Dramatic Wins and Controversy at the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championship

Warsaw, in great style, is hosting this year’s FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship.

The rapid part of the tournament consists of three days of rapid games (15 minute + 10 second increment) in a Swiss format, 13 rounds for the open section, 11 rounds for the women’s section. This part of the tournament finished today in dramatic fashion.

The blitz portion of the tournament (3 minutes + 2 second increment) is also in a Swiss format, with 21 rounds in the open section and 17 rounds in the women’s section. The blitz portion starts tomorrow (December 29) and lasts two days.

The open section of the tournament has 171 participants, although, of course, all eyes were on the top boards, which comprised all of the usual suspects: Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja, Hikaru Nakamura (an expert at faster time controls) and everyone else you’d expect.

There were 102 participants in the women’s section. I enjoyed watching parts of the live coverage, which concentrated exclusively on the top boards in the open section. While I appreciate that there are limitations to what can be covered live in a rapid tournament, I thought that some coverage of the top boards of the women’s section would have been in order. After all, this section included many familiar names who are titans of women’s chess. Completely ignoring their games seemed to me to be a serious oversight. Although I get it: everyone wants to see Magnus…

Many tournaments where we see the top players compete are closed, like Tata Steel. The exciting thing about this tournament is that it’s an open Swiss, which means that players that you wouldn’t expect to see competing with the best find themselves facing a super-GM, if only they perform well.

This gave us a chance to see some up-and-coming players along with established competitors. The youngest player in the open section, Ukraine’s Igor Samuenkov, was just twelve years old, and scored a very respectable 6.5/13.

A requirement for entry in this tournament was a minimum rating of 2250 in any time control. Established players have played a lot of rapid tournaments and therefore have rapid ratings that are reflective of their skill. For example, Nakamura and Carlsen both have rapid ratings around 2840. But many younger players, having concentrated on classical chess, can have qualifying classical ratings while having rapid ratings as low as 1400. In other words, they are horribly underrated. This lead to a number of interesting matchups.

In the open section there were some highly anticipated matchups, like reprise of the World Chess Championship (Carlsen vs. Nepo) which resulted in a draw, and Carlsen vs. Firouzja, which was also a draw.

All eyes have been on Alireza Firouzja over the past while, especially with Carlsen stating that unless he’s facing Firouzja in the next World Championship, he may not defend his title. But this tournament reminded us that Firouzja is not the only young hotshot we should be looking out for.

Nordibek Abdusattorov, the young genius from Uzebekistan, ended up being the star of the show. Although Magnus was in the lead throughout the tournament, it was Nordibek’s stunning victory over Carlsen in round ten, at the beginning of the third day, that really set things on fire.

Abdusattorov played an intense game against Carlsen, winning in the endgame after a seemingly endless series of queen checks. And then, in the final round, there were four players tied for first place: Abdusattorov, Carlsen, Nepomniachtchi and Caruana.

The tiebreak format for this tournament was agreed-on by all participants but I find a bit controversial. In the case of a tie, the top two players would square off in a two game blitz (3+2) until there was a winner. But if there were other players with a tied score, they would be thrown off by Buchholz scores and other tiebreak systems.

Very strangely, Fabiano Caruana agreed to a draw against Nepo after a handful of moves, seeming to not realize that he had the worst tiebreak score of anyone tied for the top in the final round. So Caruana was out. There was some discussion that players may not have realized the nature of the tiebreak system for this tournament.

Nakamura had the white pieces against Carlsen in the last round, and they fought to a draw. This meant that Carlsen also was not in contention for the top two spots. There was some controversy and complaining about the manner in which a multiple-player tie for first was solved, but it was set out in the rules at the beginning. Carlsen himself complained about this publicly, but I expect he didn’t imagine to find himself in this position. After all, Carlsen was leading, or tied for the lead, throughout the tournament until the final few rounds, and then found himself again tied for first, only to be deemed unworthy.

For what it’s worth, I agree with those who say that when there is a three or more way tie for first, it should be played out through a series of games, not a mathematical calculation.

At the end, it came down to two blitz games between Nepo and Abdusattorov to decide the winner. The first game was drawn, but Nordibek pulled out the stops and won the second game handily. Nepo, as we’ve come to expect, was a gentleman as a competitor even in defeat.

And so Nordibek Abdusattorov, at the age of seventeen, became the youngest player ever to win the FIDE Rapid Tournament.

In the women’s section, things were not quite as controversial. We saw the fantastic GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, multiple winner of the top titles in women’s chess, clearly win the Women’s section of the FIDE Rapid.

I feel I must show Abdusattrov’s shocking victory over Carlsen.

 

And, to close this article out, here is Alexandra Kosteniuk’s hard fought round eight victory over Maria Muzychuk: