John Henderson
By John Henderson

The old year may not have ended with Magnus Carlsen winning the ‘triple-crown’ as he hoped for, but he did end 2018 on a high by winning the final major event of the year by dominating the World Blitz Championship in St Petersburg, as the Norwegian retained his title and took the $60,000 first prize with an undefeated score of 17/21, after being chased all the way by Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) who finished a half point behind ($50,000), with Hikaru Nakamura (USA) a distant third, though adding the blitz bronze medal (and $40,000) to his rapid bronze.

This was Carlsen four blitz world title and his 10th world title in total. The final day of the competition in St. Petersburg couldn’t have started any better for Carlsen, who crushed rival Anish Giri in what proved to be a remarkably one-sided affair after the Dutchman was wrong-footed by a little wrinkle in the opening by the world champion, and could only look on in horror as the defences around his king was systematically ripped open.

Carlsen and Giri are not only rivals over the board but they are also Twitter rivals, with many amusing barbs being traded between the two – and that win certainly boosted Carlsen’s confidence on the final day. And after easily crushing Giri, with a wry smile on his face, Carlsen couldn’t but help comment on the live NRK interview: “There are many who have fantasies as to what is the best way to start the day. This is mine.”

Despite Carlsen going through the tournament undefeated, the gold standard for a major blitz tournament still belongs to Bobby Fischer, who in April 1970 won the first unofficial “Speed Chess Championship of the World,” which was held in Herceg Novi, Yugoslavia. Fischer’s score of 19/22 (+17 -1 =4) was all the more remarkable as the very strong field had four world champions competing, and he not only finished 4.5 points ahead of Mikhail Tal in second place, but he also obliterated the Soviet contingent, 8.5-1.5, whitewashing Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Vasily Smyslov, six-zip; breaking even with Viktor Korchnoi; and defeating David Bronstein with a win and draw.

The new year also brought with it Carlsen again heading yet another January FIDE Rating list; and holding the numero uno spot continuously now since July 2011. The Norwegian has been World #1 for 103 months in total, and at the age of 28, now surpassing Anatoly Karpov with 102 months, but yet still some distance behind Garry Kasparov’s all-time record of 255 months.

FIDE January Top 10:
1. Magnus Carlsen, 2835 (=); 2. Fabiano Caruana, 2828 (-4); 3. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2817 (=); 4. Ding Liren, 2813 (=); 5. Anish Giri, 2783 (=); 6. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 2780 (-1); 7. Vladimir Kramnik, 2777(=); 8. Viswanathan Anand, 2773 (=); 9. Alexander Grischuk, 2771 (=); 10. Levon Aronian, 2767 (+2).

Photo: A jubilant Magnus Carlsen celebrate a fourth World Blitz title | © Maria Emelianova/FIDE

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Anish Giri
World Blitz Championship, (13)
English Opening, Four Knights
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e4 Bc5 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 Bb4 7.dxe5 Nxe4 8.Qf3 A slightly better square for the queen than the alternative of 8.Qd3 which has seen 8…Nxc3 9.bxc3 Ba5 10.Qg3 0-0 11.Bh6 Bxc3+ 12.Qxc3 gxh6 13.f4 d6 14.0-0-0 Bf5 15.Bd3 Qd7 16.Rhe1 Rfe8 17.Re3 that ended in a draw at this point in Grigoryan,K – Rublevsky,S; Ruma 2017. 8…Nxc3 9.bxc3 Be7?! As in the game in the above note, Giri would have been better minded to keep the pin on the c3 pawn with 9…Ba5 – but without this little tactical resource, his position quickly crumbles. 10.Qg3 It all now gets more than a little awkward for Giri. If he had played 9…Ba5, then he could have kept his position more solid by castling kingside, and able to answer 11.Bh6 with 11….Bxc3+! and transposing into the aforementioned Grigoryan-Rublevsky game – but without this resource, Black has a tougher position to defend. 10…g6 11.Bh6 d6 12.Be2 Be6 13.Rd1! Qd7 14.exd6!?N The official commentator, Peter Leko hit the nail on the head by saying here: “I think Magnus’s preparation is the best in the world for blitz and rapid. He kind of knows almost every opening and all the move orders.” And here, he catches the normally well-prepared Dutch rival out with a little wrinkle in the opening. Previously seen here was 14.Bf4 0-0 15.0-0 Qa4 16.exd6 cxd6 17.Bxd6 Bxd6 18.Qxd6 Qxa2 19.Rd2 Qa5 with Black king safely castled and equal play, as in Ghaem Maghami,E – Vovk,Y; Berlin 2017. And from that game, it is easy to see why Giri may well have been lured into playing 16…Qa4, but not fully realising the consequences of his castling on the opposite wing in this scenario. 14…cxd6 15.0-0 And here’s the crux of the position now – Giri simply can’t keep his game stuck in the middle of the board, so castles queenside and continues with Vovk’s plan of …Qa4 – but Carlsen is more than ready for it! 15…0-0-0 16.Be3! The sudden switch of direction of the bishop is deadly – Black just has no way to defend against the coming onslaught. 16…Qa4 Giri tries to find an original way out of his difficulties a la Vovk – but Carlsen sees right through his idea. And there’s no way to defend with 16…b6? as 17.c5! will quickly crash through to the Black king. 17.Qf3! Qc6 There’s no hope now. If 17…Bxc4 18.Qg4+! picks up a piece and the game. 18.Qf4 b6 19.a4! [see diagram] There’s no holding Carlsen back now in this position – he just wants to rip open as many lines to the Black king as he possibly can, and there’s nothing Giri can do to stop him. 19…Rd7 The kill comes quickly after 19…Qxa4 20.Ra1 Qd7 21.c5! bxc5 (Unfortunately for Black, he can’t play 21…dxc5?? due to 22.Ba6+ and Black can resign here.) 22.Rfb1 with an overwhelming attack. 20.a5 bxa5 21.Rb1 Rc7 22.c5! With all roads leading to Rome now, Carlsen picks the one that goes right for the Black king. The engines all opted for the materialistic route of 22.Bxa7 with the idea being that 22…Rxa7 23.Qd4 picks up either the rook on h8 or the rook on a7. 22…dxc5 23.Bf3 Qd6? The unlikely resource of 23…g5!? would have held out longer, but Black is ultimately doomed to defending a hopeless position after 24.Bxc6 gxf4 25.Bxf4 Rxc6 26.Rb8+ Kd7 27.Rd1+! Rd6 28.Bxd6 Rxb8 29.Bxb8+ and while Black may struggle on with the bishop-pair and the passed a-pawn, White’s material advantage will prove decisive sooner rather than later. 24.Qe4 Rd8 1-0 In this one-sided affair, Giri’s flag falls before Carlsen can deliver the coup de grace with 25.Rb8+! Kd7 (If 25…Kxb8 26.Qa8#) 26.Qa4+ Rc6 27.Bxc6+ Qxc6 28.Rb7+ Kd6 29.Qf4+ Kd5 30.Rd1#.

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