A new generation has come on the scene to challenge Magnus Carlsen’s authority. All members of Gen Z — loosely, people born from 1995 to 2010 — who are beginning to make their mark at the top, as witness the 2021 rise of 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja to world #2, and now, as we close the year, another teenager on the rampage with 17-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov spectacularly winning the World Rapid Championship in Warsaw, Poland.
The Uzbek teen became the youngest player ever to win the World Rapid crown, and he did so with just a touch of élan! He finished in a four-way tie for first alongside Ian Nepomniachtchi, defending champion Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana on 9½/13, who all shared the cash spoils with $45,000 each. But under the tournament regulations, only two went forward to contest the title in a blitz play-off, which saw Abdusattorov beating Nepomniachtchi, 1½-½, to take the crown.
There was some controversy over the way the play-off was restricted to just two players, and Carlsen – who missed a win in the last round over old rival Hikaru Nakamura that would have given him the title – called it out for being “completely idiotic” on NRK TV in Norway. Others will also remember back in 2018 when Carlsen found himself in a similar play-off scenario after a three-way tie (with Caruana and Aronian) in the Sinquefield Cup and he stood his ground, stating that either “everyone plays the play-off, or I don’t play!”
The trio reached a compromise with the Sinquefield Cup organisers who decided there would be no play-off and the title shared that year. However, that was a closed all-play-all tournament, but the rule is really in place to prevent a large multi-player tie for first place (which can, and does happen often) in a Swiss tournament such as the World Rapid, simply to avoid play-offs going on all-night or perhaps even spilling over to the next day. Frankly, there’s really just no fair rules or regulations when it comes down to the vagaries of a Swiss System.
But rules and regulation squabbles aside, let’s not take anything away from Abdusattorov stunning victory, as en route to the title the teenager made his mark with big personal wins over Carlsen (which ultimately denied him a play-off berth), Caruana, Boris Gelfand, and then Nepomniachtchi in the play-off – respectively the World Champion and three World Championship challengers!
“I am happy but also tired and there is no time to relax because tomorrow is another tournament!” commented a jubilant Abdusattorov in his victory press conference. And what an incredible run through December it has been for Abdusattorov. He’s won his last three tournaments in play-offs: El Llobregat Open, Sunway Sitges, and now the World Rapid Championship – and all in the span of one month!
GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov – GM Fabiano Caruana
World Rapid Ch., (3)
English Opening, Kramnik-Shirov Attack
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 The Kramnik-Shirov Attack became a big hit with the rise of those two named pioneers of this line in the 1990s. 3.Nd5 Be7 4.d4 d6 5.Nf3 e4 6.Nd2 c6 7.Nxe7 Qxe7 Black hopes to get in a successful …d5 and …f5 to build on his pawn center. For White, the plan is to chip away at it. 8.Nb1 Nf6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Bf4 Nh5 A quick 10…d5 works to White’s advantage after 11.e3 Bg4 12.Qb3 dxc4 13.Bxc4 and an easier game with good development. 11.Bd2 f5 12.e3 Nf6 13.Be2 Be6 14.Qb3 Na6 More dynamic was the plan 14…b5!? 15.0-0 a5 16.Qc2 Bxc4 17.Bxc4+ bxc4 18.b3 cxb3 19.axb3 c5!? 20.dxc5 dxc5 21.Ne2 Nc6 with both sides having chances. 15.0-0 Nc7? A bad mistake that Caruana never recovers from. If he thinks he can bluff this 17-year-old, then there’s more mettle to Nodirbek Abdusattorov than he thinks. 16.Qxb7 Rab8 17.Qxc6 Rxb2 18.Bc1 Rb6 Caruana has “some” activity for his pawn – but his pawns on a7 and d6 have become too fragile in the process. 19.Qa4 Rfb8 20.c5! Almost the death knell for Caruana, as this cuts right across his hopes to generate active play as compensation for the pawn. 20…dxc5 Worse was 20…Rb4 21.cxd6! Rxa4 (If 21…Qxd6 is winning. 22.Ba3) 22.dxe7 Rab4 23.Ba3 R4b7 24.Bd6 Re8 25.Rab1 and a decisive advantage for White. 21.Ba3 [see diagram] With some steely nerves and accurate play from the teen, Caruana is left desperately clinging to the wreckage of his hopeless position. 21…Qd7 22.Bxc5 Rb2 23.Qxd7 Nxd7 24.Ba3 R2b6 25.Rfc1 Rc6 26.Nxe4 Rxc1+ 27.Rxc1 fxe4 28.Rxc7 Rb1+ 29.Rc1 Rxc1+ 30.Bxc1 Bxa2 31.Ba3 Abdusattorov may only be a pawn up here, but he has the bishop-pair that stops Caruana’s pieces from getting active, White’s king can easily get over to the queenside, and there’s going to be long-term problems defending Black’s e- and a-pawns. 31…Kf7 32.Kf1 a5 33.Bb5 Nb6 34.Ke1 Bc4 35.Bc6 Bd5 36.Bxd5+ Nxd5 37.Kd2 Things haven’t got any easier for Caruana with a set of bishops being traded, as now the easy winning plan for Abdusattorov is to play f3 to create a central passed pawn mass marching down the board. 37…Ke6 38.Bf8 g6 39.f3 Kf7 40.Bd6 Ke6 There’s no hope. If 40…Nf6 41.Be5 forces 41…exf3 42.gxf3 Nd7 43.Bf4 and the central passed pawns easily win. 41.fxe4! Nf6 42.Kd3! Taking full advantage that Caruana can’t take the bishop as e5+ and exf6 leaves an easy winning K+P ending. 42…a4 43.Ba3 Ng4 44.d5+ Ke5 45.Bb2+ Kd6 46.h3 1-0 And Caruana resigns in the face of 46…Nh6 47.Kd4 and no way to stop e5+ etc.