Farrukh Amonatov was the shock winner of the Eurasian Blitz Cup of the President of Kazakhstan. The 38-year-old Tajikistan Grandmaster beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2:0 in the final round of the two-day blitz event to punish Ian Nepomniachtchi for taking an 8-move draw in his last game. Vladislav Artemiev took third ahead of Baadur Jobava, Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler. Harika Dronavalli edged out Hou Yifan for the women’s first prize.
It wasn’t easy going head-to-head with the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour in Leuven, but if the Eurasian Blitz Cup couldn’t compete for coverage it also had no need to feel an inferiority complex. Over 100 players took part in 11 double rounds of 3 minutes + 2 second blitz games, with World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk just one of the star names – that he finished 20th tells you all you need to know about just how tough it was.
Despite only lasting for two days, the prize fund for the event in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Almaty, Kazakhstan was a whopping $100,000, with the winner taking home $30,000, or the same prize Magnus Carlsen received for finishing second in Paris.
The action was inevitably frenetic and all but impossible to follow live, but you can play through most of the top games (24 boards were broadcast each round) using the selector below:
Let’s take a quick look at how it went.
The first player to take the sole lead was Wang Hao with 6/6 from the first three double rounds, but in Round 4 he ran into Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who won both games to take over the sole lead with 7.5/8. Mamedyarov wouldn’t relinquish that lead for another five double rounds, and ended the day by extending his lead with a win over Peter Svidler with the black pieces. The game was gone a few moves earlier, but Mamedyarov picked the most elegant finish:
30…Nxe1! Now 31.Qxc3 would be an immediate mate: 31…Nf3#
On this video you can see Svidler flinch when the black pieces move in for the kill - check out Dastan Kapaev's YouTube channel for far more videos from the event:
As you can see, our dark horse Farrukh Amonatov was among the chasing pack at the end of Day 1, despite having lost both games to Rustam Kasimdzhanov. One of those came with the kind of simple tactic anyone can miss in blitz:
46…Rxe4+! 47.Kxe4 Bd5+, winning a whole piece.
Mamedyarov swapped wins with Karjakin to retain the lead after the first double round on the last day, but then he met his nemesis in Baadur Jobava. The Georgian scored two crushing wins, with the second particularly nice.
33.Rb8! Of course 33…Rxb8 runs into the minor problem of 34.Rxh6 mate. Shakhriyar crumbled and ended the day with one win and five losses in his last six games (of which more later!).
Jobava followed Mamedyarov’s example by swapping wins with Karjakin in the next round to go into the final double round of the day as the leader:
Amonatov had lost both games to Karjakin in Round 9, but bounced back against Susanto Megaranto (whose blitz rating climbed 140.4 points in Almaty!) in Round 10 and was still in contention because of an extraordinary end to an earlier game against Artemiev:
Artemiev had Black and, all other things being equal, could have won the whole tournament if he’d played 35…Qxe5!! 36.fxe5 Bxe5+ 37.Kg1 Rxd1+, but instead he went for 35…Qd5?? and after 36.Qc7+! Kg8 37.Rxd4! it was Black who had to resign.
In the final round we immediately got a new leader, as Jobava went down in flames against Nepomniachtchi in their first game. He’s just captured a rook on h8:
26…Nb4! 27.Nc3 Ne4! and Jobava threw in the towel.
We got a very familiar pairing on Board 2, where Svidler ended Karjakin’s hopes of first by winning with the black pieces:
Amonatov eased to a win over Mamedyarov to leave only three players capable of claiming the title and $30,000. 2nd was $20,000, 3rd $14,000 and 4th $7,000, with prize money not shared.
The top pair were playing each other and took the fateful decision to agree an 8-move draw. That avoided the potential pain and expense of defeat, but it left the door open for the surprise package of the tournament.
24th seed Amonatov seized his moment to defeat Mamedyarov in real style. Perhaps the final tactics weren’t the toughest to find, but to do it in such a situation was comparable to Karjakin’s last-round win in the Candidates Tournament:
25.Nf6+!! Bxf6 26.Rxd6+!! Ke7 27.Rd7+ Ke8 28.Qxc6 Bxb2+ 29.Kb1 Resigns
It’s not just that Black's dark-squared bishop doesn’t have a discovered attack – there’s isn’t a single white piece or pawn on a dark square!
That meant that Amonatov finished tied with Nepomniachtchi but took the big first prize on the tiebreak of most wins. We’d like to think a chess commentator somewhere in Tajikistan (or Moscow, where Amonatov lives) reacted as this Icelandic commentator did to his team of underdogs getting a last-minute win in Euro 2016:
Actually, we can see some footage of the last round:
The final standings at the top were as follows, with Baadur Jobava just edging out Vladislav Artemiev for 3rd place:
The players could finally relax after an exhausting and high tension event:
To get an idea of just how big the stress can be in a blitz event, here’s Igor Kovalenko’s account (from his Facebook page) of how he ended up throwing pieces at David Anton!
The tournament is tough and, to put it mildly, my play wasn’t great. The symptoms were already visible in the first game, though up to a point it was tolerable. But in the 3.2 game (Black against Wang Hao) I lost on time in a won position – at that point for the first time in the tournament. Already then I felt that I couldn’t entirely control myself: physical exhaustion, the frustration of blunders and nervous overload over the course of a few months were making themselves known… I ended the first day with two losses to Baadur, confirming that I’m still capable of playing like a first category player. I still put my hopes on sleep and the second day, but that all fell apart that night – I got to sleep at 5am. In the 8.1 game against Antoaneta Stefanova after some adventures I got a queen ending a pawn up, and safely… lost on time. Naturally, my instincts restrained me from voicing what I thought about my play, as a lady was sitting opposite… Less than an hour had gone by when, will wonders never cease, in game 9.1 I lost on time for a 3rd time, and with the words “what on earth is this” I brushed the pieces off the board – what’s colloquially known as a “Chinese draw”. But all the pieces flew into my opponent… Of course after that incident I instantly stretched out my hand to congratulate him on his win and said, “sorry, sorry”. My colleague, in contrast to internet idiots [the original Russian is stronger] accepted my outstretched hand… Then the rest of the tournament was played out, but that’s another story entirely…
Actually Kovalenko went on to win his next five games, including defeating Laurent Fressinet and Ivan Saric 2:0, to finish in 9th place and win $1,300. We should probably also add, though, that for once he was dead lost in the position where he lost on time against Anton!
There were more events in Almaty after the tournament was over, including Boris Gelfand and top Kazakhstan performer Rinat Jumabayev giving a simultaneous display. David Llada was on hand to take some wonderful photographs:
And you can also see video of that event:
So that’s all for the 2016 Eurasian Blitz Cup of the President of Kazakhstan. Let’s hope that’s not the only edition of the tournament, and that in future it can be organised on a weekend when another major blitz tournament won't steal some of its thunder!
Want to know what big chess events are coming up now? Check out our 2016 Chess Calendar!
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