When the cat’s away, the mice will play, so goes the old saying. And in this case with Magnus Carlsen no longer playing in the annual Chess.com Speed Chess Championship (having won the inaugural first two titles, in 2016 and 2017), Hikaru Nakamura now rules the roost as the US speed maven somewhat surprisingly routed Wesley So in a lopsided final, as he crushed the US champion big-time with a double-digit 23-8 victory, to take his fourth successive speed crown.
The 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the world’s best grandmasters battling it out for a $100,000 prize fund. The tournament ran from November 8-December 19, 2021 on Chess.com. Each individual match featured 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess. En route to his fourth title-win, Nakamura beat Peter Svidler, Anish Giri, Ding Liren and then So.
And all of which is just a prelude to the big Yuletide speed-event with the $1m FIDE Rapid & Blitz World Championships (sponsored by Tatneft, the Russian oil and gas conglomerate) taking place at the PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw, the home stadium for the Polish national football team, that starts the day after Christmas and will run through to 31 December. The year-ending spectacular will also see World Champion Magnus Carlsen, after successfully defending his title in early December, going yet again for a calendar-year ‘triple-crown’ of world titles.
Carlsen heads a formidable 250-player+ field that includes his old title foes Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruanaa and Sergey Karjakin, plus a newer-generational rival in Alizera Firouzja, 18, who in 2021 smashed his way up the world rankings to number 2 and the youngest-ever 2800-player. Also in the mix is Nakamura and Russia’s three-time world blitz champion Alexander Grischuk,
“We are extremely happy that we have been able to host this event despite all the difficulties,” said FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich announcing the Tatneft sponsorship deal. “The World Rapid and Blitz Championships have become a nice tradition for the last days of the year, like the hockey NHL Winter Classic, the Boxing Day football match in the UK, or the NBA Christmas Day games. Many people in the world enjoy a holiday during this period, and they look forward to watching their favourite sport.”
Photo: The legendary speed killer now takes a fourth successive title! | © Chess.com
GM Wesley So – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Chess.com Speed Chess Championship 2021 Final, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 If you are looking for dynamic play, then this is now the way to play, as it avoids the so-called “Berlin endgame” and the early exchange of queens after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 that’s notoriously tough for White to breakdown. That said, with 4.d3, we normally don’t see the game ending in a miniature – and one at that where Black wins! 4…Bc5 5.c3 d5 6.exd5 Qxd5 7.Bc4 Qd6 8.Qe2 Be6 9.b4 Bb6 10.Ba3? It’s basically a bad plan from So that goes from bad to worse as his position rapidly deteriorates. He had to play 10.0-0 0-0 11.Nbd2 with an equal game. 10…e4! Nakamura probably can’t believe his luck, as he cuts through So’s position like a hot knife through butter. 11.dxe4 None of the tactics offer any hope for So. If 11.b5 exf3 12.gxf3 Bc5! 13.Bxc5 Qxc5 14.bxc6 Qxc6 15.Bxe6 fxe6 and Black will simply castle kingside and then play …Rad8 to exert great pressure on White’s crippled position down the semi-open f- and d-files. 11…Bxc4 12.Qxc4 0-0-0! Getting the king to safety and threatening to mate on d1, all of which further shows up So’s self-inflicted wound with Ba3. 13.0-0 Ne5 14.Qe2 White is busted. After 14.Nxe5 Qxe5 next e4 falls, as 15.Re1 Ng4! wins quickly. 14…Nxf3+ 15.Qxf3 Qe5 16.Bc1 A very humbling retreat for So to have to make – and Nakamura soon makes him pay for his opening folly. 16…Nxe4 17.Be3 Rd3! Not only uncomfortable for So, but it also elicits a further fatal blunder from the US champion. 18.Qe2?? So fails to see the decisive blow he’s about to suffer – but then again, after 18.Na3 Nd2 19.Qh3+ Kb8 20.Rad1 Rxe3! 21.Qd7 Nf3+! 22.gxf3 Qg5+ 23.Kh1 Rxc3 24.Nb5 Rc6 is pretty conclusive for Black, being a pawn ahead with the better pawn structure, more active pieces and White’s king in trouble. 18…Nxf2! 0-1 [see diagram] Splat! It’s a spectacular knockout blow with the game-ending knight sacrifice on f2 seeing all captures losing for White. It was a very dejected Wesley So who resigned early doors, realising that playing on was futile. And indeed, this game set the tone and the story for what became a one-sided final.