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27 Jun

Blitzkrieg

Recently we’ve seen the ‘big boys’ in action in two major speed tournaments in Paris and Leuven that were a much-welcomed new addition to the Grand Chess Tour circuit, and won respectively by speed rivals of Hikaru Nakamura, the former US Champion, and World Champion Magnus Carlsen. And yet despite this, the player to make a landmark net gain from their rivalry in the speed rankings was someone who wasn’t playing!

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China’s No.1, Ding Liren, rocketed—up the blitz rankings in March by gaining an incredible 140 Elo points from 48 games played over two major events, including the blitz tournaments from the Aeroflot Open, and the IMSA Mindgames. This boosted his rating to 2875 and world No.3 in blitz - and with Carlsen and Namakura’s rating falling in their rivalling GCT victories, Ding leapfrogged both of them to now becomes the first Chinese male player to hold the No.1 ranking in any chess rating list.

But the gold standard for a blitz performance goes to Bobby Fischer for his win in the first unofficial world blitz contest in 1970 at Herceg Novi, in the former Yugoslavia, as he claimed the bragging rights to the title with his score of 19/22 and a winning margin of 4.5 points ahead of Tal, Petrosian, Korchnoi and Hort - a famous victory that caught the imagination of the media and the public, by demonstrating that there could well be a future for elite-level speed tournaments and world titles in chess.

And with Carlsen and Nakamura et al in the spotlight in those back-to-back speed tournaments in Paris and Leuven, it was easy to miss that there was another major speed tournament going on almost in parallel, the Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup that took place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and featured World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk, World Championship Challenger Sergey Karjakin, the seven-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler and a bevy of other top 2700+ players battling it out for the lucrative $100,000 prize fund on offer.

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But the surprise winner of the two-day event turned out to be the little-known 38-year-old Farrukh Amonatov, the one and only GM from Tajikistan, who after beating the top-seeded GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2-0 in the final round, finished on 16/22 to dramatically snatch the title and the $30,000 first prize (by comparison, in 1970, Fischer, for his heroic efforts, won only $250!) on tiebreak, ahead of Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, who had to be kicking himself for agreeing to an 8-move draw in his final game, thinking he’d be the winner.  

Photo © | David Lada

GM Farrukh Amonatov - GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup, (22)
Pirc Defence, Byrne Variation
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Bg5 The Byrne Variation, a sharp system named after the US Champion Robert Byrne in the sixties, the idea is to treat the position a little like the Yugoslav Attack in the Sicilian Dragon with Qd2, Bh6 and h4-h5 and a rapid attack if Black automatically castles on the kingside. 4...Bg7 5.Qd2 h6 6.Bh4 g5 7.Bg3 Nh5 8.Nge2 e6 9.f3 Nxg3 Black has to take the bishop now, otherwise White will play Bf2 followed by g4 and h4 with an overwhelming attack. 10.hxg3 a6 11.g4 Not just fixing Black's kingside pawns, but also access for White's knight to hop in with menace into the opposition camp with Ng3-h5. 11...Nc6 12.0-0-0 Bd7 13.Qe3! A very subtle little move. With Black's kingside compromised with no possibility of castling there, Amonatov anticipates that Mamedyarov might castle queenside and he's ready to hit there with d5 shifting the Nc6 and then following up with Qa7. 13...Qe7 14.Ng3 0-0-0 15.Nh5 Bf8 Black may have the bishop-pair, but in this closed position they is no scope for them. 16.d5! Nb8 Black has no time for 16...exd5 17.Nxd5! Qe5 18.Qa3 as White's knights dominate the position and already there are threats of a mating attack with Bxa6. 17.Qa7 Uncomfortable, because if Black does nothing, then White has an easy win with the rook lift of Rd4-b4. 17...exd5 18.Nxd5 Qe5 19.Bc4 Bc6 20.Rd3! With Black paralysed, now the idea is just to ratchet-up the pressure with Rhd1 followed by Ra3 and Rdd3-b3 and an all-out attack against the Black king. 20...Be7 21.Rhd1 Kd7 Realising what's coming, Mamedyarov's king takes the walk of shame back to the kingside - but it is too late for safety. 22.Nb4 Qa5 23.Nxc6 Nxc6 24.Qxb7 Rb8 25.Nf6+! (See Diagram) A nice tactical twist that saves the White queen and blasts a way through to Black's king stumbling around dazed in no man's land. 25...Bxf6 26.Rxd6+ Ke7 27.Rd7+ Ke8 28.Qxc6 Bxb2+ Unfortunately due to White having the resource of Bb3, there's no saving series of 'windmill' checks. 29.Kb1 1-0

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