Staging the World Rapid & Blitz Championship in the period after Christmas has proved to be a perfect way to end the year on a chess-high for FIDE – and more so during Magnus Carlsen’s reign, as the 31-year-old only becomes more motivated by winning a calendar-year triple crown – classical, rapid and blitz – simultaneously.
After crushing Ian Nepomniachtchi in early December for a successful fifth title defence, Carlsen was back again to take on his rivals by defending his two speed crowns in Warsaw, Poland. And unfortunately for his would-be rivals, as play got underway on day 1 of the FIDE World Rapid & Blitz Championships at the PGE Narodowy Stadium, the home of the Polish national football team, ominously for the opposition the Norwegian again looks to be in formidable form and the man to beat.
Traditionally a slow starter, Carlsen got off to a positive start with a solid 4.5/5 on the opening day to share the joint overnight-lead with World Cup-winner and local hero Jan-Krzysztof Duda and the unpredictable Georgian Baadur Jobava. The trio though have a formidable 13-player chasing pack just a half point behind, that includes Top 10 stars Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk.
Commenting on his positive start, Carlsen told NRK TV in Norway: “I am not playing that well, but I rarely have a good feeling on day 1. My score is the best I’ve had on day 1, so it’s really, really good. I hope I raise my level in the next few days.”
Carlsen would also have been pleased to exact a form of revenge on Russia’s Aleksey Dreev. In the run up to his 2016 title match with Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, Dreev singled out the world champion as not being a “real player” in the pre-match propaganda hype, but rather someone who waits for “his opponent to make a mistake rather than try to outplay him as real chess players do.”
So as is the tradition for Carlsen, revenge is a dish best served cold no matter the period of time, with both players meeting for the first since that quote in round 3 of the FIDE World Rapid Championship, as the Norwegian not only capitalised on a mistake from his Russian opponent, but for added revenge he also outplayed him at the board!
Photo: Carlsen carries over his formidable form from his recent title defence | © FIDE World Rapid & Blitz Championships
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Aleksey Dreev
FIDE World Rapid Championship, (3)
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 c6 4.c4 dxc4 5.Bg2 b5 6.0-0 Bb7 7.Ne5 e6 8.b3 It’s a well-known pawn sacrifice for White in this QP/Reti – the point is that the weakness on c6 and the queenside being opened up means that Black has to return the pawn. The only question is how he gives it back, as he strives to activate his pieces. 8…cxb3 9.axb3 Nbd7 Trying to hang onto the pawn is a logistical nightmare. After 9…Nd5 10.e4 Nf6 11.d5!? the game is opening up too quickly for Black who lags in development. 10.Nxc6 Qb6 11.d5! The whole point to this pawn sacrifice line – White just wants to blow the game open before Black gets the time to develop his pieces. 11…Nxd5 12.Na5! Apart from the threat of Nxb7 and following up with Nc3, White also has the plan of e4 and Be3 – both of which has Black on the back-foot. 12…Rd8 The position is fraught with danger for Black, and Dreev opts to defend the knight on d7 first rather than seeking to castle with the better 12…Bc5 13.Nxb7 Qxb7 14.Nc3 N7b6 (Not 14…N7f6? 15.Bg5!) 15.Nxb5 0-0 16.Bb2 Qe7 17.e3 where White has the better prospects with the bishop-pair and the weak a7-pawn to target. 13.Nxb7 Qxb7 14.Nc3! All the tactics now favour Carlsen, who easily recoups his pawn and then some. 14…Nxc3 More or less forced now, as 14…N7f6 15.Qd4! a6 16.Nxd5 Nxd5 17.Rd1! and White is well on top as Black still can’t complete his development to castle. 15.Bxb7 Nxd1 16.Rxd1 Bc5 17.Bb2?! Much better, according to the engine, was the annoying pin with 17.Bc6! forcing 17…Ke7 18.Bb2 Nb8 (Alternatively, if 18…f6 19.Bd4! and Black’s queenside pawns will collapse.) 19.Rdc1! and White will regain the pawn and has a clear advantage with the bishop-pair and better rooks. 17…0-0 Dreev has weathered the storm and safely castled – but in steering his way through the complications, the Russian had to use up a lot of time on his clock, and he’s punished for it. 18.Rac1 Bb4 19.Rd4 Objectively the position is “level” – but Dreev is behind on the clock and Carlsen is just getting into grind-mode. 19…Nc5 20.Rxb4 Better first was the zwischenzug with 20.Rg4! g6 21.Rxb4 Nxb7 22.Rxb5 Nd6 23.Ra5 Rd7 24.Be5 where the bishop can probe the dark-squared weaknesses. 20…Nxb7 21.Rxb5 Rd7 22.Ba3 Rfd8 It’s a tough and passive defence for Dreev, and you can understand why he’d like to ease the pressure by trading a set of rooks – but to survive he had to try 22…Ra8 23.Rc6 Nd8 24.Ra6 Rc7 25.Bc5 Nc6 and make a stand here. Mind you, not the sort of position you would relish with Carlsen being the player across the board from you! 23.Rc6! [see diagram] The rook lift sees Carlsen take complete control now of the endgame. When a7 falls, Black’s position will collapse with it. 23…h6 24.Ra6 Nd6? Dreev cracks under the relentless pressure from Carlsen (how many times have we heard this story?). Regardless of how passive it looks, the Russian simply had to tough it out now with 24…Ra8 25.e4 and take his chances here. The problem, though, is thanks to the Ba3, Black can’t readily march his king over to the queenside where it’s really needed. 25.Bxd6 Rxd6 26.Rxa7 g5 Perhaps with a set of rooks traded, the Black king closer to the center and no White rook on the seventh, there’s chances of holding the coming R+P ending a pawn down. But not here, and Carlsen only allows a set of rooks to be traded in favourable circumstances. 27.Rbb7 Rf8 28.Rd7! Rb6 Now we see Black’s dilemma in this technical R+P ending. If 28…Rxd7 29.Rxd7 Rb8 30.Rd3 the Black king is cut-off from crossing to the queenside, and White will march his king over to the queenside (f1-e1-d2-c3 etc) to start pushing the b-pawn up the board. 29.Rab7 Rxb7 30.Rxb7 Rc8 31.g4 Looking to stop Black expanding on the kingside with …f5 and …h5. 31…Rc3 Still, 31…f5 was to be preferred, but after 32.h3 the crisis point will come with Black’s kingside pawns open to attack later. 32.b4 Kg7 Dreev’s king is marooned on the wrong side of the board to try to save this R+P ending. 33.Kg2 Rb3 34.b5 Kg6 35.b6 f5 36.h3 h5 37.gxh5+ Kxh5 38.Rb8 Kg6 39.b7 This is the ultimate position you strive for in such R+P endgames – the Black rook is tied down to defending the b-pawn, and the Black king can’t cross over to the queenside with …Kf7 due to Rh8! and Rh7+ winning the rook after it captures on b7. 39…Kg7 40.e3 e5 41.f3 It’s a waiting game now – Dreev is in Death’s Waiting Room for Carlsen to make the killing strike. 41…Rb1 42.e4 fxe4 43.fxe4 Rb3 44.Kf2 1-0 Dreev resigns with it being a technically won R+P ending. The White king gets to c2 and with the Black rook having to stay on the b-file, the king then marches up the board to c6 to promote the b-pawn.