Levon Aronian has won the inaugural Superbet Rapid and Blitz and almost guaranteed himself a place in the London Grand Chess Tour finals after beating Sergey Karjakin in a playoff. It was a bitter end for Karjakin, whose missed win in the final round deprived him of any chances of going to London. Vishy Anand is now well-placed to book a ticket through the final event in his native India, while the main stars in Romania were perhaps the wild cards Anton Korobov, Le Quang Liem and Vladislav Artemiev, even if it was a day too far for Anton.
You can replay all the games from the Superbet Rapid and Blitz Grand Chess Tour using the selector below:
And here's the live commentary on the final day's action:
Let’s get straight to the conclusions:
Going into the Superbet Rapid & Blitz Levon Aronian was the only player in the field to have won a Grand Chess Tour event this year (the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz), and in fact apart from Levon only Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana had ever won a Grand Chess Tour tournament in its 4-year history. He started the final day in 2nd place, a point behind Korobov and half a point ahead of Le Quang Liem, but after beating both those players in the first three rounds, along with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, he’d opened up a 2-point lead over Korobov and a resurgent Vishy Anand.
Just when it seemed things were going to be easy for Levon, however, he crashed to defeat against a player who would hunt him down all day, Sergey Karjakin, and that would be the first of three losses in four games. Levon’s thoughts switched to damage limitation, and he said afterwards:
You know by studying my games that I’m not the most pragmatic guy, and at some point I let myself be carried away and then I lost three, and then I said it’s time to be pragmatic and secure the top three places.
That narrative is slightly spoiled by a 15-move draw against Anand coming after the loss to Karjakin and before losses to Artemiev and So, but in the end a 50% score for the day was enough to give Levon 20 points (10 from rapid and 10 from blitz) and a tie for first place with Karjakin.
The players had the unusual experience of switching from playing 5-minute games to slower 10-minute playoff games, and the 20-move draw in the first gave the impression that they wanted to shorten proceedings. The 2nd game was short as well, but it was sweet for Levon as Sergey lost his way in the sudden complications:
23…Nb4! 24.Qd1 Rxc3 and Karjakin would have been fine, but instead he played 23…Bb4?, with the bishop, unlike the knight, neither defending d5 nor stopping 24.Qd3! All options for Black lose material (24…Rxc3 25.Bxd5+ Kh8 26.Qxc3! is nice), and the game ended: 24…Rxf3 25.Qxf3 Bxa3 26.Re8+ Kh7 27.Qf5+.
Sergey resigned rather than lose his queen to the familiar trick 27…Qg6 28.Rh8+!
The playoff victory earned Levon neither more money nor more GCT points, but winning matters for the top players. As he commented afterwards:
You want to win, because when they write your name and if you want to be remembered you want to be remembered as a guy who came there and won. I don’t want to say anything about Sergey because he has won many events as well, but this gives a special feeling.
As at most big chess tournaments where Levon is playing there were also Armenians (or members of the Armenian diaspora) among the spectators.
The playoff was hard to face for Sergey, since he’d come so close to his real goal of overtaking MVL in the fight for a place in the London finals. After starting the day 2.5 points behind the leader he scored 6/9, with some moments to savour. For instance, in the second round of the day he finally converted a tough game against Le Quang Liem with a display of some “as every Russian schoolboy knows” knowledge:
61…Rxe3! 62.fxe3 Kg4 and it turns out Black is winning.
The key game of the day before the final climax was Sergey beating Aronian:
The straightforward 35…Bxd4 is very drawish, but 35…Rxd4! suddenly turned the tables. Capturing on d4 would now cost a full piece, while after 36.a5!? Rxf4+! Sergey emerged two pawns up and went on to win.
He caught Aronian after 16 rounds and in the final round had a gilt-edged chance to take clear first place and 13 Grand Chess Tour points. He won a full exchange against Korobov, and despite allowing more counterplay than necessary could have sealed the deal for instance on move 37:
37.Nxf5+! and most of the squares the black king could retreat to are mined. If h7, h8, g6 or f8 there’s Qxh6+, if g8 there’s the Ne7+ fork and if 37…Kf7 the killer is blocking the diagonal with 38.Re4!! and if 38…Nxe4 then simply 39.dxe4! and the black king is in dire trouble. To make matters worse, White is even a pawn up.
It’s understandable Sergey tried to shut down a wild game with 37.Qg2, but after 37…Qb6!, attacking the queen and eyeing the white king, it was still as wild as it gets. The drama continued to the very end:
Here Korobov forced a draw with 50…Rg2+ 51.Kh1 Rh2+ although, as Sergey had spotted, 50…Rh1+! was winning. 51.Kxh1 Qe4+ is a quick mate, while running with 51.Kf2 is a bit trickier, though 51…Qb2+! should get the job done. If the white king takes the knight Black takes the white rook with check, and soon mate.
In most circumstances escaping a loss and making a playoff for 1st place would be a triumph, but the problem was the Grand Chess Tour standings. This was Sergey’s last event, and the difference between 11 points for shared 1st and 13 for sole 1st was huge. Instead of climbing above Maxime Vachier-Lagrave he’d finished 0.3 points below him, with hopes of London gone – there’s no need to check the tiebreak regulations since Levon will get a point simply for showing up in Kolkata:
I would be super happy if I would win the last game, and I was very close, and I think it was very important for me for my standings in the Grand Chess Tour to win sole first place, and like that I’m very unhappy that I didn’t win the last game. Ok, I could even lose it, but it already doesn’t matter so much because I really wanted to win the tournament.
As you can see, Anton Korobov was determining the fate of the tournament until the very end, but Day 5 was the day he finally hit a wall. He’d struggled on the first day of blitz but come back to take a 1-point lead into the final day, but the run was over. Again he lost to Le Quang Liem in the first round of the day, while in the second game he looked about to rescue a draw against Aronian before he lost the thread and even blundered mate-in-1.
He missed mate-in-6 and lost to Wesley So, for a final tally of 5 losses in a row and 6 in 7, before beating Mamedyarov in the penultimate round.
5th place was a disappointment for a player who led from the end of Day 2 to the start of Day 5, but $12,500 will mean more to Korobov than the regular star players, and no-one can take away the achievement of winning the rapid section against such a field. Anton was also a breath of fresh air with his post-game interviews. Grischuk once picked Korobov when asked to choose a player who deserves more mainstream attention and we certainly hope Anton gets it in future!
It wasn’t just Korobov who impressed, as all three wildcards earned bragging rights from their performances. Le Quang Liem was the top scorer on the first day of blitz with 7/9, and a decent 4/9 on the second saw him take a deserved 4th place. Vladislav Artemiev didn’t win a game on the first day of blitz and ultimately had just two good days and three bad in Bucharest, but when he’s good he’s very good! He started with 1.b3 against Anish Giri on Sunday and gave mate on the board, later crushed Aronian in 30 moves with Black and had some fun at Caruana’s expense:
31…Nxd4! 32.Rxc2 (32.exd4 Rc1!) 32…Nf3+!, winning the white queen. Again, he won the non-existent prize for “best blitz performance of the day” with 5 wins, 4 draws and 7/9. He finished on 50% in joint 6th place, but the feeling is with a little experience - perhaps the delay rather than increment was an issue - he’ll do even better.
Vladislav Artemiev’s rival on the final day was Wesley So, who had matched his 6/8 (4 wins, 4 draws) before they met in the last round. The young Russian won that encounter, but it was still a return to form for Wesley, who after a very poor start in Bucharest had climbed to the almost respectable heights of joint 8th place with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. It seems the emotional and general fatigue of beating Magnus to win the Fischer Random World Championship and then travelling straight to another event had been too much.
While, as we’ve seen, Levon’s attempts at pragmatism were a mixed success, Vishy did take a very professional approach to the final day. First he racked up three wins in the first three rounds of the day, including a nice finish against Korobov:
Many moves win, but 33.Rc8! was a beautiful way to trap the queen. Korobov resigned, as 33…Qxc8 runs into 34.Nxf6+ and the bishop takes the queen next.
After that Vishy drew the remaining six games, some very quickly, to take third place and 8 Grand Chess Tour points. You might say he could have fought harder for first place, but that could go either way, and as it was only Artemiev scored more on the final day of blitz. The result leaves Vishy within 5 points, or 6th place in Kolkata, of overtaking MVL in the race to play in the London Grand Chess Tour finals, where the top prize is $150,000. You also get $40,000, more than for 1st place in Bucharest, simply for showing up.
The final event will be special for Vishy, since it takes place in his native India in just 11 days time, with speed chess kings Carlsen, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren joining a field that includes just two wild cards, Vidit and Harikrishna.
There were disappointing results in Bucharest – for instance, Mamedyarov managed 4 wins in 27 games – but no top player does speed chess collapses quite like Fabiano. We’ve heard him admit before that when he lacks motivation and an event is going badly he can switch off and will also deliberately avoid his standard openings. Whatever the explanation, it’s strange to see the world no. 2 end rock bottom 2.5 points off the pace after scoring 2/9 on the final day ("matched" only by Korobov), including 6 losses and just one win. It’s tempting to make a selection of some of the calamities that befell him, but let’s limit ourselves to just one, which could be entitled, “never play f6!” This is after 13 moves…
14.Rxg7+! is mate-in-11, though Fabi resigned after Wesley So began 14…Kxg7 15.Qg6+ Kh8 16.Qxh6+ Kg8 17.Qg6+ Kh8 18.Bd3!. Black can block the light squares with f5, but then the b2-bishop will give check when the c3-knight chooses to jump to wherever it can do most damage.
Caruana would have had a 6-game losing streak if not for a fortunate draw against Anish Giri, while for Korobov it would have been 7 if not for a draw against Giri, but as well as being the Angel of Drawing Mercy Giri somehow ended up with exactly 50%, or 18/36. It was an outcome that was difficult to imagine after how the event began:
At the start of Day 2 that became 7/8, but then Anish went 20 games without a win (15 draws, 5 losses), beat Le Quang Liem, and drew the last two games.
So there were some puzzling performances, but overall the players, and especially the wild cards, played a full part in making the Superbet Rapid & Blitz a success. The venue looked impeccable and it was great to see so many children (and adults!) following the action. Next year a classical event is planned in Romania, so the future looks bright.
That's all for the Grand Chess Tour for another 11 days, but the European Club Cup has begun in Montenegro and the Hamburg FIDE Grand Prix has reached the semi-final stage, with all the action live here on chess24. We've also got the Banter Blitz Cup, including IM John Bartholomew today at 20:00 CET taking on Spanish GM David Anton, who finished above Magnus Carlsen in the recent Grand Swiss.
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.