For a couple of weeks, at least, rapid chess has taken over the world! While most of the top players were in Leuven for the opening stage of the Grand Chess Tour, Peter Svidler was in Shenzhen, China, where he blew Yu Yangyi away in the rapid section of their match and could afford to lose 4 of the last 5 blitz games and still take the $20,000 top prize. Meanwhile in Prague, Czech no. 1 David Navara played his traditional match not against Ding Liren, but replacement Harikrishna. The result was also traditional, as the guest won.
Peter Svidler had little time to rest after commentating on Altibox Norway Chess in the chess24 offices in Hamburg, Germany, since he had to catch a flight straight to Shenzhen, China. His opponent was world no. 13 and Chinese no. 2, Yu Yangyi, who warmed up by finishing 2nd with 7/9 in the Chinese Rapid Championship (check out his win over Wei Yi) and 1st with the same score in the Chinese Blitz Championship (since he beat Wang Hao, the other player on 7/9).
The schedule was first to play eight 10-minute, 10-second increment rapid games over two days, and when Peter started by losing with his beloved Grünfeld in the first game you might have thought jetlag was going to be a serious issue. He struggled in the next game as well – holding an exchange down – but after that it surprisingly turned into a massacre! He won with the Grünfeld and went on to win the next four games as well:
You can replay all the games using the selector below:
Peter was playing faster and more accurately than his opponent, and the 5th of those wins summed up the balance of power:
32…Rxg2! 33.Rxg2 Qxh3+! White resigned
Since wins in the rapid section were worth double a 6th win in a row would have meant Yu Yangyi needed to win all 10 blitz games merely to force tiebreaks! As it happened, though, a draw in the last game meant that it would be “enough” to win 8 of them.
It was hard not to chalk it up as a match win for Peter already, but when the Chinese Blitz Champion won the first blitz game the spectre of the 2015 World Cup in Baku flitted through Svidler’s mind. Back then he’d won the first two games of the 4-game final, been mistakenly congratulated on the title by Lawrence Trent, and was on the verge of winning the 3rd game… when he went astray, lost the game and went on to lose a crazy match to Sergey Karjakin. As he told us:
Yeah, I didn’t feel I’d won yet, and losing Game 9 from an “unlosable” position brought some things back, but I steadied the ship.
It turned out there was no need for Peter’s fans to worry. He won the next game after outplaying Yu Yangyi in a knight ending and then got the draw he needed to clinch the match with seven games to spare. Yangyi’s blunder 39…Bxc4? in the 5th blitz game meant a truly embarrassing scoreline was possible:
Svidler pounced with 40.Rh7+! Kf8 41.Bxc4 bxc4 42.g6! and the moves that followed were only delaying Rf7 mate.
At the half-way point, though, they took a half-hour break, just what Jan and Peter had talked about during the Norway Chess blitz as being tough to deal with. Eating is probably unwise, and Eric Lobron’s “a cognac before play keeps the pressure away” advice is not for everyone… Peter used the time productively to play some Hearthstone: “I went to the room and got my hunter run to 12-1 – beat the final boss”.
Back on the chessboard, with the match already decided, Yu Yangyi suddenly went on a streak of four wins in the remaining five games. Svidler commented, “He did play exceedingly well,” and seldom has the Grünfeld been more brutalised than in Game 6 and Game 8. The latter ended in what Svidler called, “a position of rare beauty”:
There are plenty of squares for the queen, but none of them any good. 19...Rc8 would simply be met by 20.Qxc8+, while 19…Nd5 runs into 20.Qxb7, with the a8-rook also under attack.
By the final game exhaustion seemed to be taking its toll on both players. Yu Yangyi let a +8 advantage slip, then Svidler failed to execute a mate, then Yu Yangyi finally went on to win. The final stages provided some consolation for the Chinese star, but Peter would still have won the match even if rapid and blitz counted for the same number of points. Since rapid was worth double he’d won 15.5:10:5.
Shortly afterwards Svidler reached a big milestone in the life of any Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy fan!
Peter’s next tournament is in fact another rapid one, the Gideon Japhet Cup in Jerusalem, where he’ll face Ivanchuk, Nepomniachtchi, Gelfand, Meier and Anna Muzychuk in a double round-robin from 2-6 July. The bigger 6-player double round-robin on the horizon, though, is the ACCENTUS Grandmaster Tournament in Biel, where he'll attempt to maintain his plus score against World Champion Magnus Carlsen. The other players are Mameydarov, MVL, Georgiadis and Navara.
The David Navara match was once again the highlight of the ČEZ Chess Trophy that took place in Prague from 12-17 June, though as always there were other events. Vassily Ivanchuk, in Prague for a checkers tournament, was a guest at the rooftop blitz that launched the festival:
The Czech no. 1’s opponent was supposed to be Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren, but after fracturing his hip in Norway Ding decided to withdraw and focus on his recovery. That meant a late call-up for Indian no. 2 Harikrishna, so that you might say it was advantage Navara… except David himself had already explained he’d have no time for preparation in his podcast interview with Ben Johnson:
His schedule saw him playing the French Top 12, where he played all 11 rounds and scored 8/11 for his team, before heading straight to Poland for the Polish League, where he scored 3/3. 9 wins, 4 draws and 1 loss saw him undo the damage done by a poor performance in Shamkir and return to the world Top 20.
The match had a simple format – 12 20+10 rapid games, with three each day:
Replay all the games:
As you can see, Harikrishna edged ahead on the first day, before Navara won the next two days to take the lead going into the final day. His win in Round 7 saw Harikrishna stumble into the trap of playing 11…Bh3:
Navara followed Mihail Marin and Evgeny Bareev in playing 12.Qa4!, when rescuing the b4-bishop cost Black too much time and material.
The final day, however, went completely Harikrishna’s way, with the penultimate round perhaps the key moment:
Navara took almost 6 minutes and left himself with 3 minutes to his opponent’s 11 when he played the risky 16.dxc5?! He was relying on the threat to the h7-pawn leaving the e4-knight unable to move, for now, but White’s attack fizzled out and he was simply down material. The final game was a must-win encounter, but as so often the attempt to win on demand with Black led to a loss.
So Harikrishna took the trophy, and Navara’s difficult run
in these matches continued:
He said afterwards:
Hari won deservedly, and the fact that I got tired at the very end is no surprise. Over the course of 22 days I played an incredible number of games, spent a lot of time on travel and spent the only free day (Monday) ill. I put together such a strange schedule for myself, though not all of the circumstances could be predicted in advance. Now I’ll finally have some time to rest, which I’m very grateful for.
Harikrishna had passed the test of playing as a last-minute replacement with flying colours!
The next top level chess on the horizon is of course the Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour that starts on Wednesday. It needs absolutely no introduction, since it’ll be a replay of Leuven with the only difference that Vladimir Kramnik replaces Anish Giri.
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