The 2019 Grand Chess Tour (GCT) kicked off in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The best chess players from all over the world assembled in the coastal city to fight for a $150,000 prize fund and GCT points. The most brilliant minds in the game battled it out in nine rapid and 18 blitz games to determine the winner of the prestigious event.
In the end, it was world champion Magnus Carlsen who bested players from seven countries for the Ivory Coast title, thus marking his fifth consecutive tournament win this year. Grand Chess Tour: Ivory Coast was also the first event a reigning world champion played on the continent of Africa. Not only have his results been exceptional, but Carlsen’s level of play has reached new heights.
He was no different in Abidjan, even though he was consistently critical of his play and lack of “flow.” Carlsen dominated the rapid portion of the tournament with a total of six wins and three draws. This remarkable result allowed him to once again cross the 2900 mark in rapid and also gave him a commanding three-point lead over the rest of the field going into the blitz portion.
Carlsen expected to clinch the tournament win easier and just enjoy the blitz, but his shaky play forced him to become more alert. Still, his self-described “not-so-good” play was enough to secure the win with two rounds to spare.
After Carlsen stormed through the first half of the event, it became clear that, for the rest of the field, it was a fight for second place. Two players separated themselves from the rest. The American Hikaru Nakamura and Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were neck and neck throughout and eventually tied for second place, earning $22,500 and nine GCT points each.
Vachier-Lagrave was the only player to defeat Carlsen twice, but it still wasn’t enough to change the course of the tournament. 2016 Grand Chess Tour winner Wesley So was the fourth-place finisher, thus collecting $15,000 and seven GCT points.
One of the stars of the event was five-time African champion Bassem Amin. The Egyptian grandmaster (GM) was one of the wildcards of the event and the lowest seed, but that did not stop him from playing spoiler, defeating players such as Hikaru Nakamura, former world champion Veselin Topalov and even drawing Magnus Carlsen himself. Amin expressed his happiness at being able to square off against the best in the world, an opportunity he wouldn’t normally be afforded.
The next stop of the tour will take place in Zagreb, Croatia, beginning June 26. It will be the first of two classical events and will feature all 12 of the GCT players, with no wildcards. There will be more tour points and a hefty $325,000 prize fund on the line. The other classical event will be the Sinquefield Cup, which will take place in St. Louis in August.
This was the first time in history such a prestigious event has taken place on the African continent. GCT: Ivory Coast became a festival of sorts with ongoing side events and engaging commentary from GM Maurice Ashley.
Even some of the tour players enjoyed the extracurriculars, like second-place finisher Maxime Vachier-Lagrave playing soccer with visitors. Carlsen had high words of praise, acknowledging the enthusiasm and the love of game he felt not only from the locals but also from neighboring countries. He said that the country has a bright future in chess. The Grand Chess Tour was started for this exact reason: to promote the game throughout the world and bring back a universal love for the sport.
The St. Louis Chess Club will continue to broadcast live play-by-play commentary from its studios in the Central West End throughout the Grand Chess Tour season. Chess fans can enjoy the show live at www.grandchesstour.org. The next GCT stop in Croatia will be held in the capital city of Zagreb, June 26-July 8.
Tatev Abrahamyan is an Armenian-born American chess player holding the title of woman grandmaster (WGM).