Carlsen and Gunina are the 2023 world blitz champions

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/30/2023 – Magnus Carlsen grabbed his 17th World Championship title — the 7th in blitz — by scoring 16/21 points at the World Blitz event in Samarkand. After losing his first game of the day, against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen grabbed six wins in a row to retake the sole lead. Two draws in the final rounds allowed him to outscore Daniil Dubov by a half point. In the women’s championship, Valentina Gunina got outright victory thanks to a final-round win over Anna Muzychuk. Alexandra Kosteniuk came close to catching the eventual champion, but fell just short and took the silver medal. | Photo: FIDE / Anastasia Korolkova

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Yes, yes, yes!

Despite having broken numerous records and kept the first spot in the world ranking for over twelve years, Magnus Carlsen continues to be motivated to win the biggest rapid and blitz titles. After winning both events last year in Almaty, the Norwegian obtained a double-double — a term that basketball fans surely recognise — by defending both titles this year in Samarkand.

The victory obtained in the blitz section was his seventh in this category, which means he has now won no fewer than 17 World Championship titles (5 in classical chess, 5 in rapid and 7 in blitz). After finishing the exhausting five-day double-championship with two more trophies in the bag, Carlsen celebrated ‘vociferously’ on X:

Despite scoring a remarkable 16/21 in the blitz, with 12 victories, 8 draws and only 1 loss throughout the two days of action, Carlsen lost 1.1 rating points — which goes to show just how stunningly high his 2887 rating actually is.

The Norwegian’s ability to outscore such strong opposition in games with faster time controls (i.e. with a higher degree of volatility) is second to none. For many, his dominance lasting over a decade in all three major categories of the game (classical, rapid and blitz) already places him as the best-ever in history — as explained by Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov:

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen | Photo: FIDE / Lennart Ootes

The path to victory

Things did not work out perfectly smoothly for Carlsen on the final day of action in Samarkand. In fact, after losing his first game of the day (the one game he lost in both the rapid and blitz competitions), he was trailing co-leaders Vladislav Artemiev and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave — who beat him in round 13 — by a full point.

But then came a remarkable 6-game winning streak that allowed him to retake the lead and go into the final two rounds with a half-point lead over Daniil Dubov. In rounds 14-19, Carlsen defeated Alexey Sarana, Arjun Erigaisi, Aleksandar Indjic, Yu Yangyi, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Richard Rapport.

Dubov, who had been forfeited a half point on Friday, came from scoring 6/7 points, with wins over, among others, Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Fabiano Caruana.

Daniil Dubov, Magnus Carlsen

The two contenders for the title going into the last round have worked together in the past — Daniil Dubov and Magnus Carlsen | Photo: FIDE / Lennart Ootes

The two in-form players seemed to be heading to an exciting fight for first in the last two rounds, but that is not how the action developed at the end of the day.

In round 20, Carlsen played solidly with white against 17-year-old Volodar Murzin and eventually signed a 36-move draw, while Dubov agreed to split the point with Baduur Jobava after merely 7 moves. Two more rather short draws in the final round meant that Carlsen and Dubov remained in sole first and sole second places, respectively, in the final standings.

Vladislav Artemiev, who took home the bronze medal, also drew his last two games. However, his final two encounters in Samarkand — against Sarana and Caruana respectively — were both hard-fought battles that could have gone either way.

Vladislav Artemiev

Vladislav Artemiev | Photo: FIDE / Lennart Ootes

Duda 0 - 1 Carlsen

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The one player who beat Magnus Carlsen in Samarkand — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: FIDE / Lennart Ootes

Final standings

Rk. SNo Name Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3   TB4 
1 Carlsen, Magnus 16 256,5
2 Dubov, Daniil 15,5 262,5
3 Artemiev, Vladislav 15 260,5
4 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 14,5 260,5
5 Nepomniachtchi, Ian 14 263
6 Erigaisi, Arjun 14 256
7 Aronian, Levon 14 239,5
8 Lazavik, Denis 14 233
9 Indjic, Aleksandar 13,5 256,5
10 Duda, Jan-Krzysztof 13,5 255
11 Rapport, Richard 13,5 244,5
12 Caruana, Fabiano 13,5 244
13 Yu, Yangyi 13,5 242,5
14 Aravindh, Chithambaram Vr. 13,5 240
15 Grischuk, Alexander 13,5 233,5
16 Andreikin, Dmitry 13,5 232
17 Makarian, Rudik 13,5 225,5
18 Daneshvar, Bardiya 13,5 225
19 Murzin, Volodar 13 257
20 Sarana, Alexey 13 254
21 Tsydypov, Zhamsaran 13 244,5
22 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 13 243
23 Svidler, Peter 13 243
24 Jobava, Baadur 13 230
25 Tomashevsky, Evgeny 13 227,5

...206 players

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Gunina barely outscores resurging Kosteniuk

The women’s championship also came down to the wire, as Valentina Gunina, who entered the second day of play with a big 1½-point lead, barely outscored an inspired Alexandra Kosteniuk to claim her second world blitz title — she had won the title for the first time back in 2012, in Batumi, Georgia.

Much like Carlsen, Gunina suffered a single loss on Saturday. Unlike the Norwegian, though, Gunina never actually lost the sole lead. Her setback against Zhu Jiner in round 15 left her with a half-point lead over Kosteniuk with two games to go.

At that moment, Kosteniuk came from scoring 4/5 points, and was set to play white against the ever-dangerous Humpy Koneru in the penultimate round.

Unlike in the open, the contenders for the title among the women scored back-to-back wins in the final two rounds, with Gunina clinching the title thanks to a 35-move victory over Anna Muzychuk. Kosteniuk, who beat both Humpy (in 219 moves!) and Meruert Kamalidenova, obtained a well-deserved silver medal.

The bronze went to Zhu Jiner, the only player who managed to beat Gunina in the blitz tournament. Zhu only signed one draw in all 17 games of the event, and finished the championship with five wins in a row!

Alexandra Kosteniuk

Silver medallist Alexandra Kosteniuk scored 6½/8 points on Saturday | Photo: FIDE / Anastasia Korolkova

Zhu Jiner

Zhu Jiner beat Valentina Gunina in round 15 | Photo: FIDE / Anastasia Korolkova

In a candid post-tournament interview, Gunina explained why she often performs better in rapid and blitz than in classical chess. She confessed that she suffers from lupus, an autoimmune disease which prevents her from performing at a high level for long periods of time due to chronic fatigue.

As the Russian noted, however, in blitz, she gets to focus solely on the game, which actually serves as a good stimulant — she enjoys forgetting about her illness while calculating sharp lines in short encounters. Gunina explained:

When you put me on a chessboard, and you tell me to train or play, I feel much better because I don’t think about my illness and how hard it is... Again, I need to mention how proud I am of myself — it is really hard.

An inspiring story by one of the most esteemed players in the circuit.

World Blitz Chess Championship 2023

Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Zhu Jiner on the podium of the 2023 Women’s World Blitz Championship | Photo: FIDE / Anastasia Korolkova

Final standings

Rk. SNo Name Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3   TB4 
1 Gunina, Valentina 14 170
2 Kosteniuk, Alexandra 13,5 173,5
3 Zhu, Jiner 12,5 170
4 Munkhzul, Turmunkh 11,5 176,5
5 Lagno, Kateryna 11,5 165,5
6 Assaubayeva, Bibisara 11 168,5
7 Dronavalli, Harika 11 168
8 Kamalidenova, Meruert 11 161,5
9 Muzychuk, Anna 11 160,5
10 Stefanova, Antoaneta 11 158,5
11 Goryachkina, Aleksandra 11 157,5
12 Shuvalova, Polina 11 157
13 Divya, Deshmukh 11 155,5
14 Ju, Wenjun 11 153
15 Mkrtchyan, Mariam 10,5 159,5
16 Narva, Mai 10,5 158
17 Koneru, Humpy 10,5 156
18 Nurmanova, Alua 10,5 155
19 Muzychuk, Mariya 10,5 153
20 Munguntuul, Batkhuyag 10,5 151,5
21 Bivol, Alina 10,5 135
22 Garifullina, Leya 10 168
23 Lei, Tingjie 10 151,5
24 Charochkina, Daria 10 149
25 Balabayeva, Xeniya 10 148

...118 players

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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.