I must admit it worked out surprisingly well chess-wise. Having won both in Stavanger and in Zagreb and played decent chess, it is hard to see that it could have had much of an effect. When the chess form is good, it is easier to handle both adversity and the unexpected, at least short term. 

Looking back I can think of a couple of earlier events where I’ve managed to perform reasonably well despite similar extraneous factors. Most likely it will take longer than usual to recover, and fortunately there is a full month until my next chess tournament Sinquefield Cup in St.Louis.

Back in 2003 my family traveled through Croatia on our way to Budva, Montenegro for the World Youth Championship. (I came 3rd in the U14 group.) Later I’ve been training with Kasparov and also going on vacation in Croatia, but this has been my first tournament in Croatia. It is a bit surprising really considering the strong chess tradition here.

Together with Sinquefield Cup (also part of the Grand Chess Tour) sporting the same combatants as here, the Zagreb tournament is the strongest classical round robin event this year with the top five rated players (FIDE June list) and all twelve among the top 17.

Once again I drew an extra black in the drawing of lots, and faced Anish Giri in round 1. The game became quite typical for many of my wins with black this year. With the unexpected and maybe slightly dubious 7…. d6 I got my opponent out of theory. The position is maybe objectively better for white, but the computer evaluation in not really that important in such an unbalanced position without a clear plan for white. Knowing that you have a better position but not how to exploit it, can sometimes even be detrimental. Your imperative is to accept the imbalance and try to win, although maybe caution would have paid off instead. His 16.Nd2 has been criticized, and rightly so, but I think the main mistake was Qa4 displacing the queen and raising the stakes. After 19.c3 it was lost for white. His king is just too exposed to survive long-term.

My friend Ian Nepomniachtchi started with three victories, while I drew round 2-5 despite good winning chances with white against both Anand and Mamedyarov. The game against Mamedyarov was extremely complicated and having missed so many things in the early middle game to go from a winning position into such difficulties, I was happy and maybe a bit fortunate to find all the necessary defensive resources while low on time. It was enough to hold and eventually put some pressure on him before reaching a draw.

My round 6 opponent Nakamura has struggled a bit in classical chess over the last year, while maintaining his strong performances in rapid and blitz. I didn’t get much out of the Queens Gambit opening. Trying to make progress, I went with 16.e4 after a long think. I had missed something, and when he tried to take advantage of the pin in the c-file with 17…. Nd4, I wasn’t particularly optimistic. The rest of the game became highly tactical. Afterwards I was surprised to discover that 21.Rd3 was a mistake as Qe2 works out tactically and is significantly better for white. However, he immediately went astray after Rd3 with his response Rec8? I already knew I had to play Qb2 as anything else looked bad for white, but spent time trying to figure out if I had missed anything. I couldn’t understand what it would be, and my alternatives were anyhow not tempting at all. Suddenly discovering what he has missed earlier, Nakamura wisely tried to complicate further with 22…. Nc5, but the subsequent tactics where less difficult to find, and I managed to convert to a winning endgame with two extra pawns on the kingside, a safe king, and pressure against his passed a4-pawn.

In end I won with the highly satisfying score 8/11 ahead of Wesley So with 7/11.

I’m flying home tomorrow and will be back with more on round 7-11 the coming week!    

Magnus Carlsen, Zagreb, June 7th, 2019.