The Grand Chess Tour‘s final leg before the London playoffs started today in Kolkata, India. After three rounds of rapid, Magnus Carlsen is leading the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz.

We’ve had the Cote d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz, the Croatia Grand Chess Tour, the Paris Rapid & Blitz, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, the Sinquefield Cup and the Superbet Rapid & Blitz, and now we’ve reached the final pre-playoff event in the 2019 Grand Chess Tour.

The Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz Grand Chess Tour games start each day at 09:30 CET, which is 03:30 a.m. Eastern and 0:30 a.m. Pacific. You can follow them here as part of our live portal. Commentary is provided by Wouter Bik and GMs Roeland Pruijssers, Aman Hambleton and Simon Williams at Twitch.tv/chess.

Held for the second time in Kolkata, India, the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz entered the tour this year. Eight regular GCT participants are playing, together with two wildcards from India:

2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz participants
The tournament has eight regular tour participants as well as wildcards Vidit and Harikrishna. Image: Spectrum Studios.

Magnus Carlsen already secured his spot in the playoffs (Dec. 2-10 in London), and Ding Liren is quite close as well. Currently Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is in third place, but he has already played his five tournaments.

Levon Aronian, only 0.3 GCT points behind MVL, is playing in Kolkata and so he’ll likely take over the third place. The fight for the fourth and last spot is going to be between Vishy Anand, Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi. Last year’s champion Hikaru Nakamura is out of contention.

2019 Grand Chess Tour standings before India
The current Grand Chess Tour standings. Image: Spectrum Studios.

On the day before the real action started, some of the players were involved in some side activities. Nakamura and Ding visited the Gariahat Chess Club, Pentala Harikrishna and Anish Giri showed up at the Alekhine Chess Club and Anand and Vidit Gujrathi visited the Kolkata head office building of Tata Steel, the main sponsor of the tournament.

Nakamura and Ding visited the Gariahat Chess Club
Nakamura and Ding playing chess with locals at Kolkata’s Gariahat Chess Club. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
Pentala Harikrishna and Anish Giri showed up at the Alekhine Chess Club
Harikrishna and Giri answering questions at the Alekhine Chess Club. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Later on Thursday the opening ceremony was held on the terrace of the Taj Bengal Kolkata Hotel, where the players are also staying. Besides senior management representatives from Tata Steel, the ceremony was also attended by Sourav Ganguly, the former captain of the Indian cricket team and the current President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Sourav Ganguly Tata Steel Chess India
Sourav Ganguly holding a white king, with tournament director Jeroen van den Berg (left), Magnus Carlsen and arbiter Rathinam Anantharam. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Held in the auditorium of Bhasha Bhawan, the National Library of India, the tournament has more spectators than usual at chess events. The venue wasn’t sold out though; about 250-350 seats of of the 500 were occupied on the first day.

It started with a rather quiet first round, which saw four draws and little spectacle. Like in Bucharest, it was Giri who grabbed an early lead as the only winner. The Dutchman defeated Nepomniachtchi in a line of the Catalan he once looked at with Vladimir Kramnik, as the Russian blundered later on:

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Nepomniachtchi vs Giri 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
Nepomniachtchi vs. Giri. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen was paired against So in the very first round, but failed to take revenge for his loss in the final of the Fischer Random world championship. As this game ended in a draw, the Norwegian GM did win his next two games to end the day as the sole leader.

Carlsen first defeated—or rather, crushed—Nepomniachtchi in the Moscow Sicilian where he got a positional advantage early on and then finished it off strongly. He called it a “pretty clean” victory: “That’s what happens when you’re lost out of the opening as he was.”

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Carlsen then also beat Aronian with the black pieces. Here the opening didn’t go that smoothly, though. Now often playing 1.e4 these days, Aronian got a big advantage in an English Attack. Just when he could have gained a winning advantage, he went for the wrong plan.

Carlsen: “Earlier on he could have played something more incisive and probably won by brute force.”

Carlsen day 1 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
The leader after day one: Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Whereas Anand couldn’t win a single rapid game last year in this tournament, he did so as early as round two this time around. The five-time world champion received an applause from the crowd when he defeated So, deep in the endgame. The game seemed to be heading to a draw when the American player suddenly made a bad judgement: 

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Anand beats So 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
Anand after beating So. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Anand’s good spirits among his compatriots were short-lived as something went terribly wrong in the opening against Nepomniachtchi in round three. It would be stretching it to say that it was dangerous to repeat a line in which Alexander Grischuk got crushed by David Anton in the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, but Black was definitely quite uncomfortable as early as move 16:

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Nepomniachtchi 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
Ian Nepomniachtchi. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Remarkably, besides Carlsen only one player is on a plus score after three rounds. Nakamura started with two draws, and then beat Giri. 

“Not much that could have been done for the last 20 moves by Anish but certainly in the middlegame he could probably could have come with something better,” said Nakamura. “But it’s rapid, you don’t have a lot of time, and it’s not easy to find the best setups.”

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Nakamura second 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
Nakamura is second after day one. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

One more moment should be mentioned, and that is a move that will compete for Blunder of the Year. Ding had reached a basic rook endgame with two passed pawns on the queenside, and did the one thing you shouldn’t do: move the pawn to a7 first.

The Chinese GM played this with 11 seconds left on the clock, but also with a 10-second delay on each move so even with this clock situation this should have been peanuts for a 2800- grandmaster. As Nakamura put it: “Ding should win this game 100 out of a 100 times, there’s just nothing to it. You put the pawns on a6 and b6, run the king to the h-file, and go rook. It’s one of the first things you learn.”

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And so it’s the world champion who is leading in Kolkata with two days of rapid and two days of blitz to go—and, today, exactly six years after clinching the world title in his match with Anand in Chennai 2013.

2019 Tata Steel Chess India standings after day 1
The standings after the first day. In the rapid, a win yields two points and a draw one. Image: Spectrum Studios.

All games of day 1 for replay/download:

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2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
About 250-350 spectators visited the tournament on the first day… Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
Spectators 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz
…seeing the first Grand Chess Tour event in Asia. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

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