Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen Are Top Scorers on Day 1 of Blitz Championship
ByParimarjan NegiOct 13 — 10:54 PM
At just past the half-way point of the tournament, Vachier-Lagrave has a half point lead over Carlsen, the defending champion, and many other players are close behind.
Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Maxime Vachier Lagrave of France stamped their authority clearly on day one of the World Blitz Championship in Berlin. Scoring points in a marathon of high-tension games like the Blitz Championship often comes down to not making serious mistakes and having a sharp eye for tactical ideas, and both players were exceptionally good at this.
Looking at the top of the standings, it might seem that many other top players dominated on day 1, but only the top two were consistent. Everyone else was extremely unpredictable and had ups and downs. Many pre-tournament favorites, like Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dmitry Andreikin of Russia and Vishwanathan Anand of India, failed to play more than a couple of consistent games and lurk far from the leaders.
Carlsen started with two effortless wins against strong grandmasters, and then outlasted Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine in a long endgame by setting up a devilish zugzwang in the game’s last moves:
Here Carlsen played Kh7! and White was forced to lose a pawn. Eljanov cracked and gave up the wrong pawn by playing Qc7, and then it was all over.
In Round 4, Carlsen was briefly in a slightly uncomfortable position against one of his (possibly former) seconds, Laurent Fressinet of France. But once again, Fressinet turned out to be “too slow, too weak,” as Carlsen said once.
Carlsen was finally held to a draw in Round 5 by Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian. Petrosian shares his name with an illustrious World Champion but his style of play is very different. On this day particularly, Petrosian was one of the most entertaining players around. (More on that later.)
Meanwhile, the Frenchman with two names – Vachier-Lagrave — had been cruising with even greater ease. In Round 3, he won with a nice all-out attack against the usually resourceful Sergey Movsesian of Armenia:
Vachier-Lagrave pushed his pawn to f6, which forced Movsesian to play h5 to try to stop mate. But Vachier-Lagrave gave up on the queenside and piled up his pieces on the kingside — planning to sacrifice on h5. He succeeded, reaching the following position:
After Bxh5, even taking the a1-rook with a check couldn’t help Black, so Movsesian resigned.
In Round 5, Vachier-Lagrave dispatched the Serbian Milos Perunovic. (Perunovic was one of the “mortal” grandmasters, to use the description of Emil Sutovsky, the president of the Association of Chess Professionals, who had an excellent day, notching up several wins against big names.)
Then, in Round 6, there was a big showdown between Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave. Carlsen, who was White, maintained control of the game throughout, and won material with the pretty Ng4! in the following position:
Vachier-Lagrave refused to let the loss slow him down, and he bounced back with a series of four wins, including a crazy tactical slugfest against Petrosian, and a smooth positional win against the top Armenian player, Levon Aronian.
He was fortunate in one of those wins, however. Against Sergey Karjakin of Russia, Caissa, the mythical chess goddess, clearly smiled on him in the following position:
After an extremely complicated game, Karjakin, the newly crowned World Cup winner, suffered from a brief hallucination as he just gave away his rook in one move by playing Rd6.
In the last game of the day, Vachier-Lagrave held on for a draw in a very difficult ending against Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan. That put him at 9.5 points.
Meanwhile, Carlsen seemed to be unstoppable as well. He yielded a draw in an almost winning position against Aronian, but easily brushed off his next three opponents.
In the final game of the day, Karjakin got some solace for his earlier blunder against Vachier-Lagrave by beating Carlsen. It was the first time in the tournament that Carlsen lost control of a game, mostly by underestimating Karjakin’s kingside play.
There were other players who had impressive spurts from time to time, but blitz can be brutal, and most lacked consistency. The Russian youngster Daniil Dubov beat two former World Champions — Vladimir Kramnik and Anand — in consecutive games, and both with eerily long and impressive knight maneuvers, but then he ran into the enterprising Petrosian.
In the following position, Petrosian, who was White, acted as if a careless blunder was a “blitz” sacrifice:
Of course, Bg5 was a blunder, but after Dubov played, Bxb2, Petrosian replied Nbd2, continuing as if nothing happened, and eventually Dubov erred in time pressure.
Petrosian had another impressive feat: winning bishop and knight vs king — showing perfect technique against Anton Korobov of Ukraine. This might seem like a trivial task for a grandmaster, but as most of them will tell you, it’s actually not easy with almost no time on the clock. And indeed two other grandmasters failed to mate with the same pieces in other games.
Unfortunately for Petrosian, his day ended with a cruel loss to Leinier Dominguez of Cuba. Petrosian, who was White, had dominated the game throughout, but at the very end, he made a careless blunder:
Petrosian played g4, and after Rad3, White lost one of his pieces, and eventually the game.
Dominguez is tied for third, partly because Petrosian’s error was not the only break he received. Perunovic, who was Black in the following position, played Kd5, walking into a ridiculous mate after Dominguez replied Qe5.
Blitz can be tragic! Dominguez acknowledged his good breaks in an interview just after the last game.
Despite their somewhat disheartening losses, Petrosian and Perunovic are along the leaders after 11 Rounds. Both also played some excellent games.
There was one in particular by Perunovic against Ukranian legend Vasily Ivanchuk that had an aesthetic appeal. In the following position, Perunovic, who was White, played Qd2 and followed it a move later with Bf1, trapping Black’s queen.
While Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen have played better than everyone else, fortunes can change very quickly in blitz and there is still a whole day of games to play. In an interview after his last game, Vachier-Lagrave talked about his satisfaction with his results on day 1, but also the challenges that lie ahead on day 2.
Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 76 in the world, he is currently a sophmore at Stanford University.
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