World Rapid Ch: Daniil Dubov and Ju Wenjun are the champions

by Antonio Pereira
12/29/2018 – No tie-breaks were needed to decide the winners of the 2018 World Rapid Championships in Saint Petersburg. In the open section, Daniil Dubov arrived in the last round alone at the top of the standings and kept his position after all the top games finished drawn. Meanwhile, Ju Wenjun continued her great run and practically secured first place with a round to spare — will the Chinese manage to win the 'triple crown' of world championships this year? | Photos: Maria Emelianova / Lennart Ootes / Official site

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Ju dominates, Daniil grinds

While the open section's standings constantly changed the names shown at the top in days two and three, Ju Wenjun's name seemed to be carved in stone in the first spot of the women's tournament table. The Chinese has already won three world championships in 2018 (two classical) and might get yet another crown on Sunday, when the blitz event will come to an end — she will be the fourth seed, though, behind Dzagnidze, Lagno and Anna Muzychuk.

Eight wins and four draws were enough to end the tournament a point ahead of Sarasadat Khademalsharieh and Aleksandra Goryachkina. She started the last day of the rapid with a convincing victory over Kateryna Lagno with the white pieces. The Russian apparently was not prepared for a theoretical sharp opening line:

 

The strong 14.Ndb5 gave White a win in the eight previous games it was employed, and this was no exception. Ju already had a comfortable advantage after 14...Qd7 15.Bxd6 Ne6 16.Na3, and went on to get a 40-move victory.

Ju Wenjun must be used to the media attention by now | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Already a point ahead with three rounds to go, she continued her amazing performance with a win over Goryachkina. It seemed like only a miracle would give someone else a chance to fight realistically for the gold medal. Surprisingly, however, the one who got the closest to disturb the Chinese was 21-year-old Iranian Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, who defeated Mariya Muzychuk in round ten:

 

The experienced Ukrainian gave up the defence of the c6-pawn with 26...Rf8, but could not find enough counterplay after the 25th seed calmly accepted the sacrifice with 27.Rxc6 — Black's queen cannot leave the defence of the g7-pawn. With two white queens on the board, Muzychuk resigned after 48 moves.

Sarasadat Khademalsharieh astonished with her performance | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Sarasadat was a point behind the leader, but did not dare to fight against a clearly-in-form Ju Wenjun — the players signed a strategic 7-move draw in the penultimate round. Ju also got a half point in a topsy-turvy last game against Zhansaya Abdumalik, while Khademalsharieh secured shared second place with a draw against Tan Zhongyi — the other player to finish on 9/12 was Aleksandra Goryachkina, who clinched two straight victories in the final rounds to climb in the standings.

Goryachkina comes from Orsk, six hours away from St Petersburg by plane | Photo: Maria Emelianova 

It is worth mentioning that Ju Wenjun defended her 2017 title, as she got first place last year in Riyadh with an undefeated 11½/15 score — after coincidentally kicking off the event with five straight wins as she did this year.

Final standings - Women's section (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Ju Wenjun 10,0 2708
2 Khademalsharieh Sarasadat 9,0 2585
3 Goryachkina Aleksandra 9,0 2563
4 Muzychuk Anna 8,5 2577
5 Tan Zhongyi 8,5 2565
6 Abdumalik Zhansaya 8,5 2533
7 Lagno Kateryna 8,5 2488
8 Lei Tingjie 8,5 2472
9 Bodnaruk Anastasia 8,5 2459
10 Saduakassova Dinara 8,0 2555
11 Muzychuk Mariya 8,0 2547
12 Gunina Valentina 8,0 2505
13 Arabidze Meri 8,0 2440
14 Harika Dronavalli 8,0 2398
15 Shuvalova Polina 8,0 2334
16 Gaponenko Inna 8,0 2297
17 Assaubayeva Bibisara 7,5 2524
18 Mammadova Gulnar 7,5 2492
19 Koneru Humpy 7,5 2455
20 Kosteniuk Alexandra 7,5 2442
21 Garcia Martin Marta 7,5 2405
22 Zhao Xue 7,5 2397
23 Cramling Pia 7,5 2373
24 Paehtz Elisabeth 7,5 2364
25 Guichard Pauline 7,5 2286

All available games - Women's section

 

It pays off to work with Magnus

Just like Khademalsharieh amongst the women, Daniil Dubov was the 25th seed in the open section. The 22-year-old Russian had declared in an interview after day one that he hated rapid chess, as he did not enjoy the fact that it was the middle ground between serious classical chess and fun blitz time controls. Nonetheless, during the live commentary webcast, Peter Leko recounted how Daniil attended the recent Nutcracker Tournament and showed an evident eagerness to jump in and play some games, jokingly offering himself as a substitute for any member of the Princes team.

After confirming his triumph, he announced the fact that he had been part of Carlsen's team during this year's World Championship match, adding that he had learned "not to care about what people say" from the champion, an attitude that clearly served Magnus well in London.

Magnus declared he was very happy for Daniil | Photo: Maria Emelianova

He also mentioned that he felt that the turning point for his victory was the round twelve game against Anton Korobov. The position was balanced, but the Ukrainian kept pushing with White, until he blundered by going into an inferior endgame:

 

Korobov took the knight with 38.Qxe4, allowing Daniil to capture the white queen with 38...Rd1+ 39.Rxd1 Qxe4. Some moves later, White's knight found itself in a difficult situation:

 

Some rook v queen endgames can be held by creating a fortress, but this was not the case — the Ukrainian grandmaster resigned on move 49.

The new Rapid World Champion | Photo: Lennart Ootes

When round thirteen was over, Dubov was sharing the lead with Yu Yangyi on 9½ points, but a very exciting penultimate round — all five top boards finished with decisive results — left the Russian half a point ahead of the pack. While Hikaru Nakamura took down Yu Yangyi with the black pieces, Dubov did the same against Wang Hao — it was definitely a bad round for the Chinese duo:

 

34...Rc2 illustrated how dominant Black's position actually is. Wang Hao gave up the bishop to avoid mate and, after offering his hand in sign of resignation five moves later, he also said good-bye to any chances of winning the tournament.

A key game against Wang Hao | Photo: Maria Emelianova

So Dubov knew that a draw in the last round would give him at least a tie for first, but his task was not easy: he had Black against none other than Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. However, after the players signed a short 23-move draw, surprisingly none of the members of the chasing pack managed to get a final-hour victory to reach the top, and Daniil Dubov was declared the 2018 World Rapid Champion.

Dubov finished the tournament with an undefeated 11/15, after winning five games with Black and only two with the white pieces. The other players to finish the event without a loss were Anish Giri and Sergey Karjakin, although both of them ended up a point behind the champion.

Giri facing Salem Saleh | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Big guns surge ahead

Out of the seven players who were sharing the lead after day two — besides Dubov, of course — only third seed Vladislav Artemiev kept up the pace and finished in shared 2nd-5th place on 10½ points. In the end, he was joined by Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (seeded first, second and sixth, respectively).

Shak and Naka obtained impressive 4/5 scores on day three, while the World Champion in classical chess finally avoided losing in five straight rounds to get a 3½/5.  

Mamedyarov had a fine third day | Photo: Maria Emelianova

In round thirteen, Nakamura bamboozled Gabriel Sargissian using an opening described by Peter Leko like the kind of line Hikaru uses in bullet chess online. It clearly worked out for the American, however, as he even managed to sacrifice a rook in order to create a devastating attack:

 

White gave up his rook with 25.e6! and proved his sacrifice to be correct with 25...gxf5 26.exd7 Red8 27.Qh5 — Gabriel kept fighting a bit more, but quickly allowed White to create a mating net:

 

Sargissian resigned after 32.Qxh7+. It was a remarkable win for this year's Grand Chess Tour champion.

After having many ups and downs in days one and two, Carlsen and Nakamura were paired against each other in the final round. Both played it safe, however, until eventually signing a draw in a stalemate position after 58 moves. 

Old rivals | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Alireza stands out

The big surprise of day one, Alireza Firouzja, started day three with all guns blazing, getting two straight victories to find himself in the big chasing pack. A loss against Anton Korobov prevented him from sharing second place, but his 10/15 performance gave him a whopping 157-point boost to his rating. The 169th seed is only 15-years-old and — together with Sarasadat Khademalsharieh — showed that Iranian chess players must be considered serious contenders in tournaments to come.

Already more than a promising star, Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Final standings - Open section (top 25)

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Dubov Daniil 11,0 2860
2 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 10,5 2846
3 Nakamura Hikaru 10,5 2833
4 Artemiev Vladislav 10,5 2828
5 Carlsen Magnus 10,5 2779
6 Firouzja Alireza 10,0 2848
7 Yu Yangyi 10,0 2820
8 Giri Anish 10,0 2815
9 Karjakin Sergey 10,0 2794
10 Petrosian Tigran L. 10,0 2791
11 Korobov Anton 10,0 2780
12 Matlakov Maxim 10,0 2765
13 Duda Jan-Krzysztof 10,0 2759
14 Anton Guijarro David 10,0 2750
15 Grischuk Alexander 10,0 2746
16 Jakovenko Dmitry 10,0 2731
17 Ponkratov Pavel 10,0 2679
18 Andreikin Dmitry 9,5 2801
19 Wang Hao 9,5 2772
20 Zubov Alexander 9,5 2770
21 Oparin Grigoriy 9,5 2764
22 Kamsky Gata 9,5 2745
23 Anand Viswanathan 9,5 2741
24 Alekseenko Kirill 9,5 2712
25 Fridman Daniel 9,5 2707

All available games - Open section

 

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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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pewter pewter 12/31/2018 11:17
Bibisara Assaubayeva, the 14 year old who was publicly accused of cheating earlier this year (Wikipedia, etc.), had an excellent result in the rapid: beating Sarasadat Khademalsharieh and two GM's in route to 7.5 points.
I for one am happy to see that the young lady has not allowed the controversy to affect her career.
SermadShah SermadShah 12/29/2018 09:20
The biggest impact of computers, is that now people from any country will be on top.
savantKing99 savantKing99 12/29/2018 07:05
@goeland. I am totally agree with you. I think they have found each other :) Leko and Miro. They also give each other compliments. What really en-lights the the commentary . Well done both!
goeland goeland 12/29/2018 06:11
It was a fantastic tournament with a lot of interesting games. And the coverage by Leko and Miro* absolutely excellent.

Since I watched long time ago this YouTube about Dubov, I was expecting that one day, this kind of training will pay off
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toRhSMt8f3U
Lavanda Lavanda 12/29/2018 05:34
Congratulations to Dubov and also condolences on loss of grandfather, IA Eduard Dubov.

Congratulations as well to Ju Wenjun on defending her rapid title!

@fixpont Hou is studying at Oxford.
fixpont fixpont 12/29/2018 04:52
Ju Wenjun won everything this year but where is Hou Yifan? Why doesn't she play?
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