The year ended in mixed emotions for Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian world No.1 had at least retained his all-important classical world title following a tough match against Sergey Karjakin in Manhattan in late November - but in the dying embers of 2016, he lost two titles on tiebreak in the fast and furious form of the game at the World Rapid and Blitz Championships this week in Doha, Qatar.
Earlier in the week, Vassily Ivanchuk proved a universally popular winner of the rapid world title, with Carlsen having to settle for bronze behind Alexander Grischuk after all three tied for first place. And the same story followed in the world blitz championship, as Carlsen also lost out on the title on tiebreak to his Russian rival, Sergey Karjakin.
Carlsen and Karjakin ended day 1 of the blitz in joint first place, after the Russian beating Carlsen in their individual game (though not the official tiebreak decider). In day two, they were still neck and neck - however, Carlsen managed to edge into a slender lead going down the home straight. But ultimately the title was decided by their results against Hungary’s Peter Leko.
Karjakin gambled heavily to beat the notoriously tough Hungarian in round 19 to try to catch up with Carlsen. But in the final round, Carlsen was held to a draw by Leko; and with Karjakin winning his final round game, the two title rivals were tied at the top on 16.5/21 - only this time, it was the Russian who emerged as the winner of the title thanks to having a slightly superior tiebreak score. The only crumb of comfort for Carlsen coming in the fact that he had the highest combined score of any player, and the only player to win two medals.
In a three-way tie for third place was Daniil Dubov (Russia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) and former US champion Hikaru Nakamura, all scoring 14.5/21 - but the bronze medal deservedly went to the promising up and coming young Russian Dubov, who emerged with the better tiebreak score ahead of his two highly experienced rivals.
First Move would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2017! The chess column will take a small break but will return on Monday, 9th January 2017, and ready to cover the first major of the year, the Tata Steel Masters in the Dutch hamlet of Wijk aan Zee, with a star-studded field headed by the top five of: Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Sergey Karjakin, Levon Aronian and Anish Giri.
GM Sergey Karjakin - GM Peter Leko
World Blitz Ch., (19)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 The name Giuoco Piano - one of the oldest recorded openings in chess, played in the 16th century - means 'quiet game' in Italian. And like its name, it is initially very quiet with a slow build-up as both sides position their pieces for the middlegame battle. 3...Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.a4 a6 7.c3 0-0 8.h3 Ba7 9.Nbd2 Ne7 10.Re1 c6 11.b4 Karjakin has a little space advantage from the opening, and now he goes on to gamble on exploit this. 11...Ng6 12.d4 exd4 13.cxd4 d5 14.exd5 Nxd5 15.Qb3 Be6 16.b5 The idea behind this move is to leave Black with a weak b-pawn to defend. 16...axb5 17.axb5 Ndf4 18.Bxe6 Nxe6 19.Ba3?! This is a calculated gamble for Karjakin - in the run down the home straight, being a half point behind Carlsen, Karjakin has to risk everything for wins to stay in the race. If this were a normal game, I have no doubt he would have played the conservative 19.Bb2 move here to keep his tabs on the d-pawn. 19...Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Bxd4 21.Rad1 Leko has a pawn, but Karjakin has strong central pressure with his rooks on the d- and e-files. What's needed now is a couple of accurate moves from Leko to secure his advantage, which he fails to do. 21...Re8 22.Ne4 Qb6 23.Nd6 Rxe1+ 24.Rxe1 Bxf2+? Calamity! Leko is seduced by the material being offered, and simply misses Karjakin's easy win. All Leko had to play was 24...Qc7! 25.Nf5 c5! and he's going to emerge with a solid pawn advantage, and White with no attack. In essence, this is a typically scrappy blitz game: one side gambles all on a speculative attack and the other side fails to defend accurately, having used up time on the clock to fathom out the complications. 25.Kh1 Bxe1?? Oblivious to the danger, and lagging behind on the clock, Leko takes the rook without even giving it a second thought. A little more time and forethought, and he may have seen what he had missed, and instead gone for the bail-out with 25...Qc7! 26.Rf1 Qe7! (Easy to miss with the digital clock metaphorically ticking down. Due to ...Qe1+, Black indirectly defends the attacked bishop on f2, whilst at the same time doubles down on the attack on the Ba3.) 27.bxc6 bxc6 28.Bb4 Ne5 29.Nxf7! Qxf7 30.Qxf7+ Nxf7 31.Rxf2 and Black has a pawn advantage in the ending, but it won't be so easy to convert to a win with White having a good bishop. 26.Qxf7+ Kh8 27.Bb2! The simple and obvious retreat wins, as Leko can't defend g7 and thus avoid being mated. 27...Rg8 28.Nf5 1-0