GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has won the Croatia Rapid & Blitz. The French grandmaster secured the $37,500 first prize with a round to spare when GM Garry Kasparov, who struggled again on Sunday, lost on time in a drawn position. Thanks to an excellent second day of blitz, GM Viswanathan Anand finished in second place, ahead of GM Anish Giri who came in third.
“I’m delighted, simply, ” said Vachier-Lagrave after receiving the winner’s trophy. The French player was a point behind GM Ian Nepomniachtchi after the rapid and only half a point before the final day. As it turned out, the world championship challenger ran out of steam on the fifth day of play, when he scored a disappointing 3/9. MVL, on the other hand, scored 6.5/9 on both days of the blitz and finished two points ahead of the pack.
Zagreb Blitz, Day 2
|10||Jorden van Foreest||2688||2483||½||0||0||0||½||0||0||½||0||1.5/9|
Perhaps with only the single exception of GM Jorden van Foreest, a huge, universal sigh of relief could be felt in the chess world when Kasparov started his second day of blitz with a fine victory. Using an old favorite, the Scotch Opening (which he personally revived in the early 1990s), Kasparov played like in the days when his nickname Beast from Baku was commonly used.
“I was very proud. That was a great game,” he said afterward.
Sadly, this was going to be the only win Kasparov would score out of 18 blitz games. He would draw two games, with Giri and Nepomniachtchi, and lose the other six.
“Somehow, the pressure… I couldn’t get my act together,” said Kasparov (more comments from him below).
In the same 10th round, Nepomniachtchi extended his lead to a point as he won vs. GM Anton Korobov while Vachier-Lagrave drew his game, using a crazy rook:
The very next round MVL caught up with Nepomniachtchi. The Frenchman defeated Giri and then saw his rival losing to GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Let’s do this as a puzzle: White to play and draw.
In round 12 of the blitz, MVL became the sole leader for the first time. As he drew with Anand, Nepomniachtchi lost a wild game to Giri:
Round 13 saw the big clash between Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave, where the latter once again showed incredible defensive skills as he held an endgame with a rook against two minor pieces. This is very hard to defend in blitz, but MVL managed:
Vachier-Lagrave had already emphasized the importance of defense the other day, and repeated it in the short interview at the closing ceremony, and then also in a tweet:
— MVL (@Vachier_Lagrave) July 11, 2021
In the same round, Anand and Kasparov sat down for what was their 82nd clash. They drew their first official game in Linares in 1991, played a world championship match in 1995, and had drawn both of their games when Kasparov participated in the blitz segment of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour event in St. Louis.
On Saturday, Kasparov had lost on time without Anand noticing; it was the arbiter who intervened when the players kept playing. The next day, Kasparov flagged again, this time after a little incident. The live video shows Anand, after making his 24th move, pointing toward the clock showing seven seconds for Kasparov, who got distracted and executed his 25th move too late.
“To be honest, I thought his flag had fallen,” Anand explained to Chess.com. “It was almost involuntary, my hand shook when I was pointing to the flag, and then I realized it was seven seconds, I don’t know why I saw that last one as a zero. I think he was right to be annoyed, it was an innocent mistake on my part, and I felt very bad. I didn’t actually say anything; I was myself very confused.”
Anand then helped MVL while moving to a shared third place himself with an excellent win against Nepomniachtchi:
With draws for MVL and Nepomniachtchi, Anand came closer as he also beat Korobov, meaning that the five-time world champion had caught Nepo in second place. The two of them were a point behind Vachier-Lagrave with three rounds to go.
While Nepo drew with GM Alexander Grischuk, Anand then won his fourth game in a row, against Van Foreest. That meant that the Indian legend was now in sole second place, trailing MVL by a point with two rounds to go, as the latter beat GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a crucial game:
Anything was possible when Anand reached a winning position against Mamedyarov (after surviving a lost position earlier) and MVL was under pressure in a rook endgame against Kasparov in the penultimate round. However, with a number of bad tournaments behind Vachier-Lagrave, this time everything fell into place for him.
First, Anand allowed his opponent to escape with a draw:
And then it was another dramatic moment for Kasparov that decided the tournament. After he had spoiled a winning position the other day against MVL, he was doing well again and reached a rook endgame a pawn up. However, the tournament leader once again defended well and when the draw seemed inevitable, Kasparov forgot about the clock and flagged, making his opponent the champion.
Anand secured second place with a quick draw against Grischuk, and then Giri took clear third as he won a lost game vs. Mamedyarov, who tried the Blumenfeld Gambit:
— Rakesh Kulkarni (@itherocky) July 11, 2021
To see Anand performing so well at age 51 is a great inspiration, even to himself. He noted that this inspires him to work hard for his next events. Anand further said:
I felt I was playing well in the rapid. In the blitz, I was apprehensive because when you’ve been away for a long time, you don’t know how you’ll play. But it went fabulously. Yesterday already I was pleased with a plus-two and today, I started off brilliantly. I should have beaten both Anish and Duda, completely winning positions, and I drew both. Then they always say: If you don’t score, your opponent will, so I was kind of nervous, but these four wins in a row…. Look, I’m happier than anyone else, I can tell you!”
This time, Kasparov did provide comments after he finished his disappointing tournament:
I think it’s easy to explain. It’s not just being rusty, these guys are professionals, and I am an amateur. I spent a little bit of time with GM Peter Svidler a few days before the tournament, just going through this opening theory. In Chess960, I’m far more comfortable because I don’t have to overload my brains with all this opening theory.
I have to say that in the last few days, I was shocked because we looked at some of the positions that I analyzed before some of the participants in this tournament were born. And then in one minute, the engine tells you that everything I did, preparing for Nigel [Short] in 1993, is crap. This was a shocking experience.
I probably could have done a better job preparing, but the problem is it’s shifting from totally different things. Having a speech on cybersecurity or messages reporting dissidents in Iran. And then you have to play guys; they’re the best guys. This is their job.
Things could go better on the first day. I was shocked. They just played 6.Bg5, and all my life I played 8…Qb6. But now, to memorize these lines. I played a lousy move, 8…Qc7, but I have to say that I had decent positions in all games.
About his poor time management, he said:
The moment I shifted to a ground that I didn’t expect, everything just went in the wrong direction. Yesterday I was really struggling. Probably I needed to spend a few days just playing. Maybe I had to play with Saric, just to feel the pieces. It’s different things. I play a lot online, but it’s not the same. And again, it’s not the same strength.
Anand also commented on Kasparov’s play, saying he was very surprised about the gap between the Kasparov playing in St. Louis 2017 and the Kasparov four years later:
In St. Louis, he seemed like a top chess player. He knew his openings, he knew everything, and he was playing fast. Of course, some drama happened, but here, he just seemed out of it completely. It is clear that this is not the Garry we recognize. That’s a tough thing. One thing I give him credit for: He didn’t back down on the last day, he just kept going and going, so that’s still…. He’s got that.”
The next time we’ll see Kasparov at the board will be in September in St. Louis, when there will be another Chess960 tournament. Apparently, the 13th world champion is still not thinking of quitting altogether as he said: “In St. Louis, I will do much better. Trust me!”
Sorry I couldn’t do better for the fans who gave me so much support at #CroatiaRapidBlitz. But time is undefeated, and Caissa is a jealous mistress who punishes anyone who ignores her as much as I do! Congrats to MVL and Vishy on their great results. And Saric! 🇭🇷
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) July 11, 2021
Zagreb Rapid & Blitz 2021 | Final Standings
|9||Jorden van Foreest||2688||27||10.5|
All games day 5
The Croatia Rapid & Blitz took place July 7-11, 2021 in Zagreb, Croatia. The time control in the rapid was 25 minutes for each player with a 10-second increment per move, starting from move one. The time control in the blitz was five minutes for each player with a two-second increment per move, starting from move one. The rapid counted double for the final standings. The tournament was the third leg of the Grand Chess Tour and had a $150,000 prize fund with a first prize of $37,500.