Magnus Carlsen tumbled to defeat against Alexander Zubov and was losing against Hrant Melkumyan, but still scored 4/5 on Day 2 of the World Rapid Championship to go into the final day just half a point behind the leaders. There are seven of those, five Russian and two Chinese, as no-one managed to break away from the pack, allowing Vladislav Artemiev and Maxim Matlakov to storm back into contention with 4.5/5. There’s much more clarity in the women’s section, where Ju Wenjun remains the sole leader, while Mariya Muzychuk is now in clear second place with four rounds to go.
Replay all the games from the World Rapid Championship in St. Petersburg with computer analysis using the selector below:
And you can replay the over 7 hours of commentary from Peter Leko and Evgeny Miroshnichenko:
There are so many ways you could attempt to summarise the over 500 games played in the open section on Day 2 of the World Rapid Championship, but it’s hard to resist looking at them through the prism of World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s games. The overall quality of his play hasn’t exactly justified the no. 1 board billing he gets due to the needs of Norwegian TV…
…but it’s been hard to take your eyes off his games, as he shares with Ivan Saric the distinction of being the highest scoring player not to have had a single draw so far:
So let’s take each round in turn, starting with the Norwegian’s game and then taking a glance at the other action:
After a rocky first day it looked like the real Magnus Carlsen had turned up on Day 2 in St. Petersburg, as he got off to an exquisite start against Spain’s Ivan Salgado. The move of the game came after Ivan’s 26…gxf5:
Magnus has seized the two open files for his rooks, but his g2-bishop is locked in and if Black gets the chance to play Be5-d6 he’d suddenly have everything under control. There was no time for that, though, as the World Champion instantly played the pawn sacrifice 27.d6!!
The unleashed bishop and rooks were too hot for Black to handle and six moves later Ivan resigned:
The big story elsewhere was that Russia’s Dmitry Andreikin became the first and so far only player to take the sole lead in the event after beating 15-year-old co-leader Alireza Firouzja with the black pieces. Dmitry fearlessly accepted his opponent’s offer to go for complications, emerged with an extra pawn and managed to grind out a win in 54 moves.
2nd seed Hikaru Nakamura’s hopes suffered another blow as he lost a second game in three rounds, this time to Tigran Petrosian.
No doubt buoyed up by the first game Magnus tried to push for a win with the black pieces against Ukrainian Grandmaster Alexander Zubov, but suddenly, almost before he knew it, he was losing. The position after 40.e4 turns out to be close to critical:
Magnus can hold here with Black, but that’s already relying on the little trick that after 40…Bd1+ 41.Ke3 Bb3! he's ready to play Rxd6 and Nc4+ to exchange off into an opposite-coloured bishop ending. After the inaccuracy 40…Ra7?! 41.g3 Bd1+ 42.Ke3 there was no longer any way to bail out and Zubov went on to win remarkably smoothly. In fact you could say it was in the style of Magnus, as Anish Giri did when he gave an interview after that game!
It’s quite funny, because, yesterday also, whenever Magnus does very badly I’m like his spokesperson, but I’m his spokesperson when he loses, so I’m the one who gets immediately asked as if I’m responsible for that! He shouldn’t be kidding around, because I know his opponent Zubov is a beast when it comes to quick chess. Back when I was little I played online with him a lot, and he was just absolutely a monster online, in blitz as well. He has a very good style, Magnus style, and I’m not sure he’s that much worse in quick chess. He plays very controlled games, and Magnus, he’s probably underestimated his opponent, as usual.
Just to rub it in, Anish wasn’t being interviewed merely as Carlsen’s spokesperson but because he’d just won a beautiful game himself, with his second win of the day meaning that at this point he’d taken a 1.5 point lead over the World Champion. He did it with a flourish that belied his “drawish” reputation:
Meanwhile Ukraine’s Anton Korobov beat Spain’s David Anton to join Andreikin in the lead.
After the first loss on the first day Magnus admitted he’d gone on tilt, but this time he managed to hold things together and bounce back immediately against 22-year-old Russian Grandmaster Nikita Petrov. It was close, though, as Carlsen got nothing from the opening until Nikita missed a chance to force a draw:
The pawn ending after 45…Nxc4! is drawn, though only if Black finds all the only moves. It was understandable Nikita instead decided to keep the pieces on the board with 45…Kd7?, but unfortunately for him that was a losing move, since after 46.Bb5+! Kd6 47.Kb8 Black is forced to allow the exchange on White’s terms, and after 47…Nd7+ 48.Bxd7 Kxd7 the pawn ending is won for White, as Magnus went on to prove.
It was a dream scenario for the World Champion, since draws on the top four boards meant that most of the damage of his defeat in the previous round had been repaired. The temptation to take draws in such a gruelling event is strong, however, with defeats for Vishy Anand (to Ivan Saric), Levon Aronian (to Evgeny Alekseev) and Alexander Grischuk (to Vladimir Potkin) highlighting how easily anyone can lose in rapid chess.
This was the round when it became clear that the gods hadn’t yet deserted the World Champion. Playing Black against Hrant Melkumyan he got into difficulty and fell for a sucker punch:
The exchange sacrifice that followed smacked of desperation, but it paid off handsomely when the Armenian grandmaster went astray with 47.e4?
Magnus sprung his trap with 47…c3!, and although computers suggest White still has a narrow path to keep an edge the game was soon completely equal. As so often, though, the player who’d squandered the advantage failed to adjust to the new reality and instead of taking a relatively simple draw Hrant stumbled to defeat.
Jan summed it up best…
Elsewhere things couldn’t possibly have gone better for Magnus, since co-leaders Anton Korobov and Dmitry Andreikin both lost, to Vladislav Artemiev and Wang Hao respectively, leaving Magnus just a point behind the four new leaders.
Magnus ended Day 2 as he’d begun it, with what finally really was a smooth and utterly dominant win over Farrukh Amonatov from Tajikistan. That was enough to cut the gap to the leaders to just half a point with six rounds to go, since the four leaders drew in 13 moves (Yu Yangyi – Artemiev) and 20 moves (Wang Hao – Nepomniachtchi). Magnus could also revel in the fact that he’d finally caught Anish Giri, who drew with Grigoriy Oparin in 25 moves. Could a randomly selected chess fan even identify Anish on the Norwegian TV coverage?
All that’s missing are the losses to Russian players that Magnus predicted – Anish is still unbeaten despite facing 7 of them!
The ranks of the leaders on 7.5/10 grew to 7 players, as Daniil Dubov beat Alireza Firouzja and two heavy-weight clashes ended dramatically. Maxim Matlakov made it 4.5/5 on Day 2 when Shakhriyar Mamedyarov cracked in a tough position with 32…Qa7? (32…Qd4! turns out to be an only move):
33.Qd6! is a rare double attack on Black’s hapless rooks! Shak resigned.
We’ve saved the best for last, though, since Dmitry Andreikin didn’t disappoint when Peter Svidler set up a beautiful finish, in what was already a hopeless position, with 25.a5:
Dmitry unleashed: 25…Qxh2+!! 26.Kxh2 Rxh4+ 27.Kg3 Rh3+ 28.Kf4 Rf3+ 29.Ke5 Rg6+! and White resigned with mate to follow next move. Peter enjoyed it, kind of…
So that leaves us with 7 leaders on 7.5/10, with Magnus Carlsen among the 10-man group just half a point behind (the 21 players on 6.5/10 include the likes of Mamedyarov, Nakamura and Karjakin):
The bad news for Magnus is that the first tiebreaker is rating performance, and you need to go down to 34th place Nodirbek Yakubboev to find a player with a lower performance than his 2722, but the good news is that all prize money is split equally among players tied on the same points. If there is a tie for first a playoff will take place between the two players with the best tiebreaks e.g. in 2017 Anand, Fedoseev and Nepomniachtchi tied for first, but Anand and Fedoseev played for the title as they had the better performances, while Nepo took bronze.
In Round 11 Magnus faces one of the leaders, Daniil Dubov, so it seems his “Swiss Gambit” (losing early to get weaker opponents in later rounds) has come to an end!
Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun continues to make things look easy in the women’s section, as she followed four wins on the first day by defeating top seed Anna Muzychuk in the first game of Day 2. She then conceded her first draws before beating compatriot Zhao Xue in the last round of the day to finish on 7/8.
Her closest rival is one of the players she drew against, Mariya Muzychuk, who was a thorn in the side of Kazakhstan chess fans as she beat both Zhansaya Abdumalik and Dinara Saduakassova on the same day.
Mariya is half a point behind, with another 7 players on 6/8:
It’s therefore looking good for Ju Wenjun, who has played many of her main rivals with only four rounds to go, but it can all change when she takes on Kateryna Lagno in the first game of the final day.
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