World Rapid: Carlsen grabs the lead

by André Schulz
12/28/2021 – After nine rounds, played on Sunday and Monday, Magnus Carlsen is the sole leader at the World Rapid Chess Championship in Warsaw as the only player to have collected 7½ points. On the second day of play, Alireza Firouzja and Jan-Krzysztof Duda were two of the players defeated by the world champion. In the women’s tournament, Alexandra Kosteniuk is in a class of her own.| Foto: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

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The reigning champion leads

The Rapid and Blitz World Championships are more to Magnus Carlsen’s taste than the protracted psychological duels in the Classical World Championships. In an interview after his victory over Ian Nepomniachtchi, when Carlsen hinted at his possible departure from Classical World Championship matches, he also said how much he was looking forward to the rapid and blitz events.

The quickplay World Championships were cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020. The same almost happened this year. Nursultan had to cancel at short notice due to stricter coronavirus-related regulations in Kazakhstan. However, the Polish Chess Federation stepped in at equally short notice, which allowed the competition to take place. Magnus Carlsen won the last World Championships played in 2019, both the rapid and the blitz sections. So he travelled to the Polish capital as the world champion in all formats!

Of course, Carlsen wants to defend all his titles. But he will have a tough task, as the opposition includes Alireza Firouzja, whom Carlsen praised in the aforementioned interview as the only World Championship challenger in classical chess who is still acceptable to him. And there are some other grandmasters who are clearly better at rapid and blitz than at slow chess — for example, Hikaru Nakamura. The American star returns to over-the-board chess after a two-year break.

The competition began on December 26. In the open tournament — a women’s event is being held in parallel — five games were played on the first day. On days 2 and 3, there will be four. In total, the almost 180 participants will play 13 rounds of rapid chess. The women, with just under 120 participants, will play 11 rounds in their tournament. 

Carlsen started with 4½ points and was very satisfied with his performance, as he usually needs some time to gain momentum. Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Baadur Jobava finished the first day sharing the lead. In round 6, Carlsen drew Jobava, and in round 7 he was paired up against Alireza Firouzja.

Alireza Firouzja

Carlsen, Magnus (2856) - Firouzja, Alireza (2804)
World Rapid 2021 Warsaw POL (7.1), 27.12.2021 [as]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Ne7 6.h3 With this move Carlsen finally leads the opening onto sidelines. [6.a3 is the main move.]

6...Nd7 7.Nf3 Bg6 8.b3 Nf5 9.Be2 Bb4 10.Bb2 0–0 11.0–0 f6 12.a3 Ba5 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.exf6 Qxf6 15.Rc1 Nh4 16.Nxh4 Qxh4 17.b4 Bd8 To get into the game via g5 on the other flank. With bishops on g5 and f5, Black would be clearly better.

18.Bg4 Bf5 19.Bxf5 Rxf5 20.Qe2 Nf8 To bring the knight to kingside via g4 and f4. That is the idea, however, the knight will no longer leave this square.


21.Nd1 Bb6 22.Ne3 Rg5?! The rook has very few squares. [Better was 22...Rf7]

23.f4 Rg3 The alternatives are no better [23...Rh5 24.a4; 23...Rg6 24.Kh2]

24.Kh2 Dealing with the threat of Qxh3.



25.Ng4 The e5-square is tempting. But the black rook is also restricted in its freedom of movement. [The machine shows 25.f5 Qg3+ 26.Kh1 Rf6 27.fxe6 Rxe6 28.Qh5 with the intention of 28...Qxe3?? 29.Qf7+ Kh8 30.Qxf8+ Rxf8 31.Rxf8#]

25...Qd8 [If 25...h5 there comes 26.Ne5 Qg3+ 27.Kh1 Rf6 28.Rc3 Qh4 29.Bc1 and the two black heavy pieces on the kingside have little to no space.]

26.a4 Bc7 27.b5 Bd6 28.Rc3 Rc8 29.Rxc8 Qxc8 30.Ne5 Rf6 [30...Bxe5 31.dxe5 and the g6-rook no longer finds its way into the game. (31.Qxe5?? Qc2) ]

31.Rc1 Qd8 White has beaten off the black attack and is now in a slightly better position.

32.g3 Rf5 33.Qd3 g5 34.Ng4 Kg7 35.Ne3 Rf7 36.f5 Qd7 37.Rf1 h6? [More counterplay offered 37...Qc7 38.Rg1 h5]



38... Kg8? Black loses after this move. [Better waiting moves were 38...Rf6; or 38...Qc8]

39.Ng4 With tempo, h6 is hanging.

39...Kg7 40.f6+ Kh8 41.Nxh6 Rh7 42.Ng4 Qe8 43.Ba3 Bxa3 [43...Qh5 44.Bxd6 Qxh3+ 45.Kf3+–]

44.Qxa3 Qc8 [44...Qh5 45.Qxf8#]

45.Rc1 Qe8 46.Ne5 Kg8 47.Qf3 Qd8 48.Rf1 Kh8 49.Qe3 Qc8 50.Rf2 g4 51.h4


51...Rh5 52.Nf7+ Kg8 53.Ng5 1–0

Carlsen thus had 6 points after 7 rounds. Only Alexander Grischuk had the same number of points, so Carlsen and Grischuk played the next round on the top board. Their confrontation ended in a draw. That gave Jan-Krzystof Duda the opportunity to draw level with Carlsen with a win over Sergei Movsesia. Duda thus put the world champion to the test once more — Duda ended Carlsen’s long unbeaten streak, beating the Norwegian in the World Cup semifinals.

This time, however, Carlsen got the better of his opponent. He gave up an exchange and won in the endgame with rook and knight against two rooks thanks to his pawn majority.

After 9 rounds, the world champion is the sole leader. Carlsen is the only player to have collected 7½ points. Following, within striking distance at 7 points, are Nodirbek Abdusattov (also a player of the younger generation!), Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi. On Tuesday, Carlsen will face Abdusattorov first, in round 10. 

Standings after 9 rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Carlsen Magnus 7,5 46,0
2 Abdusattorov Nodirbek 7,0 48,5
3 Grischuk Alexander 7,0 48,5
4 Nepomniachtchi Ian 7,0 47,5
5 Duda Jan-Krzysztof 6,5 49,0
6 Jobava Baadur 6,5 48,5
7 Van Foreest Jorden 6,5 45,5
8 Firouzja Alireza 6,5 45,0
9 Nakamura Hikaru 6,5 44,5
10 Caruana Fabiano 6,5 44,0
11 Cheparinov Ivan 6,5 42,0
12 Hovhannisyan Robert 6,5 41,5
13 Amin Bassem 6,5 37,5
14 Gareyev Timur 6,0 49,5
15 Gelfand Boris 6,0 45,0
16 Niemann Hans Moke 6,0 44,5
17 Volokitin Andrei 6,0 44,5
18 Aronian Levon 6,0 44,5
19 Alekseenko Kirill 6,0 42,0
20 Fedoseev Vladimir 6,0 41,0
21 Onyshchuk Volodymyr 6,0 41,0
22 Mitrabha Guha 6,0 39,5
23 Gukesh D 6,0 39,0
24 Santos Latasa Jaime 6,0 38,5
25 Chigaev Maksim 6,0 35,0

...176 players

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Kosteniuk dominates

The women played 4 rounds on the first day. Valentina Gunina and Alexandra Kosteniuk won all their games and went into the second day with perfect scores. 

On the second day of play, Kosteniuk kicked off with a win over Gunina, and then almost kept up her pace from the previous day. The Russian star only drew one game, against 18-year-old Assel Serikbay.

Alexandra Kosteniuk

After 8 rounds, the former world champion leads by a whopping 1½ points. Six players follow in shared second place. 

Standings after 8 rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Kosteniuk Alexandra 7,5 34,5
2 Serikbay Assel 6,0 36,0
3 Koneru Humpy 6,0 35,5
4 Shuvalova Polina 6,0 35,0
5 Lagno Kateryna 6,0 35,0
6 Mammadova Gulnar 6,0 33,0
7 Assaubayeva Bibisara 6,0 32,5
8 Gunina Valentina 5,5 40,0
9 Pavlidou Ekaterini 5,5 38,0
10 Muzychuk Mariya 5,5 36,5
11 Dzagnidze Nana 5,5 36,5
12 Vaishali R 5,5 35,5
13 Stefanova Antoaneta 5,5 32,5
14 Paehtz Elisabeth 5,5 32,0
15 Danielian Elina 5,5 31,0
16 Atalik Ekaterina 5,5 29,5
17 Pourkashiyan Atousa 5,5 29,0
18 Abdumalik Zhansaya 5,5 26,5
19 Bivol Alina 5,0 35,5
20 Kamalidenova Meruert 5,0 32,5
21 Batsiashvili Nino 5,0 32,5
22 Paramzina Anastasya 5,0 32,5
23 Movsesian Julia 5,0 31,0
24 Balajayeva Khanim 5,0 30,5
25 Padmini Rout 5,0 30,5

...103 players

All available games



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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