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By John Henderson

No, not rapper Eminem as the title would perhaps suggest but rather living-legend Garry Kasparov, as he makes a rare cameo comeback in his brainchild of the (over-the-board) Grand Chess Tour as it reaches Zagreb in Croatia. The 58 year-old will be doing a “job share” though with Ivan Saric who will play in the rapid  tournament, with the former world champion replacing the Croatian in the blitz tournament that runs Saturday and Sunday.

Also making a much-welcomed return to competitive play after a near 18-month pandemic hiatus is Kasparov’s old foe Vishwanathan Anand, with the Indian ex-world champion playing in both the rapid and blitz. Despite the inclusion of two iconic former title rivals, all eyes though are on Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen’s new title challenger.

Nepo might well be the top seed and the title-challenger but he rode his luck somewhat in his opening round game and should really have lost to Anton Korobov. But the Russian soon bounced back to the sort of form you would expect from the Challenger, and he looked all but set to run away with the tournament only to be brought back to earth with an almighty crash and shock loss to local hero Saric in round 6.

But by the end of the third and final day of the rapid, Nepo managed to hold on to his slender one-point lead over the chasing pack of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Kasparov/Saric and Jan-Krzystof Duda going into the double-round blitz tournament at the weekend.

Coverage of Kasparov’s return to action in the GCT Croation Rapid & Blitz will be on 10-11 July starting at 09:00 EDT (08:00 CDT | 06:00 PDT) with live commentary from GMs Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila, and Maurice Ashley exclusively on kasparovchess.com/grand-chess-tour.

Rapid final standings:
1. Ian Nepomniachtchi, 11/18; 2-5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Kasparov/Saric and Jan-Krzystof Duda, 10; 6-7. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Viswanathan Anand, 9; 8. Alexander Grischuk, 8; 9. Anton Korobov, 7; 10. Jorden Van Foreest, 6.

Photo: Ian Nepomniachtchi takes a slender lead into the blitz  | © Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

 

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Anton Korobov
GCT Croatia Rapid & Blitz, (1)
French Defence, Steinitz, Boleslavsky Variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 little like the Advance variation in the French (3.e5), this way of playing against the Classical French was popularised by the first World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, hence the name-share. 5…c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 And now we come to the second part of the name-share, the Boleslavsky variation, after the early Soviet-era player and leading theoretician Isaac Bolesavsky, who became a mentor/trainer to the first Candidates’ winner, David Bronstein, who also became his eventual son-in-law. The idea behind 7.Be3 is to try and force an early release of the tension on d4. 7…Be7 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bd3 c4 10.Bf1!?N An interesting novelty from Nepo, as more usual here is 10.Be2 Nepo’s big idea is to vacate the e2 square for the knight, which can then hop to g3, and then after Be2 he can launch an all-out kingside attack. 10…b5! Easily the best and most energetic move for Black. 11.Ne2 It’s too risky to take the pawn, as after 11.Nxb5?! Rb8 12.a4 a6 Black stands well with his pieces ideally place for the game to burst open. 11…f5 [A typical sort of French move here, just trying to stop g4 followed by rolling the kingside pawns up the board. That said, normally wiser is continuing energetically with the counter on the queenside, such as 11…b4 12.g4 (The point is White might not be able to react as Nepo does in the game, as 12.Ng3 will walk into 12…c3!? 13.bxc3 bxc3 14.Qd1 Qa5 15.Be2 Ba6 and Black is doing more than OK here.) 12…f6!? 13.g5!? and with the game  on the verge of dramatically about to open up, things look set to be “interesting”. 12.h3 b4 It’s all just a little tad slower from Korobov than the note above, but there’s no fault in his play as Nepo’s attack just looks like smoke and mirrors. 13.c3 Rb8 14.g4 bxc3 15.bxc3 Ba3! This is a clear sign that Nepo’s strategy has backfired – Black stands well and should really have gone on to take the full point from here. 16.Bg2 Rb2 17.Qd1 Qa5 18.0-0 A radical solution, but then again I doubt if Nepo fancied much the idea of slumming it with the retreating option 18.Bc1 and allowing 18…Rxe2+!? 19.Kxe2 Qxc3 20.Rb1 Bxc1 21.Rxc1 Qb2+ 22.Rc2 Qb5 and Black has more than enough compensation for his exchange sacrifice. 18…Nb6 19.Bd2 Bd7 20.gxf5 Rxf5 21.Ng3 Nepo keeps on pushing the envelope with his risky strategy, as the position looks ripe for untold tactical possibility for Black. 21…Rf8 22.Ng5 h6 Nothing wrong with Korobov’s move per se, but I did say the position was ripe for a tactical hit, and better and stronger was 22…Nxd4! and White looks to be on the ropes as the knight can’t be captured, and 23.Qh5 is easily answered now with 23…h6 leaving White’s position literally hanging by the barest of threads. 23.Nxe6?!? When in trouble, throw petrol onto the fire! 23…Bxe6 24.f5 Nxd4 Better late than never, I suppose! 25.fxe6 Rxf1+?! In hindsight this only helps Nepo, as recapturing with the knight allows him to defend the Bd2 and free his queen to attack. Instead, better was 25…Nxe6! 26.Nf5 Na4 and we still have a game on our hands. 26.Nxf1 Nxe6 27.Qg4! [see diagram] At long last Nepo has some activity and something to work with! 27…Kf7 28.Kh1 Ke7 29.Be1 Nepo is now able to regroup his pieces, and now threatening to chase his opponent’s king. 29…Qb5! Very wisely looking to trade the rooks with …Rb1. 30.Rd1 d4!?! Either very brave or just moving in a blind panic in the time scramble. Safer was just 30…Rb1 trading the rooks in order to lessen the attacking possibilities. 31.Ng3 d3 32.Nf5+ Kf7?? Trying to beat the clock, Korobov blunders big-time by putting his king on the wrong square and loses quickly. That said, even after the clearly better 32…Kf8 there’s 33.Nd4! Nxd4 34.cxd4 and Black will have to tread carefully with his king still vulnerable and exposed as White’s pieces begin to come to life. 33.Bh4 There’s just too many pieces now swarming round Korobov’s lonely king. 33…Rxg2 34.Nxh6+! 1-0 Korobov resigns in view of the forced mate after 34…gxh6 35.Rf1+ Ke8 36.Qxe6+ Be7 37.Qxe7#

 

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