Carlsen and Humpy are World Rapid Champions

by Sagar Shah
12/29/2019 – Magnus Carlsen is now not just the Classical World Champion, but also the Rapid World Champion! He played sublime chess, gaining 14 Elo points, reaching 2900 on the Elo scale to win the title one point ahead of his nearest rivals. Silver medal was won unexpectedly by Alireza Firouzja who scored 4½/5 on the last day. Nakamura settled for the bronze. In the women's section we witnessed a blitz playoff to determine the winner. It was finally Humpy Koneru who won the gold. Silver went to Chinese Lei Tingjie and bronze to Ekaterina Atalik. A detailed report and interviews with the World Champion.

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No shortage of action

There are days when you are present at the venue as a journalist and you think to yourself, "Please! Let there be no more action than this! How am I going to cover all of this in a single report!" That's the feeling at the end of the World Rapid Championships 2019. But if there were three things that stood out on the final day of the World Rapid Championships 2019, then they would be:

  1. Magnus Carlsen's dominating victory with 11½/15, one point ahead of the entire field
  2. Koneru Humpy's amazing comeback to win the Women's world rapid title
  3. 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja scoring 4½/5 on the final day and winning the silver!

Effortless Magnus

Magnus Carlsen began the third day of the World Rapid 2019 with a score of 8.0/10. He was half a point ahead of Wang Hao, MVL and Duda. In the eleventh round, Carlsen was up against MVL — perhaps one of the most important clashes of the event.

When a top player comes to the board well in advance, doesn't talk with too many people and gets his pieces in order, you know for sure that he wants to fight with all his might! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

MVL played 1.e4 and the open Sicilian against Magnus' Sveshnikov. It always seemed as if White was better, but Carlsen made his moves quickly. He didn't really have a plan, but waited for MVL to do something. When the French GM had to be accurate in the middlegame, he erred and Carlsen equalized without any difficulties. In fact at some point he was also in with a chance to win the game, but finally it all petered out into equality.

 

The swagger of a World Champion! How Magnus Carlsen arrives for the game from the VIP room to the chess board!

In round twelve, Carlsen faced the tough task of playing Levon Aronian with black. Putting his trust in the Tarrasch, Magnus once again essayed the opening. To a person not well versed with the opening, it seemed as if Carlsen had simply blundered a pawn on h5. However, this was really deep understanding of the position. Magnus realized that his central and queenside majority was more potent than Aronian's kingside pawns. 

Carlsen began to dominate in the position and very soon built up a winning advantage. Due to time pressure, things began to go out of hand and Aronian got some counterplay. And then something shocking happened! A queen blunder. 

 

It was hard for Aronian to get to grips with the queen blunder that he had made | Photo: Amruta Mokal

 

The atmosphere in the playing hall, before and after the blunder

The win against Aronian extended Magnus' lead. In the thirteenth round, Carlsen faced Mamedyarov. One of the fiercest attackers of the game, Mamedyarov, somehow is just not able to be himself against Magnus. Even in this encounter Mamedyarov was unrecognizable. He played a solid but passive system. Made some grave positional errors and before you knew it, the game was already over!

 

After these two back to back wins Magnus had a lead of 1½ points over the field. He decided to take it easy in the fourteenth round against Dominguez and drew his game. In the final round, Magnus was pitted against Hikaru Nakamura. In case if Hikaru was able to beat Magnus, we would have gone into the playoffs to decide the champion. However, nothing of that sort happened. Nakamura tried a bit in the opening, but once he realized that Magnus was well prepared and his position was solid, he offered a draw, which was gladly accepted. Magnus, thus became the World Rapid Champion 2019. His third World Rapid title.

A draw in the final round meant that Magnus had won the gold and Hikaru Nakamura a bronze | Photo: Amruta Mokal



Interview with Magnus Carlsen after he became the World Rapid Champion 2019

Interview transcript

A group of journalists gathered around Magnus and asked him different questions. All of these are transcribed below.

Magnus Carlsen: For me I took some time to get going and made some draws. Some people were quite far ahead of me but I think today I had a difficult game against Aronian but in general I was in relatively good control and I am very happy with my performance.

What do you have to say about your opponents?

Magnus Carlsen: I would say my opponents are very strong, they are very solid but I think some of them perhaps lacks the cutting edge. I think lot of my opponents were very happy to finish in the top places and have good chances for medals. But I think in such a tournament to win it all you need to have an even more attacking mindset. I think lot of people here performed well but they could have pushed for more.

Who do you think was your toughest opponent?

Magnus Carlsen: It is hard to say. I feel like I have played all the best players [Smiles]. But if I had any bad positions it was probably on the first day against [Rauf] Mamedov, [Hrant] Melkumyan, [Aleksandr] Rakhmanov and also against Wang Hao I had some difficulties. I defended some worse positions for sure but I think I was never lost, and that's a great thing, to have played fifteen rounds without being lost in single one of them is something I take great pride in. 

After winning the title Carlsen was surrounded by fans for an autograph or selfie. Magnus obliged all of them! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The man of the moment! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

How do you feel now that you have won your third rapid title?

Magnus Carlsen: I feel very good. I am very happy with my performance. I think today I handled it fairly well, although I wasn't very happy to draw against Dominguez because I knew after that the last round would be very difficult, someone just a point could as well catch-up with me. But as it turned out [Hikaru] Nakamura was just happy to secure a medal and I am thankful for that.

How would you celebrate now? Would you play football?

Magnus Carlsen: Maybe I will play football. But most of all, the job is half done for me! I want to win the blitz as well so there's no time to rest on laurels. So if I play football it will only be because I think it is a good way to unwind that way before the blitz.

Carlsen did unwind in the evening playing football! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

He also made new fans with his football tricks! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

A lot of fans! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

What do you think about the organization of the event this year in Russia?

Magnus Carlsen: I think the organization has been superb. I am very very happy and so is my team. To me it feels a bit similar to last year in St. Petersburg. Nice playing hall, lots of people coming to watch. It feels great and I am looking forward to the last two days.

There are a lot of fans here, what do you feel about them?

Magnus Carlsen: I am very happy to see all the fans but I just ask for a little understanding. It has been a tense day for me and if I don't have the time or energy for autographs and such in between games then it is nothing personal. It is just about being as well prepared as possible for a nice game.

What are your future plans?

Magnus Carlsen: The future plan is to play the blitz well. Don't want to look too far ahead, again super-motivated to do well there.

Are you planning any holidays?

Magnus Carlsen: No, I am playing Wijk Aan Zee from the eleventh of January, so holidays will be after that.

Sagar Shah: There were a lot of top players who were making draws quickly just to save energy but you gave in all, in the all the rounds. How did you manage to do it?

Magnus Carlsen: I think even though the days are pretty long but it is still possible to give your all in all the games. But I think it also helps that I am better than the others! [Laughs]. So for me it is easier to play for a win. Perhaps the others risk more if they do so. I think that's the brutal truth. If you are a bit better you can afford to take more risks. Maybe for some of the guys who were taking several short draws that was their optimal strategy but in order to win the event that's probably not the best idea. But in order to just do well that's not a bad but again it is not the way I play and it is partly because I can afford it.

SS: Do you follow a specific routine during the event? You were coming to the board just a few seconds before the game, what were you doing between the rounds?

Magnus Carlsen: I don't like to sit at the board and wait. It is as simple as that. I was just eating, drinking some water, watching some football, and also I was going out for walks. It is a big hall and you need fresh air sometimes.

And what about fantasy football?

Magnus Carlsen: [Laughs] It's been terrible!

You lost the number one spot?

Magnus Carlsen: Yes, it's been terrible. My chess is going great but my fantasy team is not doing well. It's bad but it doesn't matter!

And lastly what did you feel when Aronian blundered his queen?

Magnus Carlsen: Happy! [Smiles] ... But seriously I think I was winning it anyway but it had gotten out of hands. So yes after a tough game there's no better feeling than capturing your opponent's queen for nothing!

The comeback woman of chess

In 2016 Humpy Koneru decided to take a break from chess as she was about to become a mother. For two years she was off the chess board and only made a comeback at the 2018 Batumi Olympiad in Georgia. The start was slow as Humpy didn't perform well in her first few events. The Olympiad was decent but she was knocked out of the Women's World Championship as early as the second round.

But that didn't deter Humpy from her goal! She worked hard and the result is here to be seen. She won the Skolkovo Women's Grand Prix ahead of all the best women players in the world. And now she is the World Women's Rapid Champion 2019! 

Tired, but happy and satisfied. Humpy after winnin the Women's World Championship 2019 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

After twelve rounds it all ended in a three-way tie. Lei Tingjie, who was leading the event, lost her last round to Ekaterina Atalik. This allowed not only Atalik to catch up with Lei, but also Humpy who beat Tan Zhongyi in the final round. Atalik, Humpy and Lei all ended on 9.0/12.

The most important game for Humpy was to win her twelfth and final round against Tan Zhongyi. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

 

This win would not have been sufficient had Ekaterina Atalik not beaten the leader Lei Tingjie. Lei was leading the tournament with 9.0/11 while Atalik was on 8.0/11 in a must-win clash.

Ekaterina Atalik vs Lei Tingjie | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Lei's game against Atalik was similar to a lot of other games that she played at the event. She was losing right out of the opening, and then she fought back. She fought back so well that the position was drawn at a point and would have given her the title. But luck ran out for her and Atalik managed to convert a drawn rook endgame. This game was just about how the tournament went for Lei Tingjie. She had bad positions in so many of her encounters. But she never gave up, fought hard and was rewarded for the same. In the last round, she fell just short.

 

Humpy, Lei Tingjie and Atalik were now tied on 9.0/12. Because Koneru Humpy and Lei Tingjie had the best tiebreak, a playoff was organized between the two. Two games of 3 minutes + 2 seconds increment. If the score ends in a 1-1 tie, the match goes into an Armageddon where White has five minutes and Black has four with draw odds.

Lei Tingjie struck gold in the first game itself as she beat Humpy with the black pieces! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

 

Humpy was just too slow. As she mentioned later, it was very difficult for her to adjust from rapid to blitz. It seemed like a tall ask to make a comeback. Not only was Humpy 1-0 down in the match, she also had the black pieces. She took a practical choice of going for the Modern Defense. A slightly dubious opening, but just the perfect one in this situation where all that she needed was a fighting game. Very soon Humpy landed in a completely lost position. But it was no longer just a game of chess. With the amount of things on stake, there was a lot of pressure on Lei Tingjie as well. She missed many simple wins before letting Humpy make a comeback and level the scores.

 

With the momentum firmly on her side, Humpy was all pumped up for the Armageddon. She lost the toss and Lei decided to take the white pieces and an extra minute. The Armageddon game was a one way traffic as Humpy played solidly and Lei was unable to make any headway. Very soon, the Indian GM built up a winning position and agreed to a draw via threefold repetition.

 

The first thing Humpy did after winning the title was to make a call home to her husband, who had been following all the action! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Interview with Humpy after her victory

Transcription of the interview with Humpy:

Sagar Shah (SS): Humpy this is the first world title for you, how does it feel? 

Koneru Humpy (KH): Yes, I am really excited with this victory. I didn't expect to win this title at all. Okay when I started in the morning I thought finishing in the top three would be the best result for me. But then I got the opportunity to play the tiebreak because the Chinese lost the final game. It was a dramatic tiebreak I would say because I lost the first game with White without much fight because I couldn't adjust to the new time control right away. After that it was a desperate situation for me, I had to win with Black and I chose the Modern. Of course, it is not a good opening but I have played it many times and I went for it because I just had to gamble.The final game was quite clean. I didn't have any problems in the opening and I was completely winning but since a draw was enough I just repeated the moves.

SS: Today I think one of the most important games for you was against Tan Zhongyi in round twelve, right?

Koneru Humpy: Yeah, that was a very crucial game for me. It was similar to a Queen's Gambit Exchange variation. I had some minor advantage but I managed to find some tricks.

SS: The move e4 in that game was quite surprising yes?

 

Koneru Humpy: Yes, I couldn't see anything better than e4. b2-b4 was too slow because Black had a5 immediately. So I went with e3-e4 and was looking at ♞g5 ♘xg5 ♝xg5 f4 after which I felt ♝f6 instead of ♝h6 was better. But in the game after ♝h6 things became complex and I had every bit of opportunity to make progress in that position with rook versus two bishops and a pawn in the center. She offered to repeat moves at one point but I just wanted to win and by that time my position was already very safe.

SS: After winning the title you called home. What did your husband had to say?

Koneru Humpy: Yes I wasn't sure if they were following the tiebreaks or not. But it turned out they were following everything and they are of course very happy. It is indeed time for celebration for me and my family since this is my first world title. 

SS: And what about your daughter? Would she be happy?

Koneru Humpy: [Laughs] She is still not big enough to understand these victories and losses but she will be happy to know that I am returning home!

SS: You know Humpy when you were 2600+ everyone expected you to be a World Champion but you didn't manage to win a title back then. Did you find it easier to win it now because there were no expectations?

Koneru Humpy: Well, that's true as you say. But at the same time most people expected me to win in the classical not in rapid or blitz kind of things. So this victory was even a surprise for me. I couldn't believe I won it. My best was a bronze in 2012 World Rapid but later on I was never close to the title. So this is was really an exciting tournament.

SS: Did you prepare specifically for this event?

Koneru Humpy: No, not at all. I just finished the Grand Prix and I hardly had some ten days. I didn't even practice much during that time because at home it is very important for me to spend time with my daughter.

SS: You know Magnus Carlsen said a few minutes ago after winning the Rapid that his job was half done and he wanted to win the blitz as well. Is it same for you? 

Koneru Humpy: [Laughs] I am not thinking about winning anything. I just want to play and enjoy.

SS: And lastly, does this result motivate you? To come back like this is actually a pretty inspiring story.

Koneru Humpy: Yes, this year has been a fantastic journey for me. I won the Grand Prix and was also leading the series and then this title happened. I also gained near about 30 rating points. So overall, it was a great year. Perhaps even my career best year.

SS: You will also want to play for the classical title right?

Koneru Humpy: Well of course, I will keep playing like always. I don't know if I will win it or not but definitely I will give my best.

Humpy's friend Almira Skripchenko comes and gives her a warm hug after she won the title! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The future World Champion?

If you had to ask me about the find of the tournament, it would definitely be Alireza Firouzja! It would be a bit too much too call him the find, as he has already been "found" and has shown tremendous performances in previous tournaments as well. But at the World Rapid 2019, he just took things to the next level.

Alireza made a powerful start on day one as he raced to 3½/4. One of his victims was the minister of Defence Sergey Karjakin, whom the youngster beat with some powerful endgame play. Day one ended with a loss to top Polish GM Jan Krzysztof Duda and day two was not so great as Alireza could manage just 2½/5.

With 6.0/10 Firouzja entered the final day. This is where he put his foot on the pedal. He first beat Inarkiev, next in line was Le Quang Liem, a draw with Andreikin and he was already closing in on the leaders with 8½/13. But what happened next was just unfathomable! Alireza not just beat Wang Hao in round 14, but also Mamedyarov in the 15th round, taking his tally to 10½/15, and edging out Hikaru Nakamura for the silver medal.

Firouzja performed at an Elo of 2835 and gained 89 Elo points, entering the 2700+ zone. His performance in itself in mind boggling, but the circumstances under which he has achieved it is equally impressive. At the last moment before the start of the event, he decided to not represent Iran and play under the FIDE flag. Although he faced no Israeli opponent, it gave him the mental peace that he would not have to throw away a point if paired against a player from Israel. All of this came at a cost. A lot of mental stress related to what will happen next and how the Iran government will view this. For Iran to lose a gem like Alireza, a future World Champion would be a big loss! For now we can say that he is shaping up into a world class player and it will be exciting to follow him at the blitz tournament as well. 

Alireza with his biggest support: his father Hamidreza | Photo: Amruta Mokal

To beat a player like Mamedyarov in the last round under so much pressure, surely requires nerves of steel | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Alireza is surely a crowd puller! | Photo: Amruta Mokal


Final standings in the open section

Rk. Name Pts.
1 Carlsen Magnus 11,5
2 Firouzja Alireza 10,5
3 Nakamura Hikaru 10,5
4 Artemiev Vladislav 10,5
5 Aronian Levon 10,0
6 Dominguez Perez Leinier 10,0
7 Duda Jan-Krzysztof 10,0
8 Dubov Daniil 10,0
9 Korobov Anton 10,0
10 Anton Guijarro David 10,0
11 Yu Yangyi 10,0
12 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 9,5
13 Le Quang Liem 9,5
14 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 9,5
15 Smirin Ilia 9,5
16 Giri Anish 9,5
17 Melkumyan Hrant 9,5
18 Svidler Peter 9,5
19 Ponkratov Pavel 9,5
20 Motylev Alexander 9,5

Final standings in women's section

Rk. Name Pts.
1 Koneru Humpy 9,0
2 Lei Tingjie 9,0
3 Atalik Ekaterina 9,0
4 Girya Olga 8,5
5 Tan Zhongyi 8,5
6 Muzychuk Anna 8,5
7 Muzychuk Mariya 8,5
8 Pogonina Natalija 8,5
9 Bulmaga Irina 8,0
10 Kashlinskaya Alina 8,0
11 Lagno Kateryna 8,0
12 Danielian Elina 8,0
13 Harika Dronavalli 8,0
14 Stefanova Antoaneta 8,0
15 Shuvalova Polina 8,0
16 Kosteniuk Alexandra 8,0
17 Voit Daria 8,0
18 Arabidze Meri 7,5
19 Kovanova Baira 7,5
20 Gunina Valentina 7,5

All available games (Open)

 

All available games (Women)

 

The first tournament has now come to an end. We now move to blitz: 21 rounds of them! And it is going to be even more exciting! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Special thanks to Shahid Ahmed and Satanick Mukhuty for their contribution to this article.

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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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