Magnus Carlsen is now a triple World Champion after adding the World Blitz Championship to his glittering array of titles. When he was asked where he can go from here he simply replied, “I can do it again”. His victory in the blitz came despite fierce competition from Hikaru Nakamura (bronze) and Ian Nepomniachtchi (silver), with the latter leading with only three rounds to go. We look at some of the key storylines on a historic day for chess.
Once again it was Magnus Carlsen who attended the winning
press conference with Anastasiya Karlovich:
He explained that the World Rapid and Blitz Championships weren’t the only titles he’s won in Dubai:
It’s the third title I’ve gained here. I gained my grandmaster title here. It’s been great being back and obviously when you come here as no. 1 in the world you try to win. And since that worked out everything’s perfect.
Further quotes from Carlsen below are from the same interview, but let’s first look at some of the other stories from the second and final day of the Blitz World Championship (IM Lawrence Trent was again on spotting duty!):
Georg Meier finished the first day of the Blitz Championship in second place, while 18-year-old Chinese player Lu Shanglei was in 5th after he won 7 of his first 8 games and stunned everyone by inflicting Magnus Carlsen’s only defeat of the whole event.
Sadly they both crumbled on the second day, slipping to 6 defeats each, with Meier finishing 27th and Lu Shanglei 35th. It all began to go wrong in the first games of the day...
Georg Meier was better against Carlsen, but only if he played b4 or c5 here, with the knight poised to snap off the crucial e5-pawn:
Instead the German grandmaster's 34.Nh2? was against the spirit of the position and Carlsen soon penetrated on the queenside to claim the full point.
Lu seemed to have lost the plot against Nepomniachtchi, who was slowly taking control, but the Chinese player missed a spectacular resource in the following position:
27.Rh6!! would have turned the tables, with Black forced onto the back foot since 27...gxh6 is impossible due to 28.Rxf7+ with check. Instead the immediate 27.Rxf7? hxg4 led to the first of three losses in a row for Lu Shanglei.
There had to be at least one outsider making his mark on the second day, and this time it was little-known Russian Grandmaster Sergei Yudin, rated 2546 and world no. 470. A fantastic streak that started in Round 10 saw him score 6.5/7, with wins over Radjabov, Svidler, Wojtaszek and top seed Nakamura, to move into clear third place with five rounds to go!
The upset against Nakamura came in a position the American was totally winning:
Here he needed to find a move like 29…Qd4 or 29…a4! to keep his advantage. Instead after 29…Rd8?? 30.Rc7! it dawned on Hikaru that the only way he could prevent a draw by repetition was to give up his queen. He then went on to push too hard and compromised his own position. Although Nakamura nearly hung on, after 111 moves Yudin had found a way to combine his queen and knight to score an unexpected point.
That was the high-water mark for Yudin, however, who could only manage two draws in his final five games and had to settle for 12th place.
It’s tough to go into an event such as the World Blitz Championship as the ratings favourite, and the loss to Yudin was a body blow for Nakamura:
In hindsight, though, it might have done him some favours!
The American went on to win his remaining five games, despite his next two
opponents being former Blitz and Rapid World Champions Levon Aronian and
Viswanathan Anand. Both stars slipped up
in apparently straightforward endings:
Levon uncharacteristically blundered with 38…b5?? after which there was no way to save the d-pawn or the game.
Vishy was better throughout his game against Nakamura, but in a dead drawn rook and minor piece ending his 41…Kg6?? was a clanger:
Nakamura of course played 42.Ne5+, picking up the exchange.
Before going to Dubai, Nakamura gave a video interview to chess24’s Macauley Peterson in Prague, where he talked about his strategy:
One of the best things I learned from playing the World Blitz back in Moscow – a crazy event with maybe 40 rounds over two days – was that there are going to be streaks where you’re going to win a lot of games and then you’re just going to lose two or three games, so it’s more about minimising the swings than it is even about playing well.
Except perhaps for too long a winning streak at the end (!) Nakamura managed that perfectly, losing only a single game a day to finish just behind Carlsen. Although he felt he had little to prove (“Even if I don’t win in Dubai I’ve certainly proved my blitz skills”) he’ll be pleased to have pushed his blitz rating north of 2900! The tournament left him hungry for more:
Despite last day losses to Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura and Le Quang Liem ex-World Champion Viswanathan Anand finished in a highly respectable 7th place to complete a strong performance in Dubai. What no doubt pleased him the most, though, was that his draw against Magnus in the blitz secured a 1.5:0.5 victory in their mini-match over both events. In each game Vishy had the black pieces, which should give him yet more encouragement before their rematch for the World Championship this November.
Ian Nepomniachtchi could very easily have been the main hero of this report, as he won his first six games on Day 2 and led by half a point with only three rounds to go. That surprised Magnus Carlsen:
I didn’t predict that Ian Nepomniachtchi was just going to crush the field... At that point it was certainly in his hands.
In a wider perspective, however, it wasn’t so surprising. Although he's clearly underachieved Nepomniachtchi was born in the same year as Carlsen and had the edge over his Norwegian opponent in junior events. Indeed his classical score against Magnus is still 3 wins and 0 losses, while he also seems not to have lost a game in rapid or blitz events either.
He said in an interview with Chess-News:
It’ll also probably be funny to hear, but I don’t see or feel his superiority even now. Yes, superiority in terms of results, in ratings, in the World Championship system. But overall superiority is proven in play. When you sit down at the board you have a chance to prove your superiority or, on the contrary, the lack of it. But as it is… Probably there are people who get very shy in front of players who have a high rating and title, but I’ve never had that, not even as a child.
Nepomniachtchi is friends with and has worked as a second for Carlsen in the past, but his chances of overhauling Magnus to take the World Blitz Championship faded after letting a win slip against Korobov in Round 19 and then falling to defeat against Aronian in Round 20 (to emphasise the point Carlsen beat Korobov and drew two pawns down against Aronian).
The Russian grandmaster still managed to claim a deserved silver medal by showing his class in the final round against Morozevich, whose 30…Kf7 was ill-advised:
31.Bb6! Qd7 32.Rxf6! Kxf6 33.Bd4+! followed with a decisive advantage.
Magnus Carlsen could have taken his cue from Mario Balotelli and lifted his shirt to reveal a “Why always me?” message! His victory in the World Blitz Championship was yet another example of supreme will-power and pragmatism. Despite ferocious competition and a bragging rights bounty on his head, Carlsen only suffered two losses in 36 games in Dubai.
On the final day of the blitz it was noticeable that he was coming up against top-class opposition in fine form. For instance, before playing Magnus the following players had winning streaks:
Carlsen revealed the “secret” of his success afterwards:
It’s not rocket science. Part of the secret is just to play quick and make few blunders and you’ll go far… Obviously against [his second] Fressinet on the first day I had a special little recipe for him, but apart from that I was trying to play my kind of chess, just quick more or less healthy play and keep on fighting to the end. I think the others who played well did much the same. Ian maybe played even faster but more for tricks than I did.
Frighteningly for the rest of the world elite you might note that Magnus Carlsen’s pragmatic style in classical chess is perfectly suited to speed chess, although there are at least some areas for others to shine:
I don’t have the patience to play correspondence and I don’t have the quick hands to play bullet.
Where he felt he ultimately won the World Blitz Championship was against Azeri speed chess specialist Rauf Mamedov:
Then I guess the decisive moment was the third to last round against Mamedov, because I had a difficult position and was under pressure and then at some point I set him a trap which, if I may say so, was pretty cunning, and he fell for it. Then I was in the lead. Knowing that Ian had already played a draw I believed I could make it and then the last two games went quite easily for me while Ian failed against Aronian.
IM David Martinez takes a look at the closing
stages of the Mamedov game:
28. ♗h3! was the winning move. After 28... ♘f3+ 29. ♖xf3 ♕xf3 30. hxg5 White wins. A check is coming on d4, so the only move is 30... ♖xf4 but after 31. gxf4 ♕xf4+ 32. ♕xf4 ♖xf4 the ending is lost, since after 33. ♔g3 the d6-pawn falls and Black is two pawns down.
31... ♕h5! The bishop is attacked, and when White defended it with
32. ♕g2 the rook fell to
32... ♕xd1 and White is left with nothing.
Even going into the final round Magnus still had something to do against maverick Ukrainian Grandmaster Anton Korobov, who had also gone on a 5-game winning streak earlier in the day. A loss would leave the door open for Nepomniachtchi to claim gold, and for a brief moment that seemed possible after Korobov went on the attack with 21…f4:
That appeared to be little more than a blunder, though, since 22.exf4 couldn’t be met by 22...Qxf4 due to a knight fork on e6. After 22...Qf6 some caution was still required, but the result was never in doubt.
Magnus Carlsen therefore claimed the World Blitz Championship by half a point, pushing his blitz rating to a stratospheric 2948 in the process.
Congratulations poured in, including from a player who must also have been the strongest classical, blitz and rapid player for periods during his career:
Here are the final standings at the top (note last year’s winner Le Quang Liem fell just short of the podium despite a 4-game winning streak at the end):
So what now for the winner of every title it’s possible to win? Carlsen was trying to keep his feet firmly on the ground:
I’m still young - I’ve only done this once. I just want to keep on getting better and keep on learning. There are always things to improve upon, both in slow and faster time controls.
A frightening prospect! The Norwegian superstar’s next tournament will be the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, hosted here on chess24, but that's all for the 2014 World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai. There was just time for the players to try a little bughouse before departing...
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