Côte d'Ivoire Rapid & Blitz: Carlsen keeps up the pace

by Antonio Pereira
5/10/2019 – World Champion Magnus Carlsen is the sole leader of the Côte d'Ivoire Rapid tournament after scoring two wins and a draw for a second day in a row. Hikaru Nakamura could be sharing first place with Carlsen had he managed to convert a winning advantage against Bassem Amin — 'Naka' even lost that game and now stands two points behind the leader. Plenty of exciting chess and missed opportunities were seen on Thursday in Abidjan. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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"A by-product of Magnus winning every game..."

Bassem Amin's first win of the tournament came in round five, when he took down Hikaru Nakamura after the latter was unable to make the most of a winning advantage. The American ace bounced back in the next round and, already recovered from the disappointment, he had a chat with Maurice Ashley. When asked about the painful loss, Hikaru responded:

More than anything, it's a by-product of Magnus winning every game. You kind of feel like you have to do everything to win.

And we can only agree with that answer, as Carlsen defeated two of the strongest rapid players of the world in back-to-back rounds on Thursday — he beat Sergey Karjakin and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in rounds five and six. Nonetheless, Nakamura is only two points behind Magnus in the standings table, while we must not forget that mistakes are more frequent in Rapid and Blitz...and the world champion has shown to be human in the past. We can only wait and see what happens in the coming three days of action.

Wei Yi

Wei Yi on his way to the venue | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Round 4: Wei Yi falls behind

In Thursday's first round, Ian Nepomniachtchi inflicted Amin's fourth straight loss from the white side of a Ruy Lopez after only 32 moves; Wesley So and Ding Liren signed a quiet draw; and Nakamura started the day with a nice win over Veselin Topalov. Meanwhile, then co-leaders Carlsen and Wei Yi were facing difficult challenges with the black pieces.

Wei Yi was playing a Petroff against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. In the middlegame, the young player from Yancheng pushed for simplifications and managed to get all the heavy pieces off the board. However, MVL was left with the pair of bishops — a positional trump that the Frenchman made full use of:


In the following five moves, Maxime transferred his king to a6, forcing Black to defend the a7-weakness with his own monarch, which in turn travelled from h8 to b8. The idea is to distract the king from the defence of the kingside pawns, which can be easily targeted by White's long-range minor pieces.

Vachier-Lagrave showed good technique to exploit the weaknesses on Black's camp and got the win after 43 moves.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

An interview with MVL | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Meanwhile, Carlsen had answered to Sergey Karjakin's 1.e4 with yet another Sicilian. A sharp struggle ensued, with Black going for the initiative on the kingside. Carlsen did not find a sharp continuation on move 23, which would have left him with a clear advantage — it was the kind of move that is hard to assess fully in a rapid game — but continued putting pressure on his opponent.

Eventually, Karjakin lost the game by putting his bishop en prise on move 32:


It is true that after 32.d7 Black cannot capture the bishop due to the mating threats on the back rank. However, there is a way to gain material by force, and Magnus did not take long to find it: 32...g6 (attacking the rook) 33.f6 d3 (attacking the queen) 34.c3 xd7 35.e6 and Karjakin resigned after 35...f4+ as Black will play ...♞e5 next, securing his material advantage.

Magnus Carlsen, Maurice Ashley

No reason to complain | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Round 5: Crucial blunders

Only two games finished drawn in round five: Wei Yi and Wesley So split the point after 58 moves, while Veselin Topalov and Sergey Karjakin stumbled into a threefold repetition out of a Ragozin Defence after 30 moves.

Nepomniachtchi came from getting his first victory in Abidjan, but could not find the bishop move that would have given him a straightforward draw against Ding Liren while a pawn down:


We cannot blame 'Nepo' for playing the natural 37...e2, attacking the queen and increasing the pressure on f1...but this was actually the losing blunder. Instead, White had 37...♝f3 at his disposal, as after 38.gxf3 the queen gives an unavoidable perpetual check from f3 and f2. In the game, Ding Liren found the way to punish Ian's mistake, with 38.c8+ f8 39.e6+ g7 40.e5+ g8 41.e3, centralizing his pieces with consecutive checks. 

White's d-pawn is now unstoppable, and Nepomniachtchi resigned after 51 moves.

Ding Liren

Ding punished Nepo's inaccuracy | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

We already mentioned Nakamura's painful defeat against Amin. The Egyptian had a good position out of the opening but played an over-confident 22.f4 in the middlegame. At that point, Hikaru took over and eventually got a clear advantage — he was a pawn up and had a strong passer on the third rank of the c-file.

Around move 43, the American lost focus and gave up his extra pawn. The computer showed a 0.00 evaluation, but Hikaru could not switch gears in time, as going for a draw was already called for:


Black's passer is no longer on the board, while White's b-pawn is extremely dangerous. Naka played 60...a8, when 60...♜h1 or 60...♜xh3 — looking for a perpetual along the h-file — were necessary to save the draw. Amin went on to gain a rook and did not falter in the final 'blitz' phase of the game.

Bassem Amin

The Egyptian kept his cool to defeat Naka while pressed by the clock | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Finally, Vachier-Lagrave had the black pieces against Carlsen and, naturally, played the Najdorf. White had the initiative and seemed en route to get yet another win in a sharp middlegame. However, Magnus did not find the correct path and simplified into a heavy-piece endgame a pawn up. The Norwegian's chances looked slim, given the broken pawn structure on both sides, but suddenly MVL made a decision that left everyone confounded:


The strength of Black's a3-rook is the fact that it can move along the rank freely. Therefore, capturing the pawn with 33...xa4? is simply wrong. Magnus continued with the completely logical 33.g5 and went on to win nine moves later, as Black needed four tempi to bring his rook back to the defence.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Magnus Carlsen

Two Rapid specialists | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Round 6: A reversal of fortune for Nakamura

Curiously, all games in round six started 1.e4 e5 2.f3, and four out of five continued 2...c6 — Wei Yi played the Petroff against Nepomniachtchi. Vachier-Lagrave and So signed a quiet draw, while Amin scored his third point of the event by drawing Karjakin with the black pieces (wins in rapid games are worth two points). 

Wei Yi had the upper hand against Nepo, after the latter blitzed out all his moves until finding himself in a difficult position, and Topalov wittily commented that "[he] was lucky to play [Carlsen] with Black", as the world champion has shown great preparation from the black side of the Sicilian — that game finished in a 41-move draw.

Veselin Topalov

Veselin, always sharp | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The only winner of the round was Nakamura, who bounced back from his painful loss by taking advantage of a rather simple oversight by Ding Liren:


28...e4? counts on tactics connected to a discovered attack along the d-file. What Ding Liren missed is that after 29.xe4 xe4 30.xe4, in case of 30...c5 White has 31.♗d3, threatening mate-in-one and blocking the d-file at the same time. Instead of 30...c5, Ding played 30...fe8, but in this line White has 31.xc6 and Black is forced to continue 31...xe4 32.xd8+ xd8 33.xd8:


White has two pieces and a pawn for Black's rook — a totally winning advantage. Ding Liren resigned shortly afterwards.

Hikaru Nakamura

Naka is in sole second place | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Commentary webcast

GM Yannick Pelletier, IM Tania Sachdev, GM Alejandro Ramirez & GM Maurice Ashley

Standings after Round 6


All games



Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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