The chess year is going to end with a stunning $2 million in prize money being handed out at the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Saudi Arabia, but in the last week some players warmed up in China and Poland. The highlight of the World Mind Games was 19-year-old Vladislav Artemiev winning the blitz to move to world no. 2, while in the European Rapid Championship another 19-year-old Russian, 68th seed Maksim Vavulin, stunned Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda (also 19, of course!) in the final round to take gold.
The IMSA Elite Mind Games took place in the city of Huai’an, China from 9-16 December, with players competing in Xiangqi, Draughts, Go, Bridge and of course Chess. You may have missed it since there was little publicity, no video stream this year and games began at 7am in the morning Central European Time. It was very strong, though, with the chess section seeing 12 top male and female players compete for a first prize of €11,000 (men) or €7,500 (women) in rapid, blitz and Basque chess. Perhaps the final section, where games were played on two boards simultaneously, might have been left out, since without video it’s not really possible to follow and the seven rounds allocated to rapid struggled to determine a winner.
In the open section Dmitry Andreikin, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Le Quang Liem all finished on 4.5/7, with Andreikin taking gold since he drew with Le Quang Liem and beat Mamedyarov in their individual games. The latter encounter had a dramatic conclusion:
41…Kf8 and White has nothing better than perpetual check, but the game instead went: 41…Kh7?? 42.Nf6+ Kg6 (getting things over with quickly) 43.Qxg5#
Click a result to open that game or hover over a player's name to see all his results
In the women’s rapid section five players ended up on 4.5/7, with Antoaneta Stefanova (gold) edging out Anna Muzychuk (silver) and her sister Mariya Muzychuk (bronze).
3-time World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk had surprisingly collapsed in the blitz section of his Champions Showdown match in St. Louis against Fabiano Caruana, but he repaired the damage in China, winning 14 of his 22 games, including a nice win over Yu Yangyi:
Here 21.Be5! took advantage of the potential queen and king fork on e7. His 16/22 wasn’t quite enough for 1st place, though, since Vladislav Artemiev recovered from finishing joint last in the rapid to also score 16/22 – and take gold on the tiebreak of winning the mini-match against Grischuk 2:0!
In their first game Grischuk’s 38…f6? allowed some similar tactics:
39.Nxe6!, overloading the c7-knight. 39…Ned5 was the best
way to limit the damage, while after 39…fxe5? 40.Nxc7 Black had to resign.
Dmitry Andreikin, two points back on 14/22, made it an all-Russian podium, and was again two points clear of Yu Yangyi in 4th place. There were some surprises at the bottom, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov losing his first five games of the event to finish last alongside Anton Korobov, who between them jettisoned 158 blitz rating points. At the top of the live blitz rating list, though, Grischuk picked up 127.2 points, Andreikin also reentered the Top 10, while 19-year-old Vladislav Artemiev is second only to Magnus Carlsen… though admittedly the gap is still over 100 points!
Women’s Blitz Antoaneta Stefanova made it double gold with 14.5/22, ahead
of Ju Wenjun and Alexandra Kosteniuk on 13.5/22. In Basque there was gold for
the hosts as China’s Zhao Xue won the
women’s event while Alexander Grischuk added gold to his rapid silver in
the men’s event ahead of Anton Korobov and Yu Yangyi.
The European Rapid and Blitz Championships took place in Katowice, Poland from 15-17 December, and during the event two intrepid chess players decided to try and beat the world record for playing chess non-stop. They did it:
The numbers that really stood out, though, were of participants: 1091 in the blitz and 1181 in the rapid. That was a huge logistical challenge, but one the organisers seemed to handle about as smoothly as was humanly possible.
Star names included Ernesto Inarkiev, David Navara, Ruslan Ponomariov, Igor Kovalenko, Radek Wojtaszek, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Laurent Fressinet, with Sergei Zhigalko emerging from the pack to score 18/22 in the blitz and take gold ahead of Luke McShane and Peter Michalik half a point back. Duda and Fressinet, who had both lost with White to Zhigalko in the final rounds, were another half point back alongside big names such as Navara, Kovalenko and Gajewski.
Photos of the awards ceremony aroused some controversy, since for victory in the 1-day, 11 double-round event Sergei won €2,000:
It’s undeniable it would be better to have a more generous prize fund – and more strong players would play – but some points should be made for the defence. Travel and board were paid for some of the top players, Katowice is a very affordable city in an area with abundant options for cheap flights and while there were a massive number of players most of them, including the majority of 790 Polish players, were of no threat to the stars at the event. Few of the players who had chosen to travel seemed to regret their decision, as could be seen in numerous interviews featured during the live commentary from Lawrence Trent, Marcin Tazbir and Anna Kantane...
...and on social media:
And of course the huge number of participants of all ages was a great advert for chess:
Many of the players were simply happy to be in the same arena as star names, but some, such as Lidia Czarnecka (1787), had the experience of a lifetime. The young Polish player, who afterwards mentioned she’d scored the best U14 result in the blitz, was paired against David Navara at the start of the rapid and played so well that the Czech no. 1 was forced to find a fine move to win the game:
38…Nd3+!! was the path to victory, with the pawns proving decisive after 39.cxd3 Rxc1 40.Kxc1 f3. A while after the game, Navara started analysing at the board and was happy to welcome Lidia when she asked if she could join him.
You can play through the top 100 games in each round with computer analysis here.
Local star Jan-Krzysztof Duda seemed to be on course to add to the gold medal he won in the same event as a 16-year-old in 2014 (back then he also took silver in blitz) after becoming the sole leader by defeating Igor Kovalenko in Round 8…
…before moving to 9/9 by beating Daniel Fridman in Round 9. If not for colours he might have been paired with the over-performing 2311-rated Piotr Goluch and have had a great chance to win the tournament with a round to spare, but instead he got his Polish rival Radek Wojtaszek and was held to a first draw. That still meant he went into the final round needing only a draw with Black against 68th seed Maksim Vavulin, a 19-year-old international master from Russia. The title is somewhat misleading, though, since Maksim is already rated 2575.
In hindsight Duda made a bad choice going for the French Defence, since his opponent specialises in the 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3!? sideline that clearly took the Polish rising star by surprise. It was rapid chess (15+10), so Duda felt obliged to move quickly, but after 3…dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nf6 5.Bf3 c5 6.Ne2 Nc6 7.Be3 Nd5? 8.Bxd5 Qxd5 9.Nbc3 he realised he’d fallen into a trap:
Black already simply has a choice of how to lose a pawn, with Duda spending a bitter 6 minutes on 9…Qd7. In the play that followed Maksim gradually increased his advantage, remarking that others had fallen into the same trap but that he had to be careful, since he’d managed to lose the position in last year’s Moscow Blitz Championship (after Ivan Popov played 9…Qd8). Duda was clearly disgusted with himself, though, and failed to put up much resistance – leaving the board, stage and perhaps building as fast as he could at the end.
There was a silver lining, though, since it eventually turned out that Duda’s buchholz tiebreaks were good enough for him to lead the group of five players on 9.5/11 and take silver. Pavel Ponkratov got bronze while Sergei Zhigalko missed out on another podium finish, as did Moranda Wojciech and Sergey Fedorchuk.
Those events enabled some players to warm up for the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which have an incomparably bigger prize fund, as well as fully paid travel and accommodation for the top players. This year’s event is also dramatically more lucrative than previous World Rapid and Blitz Championships, where the first prize in both sections was an already healthy $40,000 for the open and $10,000 for women. This time around the open winner will earn more than 6 times as much with $250,000, while for the women it’s 8 times as much with $80,000. Of course if someone, let’s call him Magnus, wins both main events, he’d have made $500,000 for 5 days’ work.
The event won’t be without controversy, since although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is introducing reforms – for instance, women will be able to drive and a 35-year-old ban on cinemas is coming to an end in 2018 – the kingdom still has a poor reputation for human rights. Players from various countries such as Iran and Israel are also unlikely to be able to play in the event, with Emil Sutovsky reporting that a deadline was missed for Israeli players who applied for visas to receive them.
The location of the event, close to Riyadh’s international airport and far from the centre of the city, suggests that players will be able to visit, play and leave without engaging significantly with the host nation (unless they choose to):
It someone pulls off a surprise of the kind Maksim Vavulin did in the European Rapid Championship it could be life-changing for them.
That's all to come after Christmas, but first on Tuesday 19th December we have Banter Blitz with all-conquering Russian hero Peter Svidler! Don't miss it: