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On Chess: Grand Chess Tour Crowns 2019 Winner

The winner of 2019 Grand Chess Tour, Ding Liren.
Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour
The winner of 2019 Grand Chess Tour, Ding Liren.

Ding Liren won the 2019 Grand Chess Tour after defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France in the finals.

The star Chinese grandmaster collected $150,000 for his efforts, bringing his winnings to nearly $300,000 for the tour.

After winning the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis earlier this year, Ding has come out from under the radar in the chess world and is now considered to be one of the favorites to challenge world champion Magnus Carlsen.

The tour concluded in London on Dec. 8 and had the same format as last year. The top four finishers of the entire tour qualified for the finals, which was a combination of two classical, two rapid and four blitz games of chess.

The four players were:

  • GM Magnus Carlsen of Norway
  • GM Ding Liren of China
  • GM Levon Aronian of Armenia
  • GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France

After having a phenomenal year, Carlsen was poised to win the tour to cap off his best year ever. Surprisingly, he was defeated by Vachier-Lagrave in the semifinals, losing his right to fight for the title. 

His match against the Frenchman was a contentious affair and was decided in the playoffs. Ding’s victory against Aronian in the semifinals was smooth sailing, as the Armenian player was suffering from illness and never found his form. Thus, Ding and Vachier-Lagrave met in the finals, while Carlsen and Aronian battled it out for third place. 

Actor Woody Harrelson is a chess aficionado and made the ceremonial first move in the game between Magnus Carlsen (right) and Levon Aronian.
Credit Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour
Actor Woody Harrelson is a chess aficionado and made the ceremonial first move in the game between Magnus Carlsen (right) and Levon Aronian.

Both matches were one-sided as Carlsen and Ding scored victories in the classical games, giving themselves a six-point lead going into the final day of rapid and blitz. The Chinese star was completely dominant in his play, clinching the title with four games to spare.

Albeit humble and reserved in expressing his happiness, the tournament was a big confidence boost for him.

“In my best shape, I can compete with anyone else,” Ding told commentator Maurice Ashley in the post-tournament interview. Vachier-Lagrave was gracious in defeat, praising his opponent and describing his play as amazing, emphasizing that his opponent “struck when it counted, and struck very hard.” The Frenchman collected $100,000 for his result and earned a spot in the 2020 tour. 

Carlsen didn’t have any difficulties defeating Aronian in the finals. After winning the first classical game, he also entered the final day with a six-point lead. The match was nearly decided in the first rapid game, when in an unprecedented turn of events, Carlsen blundered checkmate. The minor setback didn’t stop the world champion from winning the very next game and the match in the subsequent next two games.

Carlsen was disappointed in his performance but felt that “the right two people played in the final.” Even so, the Norwegian has not lost a single game of classical chess this year, extending his undefeated streak to 107 games. He earned $60,000 for his third-place finish, making him the highest earner of the entire tour. Aronian collected $40,000 for his fourth-place finish. 

The Grand Chess Tour will remain a staple on the chess calendar in the upcoming year. The 2020 season will kick off in May in Bucharest, Romania, and will consist of a combination of classical and rapid and blitz events. More information can be found at grandchesstour.org.

Woman grandmaster Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess when she was 8 years old and has played in four Olympiads and two world team championships. She is considered one of the top players in U.S. women’s chess. She is also a member of the St. Louis Chess Club, a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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Tatev Abrahamyan | St. Louis Chess Club