It involved a detour to hell and back on the final day, but Magnus Carlsen has added the Rapid World Championship to his array of achievements. After surviving by a knife edge against Levon Aronian he blundered away the long-awaited showdown with Viswanathan Anand and then found himself on the ropes against Alexander Grischuk. The Norwegian dug as deep as we’ve seen him dig to pull off a near miraculous victory, eventually enabling him to finish half a point clear of Fabiano Caruana (silver) and Anand (bronze).
Anyone inclined to put Carlsen’s ultimate success down to luck should perhaps note that he wasn’t the only one to display incredible powers of resilience in difficult-to-lost positions on the final day in Dubai. Levon Aronian scored 1.5/2 from awful positions against Yu Yangyi and Caruana, while Anand needed all his immense experience to survive the final three rounds against Caruana, Radjabov and Aronian and finish the event as the only unbeaten player. What do Carlsen, Aronian and Anand have in common (except for being exceptional players?) – they’ve all now won the World Rapid Championship!
After Magnus Carlsen’s victory he was interviewed by Anastasiya Karlovich. You can watch the video below, and we’ve included his comments at relevant moments in this report:
So then, let’s look at the action round-by-round, including not only the main narrative but also positions from games that were overshadowed during the live broadcast (thanks again to IM Lawrence Trent for picking up some highlights!):
Just as on Day 2, the first round of Day 3 was a bloodbath, with only 6 draws in the top 34 pairings! All eyes were of course on Aronian – Carlsen, the no. 1 and 2 both on the world rankings and in the tournament standings, and the game didn’t disappoint.
The last day was just extremely tough. Levon played a very good, interesting game against me. I had to use all my powers just to stay alive in a difficult position. Then he could have won at some point, but it was hard to see, and in general that was a very tough game but I had some positive emotions from it.
The turning point came after 34…Kf6:
35.Qf3? “forced” Carlsen to sacrifice his queen for two minor pieces and a rook, after which he was holding and perhaps even pressing his opponent on the clock. A move like 35.Bb3 would instead have retained the advantage – at least according to the computers!
Elsewhere Anand won a smooth 25-move crush against Ian Nepomniachtchi’s Sicilian and Hikaru Nakamura suffered a painful loss with the white pieces against Teimour Radjabov. Another blitz specialist, Alexander Grischuk, conceded his first loss of the event to Chinese rising star Yu Yangyi:
Yu Yangyi crashed through with 30…Rxg4!!, which includes the deadly threat of Qh4.
We can’t leave this brief look at the round without mentioning Jobava-Morozevich, a clash between arguably the two most creative and aggressive players in world chess. Both gave up pawns in the opening and Jobava correctly sacrificed his rook on g7 before missing a trick on move 22 by playing a move it was hard to resist:
The game ended at first prosaically - Morozevich remained
unfazed and dealt with all the tricks – and then dramatically as Jobava
blundered into mate-in-2.
Carlsen went into this round still in the lead, but with no less than five players now lurking half a point behind. One of them was Vishy Anand, and chess fans around the world abandoned what they were doing to watch potentially their final encounter before playing a World Championship match this November.
It started off with Carlsen playing the Exchange Slav with the white pieces:
But Anand soon seized the initiative, even if he was perhaps
guilty of over-pressing in his desire to win. Carlsen summed up the early
I mixed up something in the opening, then it was a little bit worse for me, then I gained the initiative - two pieces against the rook – and there’s basically no way I can lose that position except for blundering a piece in one move.
The blunder was by far the most spectacular moment of the day, with Carlsen putting on a display of Kasparov-like disgust at his own play:
When he’d finished kicking himself Carlsen went on to defend tenaciously, but Vishy displayed near flawless technique to snatch the full point. Anastasiya Karlovich poured oil on the fire by asking afterwards whether it was a blunder:
Yes, of course it was just a blunder. Then of course I was thinking back to the World Championship in 2012 when I was leading after the first two days and then collapsed completely on the last day. It should be said that Anand also converted his advantage very nicely after that because it wasn’t that easy.
That game – Anand’s first win against Carlsen in any format since the 2011 Botvinnik Memorial – meant that Anand took the lead, where he was joined by Caruana after the Italian smoothly outplayed Evgeny Tomashevsky. Others on the move were Alexander Grischuk, who put an end to any illusions Spanish no. 1 Paco Vallejo had after playing 23.d7:
And Sergey Karjakin, who won the World Rapid Championship with a surge on the final day of the 2012 event and started on the same course in 2014 when his opponent Yuriy Kryvoruchko played 18.Rae1:
18…Bxh3! was a neat tactic that gained Karjakin a pawn and ultimately the game after 19.gxh3 and the double attack 19…Qd7.
China’s Yu Yangyi had been on the rampage in Dubai, winning five games in a row against top players until he encountered Levon Aronian in Round 12. The Armenian, however, managed a Houdini-like escape – the chess Houdini had been giving his opponent a +3 advantage. Then in Round 13 Yu Yangyi gifted a no doubt shaken Magnus Carlsen just what he needed – an early pawn advantage and the kind of technical position in which he excels:
8…Bxh2! The bishop can’t be taken due to Qg3+ winning the exchange, and although White gets some compensation in the form of quick development it ultimately proved insufficient.
That game enabled Carlsen to rejoin the leaders, since Anand managed to hold a miserable passive position against Caruana. Karjakin continued his rise with a nice win against Tomashevsky, while Sergei Movsesian’s 43.Kg3?? wasn’t the best idea he’d ever come up with!
43…Bf2+ is not only check but mate! 43.Rh3! would instead have been a draw with best play, although with winning chances if Etienne Bacrot had missed the only defence.
This was where the 2014 World Rapid Championship was decided. Carlsen’s hopes had suffered a body blow when he lost to Grischuk in the same event in Astana in 2012, and he admitted to having recollections:
Yes, it certainly reminded me of Astana. Then I actually played him in the 13th round, but all of these negative emotions from Astana just came back and I’m just so, so happy that I managed to get out of it alive this time.
Carlsen described how the game went:
Of course against Grischuk I mixed up something in the opening – he played really energetically, really well. At some point I felt that I should be slightly worse and then I thought for a few minutes and I realised that my position is not slightly worse at all, it’s just in complete ruins, and then I sat there thinking until I had 20 seconds left and I realised that there was absolutely nothing there but I kept fighting. He didn’t find the most precise moves and he started to think as well and suddenly it was anybody’s game and when I had the chance I felt I had to play for a win, to use that momentum. I’d already been short on time for such a long time that there was no need to fear that anymore and I thought there was a realistic chance to win so I needed to use it.
Spanish IM David Martinez has analysed the game that won Magnus Carlsen the title:
1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 g6 3. ♘c3 ♗g7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 The Sämisch Variation is one of the most aggressive lines against the King's Indian. Magnus has been much more aggressive of late with his openings as White and he makes no exception for rapid chess!
5... 0-0 6. ♗e3 a6 7. ♘ge2 c6 A sideline, historically speaking, that's been gaining in popularity in recent years. Black looks to gain space on the queenside before deciding what to do with the rest of his pieces.
When the title of champion is at stake I can “expose” any idea whatsoever. Why should I hold something back if for me such tournaments are the ones that matter most. Sometimes I have more regrets revealing something important at the Tal Memorial than in a blitz championship.
8... b5 9. cxd6 exd6 10. ♘f4 ♖e8 11. ♗e2 If White manages to complete his development with 0-0 and Qd2 he'll be slightly better due to his control of the centre and attacking potential. As so often, however, the dynamic factors in the position have their say!
16. ♕d3 dxe4⁈ It was better to play the same line without this exchange because, as we'll see, there's a saving check for White on the long white diagonal - but something like this is almost impossible to spot in rapid chess!
16... a5 17. ♖d1 ♗a6 18. ♕c2 is the same line as in the game, but now 18... f5! wins, once more exploiting the undefended bishop on e3, since the natural 19. e5 is impossible due to 19... ♗xe5 With the black d5-pawn exchanged for the f3-pawn, as in the game, this line doesn't work due to Qb3+, defending the white bishop.
22. ♘g3 ♘g4 23. ♗f2 ♖ad8 Grischuk is playing the opening in the best hypermodern style, giving up the centre to his opponent in order to then apply pressure to it. Magnus can no longer withstand that and has to start making a series of concessions.
33. ♖e5 ♕a6+ 34. ♔g2 ♕b7+ 35. ♔h3 Tired of suffering in its usual home the king looks for a new hideout. Although this is somewhat maverick it's true that for the moment the king isn't so easy to attack.
36... f4 was the key move, opening up a new diagonal against the white king. Moreover, the f-pawn can't be taken, so after f3 there would be a new factor in favour of Black. It's unlikely Magnus would have managed to hold the position.
40... ♖xd5 41. ♕xd5 ♔g7 42. ♘xb4 ♗xb2 The ending should objectively be equal, but the combination of queen + knight + passed pawn gives Magnus some hopes of completing his feat. Moreover, the momentum of a game is usually important in such cases and we shouldn't forget that Grischuk had been applying pressure as Black almost right from the start.
43. a4 f4 44. ♔g2 ♗c3 45. ♘d3 fxg3 46. hxg3 ♕e7 47. ♘f2! Magnus has a supernatural talent for placing his pieces on the best squares. The knight protects its king while contemplating when to jump to e4.
53. g4! The white king is now secure.
53... ♗c5‼ is the magnificent defence proposed by the computer, defending the d6-square against the queen exchange that occurs in the game. That still wouldn't resolve everything, though, and after 54. ♔h3 Grischuk would have had to find the following sequence: 54... ♕a1‼ 55. ♘xc5 ♕c3+ 56. ♔g2 h3+ 57. ♔f1 ♕c4+ and it seems as though White would be unable to avoid perpetual check. An out-of-this-world line!
Caruana was yet again on the verge of making himself the favourite with a round to go, but he lost the thread in a superior endgame against Levon Aronian:
50.c4! would have given him excellent chances of claiming the full point, but after 50.g4?! Aronian's h-pawn even allowed him to win.
Vishy Anand ran into a trick Teimour Radjabov had used before:
But somehow he managed to extricate himself.
Elsewhere Nakamura’s day got worse as a desperado rook couldn’t save him against Evgeny Tomashevsky, Karjakin won his third game in a row against Etienne Bacrot, and Jobava saw another tactical mêlée backfire, this time against Le Quang Liem:
In this position Baadur thought he was deflecting the queen from protecting the rook with 29…Rd8, but 30.Qxf6! kept the rook protected and netted a whole piece! Instead 29…Bb5! would have left White only slightly better – the queen is immune due to mate on the back rank.
Carlsen went into a potentially tricky final game with the black pieces against Radjabov (who had only lost in his first game in Dubai) in the sole lead on 10.5/14, half a point clear of Karjakin, Anand and Aronian. Sadly for the tournament intrigue, however, the numbers worked in his favour:
Before the last game we sat down and calculated all the scenarios and concluded that with a draw I would win regardless of what happens in the other games, so I just sat down and played solidly and it was a draw without too much fuss. I was still very happy to see that none of the other guys won so there would be no confusion with the tiebreakers.
An uneventful draw left the other players to battle it out for silver and bronze!
Vishy Anand yet again got into deep trouble, this time against Levon Aronian, with the following position arising after 19…Rf3:
Anand yet again held, and was fully deserving of his bronze medal for the only undefeated performance of the tournament. Aronian, meanwhile, slipped off the podium into fourth place.
After a sequence of very harsh results Fabiano Caruana seized a deserved silver with a last-round victory over Le Quang Liem, and later commented:
There was also a hidden benefit. Caruana is actually now no.
1 on the live rapid ratings, 2.2 points ahead of Carlsen, while previous no. 1
Hikaru Nakamura is all the way down to 10th.
Sergey Karjakin went all-out for his 4th win in a row and a repeat of his 4.5/5 on the final day of the event in Astana in 2012, but perhaps picked the wrong opponent to try and defeat on will power alone!
Alexander Morozevich finished with 5 wins in 6 games to
claim fifth place, while Karjakin ended half a point back in 7th.
The final standings at the top were as follows:
Magnus Carlsen was of course very, very happy:
It means a great deal. Ever since I knew that the tournament was going to be held here in Dubai I wanted to come back since I had such fond memories of playing here 10 years ago, and of course the extremely strong playing field gave me extra motivation since it’s clearly the strongest Swiss tournament of all time. I’m absolutely thrilled to have won it.
His work in Dubai isn’t done, though. The two-day blitz event starts on Thursday, with another World Championship up for grabs!
Frankly I’ve no idea how I’m going to be ready for the blitz tomorrow… but I guess winning helps!
The games start at 13:00 CET.
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