Superbet Poland: Wei widens the gap in two-horse race

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/11/2024 – Wei Yi had yet another imposing performance on day 4 of the Superbet event in Poland, as he now stands a full 2½ points ahead of second-placed Magnus Carlsen in the tournament table. Wei scored 7½/9 in the first half of the blitz section, despite starting the day with a loss against D Gukesh. With third-placed R Praggnanandhaa standing at a 6-point distance from the leader, the fight for overall victory has become a two-horse race in Warsaw. | Photo: Grand Chess Tour / Lennart Ootes

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Wei scores 7½ out of 9

After the first day of action at the Superbet Rapid & Blitz tournament in Warsaw, Wei Yi stood in shared seventh place with 2/6 points — he had started the event with two draws and a loss (to Magnus Carlsen). In the remaining six rounds of rapid, Wei scored 5½/6, with five consecutive wins in rounds 4-8. On Saturday, a similar progression was seen in the first half of the blitz section: Wei started the day with a loss, and then scored 7½/8 in the remaining rounds, with five consecutive wins in rounds 14-18!

Wei had entered the blitz section with a 1-point lead over Carlsen, and now, going into the final nine rounds of the event, he has widened the gap to 2½ points. R Praggnanandhaa, who has so far collected 14½ points, stands at a 6-point distance from the leader, which means he would require something close to a miracle to win the event.

Moreover, as pointed out by Tarjei J. Svensen, Wei is now within range of breaking the record for the highest-ever score in a Grand Chess Tour event. Not surprisingly, the record-holder is Carlsen, who obtained a dizzying 27/36 score at the 2019 Tata Steel tournament in Kolkata. Wei would break that record with a 7/9 performance on Sunday.

Grand Chess Tour 2024

Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen

Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen — two former world champions — sharing a laugh with the new World Championship challenger, 17-year-old D Gukesh | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen’s uncharacteristic mistakes

Scoring 6/9 to remain in the fight for overall victory surely sounds like an acceptable performance in a tournament of this calibre. But Carlsen lives by a different standard, as he expressed disappointment regarding his play on Saturday in an interview with Cristian Chirila, noting that his nervous system had “collapsed” after his round-2 loss against Pragg and describing his score as “half decent”.

The most disappointing moment of the day for Carlsen — and one that was caught on camera — was his one-move blunder against Nodirbek Abdusattorov in round 3.

Carlsen’s queen and knight tandem here is nothing short of formidable. White can keep his winning advantage with the simple 51.Qxf5 or 51.Qe6+, as the knight on e5 controls a number of key squares and prevents Black from creating counterplay.

Instead, Carlsen erred decisively with 51.Qg6+, allowing 51...Rg7, which loses the queen at once. Resignation, accompanied by a big emotional reaction, followed.

In the all-important clash with Wei, Carlsen amassed a big advantage in the middlegame — which he went on to spoil in the ensuing rook endgame.

Black is a rook up, and White’s only source of counterplay is his far-advanced c-pawn. The natural 54...Rh8, preparing to give up the rook for the passer and then win with the f-pawn, is winning here.

Carlsen instead opted for 54...Rb1, and the balanced was restored with 55.c7 — after 55...Rxb4+ 56.Kc5 (diagram below) it is all under control for Black. A draw was agreed ten moves later, when all pieces except the kings had left the board.

The current rapid and blitz world champion still collected 4 wins and 1 draw in the remaining rounds of the day, and he has proven once and again that he is capable of coming from behind to claim outright victory — his 9/9 last year in Zagreb is a salient example of his ability to get a string of victories while in good form.

Magnus Carlsen

Still in contention for tournament victory — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Expert analysis by IM Robert Ris

Standings after round 9

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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