They say the great Mikhail Tal ‘lived for blitz’ – and never was this truer than in late May 1992, when he was dying in hospital of major organ failure, yet somehow he ‘escaped’ from his intensive care bed to play in the very strong Moscow Blitz Championship. Looking frail and emancipated, he shocked everyone – none more so than Garry Kasparov, whom he beat in the opening round! – when he unexpectedly turned up to play. And a month later, he died in the same hospital bed he’d escaped from.
And Tal’s love of blitz inadvertently changed elite tournaments. Previously, the pairings were determined by drawing of lots, often in quite ornate ways. But in a tip of the hat to the ‘magician from Riga’, the 2012 Tal Memorial started with a Blitz Tournament rather than being tagged on as a ‘fun event’ at the end, with the finishing order determining the lot numbers for the players – and there started a new tradition in elite tournaments: players themselves deciding the pairing order by doing battle in blitz on the eve of the tournament.
This year, the 11th Tal Memorial was split between two elite-level speed events. The first, the Tal Memorial Rapid, held in the Museum of Russian Impressionism in Moscow, was won by Viswanathan Anand. The second part of the Tal Memorial, the blitz tournament, took place on 5 March and moved to the fabled Central Chess Club in Moscow, with the field also expanded by the addition of a further four top Russian grandmasters: Vladislav Artemiev, Dmitry Andreikin, Vladimir Fedoseev, and Alexander Morozevich.
The Blitz tournament was dominated from start to finish by Sergey Karjakin, who kept the Russian tricolor flying with an impressive performance, as he top-scored on 10/13 to take the title with a round to spare, finishing 1.5-points ahead of the new US No.2, Hikaru Nakamura, who was the only non-Russian to finish on a plus score.
And the victory for Karjakin will give the Russian an additional boost ahead of next week’s Berlin Candidates tournament, where he’s once again vying to become Magnus Carlsen’s title challenger. After winning the blitz title, and a solid second behind Anand in the rapid, the Russian now heads to Berlin with an added spring in his step.
Blitz Final standings:
1. S. Karjakin (Russia) 10/13; 2. H. Nakamura (USA) 8.5; 3. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 7.5; 4-6. V. Artemiev (Russia), A. Grischuk (Russia), V. Kramnik (Russia) 7; 7-8. D. Dubov (Russia), D. Andreikin (Russia) 6.5; 9-10. V. Anand (India), P. Svidler (Russia) 6; 11-13. A. Morozevich (Russia), V. Fedoseev (Russia), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 5; 14. B. Gelfand (Israel) 4.
Photo: Podium finishers Nepomniatchi, Karjakin & Nakamura | © Vladimir Barsky (RCF)
GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Hikaru Nakamura
11th Tal Memorial Blitz, (7)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 The Chekhover variation, where White, more often than not, look to establish a Maróczy Bind formation, even if he has to waste a little time with his queen. 4…Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd7 6.Qd3 Nb4 7.Bxd7+ Qxd7 8.Qe2 g6 9.0-0 Bg7 10.c3 Nc6 11.c4 The Maróczy Bind is in force, with White’s pawns on c4 and e4 looking to clamp down on the d5-square. 11…Nf6 12.h3 0-0 13.Nc3 a6 14.Rd1 Threatening e5, which recovers Karjakin a little of the lost time – and with it, White now has a grudging advantage. 14…Qc7 15.Bd2 Rfc8 16.Rac1 Nd7 17.b3 Qd8 18.Nd5! Karjakin has ‘won’ the opening skirmish. Nakamura can’t allow the White knight to be established on the strong d5 outpost – and to shift it, he compromises his position with a pawn weakness on d6 that Karjakin ruthlessly exploits. 18…e6 19.Nc3 Nde5 20.Be3 Nxf3+ 21.Qxf3 Qe7?! Black may have been better seeking queenside play, even if it might mean abandoning the d6-pawn. He should have tried: 21…Rab8!? 22.Bf4 Ne5 23.Qe2 Qa5!? where Black at least has some activity on the queenside to balance the weakness on d6. As it is, Nakamura’s pieces all begin to look awkwardly placed, which is very uncharacteristic for the US No.2. 22.Na4! Karjakin seizes his moment, exploiting not just d6 but now the hole on b6 – and his firm grip on the position quickly equates to a winning advantage. 22…Rab8 23.Nb6 Rd8 24.Rd2 With the Nb6 stopping Black doubling his rooks on the d-file to defend d6, Karjakin piles on the pressure by preparing to double his own rooks on the d-file. 24…Re8 25.Rcd1 Rbd8 Black is solid – but his pieces lack any future possibility of getting active. And now, Karjakin just calmly racks up the pressure by expanding on the queenside. 26.a3 Qc7 27.b4 a5 28.bxa5 Bc3? Black is in a bad way – but this just compounds the problems. He had to try 28…Nxa5 even although it allows 29.c5! Be5 (Here lies the rub – if 29…dxc5? 30.Rd7! quickly wins material, as there’s no other way to stop the threat of Qxf7+ mating.) 30.Bg5! with a big advantage. 29.Nd5! [see diagram] This tactical resource exchanges off Black’s bishop; the glue that was holding his game together. And with it gone, there’s now a chronic dark-square weakness in the Black camp. 29…exd5 30.Bb6 Qc8 Slightly better was 30…Ne5 but it more or less leads to a lost rook and pawn ending, after: 31.Qxc3 Qxc4 32.Qb4! Rc8 33.Rxd5 Qxb4 34.axb4 Nc4 35.f3 Nxb6 36.axb6 Re6 37.Rxd6 winning. 31.Qxc3 d4 32.Bxd4 Nxd4 Forced, otherwise White will exploit the queen and bishop battery down the long dark diagonal. 33.Rxd4 The weakness on d6 means that when the pawn does fall, Black may as well resign. 33…Qc7 34.f3 Re6 35.Qb4 Ra8 36.Rd5 Karjakin is two pawns up and targeting pawn weaknesses on b7 and d6 – the game is effectively over as a contest. 36…h5 37.Rb5 Ra7 38.c5 If Karjakin really wanted to make Nakamura suffer, he would have opted for 38.Rdd5 with the idea of Rb6 and Rdb5 which would have been unbearable. But with 38.c5, he shows some mercy for his opponent by going in for the quick kill of doubling his rooks on the seventh. 38…dxc5 39.Rxc5 Qb8 40.Rd7 Re8 41.Rcc7 Rf8 42.Qb3 b6 43.Rxa7 1-0