Happy New Year! Christmas is over and the festive decorations are already starting to be packed away. We have now entered a brand new year – but before doing so, we first have to play catch-up with the final major event of the old year just passed that was 2017, with the controversial ‘King Salman’ World Rapid and Blitz Championships that ran 26-30 December in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, where Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen – no strangers to world championship titles – proved their World Championship credentials by taking the two main titles on offer.
Carlsen, after the setback of an early round shock loss to Bu Xiangzhi, staged a comeback and looked to be in contention for the World Rapid title…but things started to go wrong for the world #1 when he faced Anand in round 9. In the diagram position above, Carlsen should have played 33.Nf4 with an equal game and the title still in play – but instead he blundered badly with 33.Nc5? that loses to a big tactical blow after 33…Rxc5! 34.Qxc5 Qe4! and he was forced to resign.
And following Anand’s recent poor performance at the London Chess Classic – where many again openly speculated about his iminant retirement – that crucial win over Carlsen proved to be a timely confidence-booster for the Indian five-time ex-champion, as the 48-year-old rolled back the years to share first place with Russian frontrunner Vladimir Fedoseev and his fellow countryman, Ian Nepomniachtchi, with all three scoring 10.5/15 – and while all the money prizes were shared equally, in a blitz playoff for the bragging rights to the title, Anand beat Fedoseev to capture yet another world title!
And as the players headed into the World Blitz Championship, the opening day also turned out to be a big disappointment for the Norwegian, as he found himself languishing a full two-points behind the leader and defending champion, Sergey Karjakin – but then Carlsen sprang to life with yet another dramatic comeback on day two, as he massacred the field, scoring 9.5/10, to take the title with a round to spare.
Carlsen’s winning tally of 16/21 was a clear 1.5-points ahead of his old foe and former title challenger Karjakin (see today’s featured game between the two rivals) who took silver, with veteran Anand yet again defying the age odds by also taking the bronze to add to his rapid gold. The full results, reports, prize distribution and videos can be found on the official site at http://riyadh2017.fide.com.
‘We are the Champions!’ | Photo: © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
While the play was highly-entering on-the-board, sadly this became yet another Fide fiasco that was marred by geopolitical events going on offboard. While the organizers offered a wonderful location and boosted the total prize-fund to $2 million (minus the 20% Fide tax), they also promised that visas would be provided for all players. But, just two days before the start, seven Israeli players (including Boris Gelfand, the defeated 2012 World Championship challenger) were denied entry visas, a clear breach of Fide’s own statute 1.2 that states unequivocally that its events must be open to all member federations.
In this context, the conscious decision taken by the US #3, Hikaru Nakamura, one of the world’s top speed players and Ukraine’s Anna Muzychuk, the defending women’s rapid and blitz champion, who both refused to participate in Riyadh, citing the poor human rights record in the Kingdom, is laudable. And Carlsen has also hit out at Saudi Arabia for refusing to allow the Israelis to participate.
Speaking to Norwegian broadcaster NRK after winning the blitz title, Carlsen said that Saudi Arabia should not be permitted to host the championship the next two years unless it allows players from all countries to take part. “I very much hope that they will resolve the issue of visas to all countries,” Carlsen said, further adding, “There were a lot of positive energies here, but if it is not solved until next year, it will be impossible to hold the competition here.”
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Sergey Karjakin
World Blitz Championship, (15)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 “Every time the Berlin endgame shows up on the board,” GM Vladimir Kramnik once remarked, “everyone starts to cry quietly, [because] such positions are boring. However, games are often full of exciting play, although there are no queens.” And as we’ve seen in numerous games in previous columns, avoiding this with 4.d3 is currently the best way to avoid the heavily analyzed Berlin endgame after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 etc. 4…Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Be3 Bd6 8.Bg5! Karjakin’s play is hampered by the pin on the knight – and the truth of the matter is that Black simply can’t counter this without compromising the defense of his kingside. 8…Re8 9.h3 c5 10.Nd5 Be7 11.Nxe7+ Qxe7 12.0-0 h6 13.Be3 Nd7?! The knight is heading to the d4-square via the route …Nd7-b8-c6-d4 – but this is all just far too slow from Karjakin, as it allows Carlsen to pile in now with a rapid kingside attack. Instead, Karjakin should have played 13…c4!, taking advantage of the attack on e4, to undermine White’s pawn structure after …cxd3 with equal play. 14.Nd2! There’s no holding Carlsen back now, as White opens the kingside up with a rapid attack after f4. 14…Nb8 If Carlsen hadn’t reacted as swiftly as he does, then arguably Karjakin’s painfully slow knight re-route to d4 might well have been OK – but Carlsen had seen right through Karjakin’s flawed plan. 15.f4! exf4 16.Rxf4 Nc6 17.Qh5 Not just heaping the pressure on f7, but now the added attack on Karjakin’s c5-pawn simply offers Carlsen more time to further mobilize his attack. 17…b6 18.Raf1 Rf8 19.Nf3 Be6 20.Rh4 Karjakin is now simply overwhelmed by Carlsen’s tsunami of pieces moving in rapid now for a powerful kingside attack. 20…f6 21.Qg6 Qf7 22.Qg3! There’s no way any player worth his salt would want to exchange queens with the sheer weight of numbers on the kingside. And besides, after 22.Rxh6 Qxg6 23.Rxg6 Nb4! converting this into an endgame win will not be easy for White. 22…Nb4? Perhaps Karjakin had gambled on the above note with 22.Rxh6 and the queens being exchanged and some stiff resistance with …Nb4! and plows on regardless? But there’s a subtle difference here. There was no time for 22…Kh7 as 23.Bxh6! crashes through for the win. That said, he simply had to go for 22…h5!? 23.a3 Rad8 24.Rf4 and try his best to hang on here. 23.Bxh6 Nxc2 24.Ne5! fxe5 What else is there? After 24…Qe7 25.Ng6 Qd6 26.Bf4 Qd4+ 27.Kh2 Black simply has no defense here, as after 27…Rfe8 28.Rh8+ Kf7 29.Ne5+! White quickly wins. 25.Rxf7 Rxf7 26.Qg6 Bxa2 27.Bg5 Rff8 28.Rh7 Rf7 29.Bf6 1-0