The Calm Before The Storm In Round 9 Grand Chess Tour Croatia
Hikaru Nakamura, like most of his fellow competitors, found it difficult to get a decisive result during round nine. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The Calm Before The Storm In Round 9 Grand Chess Tour Croatia

| 46 | Chess Event Coverage

Round nine of the Croatia Grand Chess Tour ended mostly in peace across all games except for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov besting Vishy Anand with some masterful bishop play. In a round characterized by solid openings and missed opportunities, the crowd and viewers were still treated to instructive chess throughout the day.

After back-to-back days of historic victories, leader Magnus Carlsen finally cooled off as he drew his game against Levon Aronian despite a surprise in the opening that may not have been ideal. Still, it is one of the higher-quality draws in some time. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura played an interesting game featuring a new trend these days in the Bb5 Sicilian that became dry despite the potential for fireworks.

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So got off to a sharp start that turned into a great escape from So, keeping him in the hunt for first place as he prepares to face Carlsen with the white pieces next round. Carlsen has stated openly that he's "ready for a fight" and the crowd should expect to see one. 

Carlsen GCT Croatia
Carlsen clashed with an old rival today, but in tomorrow's match he will be deadly serious when he faces an in-form So with the black pieces. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Anish Giri may have been more entertaining off the board than on it as he settled for a tame, exchange-riddled draw with Sergey Karjakin in a game that was expected to feature solid play. Judging by Giri's reaction on Twitter, it seems he knew that he didn't have much to do in his game:

The highlight of the day came during the Dutchman's post-game interview when he offered an analysis of Carlsen-Aronian, drawing comparisons to games play by AlphaZero:

In the final match of the round, Fabiano Caruana remarked after his disappointing draw with Ding Liren: "13.Qa4 is, of course, a horrible move. I'm ashamed I played this move." This move was prompted by a surprise from Ding on move 11...Bg4!? that Caruana failed to capitalize on. Caruana's disappointment in taking what he may see as an easy point is increased by the fact that he was not able to separate himself from the pack of fellow third-place players in Nepomniachtchi and Aronian.

Fabiano Caruana GCT Croatia
Fabiano Caruana let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers in round nine of the GCT Croatia. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Mamedyarov has had a difficult year, making light of this fact by remarking: "It happens to all grandmasters—just not Carlsen!" But today he could find some joy in an interesting Game of the Day featuring clever bishop play, specifically highlighted by Shakh's patience:

The victory is only a consolation for Mamedyarov, but it manages to pull him off the bottom of the table for the tournament as he now sits on 3.5 points.

Mamedyarov GCT Croatia
Mamedyarov looking relaxed despite a year marked by difficulty over the board. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In the Nakamura vs. Vachier-Lagrave game, Nakamura attempted to gain the initiative early but was met by an uncommon take by the current top blitz player in the world:

As previously mentioned, the game between Karjakin and Giri ended peacefully with a classical Queen's Gambit Declined that featured a series of exchanges out of the opening, projecting a draw from an early point:

The Crowd at GCT Croatia
The crowd at GCT Croatia can sense that Carlsen is on the brink of a historic milestone. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So managed to pull off a great escape versus Nepomniachtchi, something Nepo knows all too much about as he has demonstrated on numerous occasions. GM Maurice Ashley even commented, "Wesley is pulling a Nepo against Nepo" during the broadcast when Nepomniachtchi blundered a clear winning position after 36. Qe2? by failing to find 36. Qd5! that would have likely sealed the game:

With this piece of magic, So remains in second place with a crucial game coming up against Carlsen when he will have the white pieces.

So Nepomniachtchi GCT Croatia
So managed to keep himself in second place after getting a bit lucky against Nepomniachtchi in round nine. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In recent years, Caruana has grown more accustomed to criticizing his own play and offering up his thoughts to the media, and today was no exception. He was seen in the crowd chatting with friends about a critical error at 13.Qa4 and 14.g4 that at the time may have seemed harmless but became risky as Ding was able to grab a superior position:

Caruana will look to bounce back in round 10 as he must still attempt to keep pace with Carlsen's outstanding form.

Ding Liren GCT Croatia
Ding managed to escape with half a point a day after suffering his first classical defeat to Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

Last but not least, we come to the Aronian-Carlsen game that, of course, has the most at stake considering Carlsen's recent march towards a historic rating. Carlsen started this game off with a surprise that will probably leave high-level players in disagreement as to its accuracy:

Perhaps Carlsen was looking ahead to his game versus So that may decide the final standings of the Grand Chess Tour Croatia. Maybe this is the calm before the storm, and the best is yet to come in future rounds. Here are the results for the round and current standings:

GCT Croatia Results Round 9
Results from round 9 of the Grand Chess Tour. | Image: Grand Chess Tour.
GCT Croatia Round 9 Standings
Standings after round 9 of the Grand Chess Tour. | 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.

Use the new multi-game player to view all games from the previous rounds and download PGNs:

This submission was edited for content and grammar by Nick Barton.

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