Zagreb GCT, Round 7: Carlsen Beats Nepomniachtchi to Become the Sole Leader
Wednesday, July 3, 2019 at 3:22PM
Dennis Monokroussos in 2019 GCT Zagreb, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin, Wesley So

Three players entered the round in first, but only one left that way. Magnus Carlsen began the round sharing first with Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So, and took care of the first one himself while So was lucky to draw with Sergey Karjakin when he got away with a blunder.

Carlsen chose an incredibly ugly-looking structure against Nepo's anti-Sveshnikov line, and even if it wasn't as bad as it looked - as Carlsen himself put it - it's clear that White had the advantage. Still, he couldn't find much to do with it, and when Nepo burned more and more time on the clock Carlsen started to spice things up on the board. The critical moment came when Carlsen played 27...f5. Nepomniachtchi had an hour less on the clock than Carlsen, but his 27 minutes was still more than enough time to work out that 28.exf5 was fine and 28.gxf5?? was losing. He had a blind spot somewhere though, played 28.gxf5, and resigned three moves later. Nothing Carlsen did after 28.gxf5 required Magnus Carlsen at the helm - even I would have found and played those moves - so it's hard to know what happened to Nepo. It's not his track record against Carlsen, as their career score in classical games was 4-0 in Nepomniachtchi's favor. He won their first game back in 2002, in the European U-12 Championship, and won their second-most recent (classical) game in the London Chess Classic in December of 2017. It's 4-1 now. And the turnaround in the tournament must be even harder on him: he started 3-0, and now his score is 4-3.

As for So, he committed a howler with 20...Bd6, completely missing the crushing 21.Rxf5. Luckily for him, Karjakin missed it as well, to his embarrassment and chagrin in the post-game interview with Maurice Ashley. After that the game soon finished in a draw by repetition, and for that matter all the other games ended in draws as well. (So much for the bloodbath in round 6; no trend has begun.)

The games, with my notes to Carlsen's win and a few more details about Karjakin-So, are here. These are the pairings for round 8, headlined by a major matchup:

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