Zagreb GCT, Rounds 8 & 9: Carlsen Leads, So Half a Point Back Going into the Round 10 Clash
Friday, July 5, 2019 at 11:15PM
Dennis Monokroussos in 2019 GCT Zagreb, Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So

Despite a fairly high drawing percentage, the Grand Chess Tour event in Zagreb has been exciting. The rise and fall of Ian Nepomniachtchi, the continued march of Magnus Carlsen into the stratosphere, and Wesley So's dogged pursuit and remarkable good luck are the three most prominent storylines thus far.

In round 8, Carlsen built on his success in round 7, when he defeated Nepomniachtchi for the first time in a classical game. In round 8 it was Ding Liren who tasted defeat against Carlsen for the first time (in a classical game); their seven previous games were all drawn. Carlsen uncorked some remarkable analysis that was part of his preparation for the Caruana match. Ding played well for a while, but his deficit on the clock, his bad knight, and Carlsen's bishop pair eventually proved too much for him to handle. With the win, Carlsen reached 6/8 and brought his rating over 2881, one point short of his highest-ever official rating.

The biggest rating winner so far is So, who remained just half a point behind Carlsen after he (So) defeated Hikaru Nakamura. So ground Nakamura down and won a (mostly) clean ending, though surprisingly both players made half-point-losing errors in a king and pawn ending. Chess is hard!

The other winner in round 8 was Anish Giri, who blew away Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a Rossolimo/Moscow hybrid. Mamedyarov played the opening badly, and was thoroughly lost after 16 moves. Maybe Giri could have won more quickly and forcefully, but even so he won with ease in 31 moves.

In round 9, the regime of draws returned, with only Mamedyarov managing to win a game - against Viswanathan Anand. Mamedyarov had a big advantage early on, and while the game had ups and downs throughout the final result was the logical one. Fabiano Caruana had a nice advantage against Ding, and later was probably lost, but the game finished peacefully. More importantly for the race for first, Nepomniachtchi was winning against So, but made a comparatively simple error in a heavy piece ending that allowed So to escape with perpetual check.

Fortunately for So, that didn't put him any further behind, as Carlsen didn't manage to parlay the white pieces and an interesting novelty into a win over Levon Aronian. Both sides played very well, and Aronian put a stop to Carlsen's winning streak.

Two rounds remain, with the biggest game coming in the next round as So will have the white pieces against Carlsen in the next round. The full pairings follow, and here are the round 8 & 9 games, many with my analysis.

Article originally appeared on The Chess Mind (http://www.thechessmind.net/).
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