Reports Dec 5, 2022 | 11:36 AMby Colin McGourty

Arjun Erigaisi and Vaishali win Tata Steel Blitz

Arjun Erigaisi defeated Hikaru Nakamura in the penultimate round to clinch victory in the Tata Steel India Chess Blitz with a round to spare, meaning that for two years in a row he’s never finished below 2nd place in either the Blitz or Rapid in Kolkata. There was more Indian success in the Women’s event, as Vaishali finished 1.5 points clear of Mariya Muzychuk.

Nakamura saw the funny side after his blunder gave Arjun Erigaisi the title with a round to spare | photo: Lennart Ootes

Going into the final day of the Tata Steel Chess India Blitz Arjun Erigaisi had a half-point lead over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and a 1-point lead over Vidit, but soon it would all be about a 2-horse race with Hikaru Nakamura, who started 1.5 points back. Vishy Anand commented before play began, “The open event is full of sharks, but luckily for Arjun he’s one of them!”

Arjun nevertheless got off to the worst possible start. He had multiple chances to beat bottom-placed Nodirbek Abdusattorov, but ultimately lost all control and stumbled into a lost position.

His rivals pounced, with Hikaru Nakamura beating Nihal SarinVidit edging closer with a draw, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov taking over the lead by defeating Gukesh.

Arjun bounced straight back, however, defeating Vidit after the unfortunate king move 36…Kh1? (36.Kg2!) lost a piece to 36…Bd3.

Just how quickly things could change in a blitz event with no weak players was shown by Vidit plummeting from 3rd to last place as this became the first of 5 losses in a row, before he hit back to finish 5th after winning the last 3 games!

Abdusattorov lost 6 of his first 7 games on Day 1, but lost just one on the 2nd | photo: Lennart Ootes

Arjun caught Mamedyarov in the lead, and would never be lower than shared 1st again, while Hikaru Nakamura would never be first on the final day, but moved to within half a point with a win over Wesley So.

Wesley had been a clear pawn up and winning but lost his way and then blundered with 34.Qxf4?

That lost on the spot to 34…Qc5+! 35.Qd4 Rxd5! and the pinned queen can’t capture on d5 so Black is simply a piece up. Wesley resigned.

Wesley would then go on to essentially end Mamedyarov’s challenge by beating the co-leader in the next round, while Nakamura and Arjun won and the two-horse race began. They both drew in Round 13, then won in Round 14, before Round 15 seemed at first to almost wrap up overall victory for Arjun.

Hikaru was well-beaten by Parham Maghsoodloo, while Arjun got a gift when, at the end of a chaotic game, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played 39.Kf2??, simply forgetting there was an undefended rook on a1.

Arjun could potentially win the tournament with two rounds to spare, and everything was going right against Parham Maghsoodloo… until it suddenly wasn’t! Parham continued to be an agent of chaos by catching Arjun in a mating net.

Arjun Erigaisi had time to reflect on his mistakes, as the clock had to be reset after an illegal move in an already lost position | photo: Lennart Ootes

It became worse for Arjun when Hikaru was this time the one to benefit from a huge blunder, with Gukesh, in a position where he could draw with 37…Rg4+!, instead playing 37…Rc4?, walking into mate-in-1.

The normally unflappable Arjun later admitted he’d been shaken, commenting:

The previous game against Parham I had such a nice position, I could have at least drawn the game, but I allowed some attack and ended up losing that, and after that it became close. At first I thought of just making a draw, but then I was like, let’s play on.

Arjun, leading by only half a point, played the hyper-sharp 4.f3 Nimzo against Hikaru Nakamura, but although the opening went well he later found himself in a lost position, all the way up to move 33.

Hikaru could have taken the lead with a round to go if he’d played 33…Rg3!, threatening to take on g2 next. The only move to stop that is 34.Bf1, but then 34…Rh3! forces 35.Qg1 after which Black can chose his kill against the paralysed white army: 35…Nf5, 35…Rxh4, 35…Qf4, 35…Ne4 and more moves win.

Instead after 33…Ne4? 34.Bxe4 Qxe4 35.Nf3 Arjun knew he was back in the game, with the players very much playing for three results. There were twists and turns before the most dramatic of finales. With 46…Be2? Hikaru blundered, and only realised what he’d done when Arjun played the winning 47.Qa2+!, picking up the piece. Hikaru’s shocked reaction was a classic.

But he immediately saw the funny side as he conceded a defeat which meant Arjun Erigaisi was the 2022 Tata Steel Chess India Blitz Champion.

Hikaru Nakamura had put up a fantastic fight | photo: Lennart Ootes

Arjun would later add, “the thing I’m most proud of here is beating Hikaru 3:0!", i.e. once in the Rapid and twice in the Blitz. You can click on any of the results below to replay that game.

If there was a combined prize for Blitz and Rapid Arjun would have cruised to victory, since he finished 2nd in the Rapid event. That was a reversal of 2021, when he won the Rapid and finished 2nd, after a playoff against Levon Aronian that went to Armageddon, in the Blitz.

“In general I like playing rapid and blitz a lot more than classical,” said Arjun, while Vishy quipped, “I still think he confused the tournaments!”

Another trophy in Kolkata for Arjun Erigaisi | photo: Lennart Ootes

The victory saw Arjun Erigaisi enter the Top 10 on the blitz live ratings, though he noted he would have climbed higher if not for the recent K factor change that made it twice as hard to gain (or lose) points in rapid and blitz.

You can also see that despite a fine performance Hikaru Nakamura has conceded the top spot to Alireza Firouzja — Magnus Carlsen tops the classical and rapid ratings.

The women were coordinated for the closing ceremony | photo: Lennart Ootes

The Women’s event was also a two-horse race, but this time the leader at the start of the day, Mariya Muzychuk, was overtaken, by Vaishali, who had breakfast with brother and fellow chess star Praggnanandhaa.

The day began perfectly for Mariya, as she beat Kulkarni Bhakti while Vaishali was held to a draw, so that her lead became 1.5 points.

Ultimately, however, it would be Vaishali’s day. The 21-year-old commented, “I was not checking the standings at all until the last game”, and explained that she’d learned a lesson from last year in Warsaw:

In the World Blitz also after the first day I was in the joint lead, 8/9 or something [7.5/9 in sole 2nd place behind Bibisara Assaubayeva on 8/9], then on the second day I lost control and lost so many games and I think I finished 10th or 11th, so today I really wanted to have control. Even when I lost to Anna I thought I should be in control.

Vishy Anand was one of the first people to congratulate Vaishali | photo: Lennart Ootes

Vaishali in fact only lost to Mariya’s sister Anna Muzychuk, twice, and crucially held what at one point was a lost position in the head-to-head encounter with Mariya.

Mariya Muzychuk had a winning position against Vaishali, but couldn't convert | photo: Lennart Ootes

Towards the end there was evidence of fatigue and nerves, as Mariya blundered a rook in Round 15.

Curiously that wasn’t even the worst blunder of the round, since Harika Dronavalli simply put her queen on a defended square.

The crucial result, however, was that Vaishali somehow managed to win what Vishy Anand described as a “ridiculous game” against Savitha Shri to catch Mariya.

Vaishali then took the sole lead for the first time in the penultimate round as she beat Oliwia Kiolbasa while Mariya lost to Harika Dronavalli.

That meant Muzychuk only needed a draw in the final round to guarantee victory, and although she very nearly lost to Anna Ushenina it wouldn’t have mattered, since Mariya was never better and ultimately lost to Nana Dzagnidze. That left the final standings as follows.

Vaishali arrives for the Closing Ceremony | photo: Lennart Ootes

The next major over-the-board rapid and blitz action will be the European Rapid and Blitz Championship from December 16-18 in Katowice, Poland, before the big one, the World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the traditional Christmas dates of December 26-30.

The four winners: Vaishali (Blitz), Anna Ushenina (Rapid), Arjun Erigaisi (Blitz) and Nihal Sarin (Rapid) | photo: Lennart Ootes

There’s online action before that, however, with Gukesh hoping to bounce back from his last place in Kolkata when he takes on Magnus Carlsen in their Speed Chess Championship match on Tuesday December 6th. You can follow all the action here on chess24! 

See also: 

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