World Rapid Ch: Firouzja stuns while Carlsen suffers

by Antonio Pereira
12/27/2018 – A very confident Magnus Carlsen arrived in Saint Petersburg to prove his strength at the World Rapid and Blitz Championships. However, his hopes of victory in the Rapid were strongly reduced after he lost his first two games against much lower-rated opposition. The Norwegian went on to win his three remaining encounters and is now one and a half points behind the leaders: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dmitry Andreikin and 15-year-old Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja. | Photos: Maria Emelianova / Lennart Ootes / Official site

Chess News

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Nobody said it would be easy

A big talking point after the World Championship match in London had finished with a dazzling tie-break win by Carlsen was whether chess players' strength should be assessed and differentiated according to the time control used. Some, like Nakamura, argued that the World Champion should prove he is the best player under different time constraints, while others would prefer to keep the prevalence of classical chess.

The fact that a big part of Magnus' strategy in said match was to give way to a rapid tie-break, confident that he would defeat Caruana, only demonstrates how strong the Norwegian is in accelerated time controls. His over-the-top rating record in rapid and blitz during the last few years is a testament to his high standards.

But in rapid or blitz everybody can have a bad day. Even Magnus...

Adam Tukhaev

Adam Tukhaev was probably as surprised as all the rest | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the first round, he faced 30-year-old Ukrainian GM Adam Tukhaev. The 104th seed held his own with the white pieces despite having to play against Carlsen's pair of bishops. It seemed like the World Champion would eventually manage to squeeze a win in an endgame with two rooks against a queen, but when his time was running out he missed the fact that his opponent could give a perpetual check…sadly for Tukhaev, he missed it too: 


The Ukrainian played 72.Kh3, instead of going for a perpetual check scheme with 72.Qe4+. And here is when the shocker came, as Magnus did not manage to play 72...Rfd7 before his time ran out, despite the fact that a 10-second increment is being used in the tournament.

Signing the scoresheets | Photo: Lennart Ootes

This was not a first for Magnus, however, as he also lost his opening game last year in Riyadh — against Bu Xiangzhi.

Carlsen's next rival was 16-year-old Shamsiddin Vokhidov from Uzbekistan. A gap of almost 600 rating points did not prevent young Vokhidov from trapping Carlsen's queen in the middle of the board:  


The Norwegian had left the opening with a better position but did not find a convincing plan to take down his opponent. Shortly afterwards, he omitted the fact that Shamsiddin could trap his queen with 22...Bf8. Magnus played on despite the overwhelming material disadvantage but had to give up after 36 moves.

Shamsiddin Vokhidov

Vokhidov kept it cool and trapped Magnus' queen | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The clear rating favourite recovered some hope by winning all his three remaining games, but later declared that he "had not played this bad ever", at least as far as he can remember:

Another player known for his skills in accelerated time controls is 2012 World Rapid Champion Sergey Karjakin. The Russian finished the first day of action in Saint Petersburg half a point above Carlsen (with 3½/5), but could have easily gone into Thursday's round tied with Magnus had he not found a miracle save in round four.


Maxim Matlakov obtained a massive advantage with the white pieces but missed the one trick that saved Black in the queen endgame: 86...Qe5+! — Maxim knew there was no way to avoid either a perpetual or stalemate and chose the latter by playing 87.Qxe5. Stalemate.

Alireza shows his magic

A few weeks ago, Thorsten Cmiel published an article that focuses on 15-year-old Iranian prodigy Alireza Firouzja. While Cmiel compares him with Mikhail Tal, Ivan Sokolov talks about how the youngster reminds him of Vishy Anand. It is not for us to decide who he resembles the most, but there is no doubt that we will hear his name frequently in the future.

Alireza played five enterprising games on Wednesday. First, he showed great nerves and got lucky against Denis Khsimatulin to get his first win with Black. Then, he used the pair of bishops effectively to defeat Boris Grachev. In the next round, he incidentally faced another Russian — and another 'magician' at that — as he signed his only draw of the day after 41 moves against Alexander Morozevich.

Firouzja next to Shirov

Firouzja facing Grachev while Shirov played against Hovhannisyan | Photo: Maria Emelianova

In round four, he played White against his first non-Russian, Bulgarian GM (now representing Georgia) Ivan Cheparinov and finished the game in style:


Cheparinov resigned in view of 59.Nc5+ next — the black king is trapped in the centre and the Georgian would be forced to at least sacrifice an exchange to survive.

To finish a memorable day, Firouzja defeated third seed Vladislav Artemiev with Black. The youngster will start day two facing co-leader Dmitry Andreikin — yet another Russian.


Dmitry Andreikin flew in from Sitges | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Andreikin and Alireza are joined in the lead by Ian Nepomniachtchi, who, like Andreikin, started the tournament with four straight wins, including a victory over Hikaru Nakamura — who comes from getting an outstanding triumph at the Grand Chess Tour after precisely dominating the rapid and blitz events.

Below the three co-leaders, fifteen players are on 4/5 — the lowest rated player in this group is Croatian grandmaster Marin Bosiocic, who took down Maxim Matlakov in the final round of day one.


Nepo was in a good mood | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Standings - Open section (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Firouzja Alireza 4,5 3067
2 Nepomniachtchi Ian 4,5 3046
3 Andreikin Dmitry 4,5 3037
4 Bazeev German 4,0 2899
5 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 4,0 2898
6 Wang Hao 4,0 2882
7 Kamsky Gata 4,0 2881
8 Dubov Daniil 4,0 2862
9 Zubov Alexander 4,0 2848
10 Yu Yangyi 4,0 2837
11 Korobov Anton 4,0 2835
12 Gelfand Boris 4,0 2823
13 Oparin Grigoriy 4,0 2819
14 Sjugirov Sanan 4,0 2816
15 Svidler Peter 4,0 2813
16 Vitiugov Nikita 4,0 2809
17 Anton Guijarro David 4,0 2808
18 Bosiocic Marin 4,0 2769
19 Hovhannisyan Robert 3,5 2841
20 Nakamura Hikaru 3,5 2803
21 Shirov Alexei 3,5 2801
22 Harikrishna Pentala 3,5 2789
23 Karjakin Sergey 3,5 2788
24 Roiz Michael 3,5 2782
25 Timofeev Artyom 3,5 2780

All available games - Open section


Unbeatable Ju

In the women's section, only twelve rounds of rapid will be played, therefore, each of the three days will be one round shorter than the open section. No less than 124 players registered to fight for the $150,000 prize fund, with Anna Muzychuk the top seed.

Muzychuk might be the rating favourite, but Ju Wenjun will be the player to beat in Saint Petersburg. The Chinese had an amazing year: she won the World Championship twice and took both collective and individual gold medals in the Olympiad. Thus, it is not a big surprise that she is now leading the competition with a perfect 4/4.

Ju Wenjun

Nothing goes wrong for Ju Wenjun | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In her round-two game against Zenab Mamedjarova, a balanced position turned into a disaster for White, as Ju Wenjun's central pawns stormed down the centre of the board:  


Rapid specialist Valentina Gunina was the Chinese's last victim — Gunina had obtained three straight wins before going down against the sole leader. Six players make up the chasing pack on 3½/4 points.

Playing hall

The playing hall | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings - Women's section (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Ju Wenjun 4,0 3150
2 Muzychuk Anna 3,5 2696
3 Tan Zhongyi 3,5 2691
4 Muzychuk Mariya 3,5 2665
5 Saduakassova Dinara 3,5 2660
6 Stefanova Antoaneta 3,5 2642
7 Abdumalik Zhansaya 3,5 2588
8 Gunina Valentina 3,0 2574
9 Tsolakidou Stavroula 3,0 2557
10 Dzagnidze Nana 3,0 2536
11 Mammadova Gulnar 3,0 2503
12 Goryachkina Aleksandra 3,0 2502
13 Girya Olga 3,0 2501
14 Lagno Kateryna 3,0 2497
15 Doan Thi Van Anh 3,0 2495
16 Kosteniuk Alexandra 3,0 2494
17 Koneru Humpy 3,0 2489
18 Paehtz Elisabeth 3,0 2484
19 Arabidze Meri 3,0 2459
20 Cramling Pia 3,0 2454
21 Berend Elvira 3,0 2437
22 Ambartsumova Karina 3,0 2429
23 Ushenina Anna 3,0 2410
24 Bivol Alina 3,0 2396
25 Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 3,0 2374

All available games - Women's section


Time pressure does not stop the fun

A few weeks ago it was not clear whether the event would take place at all due to political reasons. However, Saint Petersburg was appointed as a last-minute host city, which could have produced a number of organisational problems. Nevertheless, things seem to be going fine, as many side events took place on the first day of action.

Chess all around | Photo: Official site

The Manege exhibition hall received the chess robot designed by Konstantin Kosteniuk — the father of former Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk — and gathered big crowds that faced the machine in groups of three, simultaneously.

Strong human players were also part of the entertainment, as grandmasters Al Modiahki, Zarnicki, Miroshnichenko, Zagrebelny, Lugovoi, and Ionov gave a simul for 120 local fans.


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register