Magnus Carlsen and Kateryna Lagno are World Blitz Champions

by Sagar Shah
12/31/2019 – What an exciting final day we had at the World Blitz 2019. A controversy between the World Champion and one of the brightest young talents of the game, a blitz playoff to determine the winner, a retired player making a comeback, and winning the bronze and the defending women's world champion defending her title! The World Blitz 2019 was filled with exciting moments, and we bring you a detailed report with information of all the things that happened at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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A dramatic final day in Moscow

Filled with tension and drama was the final day of the World Blitz Championships 2019. In 2018, Magnus Carlsen had scored 17 points to become the champion, and was pursued closely by Jan-Krzsyzstof Duda back then, who ended up scoring 16½. In 2019, things didn't changed much. Instead of 17 points, Carlsen scored 16½ points out of 21. Now this was surely a championship score. However, he was unable to claim the title because Hikaru Nakamura lived up to his top billing and scored the same number of points. The two were one and a half points ahead of the entire field. 

As both of them were tied on the same score, in order to determine the winner, there was going to be a playoff between Magnus and Hikaru. Before coming to the playoff though, let's speak about the biggest controversy of the day — Alireza Firouzja's game against Carlsen.

The Alireza v Carlsen controversy

In the 19th round, Alireza and Magnus Carlsen were pitted against each other. It was amazing to see how the 16-year-old Alireza was motivated for this game. His expressions before the game told the story that he was out there to win.

The look on the face of Alireza says that he is out there for the kill | Photo: Amruta Mokal

 

When the final position of the game was reached, Alireza had three extra pawns, but because of the opposite-coloured bishop endgame scenario, it was a drawn position. While making one of his moves, he accidentally toppled his king and those couple of seconds it took him to put it back and press the clock resulted in his time running down to zero. It was an utter heartbreak for Alireza.

The worst news was yet to come:

 

The arbiters declared it as a loss for Firouzja, as Carlsen had mating material in the position. You can clearly imagine a position where the white king is in a corner with his bishop, and the black king and bishop checkmating him. When you have the theoretical possibility of a checkmate taking place on the board, it means that the opponent has sufficient mating material. This means that if your time is over, then you lose the game.

Alireza couldn't accept this decision of the arbiter and later asked for the proof in the FIDE Rule book. Panagiotis Nikolopoulos, who is one of the most competent arbiters in the world of chess, showed Alireza the relevant rule and the matter was decided in Carlsen's favour. But the youngster was not satisfied. He complained that Magnus disturbed him during the game when he was very short on time and spoke words in Norwegian. Now this was a subject beyond the purview of the arbiter. He asked Alireza if he would like to go ahead on his complaint, he could submit a letter to the appeals committee and they would consider it. 

Alireza sat down with a piece of paper and wrote down the complaint.

Alireza's letter to the appeals committee

The point that Alireza was referring to can be seen in the video below when Carlsen blunders a pawn and is livid with himself. But beyond that moment, he didn't speak in Norwegian any more:

The full game video of Alireza Firouzja versus Magnus Carlsen

The appeals committee rejected Alireza's appeal and the tournament proceeded with Magnus getting the full point from the game. Another important point mentioned by a senior official at the venue was that if a player has a grievance related to disturbance, like Alireza had in this case, he should stop the clock, call the arbiter and complain at that very moment. He cannot let the move be completed and then complain. 

The entire controversy explained from the start to the end

Speaking to ChessBase India about the appeal, Magnus Carlsen said:

I completely understand his appeal though. He is young, he is emotional, and he was clearly upset, but I don't think he had any chance of succeeding. But he should not be judged on that too harshly either. It happens in the heat of the moment and I think he should be congratulated for his performance in this event. For winning the silver in the rapid and hanging there in the blitz till the very end.

A detailed interview with the next big thing in the world of chess — Alireza Firouzja

For Alireza, chess is life! Once the event was over, he was busy playing blitz with Hikaru Nakamura. They were forced to stop when their name was announced for the medals they had won! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Look at the number of people who had gathered just to enjoy this friendly game! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The Carlsen vs Nakamura playoff

The first game ended in a calm draw. In the second game, Carlsen had the white pieces. Although he didn't really like his position out of the opening, he was able to build up a strong attack when Hikaru went wrong. The g-pawn push turned out to be decisive as White managed to crash through Black's defences and register the full point!

 

The entire second playoff game between Magnus and Hikaru

When Hikaru stretched out his hand in resignation, it was a very emotional moment for Carlsen. There was relief, happiness, exhaustion and so many other feelings, all rolled into one at that moment!


Interview with Magnus Carlsen before he left for his hotel late in the night


Sagar Shah (SS): Magnus, when you made the last move there was a feeling of delight as well as relief. We have not seen you express like this before.

Magnus Carlsen (MC): [Smiles] So it was a change of pace! Usually I only express negative emotions during the game. So, yeah, I really liked that. Certainly there was a huge relief after these tough few days. Today every time it looked like I was pulling ahead, I came back to earth pretty quickly. Kudos to Hikaru for making it such a great battle.

SS: Yes, Hikaru played really well. Tell us also a bit about your game against Alireza. It was really high pressure and there were all these things that followed after he made an appeal.

MC: First of all, I was clearly a bit worse out of the opening, but at the same time that's not surprising because this opening is a bit dubious. Then I think he missed a couple of things and I was safely better, but soon I blew everything in a couple of moves. I got really upset with myself at that point, which resulted in a bit of an emotional reaction there. Then I think he was winning, but it is hard to say because I wasn't thinking at all for the rest of the game and was just banging out moves.

Early on, I could have drawn the opposite-coloured bishop ending fairly easily, but then I put my bishop on e7, which was incredibly stupid and meant that I couldn't go back to f6 with my king and prevent the infiltration.

I think after that it was definitely winning for him. He clearly showed some nerves but unfortunate for him he lost on time. For me, obviously a draw would have been great, given everything, but the rules are the rules.  

SS: Grishchuk actually helped you there by telling you that it was a win, right?

MC: I was pretty sure myself that it was a win and, it is simple as the rules say so. It would have been very unethical to try and arrange a draw there. It seems like it is a good compromise, but I think it would have been simply unethical towards the others. 

SS: Lastly Magnus, how do you feel after winning all the three titles? What's your next aim?

MC: Well, I want to win my next tournament which is the Wijk Aan Zee. That's my next aim! [smiles].  


Final standings - Open (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Carlsen Magnus 16,5 261,0
2 Nakamura Hikaru 16,5 259,0
3 Kramnik Vladimir 15,0 246,5
4 Grischuk Alexander 14,0 251,5
5 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 14,0 245,5
6 Firouzja Alireza 13,5 265,5
7 Artemiev Vladislav 13,5 263,0
8 Yu Yangyi 13,5 255,5
9 Matlakov Maxim 13,5 254,5
10 Duda Jan-Krzysztof 13,5 253,0
11 Andreikin Dmitry 13,5 250,5
12 Fedoseev Vladimir 13,5 240,5
13 Giri Anish 13,5 239,0
14 Zubov Alexander 13,5 237,0
15 Aronian Levon 13,5 233,5
16 Wang Hao 13,5 231,5
17 Inarkiev Ernesto 13,5 229,5
18 Svidler Peter 13,5 220,5
19 Gelfand Boris 13,5 216,0
20 Cheparinov Ivan 13,5 213,5
21 Dreev Aleksey 13,0 247,0
22 Nepomniachtchi Ian 13,0 245,0
23 Mamedov Rauf 13,0 240,5
24 Salem A.R. Saleh 13,0 231,5
25 Chigaev Maksim 13,0 230,5

...207 players


Kramnik too strong!

When you see the level of Kramnik's play, just one question comes to mind: "Didn't he retire too soon?" Big Vlad decided a few days ago that he would make a small comeback from his retirement to play at the World Blitz 2019. He didn't really keep any high expectations. He was of the opinion that while this is a fun idea, if he started to lose one game after another, it wouldn't be long before he thought this was the worst idea!

There are very few things you do in life where you are completely unsure about how the result would pan out. It could go really well, it go really bad as well. And such moments are of great interest for high achievers like Vladimir Kramnik. He took it as a challenge and arrived a couple of days in advance in Moscow for the event. His business meetings kept him pre-occupied, but at the back of the mind he was already thinking about the openings he would play, how he would manage time, etc.

It was simply a joy to see Kramnik back in action! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

On day one, Kramnik showed flashes of his old self, but losses to Sargissian and Savchenko confirmed his fears. While he was playing high level chess, he was simply unable to handle the clock. One could see him looking at the clock several times before making his moves. It was a typical behaviour of someone who hasn't played chess for quite some time. 

When day two began, Kramnik was on 8/12. And then something fascinating happened! He beat Petrosyan, Socko, Nepomniachtchi (!), Matlakov, Yu Yangyi and Firouzja. Simply unbelievable. We all know that one of the biggest qualities of World Champions or world class players is their ability to learn and adapt quickly. Kramnik had made a mental note of what he was doing wrong on day one and immediately fixed those issues on day two. You could see him having extra time in just about any game he played. Rather than achieve the impossible task of playing well in time pressure, he decided not to come under severe time pressure at all! The result was a 15/21 finish, with a rating performance of 2831, gaining 49 Elo points and, most importantly, winning the bronze medal! 

All we can say now is "Vlad, we cannot wait for you to make yet another comeback!"

The top three finishers of World Blitz 2019 — Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and Vladimir Kramnik along with Mark Glukhovksy, RCF executive director (left), Lukasz Turlej, FIDE vice president (second from right), and Rami Altassan, President of the Saudi Arabian Chess Federation  | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Kateryna Lagno is the blitz champion

It is clear who is the best blitz woman player in the world right now! It's Kateryna Lagno, who defended her 2018 world blitz title. Second place went to Anna Muzychuk and third was Tan Zhongyi.

L to R: Anna Muzychuk, Kateryna Lagno, Tan Zhongyi | Photo: Amruta Mokal

One of Lagno's important wins was against Alexandra Kosteniuk:

 

Kosteniuk vs Lagno | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Another nice win for Lagno was the one against Harika:

 

Anna Muzychuk won the prize for the best female player of the event. She won the silver in blitz and finished sixth in rapid. This made her the best cumulative performer of the event.

Anna Muzychuk | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Final standings - Women (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Lagno Kateryna 13,0 170,5
2 Muzychuk Anna 12,5 168,5
3 Tan Zhongyi 12,0 167,5
4 Gunina Valentina 12,0 164,0
5 Kosteniuk Alexandra 11,5 169,0
6 Lei Tingjie 11,5 168,5
7 Arabidze Meri 11,5 161,5
8 Stefanova Antoaneta 11,5 157,0
9 Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 11,5 142,0
10 Bodnaruk Anastasia 11,0 167,5
11 Mammadova Gulnar 11,0 148,5
12 Koneru Humpy 10,5 173,5
13 Munguntuul Batkhuyag 10,5 165,5
14 Paehtz Elisabeth 10,5 161,5
15 Abdumalik Zhansaya 10,5 161,5
16 Galliamova Alisa 10,5 156,0
17 Saduakassova Dinara 10,5 156,0
18 Zhukova Natalia 10,5 156,0
19 Krush Irina 10,5 146,0
20 Mkrtchian Lilit 10,5 144,5

...122 players


There were six medals at stake in the women's section and six different players received them | Photo: Amruta Mokal

In the open section, Magnus Carlsen won two golds and Hikaru won a silver and bronze! Hence, six medals were distributed among four individuals! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The tournament and the year 2019 definitely belonged to Magnus Carlsen, who is now the World Champion in three different formats of the game — Classical, Rapid and Blitz | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.

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