Magnus Carlsen won a 10th World Championship title as he scored a brilliant unbeaten 17/21 in the World Blitz Championship in St. Petersburg. That was enough for clear first place, but only just, after 20-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda matched him every step of the way on the final day to finish just half a point back. Hikaru Nakamura added blitz to rapid bronze to become the 2nd highest earner of the championship. In the women’s tournament Kateryna Lagno finished on an unbeaten 13.5/17 to snatch gold just ahead of Sarasadat Khademalsharieh and Lei Tingjie.
You can replay the over 2000 World Blitz Championship games, with computer analysis, using the selector below:
And here’s the commentary on the final day’s action:
Magnus Carlsen has a lot to celebrate this New Year’s Eve! In 2018 he’s now retained both his classical and blitz World Championship titles, and he’ll start 2019 as the world no. 1 on the classical, rapid and blitz rating lists. He’s also reached a new career milestone:
Those 10 titles are made up of 4 World Championships at classical chess (2013, 2014, 2016 and 2018), 2 in rapid (2014 and 2015) and 4 in blitz (2009, 2014, 2017 and 2018). On the final day of the event Magnus won not just $60,000 for gold in the blitz, but the $20,000 1st prize for the best combined performance, which when added to his rapid earnings ($36,250) makes a very decent $116,250 for 5 days’ work.
There was still some opportunity for trolling, though, since after finishing behind Daniil Dubov in rapid Magnus hadn’t quite fulfilled his vow to “take back the triple throne”:
Giri had earned the right to poke some fun, since he’d defied Carlsen’s predictions to remain unbeaten in rapid and lose just three blitz games (to Magnus, Duda and one Russian, Daniil Lintchevski) on the way to tying for 6th and 8th places.
There was no "babyrage" from Magnus, though, who went on to score an unbeaten +13 for a 2962 rating performance.
Victory wasn’t quite as smooth as it looked on paper, though, and there was some understatement when the World Champion commented afterwards, “Yesterday the score was good and the play maybe not so great”.
On Day 1 you could praise Magnus for the speed of his play, and some great resourcefulness, but it was verging on the miraculous that he ended up unbeaten. These were the highest Stockfish evaluations our system gave for his opponents in some of the games:
As you can see, at least three open goals were missed. Here, for instance, is the Round 2 game against Sergey Grigoriants, after Magnus played 58…Qe3:
With time to think Grigoriants would certainly have calculated that he’s winning after exchanging queens with 59.Qxe3+! The b-pawn queens first, and with a couple of checks White will win the new black queen on d1, leaving the a-pawn to decide the game. Grigoriants instead went for 59.Qxd5, which turns out to be a tablebase draw, though soon after that Sergey was winning again. In the end, though, Magnus escaped with a nice stalemate idea:
The most memorable escape, however, was against Andreikin,
who after a great fight had a trivial win at the end:
He’d picked up the queen but, instead of putting it on f8 immediately, at the last second he seemed to decide he could also start by playing 73.h5??, only to see to his horror that after 73…Ke6 74.f8=Q Rxf8 75.Kxf8 Kf6 Magnus was just in time to stop the pawn.
That wasn’t the whole story, though, as Magnus impressively outplayed Bosiocic, Duda, Firouzja and Aronian, and missed a big winning chance himself against Artemiev.
On Day 2, though, it was vintage Magnus. He said afterwards, “I feel like I’m usually best against the best players, and today I feel like I played very well”. It started off perfectly, as he surprised Anish Giri in the opening, built up a huge time edge and bulldozered his way to victory:
The next game against Wang Hao was just as convincing, before he added two wins against high-flying IMs Zhamsaran Tsydypov and Saveliy Golubov in the next two rounds. It seemed that he might have an easy run-in as he’d played his closest rivals already, but in the end he was paired with Nakamura, Gelfand, Mamedyarov and Nepomniachtchi in the upcoming rounds.
He was perhaps in the biggest trouble of the day against Boris Gelfand (but still very mild trouble compared to the day before), while the game against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the penultimate round proved to be the most psychologically challenging. His opponent didn’t show at the start, Magnus couldn’t prevent the arbiter from starting the clock, and when Ian did appear he was already two minutes behind. Nepo had the white pieces, though, and offered a draw on move 13, which the World Champion was happy to accept.
Nepo eventually finished 6th and would later tweet:
It all ultimately came down to the last-round game against Anton Korobov, where Magnus at first played hesitantly in the opening but then was able to seize a big edge and finally pounce after the losing blunder 20…0-0? With 21.Nxf5! he sealed the title (the h6-pawn is also falling next move):
He’d led after the first game of the day onwards, scored 7.5/9, and in normal circumstances would have cruised to victory, but in the end his overwhelming emotion was one of relief.
That was all down to a 20-year-old Polish player…
Jan-Krzysztof Duda’s speed chess skills were evident early on, since back in 2014, as a 16-year-old, he took gold in the European Rapid Championship and silver in the blitz. He’s lately been crushing online, and while on Day 1 in St. Petersburg he lost to Svidler and Carlsen, he ended with a run of 4 wins to reach 9/12, just half a point behind co-leader Magnus Carlsen. On Day 2, he would match Magnus every step of the way, starting with another 4 wins that included beating Nepomniachtchi, Artemiev and Aronian. After Round 14 he was alone in 2nd place, and as the day wore on it became a two-horse race.
Only when Duda lost to Nakamura in Round 18 did Magnus pull a point clear with a draw against Gelfand, but the young Pole bounced straight back to beat Giri. Then with a penultimate round win over Aleksandar Indjic he cut the lead to half a point again. It wasn’t just the result but the manner it was achieved that piled the pressure on Magnus, since Duda won in just 21 moves while the World Champion had his strange delayed game against Nepo. The win meant Duda could go all-out for a win against Boris Gelfand in the final round, since he was already guaranteed at least the $50,000 prize for clear 2nd place.
The final game followed a line of the Trompowsky Duda had used to beat compatriot Radek Wojtaszek in Dortmund earlier this year, and although Gelfand varied on move 6 he stumbled into impressive preparation. The failure to blockade the b-pawn was exploited on move 16:
16.b6! left Black completely busted, and after 16…Ke7 17.b7 Rab8 18.Rxa7 Boris only managed to stumble on to move 24 before resigning. Duda had won his game while Magnus was still playing, and if Magnus only drew we’d see a playoff for 1st place. As we’ve seen, though, the World Champion also went on to win.
Duda had fallen just short, but had posted a 2930 performance, gained 123.6 points to enter the blitz world Top 10…
…and earned a combined $68,333 for his exploits in St. Petersburg. Not bad for a player who had mentioned in an interview after this year’s Olympiad that his mum had to support him as it’s difficult to pay for all he needs to improve while he's still a “mere” 2740-player.
These big speed chess championships are a great chance for lesser-known players to make a name for themselves, and that particularly applies to young players. We’ve seen Duda, of course, while another 20-year-old, Vladislav Artemiev, was co-leading going into Day 2 after an impressive escape against Magnus in the last round of Day 1. He fell away, scoring only 4/9 on Day 2 and finishing 9th, with consistency always the toughest thing to achieve in blitz.
15-year-old Alireza Firouzja took a full one point lead over the whole field after starting with 6.5/7, though Magnus Carlsen was the monster awaiting in Round 8, as the Iranian youngster’s fortunes took a turn for the worst:
That was a familiar story. 18-year-old Saveliy Golubov had fought his way up to joint 3rd after 15 rounds, before losing to Magnus, while little-known 22-year-old Russian IM Zhamsaran Tsydypov did the same:
Again, he went on to lose to Magnus, and although he bounced straight back to beat Nepomniachtchi he then lost three in a row. In the end Golubov finished 29th (gaining 107 rating points) and Tsydypov 39th (gaining 97), while World Champion Parham Maghsoodloo was 30th (gaining 63). The standout performance by a youngster, however, was by 14-year-old Indian Grandmaster Nihal Sarin, who finished 11th (in the tie for 8th place), picking up 151.6 rating points!
Here’s that moment he mentions:
41.Nxf6, then take with the queen on c4, and White is just two passed pawns up, but 41.Qxc4!? allowed the tricky 41…Bxh4! White now needed to tread very carefully to keep an edge, while 42.Nf4? missed 42…Bxg3!! and Black is crushing due to the threatened knight fork of the queen and king with 43.fxg3 Ne3+.
The final standings at the top of the open section looked as follows:
Alexander Grischuk (a disappointing 22nd in blitz), was dismissive of the idea of setting goals for yourself in a sporting event:
He has a point, but if anyone seemed to be taking a methodical, “weighing the probabilities” approach in St. Petersburg, it was Hikaru Nakamura. The US star started as the second seed for both rapid and blitz, but managed to keep a low profile in both events before emerging just in time to reach the podium. Twice he faced Magnus Carlsen in critical situations – in the last round of the rapid when a win would have meant a tie for first, and with five rounds to go in the blitz, when a win would have cut the gap to 1 point with 4 rounds to play. In both cases, though, he played super-solid chess and drew.
Of course it wasn’t just about playing things safe. On Day 1 of the blitz Nakamura got crushed with the white pieces by Anton Korobov…
He also lost with White to Ahmed Adly two rounds later, but after that it was 6 wins and 7 draws, including beating Artemiev, Andreikin and Duda and ending with draws against medal rivals Aronian, Svidler and Nepomniachtchi.
The reward was two bronze medals and the 2nd highest payday of anyone in St. Petersburg - $36,250 (2nd-5th in rapid) + 40,000 (clear 3rd in rapid) + 15,000 (the 2nd combined prize) = $91,250
Kateryna Lagno came within a draw against Ju Wenjun of winning the World Championship a month ago in Khanty-Mansiysk, but has managed to bounce straight back in St. Petersburg. She finished in the tie for 4th place in the rapid before going on to win her second World Blitz Championship with an unbeaten 13.5/17, including a win over Ju Wenjun in the second game of the final day. Ju Wenjun finished 9th, also missing out on the triple classical, rapid and blitz crown.
Kateryna mentioned in her post-game interview that her children helped her to recover after the final loss in Khanty:
In congratulating Kateryna Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov noted that she’d given birth to her fourth child this year (hence again missing out on the Olympiad).
The women’s tournament remained a thriller going into the final round, with nothing decided since Lagno on 13/16 was just half a point ahead of Lei Tingjie on 12.5 and a point ahead of Sarasadat Khademalsharieh and Valentina Gunina on 12. The players didn’t disappoint, with three of the top four boards decisive:
As you can see, China’s Lei Tingjie lost, but it was still enough for a bronze medal, while Khademalsharieh rose to take a second silver medal with a dramatic 109-move win over Anastasia Bodnaruk:
The last twist was here on move 101! 101…Kg6 or moving the rook to any square on the a-file other than a8 (i.e. keeping the option open to check from the side) is a tablebase draw, but after 101…Re2? 102.e6 it was soon game over.
The Iranian player was the biggest beneficiary of the decision to move the tournament from Saudi Arabia, where she wouldn’t have been given a visa, to Russia, since she also won the women’s combined prize: 25000 (2nd-3rd in rapid) + 30000 (2nd in blitz) + 14000 (1st combined) = $69,000. That was slightly more than the $68,333 Duda earned as the 4th best man, while Daniil Dubov earned $79,000 overall for his rapid victory and a healthy 15th place (tied for 8th) in the blitz.
So that’s just about all for chess in 2018. Stay safe…
…and have a great New Year! As is traditional, the first really big chess event of the new year will be the Tata Steel Masters and Challengers in Wijk aan Zee (Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Giri, Kramnik, Anand…). The action starts on January 11th and we have Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler lined up to provide commentary!
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