22-year-old Russian Grandmaster Daniil Dubov is the 2018 World Rapid Champion after beating Korobov and Wang Hao with Black on the final day to finish in clear first on 11/15. He takes the $60,000 first prize, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (silver), Hikaru Nakamura (bronze), Vladislav Artemiev and Magnus Carlsen earned $36,250 each after ending the day half a point behind the leader. China’s Ju Wenjun retained her Women’s World Rapid Championship title, picked up $40,000 and can still claim the triple crown if she can also win the World Blitz Championship.
The 2018 World Rapid Championship went down to the wire, with Daniil Dubov taking the sole lead only in the penultimate round. When he went into the final round with Black against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov his fate hung in the balance, but draws in that game, Nakamura-Carlsen and Karjakin-Artemiev were enough to earn him the title. You can replay all the games from the open tournament below:
And here’s the commentary on the final day from Peter Leko and Evgeny Miroshnichenko:
Let’s look at some conclusions from the World Rapid Championship in St. Petersburg:
Just a couple of days before the World Rapid Championship in St. Petersburg, Daniil Dubov’s grandfather Eduard Dubov – a mathematician, chess arbiter and the overseer of a Soviet (then Russian) system of chess ratings – died in Moscow at the age of 80. Daniil commented in an interview we included in our first report that, “the really tragic thing was the way that it happened”. Russian media report that the police found Eduard on the street frozen and suffering from frostbite, and that he passed away in hospital the next day without regaining consciousness. Daniil explained that the exact circumstances remain a mystery, but said, “I think he would want me to go here and play, which I did.”
Daniil went on to do his grandfather proud, eventually finishing on an unbeaten 11/15, including five wins with the black pieces.
His 2860 rating performance was the best of the tournament and he actually gained 55.8 points to climb 21 places to world no. 12 on the rapid rating list, but he was playing down his achievements afterwards:
Sometimes you play well and you win thanks to this, but sometimes you can just be lucky, and I think the latter thing is more about me in the tournament. It’s not that I was playing very well, actually!
There were moments you might describe as lucky – Grigoriy Oparin failing to win a position with an overwhelming advantage, Kacper Piorun blundering in a drawn queen ending, but it works both ways, with Dubov missing a win right at the end of his Round 5 game against Yu Yangyi. The critical moment he pointed to came in Round 12:
The most important game was actually the game against Korobov. I started with one or two draws today and then I played him and I was Black and there was absolutely nothing to hope for, it was more or less a dead draw. He was pushing to the very end and then he blundered. We played on board 6 and obviously getting such a gift gives you pretty good chances to win the whole thing. At least I started to feel that probably things will go my way.
Korobov could have continued playing a symmetrical position with 38.Qb2, but instead invited trouble by giving up his queen with 38.Qxe4?! Rd1+ 39.Rxd1 Qxe4, when White went on to win the f-pawn at the expense of losing coordination of his pieces. 44.Rf8? was the final straw:
44...Qc5! 45.Nh8+ Kh7! left White losing a piece whatever he did (the white king is too open to checks forking the rook), and Dubov finished the game off with clinical precision. That game made Daniil the co-leader with Yu Yangyi, while inflicting Wang Hao's only defeat of the tournament in the penultimate round meant Daniil went into the last round with a half-point lead. Black against Mamedyarov is a daunting prospect, but Dubov was already better when he accepted a draw on move 24.
That guaranteed him at least a tie for first place, and when the other games were drawn the title was his.
Was it the best performance of his career? “I think so, yes. It’s not a very tough statement!” One of his previous achievements had been to take bronze in the 2016 World Blitz Championship (he quietly boycotted the 2017 event in Saudi Arabia, telling Evgeny Surov he considered it “shameful”), but little had followed. He told Norwegian TV:
I really hope it will lead to some things. Two years ago, I finished 3rd in the World Blitz, but I received exactly zero invitations after that. Maybe this will lead to at least one invitation.
All in all, it hadn’t been a bad event for someone who a couple of days earlier said, “I actually hate rapid!”
Magnus Carlsen had half-joked in conversation with Jan Gustafsson before the event:
I’m going to take back the triple throne. No usurpers are going to be left alive!
Despite a disastrous 0/2 start he put up an entertaining fight, with impressive wins over Grigoriy Oparin and Dmitry Andreikin on the final day putting him within touching distance of the title, but in the final round, with the black pieces against Hikaru Nakamura, he was unable to get the win he needed to force a playoff. He’d also been held to a draw earlier by Vishy Anand…
…and, in the first game of the day, Daniil Dubov. That encounter lasted only 26 moves, with the difficulty for the World Champion being that Daniil had been one of his seconds for the London World Championship match! That cooperation, which grew from Daniil suggesting they play some friendly blitz games during the Tbilisi World Cup, had largely been kept a secret, though earlier this month Caruana’s main second Rustam Kasimdzhanov responded to Andre Schulz:
Do you know who helped Carlsen as a second, apart from Peter Heine Nielsen?
Laurent Fressinet, as far as I know, and I heard that Daniil Dubov helped. That's all I know.
Peter Heine Nielsen, Laurent Fressinet, Jan Gustafsson, Nils Grandelius and Daniil Dubov have now all been confirmed as helping Magnus during the match - perhaps we can finally get some Thailand holiday snaps!
Dubov commented when asked if he’d been reading the media during the tournament:
If I have learned something from Magnus the main thing is that basically you don’t need to care about what people say.
He later added, “I was on his team, so probably he gave me too many lessons!” It may have backfired for Magnus that he’d allowed an usurper into his kingdom, but he wasn’t too disappointed:
The funny thing is that the non-existent 5th place collection is growing, since a year ago in Riyadh Magnus was also top seed but finished 5th in the World Rapid Championship.
While the eventual outcome of the open championship was impossible to predict until the last moment, Ju Wenjun dominated the women’s tournament, despite playing all her main rivals. She finished unbeaten, just as she had in winning the same title in Saudi Arabia a year earlier, and a point clear of Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (silver) and Aleksandra Goryachkina (bronze):
She began the final day, just as she had the two previous days, with a win, catching out Kateryna Lagno in a trap numerous players had fallen into before:
14.Ndb5! won a pawn, with the simple point that 14…cxb5 runs into 15.Bxd6, when 15…Qc6 isn’t an option due to 16.e5. Wenjun then outplayed bronze medalist Goryachkina and sealed at least a tie for first with a 7-move draw against Khademalsharieh. The only shaky moment was in the final round against Zhansaya Abdumalik, but in the end even if she'd lost she would still have taken clear first.
That almost wraps up an amazing year for the Chinese star, who has already won the Women’s World Championship title (twice!) in 2018 as well as team and individual gold at the Olympiad. She could finish off with the “triple throne” if she wins the Women’s World Blitz Championship, and she’ll be a strong contender – in 2017 she took bronze.
Carlsen’s reaction when learning that Anish Giri was going to play the World Rapid and Blitz Championship was hilarious…
…but so far Anish Giri hasn’t had too much to regret! True, he hasn’t played Artemiev or Bocharov, the players named by Magnus, but rather than losing to “all of the Russian guys” he has 3 wins and 5 draws against his 8 Russian opponents. Of course you might consider him Russian himself, since he’s a Russian native speaker who was born, grew up and started playing chess in St. Petersburg.
It’s not all bad news for Magnus, however, since despite trailing his rival for most of the event he ended up half a point and three places above Giri, who drew seven of his last eight games.
Arguably the standout performance of the 2018 World Rapid Championship came from 15-year-old Iranian player Alireza Firouzja, who would have been unable to play if the event had taken place in Saudi Arabia, as planned. Despite losses to Andreikin, Dubov and Korobov he kept fighting and picked up 8 wins to finish in 6th place after starting as the 169th seed. His rating performance of 2848 was bettered only by Dubov.
In the women’s championship it was 25th seed Sarasadat Khademalsharieh who took advantage of the opportunity to play, finishing with a silver medal after scoring 7 wins, 1 loss and 4 draws. The 7-move draw against Ju Wenjun ultimately looked a good decision.
In the next round she went on to beat Mariya Muzychuk, who had started the day in clear second but dropped to 11th place after two defeats:
A notable tendency of this year’s World Rapid Championship was that we would write off the chances of top players after a couple of losses, only to see them recover by the time we got to the final standings. The top three seeds (Carlsen, Nakamura and Artemiev) went into the final round with a chance of gold, and it was no surprise to see 6th seed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in that mix - like Nakamura he’d won three of his five games on the final day.
Perhaps the fact the battle wasn’t so intense in the final round was influenced by the prize structure. While in Saudi Arabia there was a massive bonus for the very top places ($250,000 for 1st, $125,000 for 2nd, $75,000 for 3rd and $50,000 for 4th) this time the prize money structure was flat ($60,000, $50,000, $40,000, $30,000). In the end Dubov took $60,000, while Mamedyarov, Nakamura, Artemiev and Carlsen got a healthy $36,250 each (from 2014-2016 the top prize was $40,000). That dropped to $8,833 for the players in the 12-way tie for 6th place.
Defending Champion Vishy Anand finished 23rd (actually a place above his seeding!) and some top players such as Ian Nepomniachtchi, Peter Svidler and Boris Gelfand suffered difficult final days, but a few really had events to forget in a hurry. 5th seed Levon Aronian lost 5 games, including a streak of 4 in 6 rounds, as he finished in 103rd place, dropping 84 rapid rating points. 4th seed Vladimir Fedoseev, who tied for first in Riyadh a year earlier, matched that result and suffered even more rating damage.
Partly, however, that’s probably because the players had already given up on the rapid event and switched their focus to the blitz. There’s no rest day, so it kicks off immediately, with 12 rounds on Saturday followed by the final 9 on Sunday! The pairings are out:
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