After two days and nine rounds in the open section of the World Rapid Chess Championship, world number one Magnus Carlsen is alone in the lead with 7.5/9, half a point ahead of everyone else. He is chased by three players, each on seven points – Alexander Grischuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi and, the big surprise of the tournament, 17-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov.
In the women's section, Alexandra Kosteniuk is dominating the tournament. With 7.5/9, she enters the final day with a point and a half ahead of everyone else.
The Open tournament
Magnus Carlsen is poised to defend his title of World Champion in rapid chess after another powerful performance in the four games played on the second day of the tournament.
Following a draw in round six with Baadur Jobava (where Carlsen had a more comfortable position but the Georgian skilfully held on to the very endgame), the World Champion was then up against the world number two, Alireza Firouzja. All eyes were on this game as it was the first encounter between the two since Carlsen said that 18-year-old Firouzja is the only player who can motivate him to defend the title of World Champion in classical chess for the sixth time.
In the Advance Variation of the Caro Kann, Carlsen obtained some space advantage and more comfortable play. Instead of waiting to be slowly crushed, Firouzja played bravely, realising that only action could give him an opportunity to neutralise Carlsen's pressure. However, it did not work out as Magnus played with precision and never let him off the hook. The loss did not hinder Firouzja much as he drew the next game with Van Foreest and then defeated Kirill Shevchenko to finish the day on 6.5/9 and remain in the race for the top position. When we consider that Firouzja is 13 years younger than Carlsen and that he has already reached a 2800 ELO and has become the world's number two at the age of 18, it is clear that the reigning World Champion has much to fear.
The most dangerous opponent of the day for Carlsen proved to be his old rival Alexander Grischuk who, in the Queen's Gambit Declined, had a slightly better position in which the World Champion all of a sudden blundered an exchange. Alexander, in his turn, failed to demonstrate the necessary accuracy and allowed Magnus to take the initiative in a very complex endgame. Luckily for Grischuk, the safety margin was sufficient for a draw, and a truce was called. The two then spent a while enthusiastically analysing the game.
Carlsen finished the day on a high note, beating the local favourite and one of the greatest rising stars in chess, Jan-Krzysztof Duda. When it seemed that the local hero had solved all his opening problems, Magnus came up with a very interesting exchange sacrifice to steer the game towards a slightly better ending. Once again, Carlsen demonstrated his excellent endgame technique to turn "slightly better" into a clean and confident victory. Overall, the second day proved to be difficult for Duda – he started with a loss (to Ian Nepomniachtchi) in Round Six, then scored two victories, only to be defeated in the last round. Still, with 6.5 points, he enters the final day with solid chances for one of the top places.
The big surprise of the tournament is the 'young gun' from Uzbekistan, 17-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who, after losing in Round Six to Anton Korobov, scored three consecutive wins against top-class players (Levon Aronian, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Boris Gelfand) and with 7/9 points is in shared 2-4th place. He will be playing Magnus Carlsen on the top board at the start of the final day of the rapid championship. Nodirbek is joined by Alexander Grischuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who are also on 7/9 and have been confidently building up their momentum for the final rounds in the first two days.
Following them is a score of nine players on 6.5 points, including heavyweights Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana. The latter (who on day one suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Abdusattorov) is lucky to be in this group as he managed to save a lost game in Round Seven against Andrei Volokitin thanks to an oversight by his opponent.
Dutchman Jorden Van Foreest and Egyptian Amin Bassem also show great form in the World Rapid open tournament. With 6.5/9, they remain in striking distance for the top places.
Among the young lions at the top is the 53-year-old veteran Boris Gelfand, who has 6/9. After the first eight rounds, Gelfand was in 8th place, just half a point behind Carlsen, but then in the final (ninth) round of day two, he suffered his first loss in the tournament at the hands of Abdusattorov.
Among other top players, Levon Aronian has six points, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Sergey Karjakin, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexei Shirov are all on 5.5/9.
The Women's tournament
The second day of the Women's world rapid was marked by Alexandra Kosteniuk's, sterllar perfrormance. The Women's World Cup winner finished a point and a half ahead of everyone else. She is followed by six players on 6/8 (in the women's section, eight rounds have been played so far – four on each day*).
In Round Five, in a direct duel for first place, Kosteniuk scored a lucky victory against Valentina Gunina, with whom she shared the top after day one. Despite achieving an overwhelming position, Gunina made several mistakes and eventually lost. Kosteniuk won the next round game against Nataliya Buksa but then had to work hard to escape with a draw against one of the surprising stars of the event, Assel Serikbay. Alexandra finished the day confidently, defeating the former World Champion and one of the top contenders for the title, Mariya Muzychuk.
"From 2012, I played in every single edition of the World Rapid & Blitz, and three times I took silver medals. So, of course, I'd like to jump higher", Kosteniuk said in an interview on day two. She was, however, cautious about the interviewer praising her performance so far: "It's important how you start but [it's] more important how you finish".
The group of six players on 6/8 chasing Kosteniuk is led by Assel Serikbay of Kazakhstan. Starting the second day of the event with two victories, the 19-year-old GM (with a rapid rating of only 2023) drew with 500 points higher-rated players and world heavyweights - Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lagno.
Following a somewhat slow start on the first day (with three draws and just one victory), the current holder of the Women's World Champion title in rapid chess, India's Humpy Koneru, seems to have found her momentum. With three victories in a row and a draw with Polina Shuvalova – Koneru has reached the top board and will be facing Alexandra Kosteniuk on the final day of the rapid.
The former women's world rapid champion and three-time women's blitz champion, Kateryna Lagno (who has just turned 32), made a solid 3/4 points on the second day of the rapid (including a fine victory over Valentina Gunina). With 6/8, Lagno is showing that she is unaffected by the setback of game two on the first day when she lost to a significantly weaker opponent.
The three remaining players on six points are Polina Shuvalova, Bibisara Assaubayeva and Gulnar Mammadova.
There are as many as 11 players on 5.5/8. This group is led by Valentina Gunina, who after 4/4 on day one, scored only 1.5 points on the second day. This group also includes the likes of Mariya Muzychuk, Nana Dzagnidze, Antoaneta Stefanova, Elisabeth Paehtz and Ekaterina Atalik.
Text: Milan Dinic
Photo: Mark Livshitz, Rafał Oleksiewicz, Anna Shtourman and Michal Walusza
Official website: worldrapidandblitz.fide.com/