Carlsen Wins Croatia Grand Chess Tour

Croatia Grand Chess Tour title 2019 is won by Magnus Carlsen of Norway.Carlsen finished a point ahead of Wesley So, whose 7/11 was good for a 2881 performance rating, $60,000 and 15 GCT points. The American GM said about Carlsen: 

“It feels like second place is already a victory whenever he’s playing right now because it’s like Bobby Fischer back in the ’70s or ’60s when he was playing the U.S. Championship and others are just playing for second place.”

Anish Giri had his own, witty way of describing Carlsen’s current invincibility, saying the others have to wait out the storm. “All storms come to an end. I am sure eventually he will be very old, very tired!”

Fabiano Caruana: “He is winning games with remarkable ease. Normally these things don’t happen; like today, he ends the game with an hour on the clock…. I think that things are all falling together for him in every stage of the game.”

Expressions of this sentiment have been around for the last few months and have now been put down in hard numbers as well. On the next FIDE rating list, Carlsen’s Elo will be exactly the same as his highest published rating: 2882 as it was in May 2014. The gap with world number two Caruana will be 64 points.

The 28-year-old Norwegian GM himself was over the moon after scoring six draws and five wins in Zagreb—all the more significant to him because of the two extra rounds compared to Norway Chess, for example, and especially the sheer strength of the field.

Carlsen noted that he “had never scored anything like plus five against such a field before” and later added:

“For me it’s huge. It’s the first time basically that I’ve played an event like this—12 players, all absolute elite. I really didn’t know what to expect, I’ve been playing a lot recently and I felt a bit spent towards the end of Norway Chess. But’s been a dream, especially the second half has gone so well.”

Comparing the winner to Fischer has a fine parallel—after receiving his trophy, Carlsen thanked the Croatian fans. “I always heard about the chess culture [in former Yugoslavia] and I have to say that it delivered in every way.”

Almost half a century ago, in the same city, Yugoslav chess lovers saw another dominating player from the West. It was in Rovinj (first half) and then Zagreb (second half) where Fischer scored one of his great performances in 1970 as he won the Tournament of Peace, an 18-player(!) round robin, with 13/18, two points clear of the rest.

With his win in the last round over MVL, Carlsen has won his sixth classical tournament in a row and extended his unbeaten streak in classical games to 79. For this, he used the 8.Be3 line in the Gruenfeld against an expert in that opening.

Vachier-Lagrave rarely loses with the Gruenfeld and had never lost in this particular variation.

This endgame, which the now-retired 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik liked to play as well with white, is the classic Gruenfeld fight between Black’s pawn majority on the queenside versus White’s passed d-pawn (coined “Delroy” by Jonathan Rowson 20 years ago in his classic Understanding the Grunfeld).

“I was definitely happy to get this position. It’s not much for White but I thought for the tournament situation, there would be little risk so that’s good, and maybe some chances to play as well,” said Carlsen. In this game, Delroy made the difference as MVL erred on move 28. The endgame is unpleasant but possibly lost only after he traded rooks.

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