grand Chess Tour
Ding showing his game on a touch screen for the live broadcast. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The score jumped from 9-3 to 13-3 for Ding, who needed only a draw (two points!) from the second rapid game to clinch the match, where a total of 28 points were on the line. He held quite comfortably:

2019 Grand Chess Tour London Chess Classic Ding Liren trophy
Ding with the trophy on stage between organizer Malcolm Pein (left) and Grand Chess Tour spokesman Michael Khodarkovsky. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

It was understandable that after clinching the match and with it the whole Grand Chess Tour, Ding lost a bit of focus. To see him losing the remaining four—completely irrelevant—blitz games 0.5-3.5 was still surprising.

MVL's last blitz victory is a positional beauty:

"I think I should only talk about Ding's play because he played amazing yesterday and also played very well until he concluded the match," said Vachier-Lagrave. "Then in the blitz I think we're just chilling, and it's hard for both of us to really be focused when the match is over. He struck when it counted, and he struck very, very hard, so congratulations to him. I was outplayed!"

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Sebastien Maze Jules Moussard
Vachier-Lagrave with his friends Sebastien Mazé (middle) and Jules Moussard (right), who played in the open tournament. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Together with Ding and Carlsen, MVL qualified directly into next year's Grand Chess Tour (see below). But first, he'll be playing his most important tournament of the year: the Jerusalem Grand Prix, which starts in two days.

The match for third place was not as one-sided as the final. Carlsen also started the day with a 9-3 lead but saw it shrink to 9-7 as he, in a completely winning position, blundered into a mate in the first rapid game:

Carlsen then moved to 13-7 as he won the second rapid game in great style, using a march with the h-pawn and a rook switch—with the other rook. However, the game was mostly decided by Aronian's blundering:

With a draw in the first blitz game Carlsen gained the desired 15 points and won the match. Then both players won one more game and drew one. 

Carlsen was "OK" with his match win but not too thrilled: "I haven't played particularly well but fortunately for me, neither has he.... I think the right two people played the final."

Carlsen Aronian 2019 Grand Chess Tour London Chess Classic
Carlsen winning the second rapid game vs. Aronian. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen is likely to play in the world rapid and blitz, but meanwhile he is involved in another competition as well—one where he is not doing too bad either. As a big fan of Premier League football, the world champ has been playing Fantasy Premier League for a few years, and earlier this week he climbed to the third position in a table of more than seven million players worldwide.

All of Sunday's games for download/replay


On Sunday the tournaments for the 2020 Grand Chess Tour were announced as well. It will be a smaller tour than this year:

The 2020 Grand Chess Tour tournaments.
The tournaments in the 2020 Grand Chess Tour. Image: Spectrum Studios.

London Chess Classic Open

As always, the London Chess Classic also included a strong open tournament. It ended in a tie for first place between 14-year-old Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu of India and 18-year-old Anton Smirnov of Australia.

Smirnov has just finished high school and is now playing in several events in Europe, including the Tata Steel Challengers in January. With his win, he is getting close to a 2600 rating and might soon break Ian Rogers' Australian rating record of 2618 (which he held in January 1999). However, the highest ranking for Rogers was number-50 in the world, which will be tougher to achieve.

All games of Praggnanandhaa and Smirnov for replay/download:


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