Vachier-Lagrave and Assaubayeva are the 2021 World Blitz Champions

by André Schulz
12/31/2021 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the world title in blitz chess after beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a playoff. Alireza Firouzja scored as many points as MVL and Duda, but had an inferior tiebreak score. The women’s world title went to 17-year-old Kazakh star Bibisara Assaubayeva. | Photos: Rafał Oleksiewicz, Anna Shtourman / FIDE

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MVL’s steady climb

Defending champion Magnus Carlsen was probably not very satisfied with his performance on the first day of the World Blitz Championship. He started off world champion-like, with four wins — but then conceded two defeats. In Round 9 he was once again defeated, by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and in Round 12 he signed his only draw of the day against the young Indian grandmaster Arjun Erigaisi.

With 8½ points, he entered the second day in eighth place, 1½ points behind the leader Levon Aronian — a gap that he could have definitely made up on a good second day.

Almost 180 players took part in the open section of the World Blitz Championship and some of the players who are not world-class in terms of their Elo ratings in classical chess are nevertheless very strong blitzers. This phenomenon is also observed in the opposite direction — Caruana, for example, was ‘only’ 52nd with 7 points after the first day, while Richard Rapport was 53rd with the same number of points.

Fabiano Caruana looks on

The second match day started with a one-hour delay. The reason was a thorough Covid-19 test of all players after Hikaru Nakamura tested positive.

The American grandmaster was seeded second behind Carlsen in the blitz, and he had collected 8½ points — like Carlsen — on the first day of action. Nakamura could no longer finish the tournament. FIDE and the tournament management recommended that all players wear masks even during the games.

Carlsen started the second day with a win over Parham Maghsoodloo, and with this win he jumped to second place as the highest-rated player in a six-player chasing group with 9½ points. But that was the end of the world champion’s recovery. After a draw against Haik Martirosyan, Carlsen lost to Anish Giri and then to Alexander Grischuk.


After Black castled long, this sharp position with attacks on both sides had arisen in an Anti-Berlin. There are already open lines in front of the white king, but not yet in front of its black counterpart.

18.Qb3 Rhg8 19.Bg3 [Possible was 19.Rfb1 and after 19...Be6 20.Nc4 Qg7 21.g3 Qg4 White goes for it on the queenside with 22.b6 cxb6 23.axb6, and if Black errs with the natural-looking 23...a6 there is 24.Rxa6 bxa6 25.Qa4 Bxc4 26.Qxc4 with decisive threats.]

19...Ne6 20.Qa4 [20.Nc4!?]

20...Rg4 Threatens h4.


21.Nh2 [The best chance was 21.b6 cxb6 22.a6]

21...Rg7 22.Ndf3 [22.b6 is no longer so strong: 22...cxb6 23.a6 c4 24.axb7 a5 25.Nxc4 Nc5 26.Qb5 Bxc4 27.Qxc4 Qf7]

22...Rdg8 23.Nh4 c4 Clears the square for a minor piece.


24.dxc4 Nc5 25.Qc2 Qf7 26.b6 cxb6 [26...Bxc4!?]

27.axb6 a6 28.Rfd1 Be7


29.Rd5 Another witty exchange sacrifice to clear the f5-square, but the position is lost.

29...Bxd5 30.cxd5 Bd8 31.Nf5 Rg6 32.Nf3 Qd7 33.N3h4 Rg4 34.Nh6 Nxe4 35.Nxg8 Nxg3 36.fxg3 [36.Nxf6 Bxf6 37.fxg3 was a little tougher.]


36...Bxb6+ 37.Kh2 Rxg8 38.Rb1 Bc5 39.c4 Qg4 40.Rb3 e4 41.Qb2 White now also comes to the attack, but the weakness of the g3-square finally decides.

41...Bd6 42.Rxb7+


42...Ka8 43.Rb3 Bxg3+ A very exciting game! 0–1

After round 16, the defending champion had dropped to 18th place, and with a three-point deficit and five rounds to go, he was virtually out of the race for the title.

Aronian, meanwhile, defended his lead with a win over Bassem Amin, two draws against Erigaisi and Nepomniachtchi and another win over Giri. After 16 rounds, the Armenian, now playing under the US flag, led with 13 points ahead of Daniil Dubov (12), who had fought his way into second place, and Arjun Erigaisi (11½).

The assistant had a better result than the boss — Daniil Dubov and Magnus Carlsen

Rasmus Svane, who had beaten some top players on the first day of play and was temporarily in the top group in the standing table, finished day 1 with a loss against the young Uzbek Javokhir Sindarov and started the second half of the tournament with a defeat against Luca Moroni. Then he regained his composure and collected 3½ points in the next 4 rounds.


26...Bxh3 27.gxh3 Qxh3 28.Bf4 Otherwise Re4–g4 wins.

28...Ne4 29.Bxc7 [29.Qc1 Qg4+–+]

29...Nxd2 30.Rxd2 With three minor pieces for the queen, although the white king is too open. 

30...Re4 31.Bg3 Rae8 32.Nc2 Re2 33.Rxe2 Rxe2 34.Nfd4 Re4 35.Nf3 Qg4 36.Kg2 Re2 37.Ne3 Qe4 38.Nf1


38... g5 39.N1h2 g4 40.Nxg4 Qxg4 Two minor pieces for the queen.


41.Rd1 Qe4 42.Rd4 Qe6 43.Rf4 Rxb2 44.Nd4 Qd7 45.Nf5 Qe6 46.Rg4+ Kh7 47.Rf4 Rxa2 48.Nd4 Qg6 49.Nf3 f6 50.Nh4 Qf7 51.Nf5 Re2 52.Rg4 Re4 53.Bf4 h5 54.Rh4 Qg6+ 55.Ng3 Kg8 56.Kf3 Rc4 57.Nxh5 Rxc3+ 58.Be3 d4 59.Rxd4 Qxh5+ A minor piece for a queen and two pawns. White gave up. 0–1

After 17 rounds Rasmus Svane had 11 points, the same as Carlsen, but with a worse tiebreak score than the world champion.

In Round 17 there was a change in the lead. Levon Aronian lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had been slowly but steadily climbing up the table, and in Round 18 Aronian lost to Haik Martirosyan. Dubov now passed Aronian with a win over Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

The results of the following two rounds then ensured maximum tension before the final round. After the 20th round, no fewer than six players were tied at the top with 14 points. Aronian had a razor-thin advantage over Dubov in third place. He was followed by Vladislav Artemiev, Duda, Vachier-Lagrave and Alireza Firouzja. In seventh place was Carlsen , at a half-point distance.

Aronian lost to Firouzja, Duda beat Artemiev, and Vachier-Lagrave defeated the world champion. Dubov and Giri drew.

That left Vachier-Lagrave, Duda and Firouzja tied on a 15/21 score atop the standings table. The rules are already familiar from the World Rapid Chess Championship — Duda and Vachier-Lagrave made it to a playoff thanks to their superior tiebreak scorer. 

Carlsen commented ironically on his Twitter account.

The two regular playoff games ended in draws. Vachier-Lagrave then won the third encounter and with it the world title in blitz chess.

Final standings after 21 rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 15,0 244,0
2 Duda Jan-Krzysztof 15,0 242,0
3 Firouzja Alireza 15,0 237,0
4 Dubov Daniil 14,5 253,5
5 Aronian Levon 14,0 256,0
6 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 14,0 249,5
7 Artemiev Vladislav 14,0 245,0
8 Sindarov Javokhir 13,5 259,0
9 Fedoseev Vladimir 13,5 258,5
10 Oparin Grigoriy 13,5 256,0
11 Martirosyan Haik M. 13,5 252,5
12 Carlsen Magnus 13,5 252,0
13 Kravtsiv Martyn 13,5 250,5
14 Grischuk Alexander 13,5 248,5
15 Kobalia Mikhail 13,5 247,5
16 Giri Anish 13,5 247,5
17 Alekseenko Kirill 13,0 247,0
18 Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 13,0 238,5
19 Nihal Sarin 13,0 236,0
20 Sarana Alexey 13,0 234,5
21 Mamedov Rauf 13,0 225,0
22 Dreev Aleksey 13,0 225,0
23 Quparadze Giga 13,0 223,0
24 Erigaisi Arjun 12,5 252,0
25 Nepomniachtchi Ian 12,5 249,0

...179 players

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Assaubayeva shines among the women

In the Women’s World Blitz Championship, Bibisara Assubayeva entered the second half of the tournament as the sole leader. The women played their tournament over 17 rounds according to the Swiss system.

Assaubayeva increased her lead to 2 points after 14 rounds. In round 15 she lost to Kateryna Lagno. After her victory over Aleksandra Goryachkina, however, the 17-year-old was certain to be the world champion one round before the end. A draw in the final round was enough to win the title with a 1½-point lead!

Bibisara Assaubayeva is the Women’s World Blitz Champion

Alexandra Kosteniuk won silver, and Valentina Gunina took bronze ahead of Polina Shuvalova, who was equal on points with the latter.

Marta Michna was happy to play again in her country of birth

Final standings after 17 rounds

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Assaubayeva Bibisara 14,0 170,0
2 Kosteniuk Alexandra 12,5 157,5
3 Gunina Valentina 12,0 173,0
4 Shuvalova Polina 12,0 167,5
5 Koneru Humpy 11,5 168,5
6 Buksa Nataliya 11,5 167,5
7 Dzagnidze Nana 11,5 156,5
8 Goryachkina Aleksandra 11,0 166,5
9 Muzychuk Anna 11,0 161,0
10 Lagno Kateryna 11,0 156,5
11 Stefanova Antoaneta 11,0 152,0
12 Paehtz Elisabeth 11,0 148,5
13 Girya Olga 11,0 144,5
14 Vaishali R 10,5 168,5
15 Mamedjarova Zeinab 10,5 155,5
16 Gaponenko Inna 10,5 149,0
17 Bodnaruk Anastasia 10,5 147,0
18 Kulon Klaudia 10,5 145,5
19 Zatonskih Anna 10,5 144,0
20 Abdumalik Zhansaya 10,0 170,0
21 Salimova Nurgyul 10,0 159,5
22 Socko Monika 10,0 159,0
23 Muzychuk Mariya 10,0 155,5
24 Injac Teodora 10,0 147,5
25 Muetsch Annmarie 10,0 144,5

...105 players

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


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