Korobov, from Ukraine, has a perfect score after Day 1, while Magnus Carlsen, the defending champion, has already lost a game and drawn another.

Monday, Magnus Carlsen of Norway got off to a rocky start as he tries to defend his World Rapid Championship title. But Anton Korobov of Ukraine got to a dream start, winning all his games on Day 1. 

He is the sole leader, with Levon Aronian of Armenia just a half point behind. Carlsen is in a large group of players tied for 10th with 3.5 points each, 1.5 points behind Korobov.

The three-day tournament is being held in Doha, Qatar. It will be followed immediately by the World Blitz Championship. Both tournaments have prize funds of $200,000, with $40,000 first prizes.

The games can be followed live for free on this Web site (World Chess). Rounds starts at 3 PM local time (12 PM GMT) each day. 

The tournaments have attracted many of the world’s best players and more than a few of them could have a chance at the titles. Still, most eyes were on Carlsen as play got under way. 

I worked as a second Carlsen during his successful defense last month of the classical World Championship against Sergey Karjakin of Russia. While Carlsenwon the match, it was a very tough road for him. He seemed to be still suffering the lingering effects of the problems he had in that match as the World Rapid Championship got underway. He started out scoring 0.5 points in his first two games, and he was lucky to even score that as he escaped certain mate in Round 1 against Surya Shekhar Ganguly of India.

Carlsen, Magnus vs. Ganguly, Surya Shekhar
World Rapid | Doha, Qatar | Round 1 | 26 Dec 2016 | 1/2-1/2
36. Qg6 Rxa4?! Black has a huge advantage and should have won easily, but he now missed a forced mate.
36... Rg4+! 37. Kxg4 Qg2+ 38. Kh5 Qf3#  )
37. h5 Qc4? Letting White off the hook.
37... Qe4! This move would have pretty much ended the game right away. The point is that the trick that White uses in the game would not have worked:
38. Rd8+ Bxd8 39. Qe8+ Kh7 And Qg6 is not possible.  )
38. Rd8+! Bxd8
38... Bf8 39. h6 Qh4+ 40. Kg2 Qe4+ 41. Qxe4 Rxe4 Black could continue the game in this way, but chances would have been equal.
42. h7+ Kxh7 43. Rxf8 Kg6 44. Ra8 White should not lose.  )
39. Qe8+ Kh7 40. Qg6+ Kg8
Pantsulaia, Levan vs. Carlsen, Magnus
World Rapid | Doha, Qatar | Round 2 | 26 Dec 2016 | 1-0
23. Qe1 Nb4? A big mistake
24. Bxb4 axb4 25. c5! Carlsen probably missed this move; Black can no longer play Nc6.
25. Qxb4 Nc6 This move would have justified Black's previous moves as getting a knight to d4 would have provided more than enough compensation for being down a pawn.  )
25... Bh6
25... Rxd1 26. Qxd1 Would not have changed anything.  )
25... Nc6 26. cxb6 cxb6 27. Rxc6  )
25... b5 26. Qxb4 Nc6 27. Qxb5 Nd4 28. Qc4 Having a knight on d4 is worth being down a pawn, but not two, particularly not if the queens are traded.  )
26. cxb6! Well calculated
26... cxb6
26... Bxc1 27. Rxd8! Rxd8 28. bxc7 Rd6 29. Qxc1 And White's would have been decisive.  )
27. Rc7 Qf6 28. Qxb4 White is up a pawn and has more active pieces. Not even Carlsen could offer much resistance in such a position.
28... Rxd1+ 29. Nxd1 Rd8 30. Rd7 Nc6 31. Qc4+ Kh8 32. Rxd8+ Nxd8 33. Nc3 Nc6 34. Nd5 Qd6 35. Bg4 Nd4 36. Qc8+ Bf8 37. h4 h5 38. Bd7 Kg7 39. Kh2 Kh7 40. Qe8 Kg7 41. b4 b5 42. Bxb5 Nc2 43. a3 Kh6 44. Qf7 Nd4 45. Nf6 Bg7 46. Qxg7+

Carlsen’s poor start opened the door for other players to take the lead and Korobov took the best advantage of the opportunity.

I really like his style — most of his wins look absolutely effortless, though obviously they require a lot of skill. I was very nearly one of his victim’s during the 2016 Chess Olympiad, but I had a lucky escape. His opponents today were less fortunate, including Alexander Grischuk of Russia and Yu Yangyi of China in Rounds 4 and 5, respectively.

Grischuk, Alexander vs. Korobov, Anton
World Rapid | Doha, Qatar | Round 4 | 26 Dec 2016 | 0-1
Ng4 15. Nbd4? This is a very natural move but it allows Korobov to seize the initiative.
15. e3! This move was necessary. It looks risky since the bishop on f4 is short on squares, but Black cannot take advantage of it. White would have been a bit better.  )
15... g5! White's pieces have serious coordination problems; the bishop on e3 is forced to defend the knight on d4.
16. Be3 Qf6! Putting more pressure on d4. Black is now threatening Nxe3 followed by g4.
17. Rcd1 Nxe3! 18. fxe3 White's pawn structure is in shambles. The computer evaluates the chances as equal because of the weakness of the f5 square, but prefer Black's position.
18. Qxe3 Rfe8 And White will lose material. For example:
19. Qd3 a5! The threat of Ba6 causes problems for White.  )
18... Rad8 19. Qa4 a6 20. Nd2
20. Nh4 This move would have been better, but I still would prefer to play Black.  )
20... Qe5 21. Nxe4 dxe4 22. Rf5? The last mistake by White.
22. Qb3 And White still has only a slightly worse position.  )
22... Rxd4! Korobov has a good tactical eye. Black immediately wins material.
23. exd4 Qxf5 24. dxc5 Qxc5+ 25. Kh1 Bc6 Black is up a pawn up and went on to win with no particular difficulty.
26. Qb3 Kg7 27. e3 Bb5 28. Rd5 Qc1+ 29. Rd1 Qc4 30. Qa3 Rd8 31. Rg1 Qc5 32. Qxc5 bxc5 33. Bxe4 Re8 34. Bd5 Rxe3 35. Rc1 Re5 36. Bf3 f5 37. Kg1 Kf6 38. h3 Bd3 39. Kf2 c4 40. Rc3 Ra5 41. a3 Rb5 42. Ke3 Ke5
Korobov, Anton vs. Yu Yangyi
World Rapid | Doha, Qatar | Round 5 | 26 Dec 2016 | 1-0
b5 18. h4! Fearless and strong. White prepares a kingside assault.
18... h6 19. g4! Black can hold the balance with precise play, but it's very difficult in a rapid game.
19... Nf8?! It's very natural to bring the knight to g6 to defend the kingside, but black will not have time for this.
19... c4! 20. bxc4 Nc5 21. Qc2 Qd7  )
20. g5! hxg5 21. hxg5 Bb2 22. Be5! Black is in trouble.
22... Ba3 This puts the bishop on a bad square but the alternative was not much better.
22... Bxe5 23. Nxe5 Black's pieces are dreadfully passive and there is no good way to improve their positioning.  )
23. Nh4! Preventing Ng6 and preparing Nf5. White's attack develops at a remarkable pace.
23... Bb4 24. Re3 Qd7 25. Nf5 Black cannot hold his position together. The rest of the game was easy for Korobov.
25... c4 26. bxc4 bxc4 27. Qc2 Bc5 28. Bxg7 Bxe3 29. fxe3 Ng6 30. Bc3 Nh4 31. Nh6+ Kf8 32. Qh7 Ke7 33. Bf6+ Kd6 34. Nxf7+ Kc5 35. Bd4+ Kb5 36. Rb1+ Ka5 37. Bc3+ Ka6 38. Qh6+

One nice thing about opens is that you can see how very strong grandmasters fare against their truly elite counterparts. The big boys usually come out on top, but there are plenty of exceptions and rapid time controls only make this more likely.

I was particularly impressed with the resourcefulness of Nils Grandelius of Sweden against Karjakin in Round 1. Grandelius also worked on the team assisting Carlsen during his title match, so I find it amusing that he was able to win his first game against Karjakin since that match when it took our boss until Game 10 to do the same thing!

Grandelius, Nils vs. Karjakin, Sergey
World Rapid | Doha, Qatar | Round 1 | 26 Dec 2016 | 1-0
78. d6 White had been slowly outplayed in this game, but Black still needed to play precisely to finish White off.
78... Be8?
78... Rb7! This move would have led to an overwhelming edge.
79. d7 And White could not guard the pawn.
...  Ke7 80. Nxa4 Ra7!  )
79. Bg4! And just like that, Black is losing as d7 cannot be stopped.
79... a3 80. d7 Bxd7 81. Nxd7+ Kg7 82. Nc5 a2 83. Kd2 Ra3 84. Kc2 Nb5 85. Kb2 Rg3 86. Kxa2 Rxg2+ 87. Kb3 f3 88. Rf1 Nd4+ 89. Kc4 f2 90. Ne6+

There are still 10 rounds to go before a champion is crowned. That is a lot of chess, so it is very likely that the standings will change considerably before it is over.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.