World Rapid Ch: A tight race

by Antonio Pereira
12/28/2018 – In a day full of ups and downs, seven players ended up sharing the lead on 7½ points, with Magnus Carlsen part of the ten-player chasing pack half a point behind. So it is impossible to make any predictions in the open section, as anybody having a good last day will emerge as the winner. On the other hand, amongst the women, Ju Wenjun has kept her lead after winning two and drawing two in the second day of action. | Photos: Maria Emelianova / Lennart Ootes / Official site

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Everything up for grabs

The chess world was stunned on Wednesday when Magnus Carlsen began the World Rapid Championship with two straight losses. After coming back with three wins — some more convincing than others — he started day two with a powerful performance against Ivan Salgado. His momentum was immediately cut off, however, when he lost in the very next round against Alexander Zubov. Two points behind the leaders, another comeback was necessary to stay in contention.

Despite this setback, Magnus kept his composure and again finished with three straight victories to arrive in the last day with 7 points, after not having drawn a single game so far in Saint Petersburg.

For the rest of the players at the top, it was a rollercoaster kind of day, as they went from having a sole leader after round six to finishing the day with no less than seven participants sharing first place.

Carlsen authographs

No one misses a chance to ask for Magnus' autograph | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Andreikin grabs the sole lead

Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja and Andreikin were the co-leaders when the clocks started running on Thursday, but only the latter added a full point to his tally in round six. The current Russian champion overpowered young Alireza Firouzja in a rook endgame:


The youngster is a pawn down with White, but the hopes of getting a draw in rook endgames are always present. In the position of the diagram, Alireza should have kept his rook on the second rank and wait for Andreikin to execute a winning plan. However, the Iranian went for 43.Rc7, activating his rook, when after 43...Rb3+ 44.Kf4 Rxb2 when White cannot capture on f7 due to 45...Rf2+ (if the king would have gone to the second rank instead, Black could have given a check from b2 and then protected his pawn with Ke6).

With two extra pawns, Andreikin converted his advantage convincingly and became the sole leader in the standings — so far, he has been the only player to achieve this 'feat' in this event.


Despite a couple of losses on day two, Alireza is still having a great tournament | Photo: Lennart Ootes 

Dmitry drew his next two encounters and suffered a painful loss against Wang Hao in round nine. Nonetheless, he finished the day with a flourish:


25...Qxh2+! is the killer blow. Svidler resigned after 26.Kxh2 Rxh4+ 27.Kg3 Rh3+ 28.Kf4 Rf3+ 29.Ke5 Rg6 with mate to follow.

Korobov catches up

Anton Korobov is the sort of explosive player that can have incredible performances in very strong tournaments despite not having an elite-level rating. In round seven, he defeated David Anton from Spain to join Andreikin in the lead. The Ukrainian had been threatening a checkmate on the first rank for a while. On move 52, he managed to convert that threat into a tangible material advantage:


David took the annoying pawn with 52.Nxf3, but Korobov's 52...Rxf3 effectively ends the struggle, as after 53.Rxf3 Rh1+ 54.Ke2 Rxb1 55.Kxd2 Black's passed pawns on the queenside decide the game.

Korobov could not keep up the pace and is now a half point behind the leaders, mainly due to his loss against Vladislav Artemiev. 

Korobov facing Anton (on the right), while Andreikin takes on Yu Yangyi (left) | Photo: Maria Emelianova 

A great day for Artemiev and Matlakov

Vladislav Artemiev's win over Korobov was the last of four straight victories, which followed his disappointing final two losses from day one. The third seed is now one of five Russians on 7½, joined among others by Maxim Matlakov, who also managed four wins and a draw on Thursday. Matlakov’s last victim of the day was none other than Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:


Shak was undefeated until this game. Already a pawn down in a difficult position, the Azeri blundered horribly with 32...Qa7?, which allows 33.Qd6 forking both rooks. Naturally, a justified resignation followed immediately.

Artemiev is the third highest rated rapid player in the world | Photo: Maria Emelianova

The silent killers: Dubov, Wang Hao and Yu Yangyi

Besides Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had a great first day and kept control during the second, three other players remain undefeated in Saint Petersburg: Daniil Dubov, Wang Hao and Yu Yangy. Dubov spoke to Maria Emelianova on Wednesday and mentioned the fact that he totally hates rapid chess, as it is hard for him to calibrate how much he should prepare, unlike in classical — when preparation is paramount — and blitz — where preparation is close to useless:

Curiously, the two wins that Wang Hao obtained on day two were with the black pieces. In round eleven, he will have the 'advantage' of moving second against Artemiev, while Dubov will most likely arrive in the playing hall very well prepared, as he will be playing White against a wounded Magnus Carlsen. This game gains a bit of intrigue since Dubov was on 'Team Magnus', helping him prepare for his World Championship match with Fabiano Caruana.

Both Nepo and Wang Hao remain undefeated | Photo: Maria Emelianova 

Standings after Round 10 - Open section (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Nepomniachtchi Ian 7,5 2902
2 Andreikin Dmitry 7,5 2873
3 Wang Hao 7,5 2870
4 Yu Yangyi 7,5 2864
5 Artemiev Vladislav 7,5 2843
6 Dubov Daniil 7,5 2819
7 Matlakov Maxim 7,5 2779
8 Timofeev Artyom 7,0 2829
9 Giri Anish 7,0 2819
10 Korobov Anton 7,0 2801
11 Gelfand Boris 7,0 2800
12 Oparin Grigoriy 7,0 2790
13 Anton Guijarro David 7,0 2746
14 Salem A.R. Saleh 7,0 2746
15 Anand Viswanathan 7,0 2740
16 Saric Ivan 7,0 2728
17 Carlsen Magnus 7,0 2722
18 Firouzja Alireza 6,5 2824
19 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 6,5 2805
20 Zubov Alexander 6,5 2786
21 Bazeev German 6,5 2783
22 Nakamura Hikaru 6,5 2767
23 Karjakin Sergey 6,5 2764
24 Alekseev Evgeny 6,5 2764
25 Harikrishna Pentala 6,5 2755

All games - Open section


Ju Wenjun is on a roll

With things extremely unclear in the open section, it is refreshing to see the big favourite doing so well in the women's category. Ju Wenjun defeated Anna Muzychuk and Zhao Xue to stay alone at the top of the standings. The Chinese has been showing great control as she got clean wins throughout the event. In round eight, she calculated precisely to force her compatriot's resignation on move 41:


Ju's 41...Ne4 ended the game — White cannot capture the pawn with 42.Rxf3 Rxf3+ 43.Nxf3 due to 43...Nxc3 44.Kxc3 Rg3, pinning the knight. In round eleven, the leader will face the runner-up of the last World Championship match, Kateryna Lagno — the Russian turned 29 on day two and received a present from the organisers.

Will someone stop the Chinese star? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Besides a clear leader, the women's section also has a single player in second place. Former World Champion Mariya Muzychuk drew Ju Wenjun and won two games against Zhansaya Abdumalik and Dinara Saduakassova — curiously, both from Kazakhstan — to keep her chances of taking home a gold medal intact. Her first rival on the final day will be her older sister, rating favourite Anna Muzychuk.

A smiling Mariya Muzychuk | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 8 - Women's section (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Ju Wenjun 7,0 2756
2 Muzychuk Mariya 6,5 2651
3 Muzychuk Anna 6,0 2605
4 Tan Zhongyi 6,0 2605
5 Assaubayeva Bibisara 6,0 2597
6 Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 6,0 2533
7 Abdumalik Zhansaya 6,0 2529
8 Goryachkina Aleksandra 6,0 2522
9 Lagno Kateryna 6,0 2503
10 Saduakassova Dinara 5,5 2540
11 Stefanova Antoaneta 5,5 2513
12 Gunina Valentina 5,5 2511
13 Mammadova Gulnar 5,5 2506
14 Koneru Humpy 5,5 2481
15 Kosteniuk Alexandra 5,5 2460
16 Khotenashvili Bela 5,5 2459
17 Galliamova Alisa 5,5 2454
18 Lei Tingjie 5,5 2450
19 Nguyen Thi Mai Hung 5,5 2426
20 Bivol Alina 5,5 2421
21 Zhao Xue 5,5 2417
22 Ovod Evgenija 5,0 2511
23 Girya Olga 5,0 2450
24 Nakhbayeva Guliskhan 5,0 2432
25 Paramzina Anastasya 5,0 2412

All games - Women's section



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.


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