This year’s Grand Chess Tour kicked off in the Ivory Coast with a significant innovation, the first ever tournament in Africa involving a reigning world champion. Magnus Carlsen duly triumphed in the overall scores of a combined rapid and blitz event. The champion, however, did not have it all his own way. Carlsen easily won the rapid section but suffered a scare in the blitz when Maxime Vachier-Lagrave twice defeated the champion and won a barely credible eight games in a row. This remarkable parade was, though, insufficient to jeopardise Carlsen’s victory, since his lead from the rapid section was too vast to overcome.
The scores out of a possible 36 were as follows: Magnus Carlsen 26½, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 23, Wesley So 19½, Ding Liren 18½, Wei Yi 16½, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin 15½, Veselin Topalov 11½, Amin Bassem 10½. Here are some highlights.
Carlsen–So: Rapidplay, Abidjan 2019 (see diagram 1)
A notable feature of Carlsen’s recent play is his willingness to make speculative sacrifices of a pawn. In this endgame he has full compensation thanks to his bishop pair and far more active pieces. 28 Rc1 Rb7 The only way to prevent an immediate rook incursion to the seventh rank. 29 Rc3 Kh7 Too slow. Better is 29 … Ne7 planning … f6. 30 Rec1 Bd7 31 Rc7 Rxc7 32 Rxc7 f6 33 Rxd7 fxg5 34 fxg5 Nxh4 35 Bxe6 Kg6 36 Rxa7 Kxg5 37 Rxg7+ Kf6 38 Rg8 Ng6 Better is 38 … Rxg8 but White should still win. 39 Rxf8+ Nxf8 40 Bf5 Black resigns The black knight is dominated and White wins by advancing his king up the board.
Karjakin–Carlsen; Rapidplay, Abidjan 2019 (see diagram 2)
Carlsen has again sacrificed a pawn. However, his active play on the kingside soon bamboozles his former World Championship challenger. 26 … Qh4 27 h3 Nxe3 28 Bxe3 Qe1+ 29 Kh2 Qxe3 30 dxe4 Nf4 31 Qb2 White had to try 31 Qb1 to hold the e-pawn. 31 … Qxe4 32 Bd7 g6 33 Rf6 Nd3 34 Qc3 Rxd7 35 Re6 Qf4+ White resigns
Carlsen–Vachier-Lagrave; Blitz, Abidjan 2019 (see diagram 3)
35 … Nf2+ 36 Kg1 Nh3+ 37 Kf1 Ambitious but playable. 37 Kh1 is a perpetual check draw. 37 … Qf5+ 38 Ke2 Qe5+ 39 Ne3 Nf4+ 40 Kf1 Ne6 41 Qxa6 Qxh2 42 Qd3+ Kg8 43 a6 Carlsen blunders, allowing his king to be encircled. 43 Nf5 was unclear. 43 … Bh4 44 Qd2 Nf4 White resigns
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