Sergey Karjakin won the title on tiebreaks over Magnus Carlsen because of a crucial last-round win and some good breaks.

Sergey Karjakin’s victory in the World Blitz Championship on Friday was a combination of good play, good timing and good luck. Magnus Carlsen, the reigning classical World Champion from Norway, could not shake Karjakin in the race for the gold, and when it really mattered, Karjakin, who is Russian, came through.

The two players had ended Day 1 tied, with 10 points apiece, a point-and-a-half ahead of their nearest competitors. On Day 2, they contined to set a torrid pace, each scoring 6.5 points in nine rounds. They ended the tournament with scores of 16.5 points each, two points clear of the three players who tied for third — Daniil Dubov and Alexander Grischuk, two compatriots of Karjakin’s, and Hikaru Nakamura of the United States.

Karjakin took first on tiebreaks (the average rating of his opponents was higher than the average rating of Carlsen’s), while Dubov edged out Grischuk and Nakamura for bronze based on the same tiebreaker.

Going into the last round, Carlsen held a half point lead, but knew that he needed to take clear first to win the tournament. A draw with the always-solid Peter Leko of Hungary opened the door for Karjakin.

Leko, Peter vs. Carlsen, Magnus
World Blitz Championship | Doha, Qatar | Round 13 | 30 Dec 2016 | 1/2-1/2
20. Bd2 Bd7?! This move is inaccurate.
20... Bxd4! 21. cxd4 Qxd4 There was nothing wrong with taking the pawn.  )
21. Qf3! Ne6 22. Nxe6! Bxe6 23. Re1 Qd6 24. Kg1 White has a slight initiative because of his lead in development.
24... Nf6?
24... Rd8 And White would be only slightly better.  )
25. Bf4! Qe7 26. Bxe6?
26. Nf5! This move would have given White a big advantage.
26... Qd7 27. Nxg7! Kxg7 28. Bxh6+ Kg6 29. Qf4 And Black would likely soon be mated.  )
26... fxe6 27. Be3 Bxe3 28. Qxe3 Carlsen is now slightly worse and has no counterplay. It is basically an impossible position to win.
28... Re8 29. Qe5 Qd7 30. Ne4 Nxe4 31. Qxe4 Qd5 32. a3 Kf7 33. Qf4+ Qf5 34. Qc7+ Re7 35. Qd6 Qc2 36. Qf4+ Kg8 37. Qb4 Rf7 38. Qb6 Qd2 39. Rxe6 Qc1+ 40. Kh2 Qf4+ 41. Kg1 Qc1+ 42. Kh2 Carlsen managed not to lose, but it was not enough.

Karjakin did what he had to do by beating Baadur Jobava of Georgia in the final round.

Karjakin, Sergey vs. Jobava, Baadur
World Blitz Championship | Doha, Qatar | Round 13 | 30 Dec 2016 | 1-0
3. Nxe5 d5?! This looks like a very dubious idea.
3... d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 Leads to one of the main systems in the Petroff Defense.  )
4. exd5 Qxd5 5. d4 Nc6 6. Nc3!? Not objectievly the best move, but I like it. Black is forced into an unpleasant endgame.
6... Qxd4
6... Bb4 This move was worth considering.  )
7. Nxc6 Qxd1+ 8. Nxd1 bxc6 The position is symmetrical, save for Black's crippled queenside pawn structure.
9. Be2 Bd6 10. Ne3 O-O 11. O-O Re8 12. Bf3 Bd7 13. Nc4 Bc5? This move allows White's pieces to spring to life.
13... Ng4 14. g3 And Black would be only slightly worse.  )
14. Bf4
14. Be3!? Also looks strong  )
14... Nd5?
14... Be6! 15. Nd2 Bd5 And once again Black would be only a bit worse.  )
15. Bg3 Black will lose material after White plays Ne5.
15... Bf5
15... f6 16. Rad1 Be6 17. Na5 Would have been no better.  )
16. Ne5 Bxc2 17. Rac1 Bd6 18. Nxc6
18. Rxc2 Bxe5 19. Rxc6 This move looked stronger, but the move played by Karjakin was also fine.  )
18... Be4 19. Rfe1?!
19. Bxe4 Rxe4 20. Bxd6 cxd6 21. Rfd1 And White would again be much better.  )
19... Bxf3 20. Rxe8+ Rxe8 21. gxf3 f5?
21... Nf4! Black has decent chances to hold a draw.  )
22. Bxd6 cxd6 23. Kf1
23. Nxa7 Why not take the pawn?  )
23... a6?
23... Rc8 Looks more accurate.  )
24. Rd1! Nb6? The last mistake
24... Rc8! Black should be able to hold after
25. Rxd5 Rxc6 26. Rxf5 Rc1+ 27. Kg2 Rc2 28. Ra5 Rxb2 29. Rxa6 d5  )
25. b3! d5 26. Nd4
26. Nb4 Would have won a pawn.  )
26... g6 27. Rc1 Nd7 28. Rc6 The activity of White's pieces should net him at least a pawn.
28... a5 29. Rd6 Ne5 30. Rxd5 Nd3 31. Ne2! Accurate. White does not want to allow Re1+.
31. Rxa5 Re1+ 32. Kg2 Nf4+ 33. Kg3 g5 34. h4! White barely survives and would eventually win because of his extra pawns, but the move chosen by Karjakin was much simpler.  )
31... Rxe2 32. Rd8+! The point of White's previous play. The rest of the game was straight forward.
32. Kxe2? Nf4+  )
32. Rxd3 Rxa2  )
32... Kf7 33. Kxe2 Nc1+ 34. Kd2 Nxa2 35. Ra8 Nb4 36. Rxa5 Nc6 37. Ra4 Ne5 38. Ke3 g5 39. h3 h5 40. f4 gxf4+ 41. Kxf4 Nd3+ 42. Kxf5 Nxf2 43. h4

Nakamura, who is a noted blitz specialist, recovered well from a slow start on Day 1 to nearly get to the podium. I especially liked his game with Karjakin in Round 15, showing that strange things can happen in blitz that would almost certainly never happen in slower games:

Karjakin, Sergey vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
World Blitz Championship | Doha, Qatar | Round 15 | 30 Dec 2016 | 0-1
Kd7 White has a big and clear advantage, but would takes some effort to win. Karjakin's next move shows that even a World Blitz Champion is not immune to outrageous blunders when time controls get short.
69. Qg4?? Ne3+

Grischuk might have been able to claim bronze, but he made a strange decision to agree to a draw in the final round against Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba. Of course, he had the Black pieces, but he had much more to gain from a win than to lose from a loss, so I didn’t really understand the logic behind it.

Dominguez Perez, Leinier vs. Grischuk, Alexander
World Blitz Championship | Doha, Qatar | Round 21 | 30 Dec 2016 | 1/2-1/2
14. a3 Black surprisingly agreed to a draw in this position. He is not worse and both sides have their chances. I would think this was a good place to continue to play.

Finally, one cannot write about blitz without mentioning some blunders. This time it was Mohammed Al-Sayed of the host country of Qatar who finished in the worst way: by making a terrible mistake in the last round against Laurent Fressinet of France.

Fressinet, Laurent vs. Al-Sayed, Mohammed
World Blitz Championship | Doha, Qatar | Round 21 | 30 Dec 2016 | 1-0
52. Qd3 Black is up three pawns and has a safer king in short, a huge advantage. Basically, every possible move should lead to victory, except for...
52... Qd5+?? 53. Qxd5 cxd5 54. Rg6! And Black resigned as he cannot stop the White h-pawn from promoting.

Though Carlsen didn’t get the gold in either tournament, I think he clearly showed he is, over all, the best rapid and blitz player in the world by tying for first in both championships.


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.