The penultimate round was the round of opposite colored bishops endgames as three of the games were drawn in this manner. The winner of the Croatia Grand Chess Tour will be decided tomorrow as the clash between Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So was a peaceful affair. The World Champion remains half a point ahead of the field and will have the white pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Wesley So will have the black pieces against Levon Aronian.
So repeated the line in the Nimzo Indian that Mamedyarov essayed against Carlsen during the 2018 Tata Steel super tournament. Carlsen mentioned that after the Mamedyarov game he only looked at that line once and never returned to it. The World Champion drew with the black pieces without any difficulties as the pieces came off the board quickly, reaching a draw endgame in 30 moves. So explained that he was in a bad mood after his previous game as he felt that the level of his play had dropped. He went on to explain his decision to play a tame opening, pointing out that Carlsen has been on fire and winning a lot of games with black lately. The American’s main focus is to secure the maximum number of tour points and to secure a spot in the finals. Carlsen was understanding of his opponent’s decision, praising his excellent showing in the tournament.
Wesley So vs Magnus Carlsen
Ding Liren vs Levon Aronian ½ - ½
Ding tried a rare line in the double fianchetto English line, avoiding putting his pawn on d4. The line with the pawn on d4 is known to be tricky for Black but some forced solutions have been found in recent practice. Aronian was ready to face his opponent’s sideline, equalizing the position out of the opening. The reverse dragon structure was harmless for black, as indicated by the quick liquidation into an equal rook endgame.
Fabiano Caruana vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ½ - ½
The most action-packed game of the round did not have a decisive result. Mamedyarov played the Scandinavian, a rare guest on the elite level. Caruana had the better position with more space and the pair of bishops, eventually reaching a better endgame. The game became more contentious as Caruana overpressed, letting the advantage slip out of his hands. At some point, he needed to be very precise to balance the game and trade down to a three pawns vs three pawns rook endgame.
Fabiano Caruana signing autographs
Anish Giri vs Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½
Nakamura’s Berlin Defense was put to the test yet again, but it withstood the challenge. The American has three games against Vachier-Lagrave in the line Giri chose, the latest one from Abidjan Grand Chess Tour earlier this year. Nakamura improved on his earlier play and remained ahead on the clock, indicating that he was better prepared than his opponent. The game didn’t see a lot of action as the US Champion centralized his pieces and traded his opponent’s key e5 pawn for his b7 pawn. The game ended in a draw in the opposite color bishops endgame after the knights were also traded off.
Fans await Hikaru Nakamura's arrival
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Ian Nepomniachtchi ½ - ½
Nepomniachtchi essayed the Caro-Kann defense for the fourth time in his career; the last time was in 2013 against Chinese Grandmaster Wang Hao. Vachier-Lagrave chose the two knight variation, which soon transposed to the structures where black has double pawns on the kingside and white has four pawns against three on the queenside. The Frenchman was optimistic about his position, but felt that he rushed with the d5 pawn push, which gave him a passed pawn. Nepomniachtchi’s counterplay came fast. Sensing the danger, Vachier-Lagrave decided to simplify the position, trading his passed pawn for an h pawn. The game ended shortly with a perpetual check.
Viswanathan Anand vs Sergey Karjakin ½ - ½
The final opposite colored bishops endgame was also a result of the Berlin. Anand avoided the endgame and employed the 5.Re1 variation, which also has a reputation for being very drawish. The former World Champion had the bishop pair but the closed pawn structure rendered them quite useless. The pieces were traded off quickly, reaching a two bishops against a knight and a bishop endgame. Anand traded his bishop for a knight to stop it from activating, thus entering a completely drawn opposite colored bishops endgame.
Sergey Karjakin with Anish Giri and his coach Vladimir Chuchelov