The third leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour kicked off July 19th in the city of Zagreb, Croatia. The event is being sponsored by SuperUnited under the patronage of the Croatian Government's Tourism and Sports Ministry. All in all, these efforts are responsible for the USD 175,000 prize fund.
The players and special guests at the Opening Ceremony of the Croatia Rapid and Blitz | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Aside from the presence of the World’s leading players, including current World Champion Magnus Carlsen and upcoming challenger Ian Nepomnichtchi, the opening ceremony was graced by the presence of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković as well as the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov. The Prime Minister exchanged pleasantries and played a few moves against the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, under the guidance of Garry Kasparov. For the first time in GCT history, the opening ceremony was broadcast on Croatian national television in full.
Garry Kasparov, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Magnus Carlsen | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
After the inauguration Kasparov and Carlsen took the stage for a press-conference, where Magnus made it clear he preferred the GCT format, as opposed to the traditional World Championship Match format. Prophetic words, considering the announcement he would make the next day…
Kasparov and Carlsen at the press conference | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
To finish off the day, each player (including Kasparov) took on four opponents in a clock simul, for a total of forty-four boards. Particularly note-worthy was Ihor Samunenkov of Ukraine, a student of the "Young stars Global program", who managed to draw his game versus Wesley So.
44-board clock simul | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
It seemed like the day’s big attraction was going to be the first-round matchup between Carlsen and Nepo, in anticipation of their upcoming World Championship Match. However, early this morning we all awoke to Carlsen’s announcement that he would not be defending his title. Amid all the questions, Jordan van Foreest was the first to plow through the confusion with a beautiful win with the black pieces against Mamedyarov:
33...Rxe5! [33...c3?? 34.Qxh6+ Qxh6 35.Rxh6+ Kg8 36.Nf6#] 34.dxe5 c3 35.Nf6 Qxf6! [35...gxf6?? 36.Qxh6+ Bxh6 37.Rxh6#] 36.Qxd7 [36.exf6 cxd2–+] 36...Qe6 and White resigned 0–1
Jordan van Foreest | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
Firouzja also managed to pull off a win against Saric in the last minute in a curious rook endgame:
63...g3?? [The g-pawn is doomed, so the tempo would have been better spent on activating the king. 63...Rb3+ 64.Kc5 Rc3+ 65.Kd5 Rd3+ 66.Kc4 Rd1 67.Rg5 Kc7 After activating the king, Black will hold easily] 64.Rg5 Re3 [64...Rb3+ 65.Kc5 Rc3+ 66.Kd5 Rd3+ 67.Kc4 Rd1 68.Rxg3+–] 65.Kb6 Rb3+ 66.Kc5 Rc3+ 67.Kd5 Rd3+ 68.Kc4 Ra3 69.Rg7 Ra1 70.Rxg3 White went on to consolidate his extra pawn and win. 1–0
After a fairly uneventful game against Nepomniachtchi in the first round, Carlsen made his presence felt with the black pieces in the second against a wounded Topalov. Despite getting a much worse position out of the opening, White defended heroically and managed to reach the following drawn rook endgame:
65.Rxa2?? [65.f5+! exf5 66.gxf5+ Rxf5 67.Rxa2 Kxg5 is a theoretically drawn endgame, but one which will hard to hold in practice] 65...Rxf4 66.Kh3 Kxg5 67.Ra5+ f5 68.gxf5 Rf3+ 69.Kh2 Rxf5!–+ [Now Black's e-pawn is too far away. 69...exf5?? 70.Ra8= and we would be back to the drawn endgame 70.Ra8 Rf4 71.Kh3 Kf5 72.Ra5+ e5 73.Rb5 Ra4 74.Rb8 Kf4 75.Kxh4 e4 76.Kh3 Kf3 77.Rf8+ Ke2 78.Kg2 e3 White resigned. 0–1
Round 3: The Road Runner
After listening to Magnus’ interview with Alejandro Ramirez, I wondered “aloud” into the deep Twitter void:
Almost instantly, the echo came back:
A big first day with a lot to unpack. It’s always great to see Garry Kasparov near a chess board again. For those of us who witnessed his peak, it was like watching a giant playing a game of whack-em-all. Magnus’ dominance was different. It felt like his opponents were carrying a heavy load from point A to point B, while he ran laps around them. But at some point you have to give your legs a rest. I think it makes sense for World Champions to step away from their title when they feel they need to rediscover their purpose, as opposed to the old tradition of ossifying on the throne.
After the Candidates in Madrid, there is no question what Nepo’s purpose is. And if you saw his post-game interview today he seems unphased by the new developments. Nevertheless, today he inflicted his first loss on himself.
25...Rxe3? [Too soon since now the white queen can return to defend. 25...h5 26.Qc8 Rxe3! now that the queen is far away, the exchange sac works 27.fxe3 Qc2+ 28.Kh3 Qe2 29.Qf5 Ne6 with a crushing attack for Black] 26.fxe3 Qc2+ 27.Kg1 Qc1+ 28.Qf1 Qxe3+ 29.Qf2 after which White consolidated and went on to win. 1–0
I get the feeling we are only beginning to see Nepo’s real potential. So despite the loss, if he can play with the same level of control as he did in Madrid, he will remain a heavy favorite to win the event.
Alireza Firouzja | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
After all was said and done today, Alireza Firouzja willed his way into first place after winning a completely drawn rook endgame against Saric in the first round and beating a struggling Topalov in the third.
Standings after three rounds
Round 4 pairings
Our coverage of the 2022 SuperUnited Rapid & Blitz Croatia continues on Thursday, July 21 at 7:50 AM CDT with live coverage from Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila, Evgeny Miroshnichenko, Alejandro Ramirez and Woman Grandmaster Anastasia Karlovich on grandchesstour.org.