Added on 12/9/2019

Photo credit: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

Ding Liren finished off a strong year by winning the Grand Chess Tour. 

Here is Maurice Ashley's interview to the 2019 GCT Champion (starting at 2:37:38):

Liren got to the final by defeating Levon Aronian decisively, 19-9.  The first victory in that match, coming in the first rapid game, included a truly spectacular move:


The games were weighted so that a loss in classical chess could be devastating, but falling behind in rapid games was also a scary prospect.  Aronian took too many risks in the next rapid game and paid the price.


There was really no chance for Aronian after that.  The other match, however, went down to the wire. Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave traded wins, MVL striking first, Carlsen returning the favor—both with the Black pieces.  It came down a blitz playoff game, a wild and wooly affair that the Frenchman was able to survive:


Ding dominated the early going of the final match as well. 

Photo credits Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

After a lot of patient grinding, he should have won the first classical game, but MVL made a kick save, and a beauty.


But Ding did not falter in the second game, finishing in style with a nice combination:


Put in a desperate position, MVL tried a Benoni, and in the words of the great Dmitry Gurevich, who suffered in many US Championships playing the opening, it was a “typical Benoni” with Ding scoring the point again.  The blitz results became almost moot, with MVL winning a moral victory by dominating 3.5/4, bringing the final margin to 16-12.

Carlsen won the consolation match, and with it automatic qualification for next year’s GCT.  He also struck early, winning two games by maneuvering around in the London System.  That made Aronian’s task almost impossible, though he was able to hang around by exploiting a Carlsen blunder of rare magnitude:


Magnus put the match to bed by exploiting a positional buildup with some uncomplicated but accurate tactics:


At this point, if there was not a tournament to decide who will challenge Magnus next year - the Candidates' - everyone would indicate Liren as the first Challenger! The Candidates' Tournament is not far away, and we can't wait to see who - among these extraordinaire players - will be the next Carlsen's foe. Our GM Alex Yermolinsky did a nice recap of the GCT Finals, LIVE on ICCTV: