World Blitz - Day 1: Karjakin and Cramling grab lead

by Alex Yermolinsky
12/30/2017 – The second stage is underway in Riyadh. 138 players are contesting the World Blitz Championship title in a 21-round Swiss, played over two days. At stake is a quarter-million first prize and the title of World Blitz Champion. After 11 rounds of wild action, defending champion, Sergey Karjakin has taken the lead, while the women's section, veteran Pia Cramling stormed to a commanding lead. Report and analysis by Alex Yermolinsky. | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

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Check, check, who wins?

As usual, all eyes are on Magnus Carlsen, the owner of a stratospheric 2986 blitz rating, a full 100 points ahead of his competition. For many the question is not even if Magnus can win the tournament, but whether he can get to a 3000 rating in the process.

Eleven rounds in, and it looks anything but. Carlsen struggled mightily, mainly with blunders, and he should have considered himself lucky to get to 7 / 10 before the concluding round of today's session. See for yourself.

All smiles before the first round game | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

It was topy-turvy to say the least, right from the word go. Magnus' game with Inarkiev had the strangest finish you will see in professional chess. And you'd never know it just by looking at the game in isolation.

In the final position, with both sides having seconds on the clock, Inarkiev was in check, but he didn't see it and instead played Ne3+ — an illegal move — checking Carlsen's king! Somehow Magnus himself didn't register that this move was illegal, even though he had just put his opponent in check on the prior move. He should have stopped the clock and claimed the illegal move. But he played Kd3. Suddenly, Inarkiev realized what happened, and stopped the clock himself to summon the arbiter, claiming a win by virtue of Magnus' making an illegal move! And after a brief discussion at the board, the arbiter ruled the game a black win!


Starting from 24.f3... | Source: Chess Cast

Inarkiev was interviewed shortly after the game, when the point was still his, and seemed sincere, if surprised by his incredibly good fortune — he notes that in the position on the board he is basically lost.

Ernesto Inarkiev speaking with Anastasia Karlovich | Source: ChessCast 

However, after the game, a discussion took place between rounds, and it emerged that the arbiter's ruling was wrong. The chief arbiter, Takis Nikolopoulos, ruled that the game should continue from the illegal position. But Inarkiev could not believe it. The conversation between Nikolopoulos and Inarkiev was captured by an NRK video crew and subsequently shared on social media by Tarjei Svensen. It's surreal:

EI: I stopped the clock in the moment he made illegal move

TN: Yes, you have the right to stop the clock. But the move he made is not illegal!

EI: But you talk about arbiter, It's not arbiter I stopped the clock and claimed illegal move.

TN: But it's not illegal move.

EI: You say Kd3 is illegal move in this position.

TN: Your king is illegal move.

EI: You said Kd3 is illegal move.

TN: Kd3 is not illegal move. You are saying this. It’s legal. By going there, it created an illegal position. Now it’s your turn to play, you can correct the illegal position by moving your king. Or if you don’t move your king, then the illegal position remains and we declare a draw. This is the case. (Inarkiev reads rule book)

EI: Yes, okay. I will make an appeal. Because here it writes arbiter observes. But I stopped the clock and said it’s illegal move. Because I think when my king is under attack he can not make Kd3.

TN: He can make!

EI: This is not illegal move! You said Kd3 is illegal move.

TN: He made a move. The previously illegal move stands. He didn’t claim for illegal move.

EI: But I claimed.

TN: Claim for what? Your illegal move?

EI: No, claim for his illegal move!

TN: The move he played was legal!

EI: Not legal!

TN: Yes!

EI: You said in that position Kd3 is possible move.

TN: Yes!

EI: No, it’s not posisble.

TN: Yes, it is. It produces an illegal position, this is the difference.

EI: Yes, but the move is illegal.

TN: The move is not illegal! The move is not illegal! This is the point.

EI: (inaudible)

TN: Okay, you continue the game or not?

EI: No, I want to make an appeal for this game. I am not continuing.

TN: Okay.

And so the result was completely reversed. Carlsen was awarded the point! Remarkable!

Magnus Carlsen

 At this point, all one can do is shrug | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

Inarkiev appealed the ruling, and later in the day, IM Malcolm Pein, a member of the appeals committee, described Inarkiev's appeal, and the decision of the committee. He amusingly noted at the outset that, "the appeals committee is traditionally a bit of a joke. Whoever is invited is just meant to be sitting down and not doing very much." But this time they actually had a serious case to deal with.

IM Malcolm Pein on the Inarkiev appeal | Source: Chess Cast

Such an incident would be tough to shake, and in fact Carlsen lost his very next game against Sanan Sjugirov. Inarkiev finished the day on 5 / 10. Replay Carlsen's key games: 

Carlsen's day at the office

Replay six of Magnus Carlsen's games — click or tap the game in the list to switch

Following the action on giant video screens, the action was easy to follow, even if understanding the action might be less so | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

A Black Repertoire against Offbeat Openings

Many club players have their favourite pet opening variations which aren’t necessarily main lines. It’s important to know how to handle these variations as your opponent will likely know his systems well. In this DVD, GM Nicholas Pert provides a detailed Black repertoire against many of these Offbeat Opening choices.

To make matters even worse, Magnus lost in Round 11 to Yu Yangyi in the manner that is becoming alarmingly common. Once again, a random opening, this time the Vienna Game, led him to a decent middlegame position. Then things went wrong, terribly wrong.

Right Move, Wrong Idea (Magnus Carlsen 0-1 Yu Yangyi)

[Event "FIDE World Blitz-ch Men 2017"] [Site "Riyadh"] [Date "2017.12.29"] [Round "11"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Yu, Yangyi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C25"] [WhiteElo "2837"] [BlackElo "2751"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 exf4 4. Nf3 Bb4 5. Nd5 Ba5 6. c3 Nge7 7. d4 O-O 8. Nxf4 d5 9. Bd3 dxe4 10. Bxe4 Bf5 11. Bxf5 Nxf5 12. O-O Bb6 13. Qd3 Nce7 14. g4 Nd6 {[#]} 15. Ng5 $2 {Actually, Carlsen's 14.g4 was quite strong, but he played it with the wrong idea in mind.} ({Instead pf playing for mate he could have won a piece by using a typical trick:} 15. c4 Qc8 16. h3 c5 17. b4 $1 { leading to a technical task after} cxb4 18. c5 Bxc5 19. dxc5 Qxc5+ 20. Be3) 15... Ng6 16. Nxg6 fxg6 17. Bd2 $2 {It's hard to explain this either.} ({ What kept Magnus from trading rooks first to deny the black queen her best square d7?} 17. Rxf8+ Qxf8 18. c4 Nf7 19. c5 Ba5 20. Qc4 h6 21. Nf3 {keeps White's advantage.}) 17... Qd7 18. h3 c5 {Black is already out of danger.} 19. dxc5 Bxc5+ 20. Kh2 Qc6 21. Ne6 Rxf1 22. Rxf1 Ne4 23. Nxc5 Nxd2 24. Qxd2 Qxc5 { There are no realistic chances for White to win, not with his king open like this.} 25. Qf4 (25. Qd4 $11) 25... h6 26. Qe4 Qb6 27. Qe2 Rd8 28. Kg2 Kh7 29. Rf3 Qc6 30. Kg1 Rd6 31. a3 a5 32. Re3 a4 33. Re4 b5 {Only Black has improved his position in the past 10 moves or so.} 34. Rd4 $6 (34. Re3 $142 Qd7 35. Qf2 {and stay put.}) 34... Re6 35. Qf2 $4 {A decisive blunder.} (35. Qd2 Qe8 36. Kf2 {would have kept Black from getting through.}) 35... Qe8 $1 {Nothing helps White now, he's already lost.} 36. Kf1 Re3 37. Rd8 Qe4 38. Qg2 Re1+ 0-1

At the intermission Carlsen stands two points behind the leader, and faces a mountain to climb.

Enjoying some rest time between games: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Kateryna Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk, and her husband Pavel Tregubov | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

The heroes of the Rapid Championship, Anand and Fedoseev, experienced a somewhat expected letdown. On the contrary, those who didn't do too well in the past three days seem poised to make their statement now.

Vladimir Fedoseev's first day in the Blitz was lukewarm | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the man who kept pace with Carlsen at the rapid and blitz events of the Grand Chess Tour last summer, and he showed his chops today, succeeding in both attack and endgame play.

MVL: Master of attack and endgame

One of the surprise early runs came from none other than 15-year-old Andrey Esipenko, author of the queen sac against Karjakin that has been making waves in the chess world. After eight rounds he was actually tied for first (with four others), after beating Ivanchuk and then Grischuk. His nemesis in round nine was …. Sergey Karjakin, who exacted his revenge for his Rapid loss. He then drew against Harikrishna and then lost to Le Quang Liem, and is now 14th with 7.0/11. Another name to watch for.

The Art of Defence

The purpose of this DVD is to explain the viewer all main methods of defence: exchanging pieces, creating a fortress, eliminating dangerous enemy pieces, escaping the danger zone with the king, improving the position of the pieces.

The only guy who bested MVL today was the defending World Blitz Champion Sergey Karjakin. He wasn't able to completely avoid blunders, which is next to impossible, but overall Sergey was very consistent. It's interesting how much better Karjakin looks in blitz as opposed to Rapid. In live rating lists he's now #2 in Blitz and #39 in Rapid. Go figure.

Karjakin: Defending champion

The biggest story of the day did not come out of the open section. The Women's tournament saw veteran Pia Cramling posting an unbelievable score of 9½ / 11 to lead the field by a full point. Amazingly, Pia started off with a loss to Gunina, so it's a 9½ / 10 streak. Wow.

With peerless passion and fighting spirit, Pia Cramling bounced back from a first round loss | Photo: Anastasia Karlovich

The Amazing Pia Cramling

Ten rounds will be played tomorrow to bring to a close a very eventful year of chess.

Open standings after 11 rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Karjakin Sergey 9,0 0,0
2 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 8,5 0,0
3 Svidler Peter 8,0 0,0
4 Wang Hao 8,0 0,0
5 Ding Liren 8,0 0,0
6 Yu Yangyi 8,0 0,0
7 Le Quang Liem 8,0 0,0
8 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 8,0 0,0
9 Kravtsiv Martyn 7,5 0,0
10 Andriasian Zaven 7,5 0,0
11 Nepomniachtchi Ian 7,5 0,0
12 Salem A.R. Saleh 7,5 0,0
13 Grischuk Alexander 7,5 0,0
14 Esipenko Andrey 7,0 0,0
15 Amonatov Farrukh 7,0 0,0
16 Kryvoruchko Yuriy 7,0 0,0
17 Dreev Aleksey 7,0 0,0
18 Rapport Richard 7,0 0,0
19 Amin Bassem 7,0 0,0
20 Carlsen Magnus 7,0 0,0

Women's standings after 11 rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Cramling Pia 9,5 0,0
2 Dzagnidze Nana 8,5 1,0
3 Gunina Valentina 8,5 0,0
4 Lagno Kateryna 8,0 0,0
5 Buksa Nataliya 8,0 0,0
6 Mammadzada Gunay 7,5 0,0
7 Tan Zhongyi 7,5 0,0
8 Lei Tingjie 7,5 0,0
9 Gaponenko Inna 7,5 0,0
10 Michna Marta 7,0 0,0
11 Bodnaruk Anastasia 7,0 0,0
12 Charochkina Daria 7,0 0,0
13 Kosteniuk Alexandra 7,0 0,0
14 Abdumalik Zhansaya 7,0 0,0
15 Krush Irina 7,0 0,0
16 Paehtz Elisabeth 7,0 0,0
17 Ushenina Anna 7,0 0,0
18 Socko Monika 7,0 0,0
19 Zhukova Natalia 7,0 0,0
20 Nechaeva Marina 7,0 0,0

Replay all Open games


Replay all Women games


Macauley Peterson contributed additional reporting on the Carlsen-Inarkiev game


Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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