Alexander Grischuk won seven of his last nine games to overtake Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and claim the World Blitz Championship title for the third time. Maxime let a 1.5 point lead with only four rounds to go slip, and later said it had rarely happened that “second place felt this bitter”. Magnus Carlsen’s title defence faded after a bad start on the final day and it was his pre-Berlin training partner Vladimir Kramnik who took third, later commenting, “maybe I can still play chess for a while”.
Alexander Grischuk won the first ever World Blitz Championship in Israel in 2006 and then repeated that feat in 2012. Back then Vlad Tkachiev asked him whether he thought the system (at the time a big round-robin) was appropriate:
Well, for spectators it’s inappropriate, of course – it’s impossible to follow even two games simultaneously. Only one game should be played at any given moment.
It’s hard to argue with that assessment in 2015, since it’s unlikely anyone has more than scraped the surface of the 1971 games played over two days in Berlin, never mind actually trying to follow them live. Still, that means there’s a huge amount of chess left to explore after the event is over – you can replay all the games using the selector below, and note if you hover over a player’s name you’ll see all his or her games in the event:
Let’s now look at seven stories from the final day:
When Magnus lost the last game of the first day of the World Blitz Championship that looked like a mere blip on his wonderful performance in Berlin. Five games into day two, though, and he had two more losses and three draws to his name. His will to win was intact, but his survival instincts were failing him, for instance, against Grischuk in Round 15. After a tense battle Carlsen could have bailed out with 42.Rxe6, more or less forcing a draw, but instead he went for "more" with 42.Qe5?
He got more than he bargained for, since 42…Ng7! stopped mate and left both the rook on e8 and the bishop on f1 under attack. Grischuk took the exchange and easily converted his advantage, leading to the first explosion of emotion of the day:
The most disheartening sign for Magnus was that it could have been even worse. He was in trouble against Kramnik in the first game of the day and then utterly lost again Peter Svidler when he went for the misjudged zwischenzug 32.Qg4?
32…f5! defended g7 and hit the queen, allowing Peter to pick up the e1-rook (fortunately for Magnus a check on e6 meant he was losing only the exchange and not a full rook). Carlsen then did well to whip up some counterplay, but even the position where the players repeated moves still seemed won for Black.
Despite all his woes, Magnus hit back with wins in Rounds 17 and 18 and still found himself only a half point off the lead with two rounds to go. He couldn’t do it again, could he? Few would have been surprised, but then Carlsen came up against the force of nature that is Ivanchuk. The Ukrainian outplayed the World Champion, although he gave Carlsen a glimmer of hope with 37…Rf1:
Alas, this just wasn’t the Norwegian’s day. Instead of exchanging on f1 he went for 38.Qd2? which was immediately hit by 38…Qg1+! Magnus resigned as it was mate next move and he once more couldn’t hide his frustration… while Ivanchuk fled the scene after his own burst of emotion (of which more later):
It's hard to resist adding:
That was the end of any mathematical chance of retaining the
Blitz World Championship title, but a cute pawn ending win against Tomashevsky
in the final round meant Carlsen still finished a respectable 6th on 14/21.
He was at least getting a lot of praise in the medal-winners' press conference:
Grischuk: First of all I again want to congratulate Magnus. I can’t stress it enough that it’s one of the biggest achievements in chess history to win three such tournaments in a row – two last year and the rapid here – because it’s incredibly tough to win one already and to win three is fantastic. Actually at the beginning of blitz I was afraid he was going to win the fourth one and I started to be somewhat sick of him already at that moment.
Vachier-Lagrave: I have to stress that what Magnus did yesterday and last year – winning three world class events in a row – is just incredible, especially when you know how easy it is to spoil it, especially in blitz.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished second half a point behind Grischuk, but that was a poor consolation:
In general I should be satisfied, but to be completely honest with you it rarely ever happened that second place felt this bitter for me.
We can’t do better than let Maxime tell his own story:
In general on the first day I played extremely well. I love to play blitz, but yesterday I was kind of in the flow – something that rarely ever happens. Things were just going so well for me. But today probably the pressure caught me a bit, already in the first few games. It was not like I was having bad results, actually I was not losing a game, and then suddenly I won this game against Peter [Svidler] in convincing fashion and I was 1.5 points ahead. Somehow there I was thinking, I’ve not done it yet but I’m the one who can prevent myself from winning the title, and it’s exactly what happened. I lost two games in a row. Even though I finished with two decent games it was not enough.
What we might add is that the seeds of the mini-collapse were perhaps sown in the victory over Peter Svidler. There Maxime employed some of the endgame virtuosity he’d shown the day before to eke out a win in a minor piece and then pawn ending. That gave him the confidence to try the same in the next round in a position he could easily have drawn against Yuri Vovk:
38.g5!? It was almost a brilliant pawn sacrifice, getting a pawn on e6 with the rook ready to invade on f7, but when Vovk got his own knight to e5 he had everything under control and went on to win. Then a game with the black pieces against Vassily Ivanchuk was the last thing Maxime needed. So although it looked like a classic “choke”, it was perhaps just an unfortunate series of coincidences.
Had Maxime warmed to the idea of second place a day later? Not exactly!
For all the agony felt by Maxime and Magnus if there’s one person in the world chess elite who values blitz above the classical game it’s Alexander Grischuk, so it’s fitting that he’s now pulled off the impressive feat of winning the World Blitz Championship for a third time. He could even allow himself a loss to Teimour Radjabov at the start of the final day before powering home with seven wins in his last nine games. That included ending with two wins with the black pieces.
Here against Evgeny Tomashevsky it’s not hard to guess that 30.Raa1? is a mistake, leaving the e2-bishop dangerously undefended, but Grischuk’s reply was instant and game defining:
30…f4! After the forced 31.Qxg6+ Nxg6 two white pieces are left attacked and the game is over. In the final round against Gelfand, Grischuk went for the sharpest of possible openings. He was running the risk of things ending in a fiasco, but instead he counter-punched in the centre at the perfect moment and overran his opponent.
Afterwards Grischuk talked about how he’d suddenly got into the groove on the final day:
For me I played the whole rapid bad. Yesterday was bad as well, but today something changed for me - in me, maybe. Somehow I was really concentrated. I didn’t speak to anyone between the games, to remain concentrated, and so on, and played really well today, I think. I could not believe I’m going to win until the end – even after I beat Boris Gelfand. Then I just needed that Vladimir does not beat Ivanchuk, because if he won I'm sure he would beat me on tiebreaks, because I started very bad in the tournament, and then Ivanchuk had two knights and three pawns against two knights and two pawns, so basically he cannot lose normally, but there are two knights so you can always just put the king in check and lose like this, so this was the moment I was most nervous actually, today, but luckily it was ok.
The world no. 2, who earned more in Las Vegas than he could have done if he'd won both the rapid and blitz in Berlin, and also moved back to no. 1 on the world blitz ratings, commented:
After the Rapid World Championship it emerged that Kramnik had been training blitz with none other than Carlsen in the run-up to the event, which perhaps ultimately worked out better for the former World Champion. He still claimed not to have been sure about entering:
To be honest I was not sure whether to play at all in the blitz tournament, because blitz is a game for young players. I thought I have no real chance to be top and then why play at all, because in two days I’m already travelling to another tournament so I was hesitating a bit but then decided to play. Of course I didn’t expect at all to have such a good result. Ok, some good 15-20 years ago I was a very strong blitz player but with age somehow you start to lose reflexes.
He had a slow start, but then described how everything clicked into place:
The first five games I was really not feeling the rhythm and not playing so well, so I was on 50% after five rounds, but then I made +9 in the last sixteen rounds without losing a single game, playing with absolutely all the best blitz players in the world – I think I collected everyone today. I had Magnus, Aronian, Maxime, Alexander, Radjabov, Ivanchuk, just everyone who you could face – Karjakin also. And today I made +5. This was for me a very big surprise and it’s a bit reassuring. It means that maybe I can still play chess for a while.
In fact it was only +4 on the final day, but it was vintage Kramnik, winning the occasional tactical melee (as against Karjakin) but mainly outplaying opponents in apparently balanced positions.
For instance, he beat Aronian with three pawns against a piece, although things could have ended differently until the very last moment:
Aronian can still draw with various moves, including the amusing 63…Rd1 64.Rxe7 Rg1+ 65.Kf5 Rxg5! – the desperado rook can’t be taken or the black king would be stalemated. Instead after 63...Ba3 64.g6 Rd6 65.Rf8+ it was mate in 2.
In the closing stages Kramnik found himself at the top of the table:
I was not actually looking at the standings at all, but just a couple of rounds before the end someone told me that I’m sharing first and this was a huge surprise for me, and then I won the penultimate round and of course I was already hoping to win the event, but ok, in any case of course the result is very good.
His problem was that his last-round opponent was none other than Vassily Ivanchuk!
46-year-old Ivanchuk was clearly disappointed to only draw with Kramnik in the final round, and if you look at his results you can see why – the Ukrainian genius had won nine and drawn only one of his games with the white pieces before that point. He looked on course for a tenth win when he spotted a pawn-winning trick:
22.Nxf7! (if the king captures then Rc7+) After that, though, sheer determination saw Kramnik hold on for a draw that deprived Ivanchuk of a bronze medal.
On the final day Ivanchuk had six wins and four draws, and he later told Macauley Peterson what had inspired that streak:
A tournament is always emotional for me. I try to show my best. I'm not always lucky, but today was really my day because I won many games. It’s difficult to say which is the best game... the most pleasure was against Etienne Bacrot. It was such a creative game. I had two queens on the board, but probably in the last position I'm losing. We made a move repetition because both of us had only a few seconds, but it was an extremely emotional game - probably the most emotional of the day and that game gave me a very creative mood for all the other games.
Ivanchuk is in fact absolutely winning in the final position:
49…Rxc2! is now the move, but you can see why it was hard to believe the white pieces couldn’t deliver mate. Don’t miss the whole game, which was a wild encounter that could have gone either way… to put it very mildly.
As if it wasn’t enough to provide the most entertaining (pre-final) match of the 2015 World Cup, previously little-known Ukrainian Yuri Vovk barged into the reckoning in the Blitz World Championship. A 4-game streak of wins against Movsesian, Wojtaszek, Aronian (!) and Vachier-Lagrave (!) took him to within half a point of the Frenchman after 18 rounds. Then a draw against Carlsen in Round 19 left Yuri Vovk proudly at the top of the standings with only two rounds to go.
Alas, he then lost to Kramnik and Nepomniachtchi to drop back down to 11th place in the final standings, but he’s proven once again that there are hugely talented players outside of the established elite.
Everyone likes a comeback, and at least two players were steaming through the Blitz World Championship field on the final day.
3rd seed and rapid runner-up Ian Nepomniachtchi had lost four games on the first day of the blitz to plunge to 100th place in the standings, but he came hurtling back on the second day. Eight wins and two draws weren't quite enough for a medal, but he took 5th place, only one point behind Grischuk.
David Navara had five losses on the first day, which he ended in 74th place, but he also won eight (with two losses) on the second, climbing up to 9th place, level on points with Carlsen, Svidler and Dominguez. He revealed afterwards that like Carlsen and Kramnik he’d also had a secret training match before the event, though it could have gone better!
So that just leaves us with the final standings, which looked as follows at the top:
You can replay Jan Gustafsson's commentary on the last round below:
Anish Giri, almost the only top player to be idle during the event, enjoyed it:
If you felt inspired why not play some blitz in our Playzone?
There won’t, once more, be long to wait for the next top chess action either. The European Chess Club Cup starts this Sunday in Skopje, with one team featuring Grischuk on third board behind Kramnik and Aronian, while another has Caruana, Topalov and Giri. We'll of course be covering it live here on chess24.
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