Magnus is Blitz Champion

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

World Championship Blitz
Moscow, Russia
Dec. 29–30, 2019

Final Top Results

1–2. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2865, Hikaru Nakamura USA 2885, 16.5/21

3. Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2748, 15.0/21

4–5. Alexander Grischuk RUS 2741, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2768, 14.0/21

6–20. Alireza Firouzja FIDE 2649, Vladislav Artemiev RUS 2793, Yu Yangyi CHN 2807, Maxim Matlakov RUS 2720, Jan-Krzysztof Duda POL 2796, Dmitry Andreikin RUS 2780, Vladiimir Fedoseev RUS 2714, Anish Giri NED 2769, Alexander Zubov UKR 2754, Levon Aronian ARM 2698, Wang Hao CHN 2714, Ernesto Inarkiev RUS 2556, Peter Svidler RUS 2805, Boris Gelfand ISR 2700, Ivan Cheparinov GEO 2647, 13.5/21

Playoff: Magnus Carlsen beat Hikaru Nakamura 1.5-0.5.

Total of 206 participants

Time Control: Three minutes for the entire game with two seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1.

Venue: VIP Zone of the Luzhniki Football Stadium in Moscow, Russia.

Others: The prize fund is $350,000, with $60,000 for first place. Prize money is shared equally between players on the same number of points, with a playoff for first place that consists of two 3+2 games followed, if necessary, by Armageddon, where White has five minutes to Black’s four, with a draw for Black to be counted as a victory.

Five years ago Carlsen won both the Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in the same year — this was in 2014 Dubai. Since he was also Classical World Champion at that time he became a “Triple Crown” winner. Garry Kasparov compared the feat to “winning tennis slams on clay, grass and hard court.” Well, he has done it again! Two days after winning the Rapid he tied with Hikaru Nakamura for the Blitz title and won the playoff. He is now the reigning World Champion in classical, Rapid and Blitz.

Baadur Jobava was doing very well with five wins and three draws in the first 8 rounds but this loss against Magnus in round 9 messed him up and he couldn’t recover. The theme of our article today is endgame play. Most people wouldn’t find Black’s endgame finesse, let alone under blitz conditions.

Jobava, Baadur (2604) — Carlsen, Magnus (2872) [A01]
World Blitz 2019 Moscow RUS (9.2), 29.12.2019

1.b3 g6 2.Bb2 Nf6 3.Bxf6 exf6 4.c4 d5 5.cxd5 Qxd5 6.Nc3 Qa5 7.a3 c6 8.e3 f5 9.g3 Bd6 10.Bg2 Nd7 11.Nge2 Nf6 12.0–0 0–0 13.b4 Qd8 14.d4 Qe7 15.Rb1 a5 16.b5 Bxa3 17.bxc6 bxc6 18.Bxc6 Ra6 19.Nd5 Nxd5 20.Bxd5 Bb4 21.Nf4 Bd6 22.Qf3 a4 23.Rfc1 a3 24.Ba2 Ra7 25.Nd5 Qd8 26.h4 Be6 27.Kg2 h5 28.Nc3 Bxa2 29.Nxa2 Rc7 30.Qd5 Qa8 31.Qxa8 Rxa8 32.Rxc7 Bxc7 33.Kf3 Kf8 34.Ke2 Bd6 35.Kd3 Ke7 36.Rb7+ Ke6 37.Rb6 Ra7 38.Kc2 Kd7 39.Kb1 Kc7 40.Rb3 Rb7 41.Kc2 Rxb3 42.Kxb3 Kc6 43.Nc3 f6 44.Kc4 g5 45.f4 g4 46.Kb3 Bf8

Jobava has fought Carlsen to a standstill but now makes a fatal mistake.


[47.Na2 was correct, but isn’t the text the most obvious move, winning the a3 pawn?]

47…Bb4! 48.Nc3

[48.Kxb4 a2 and the pawn queens]

48…a2 49.Nxa2 Be1

White’s kingside pawns fall.

50.Kc4 Bxg3 51.Nb4+ Kd6 52.Kd3 Bxh4 53.e4 fxe4+ 54.Kxe4 Bg3 55.f5 h4 56.Nd5 h3 0–1

Both Magnus and Hikaru Nakamura, the two highest rated blitz players in the world, finished with 16.5/21 and had to play an additional 2 blitz games as tie-break. Magnus cleaned up nicely:

Carlsen, Magnus (2865) — Nakamura, Hikaru (2885) [D02]
Wch Blitz tiebreak 2019 Moscow (2), 30.12.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bf4

Lately Carlsen has been playing the London System every time he needs the full point.

3…c5 4.e3 e6 5.Nbd2 Bd6 6.Bxd6 Qxd6 7.dxc5 Qxc5 8.c4 dxc4 9.Bxc4 0–0 10.Rc1 Qe7 11.0–0 b6 12.Qe2 Bb7 13.Rfd1 Nbd7 14.Ba6 Nc5 15.Bxb7 Qxb7 16.Ne5 Ncd7 17.Qf3 Qa6

This is no time to go pawn-grabbing of course but Nakamura knows exactly what he is doing, being a veteran of hundreds of online blitz/bullet tournaments. He is provoking Magnus to stir up an attack under speed time controls while he gobbles up one or two pawns. If things go the way he wants it and, being the tactical monster that he is, Carlsen’s attack will run out of steam and Naka can then cash in with his extra material.

18.Nc6 Kh8 19.Nc4 Qxa2 20.g4 Nc5 21.Nd6 Nb3?

Nakamura starts getting nervous. He should have remained true to himself with 21…Qxb2 as White’s attack is still not clear.

22.Rc2 Qa4 23.Rc4

Black’s queen has been shut off the kingside — Nakamura is clearly in trouble.

23…Qa6 24.g5 Nd7 25.Rh4!

There is already forced mate.

25…Nbc5 26.Nxf7+

Magnus misses checkmate with 26.Rxh7+! Kxh7 27.Qh5+ Kg8 28.Ne7# but no matter as the text move wins as well.

26…Rxf7 27.Qxf7 Qe2 28.Rxd7 Nxd7 29.Qxd7 Rf8 30.Rf4 1–0

There was a bit of a controversy at the end. Alireza Firouzja, the one who left the Iranian Chess Federation because he badly wanted to play here in Moscow, and the very same one who got the silver medal in the Rapid section, was also doing very well in the blitz. Carlsen met him in the 3rd to the last round. Remember our theme for today? Endgame play, right?

Firouzja, Alireza (2649) — Carlsen, Magnus (2865) [C79]
FIDE World Blitz Championship (19.1), 30.12.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.0–0 Bd7 6.c3 g6 7.d4 Bg7 8.h3 Nf6 9.Bc2 0–0 10.Re1 Re8 11.Nbd2 Qe7 12.Nf1 Qf8 13.Ng3 Bh6 14.Ng5 Nd8! 15.Bb3 Ne6 16.h4 Rad8 17.Be3 Bg7 18.h5 Bh6 19.Qc1 Ng4 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.Rf1 Nxe3 22.fxe3 Qe7 23.hxg6 hxg6 24.Qd2 exd4 25.cxd4 Kg7 26.Rf3 Rf8 27.Raf1 Rxf3 28.Rxf3 Rf8 29.Qc3! c6 30.Nf1 e5 31.Rxf8 Kxf8 32.Qc4 Qf6?

[32…Kg7 33.Qg8+ Kf6 looks awkward but is the best defense]

33.dxe5 dxe5 34.Qb4+ c5 35.Qxb7

That’s one pawn.

35…Bb5 36.Qc8+ Ke7 37.Qxc5+

That’s two.

37…Qd6 38.Qxd6+ Kxd6 39.Bf7 Bxf1!

Black places his hopes on a bishops-of-opposite-color endgame.

40.Kxf1 g5 41.Ke2 Bf8 42.Kf3 Ke7 43.Bc4 a5 44.Ke2 Kd6 45.Bd5 Be7 46.Kf3 Bd8 47.Kg4 Be7 48.Kf5 Bd8 49.g4 Be7 50.a3 Bd8 51.b4 axb4 52.axb4 Be7 53.b5 Bd8 54.Kg6

The forcing 54.b6 does not work: 54…Bxb6 55.Kxg5 Ke7! 56.Kf5 Bxe3 57.Kxe5 is a draw. In order for White to win with his extra two pawns they should be farther apart (for example, if the e4 pawn were instead on c4) so that Black’s king and bishop cannot coordinate defense.

54…Kc5 55.Kf5 Kxb5!

Even in blitz rate Magnus is a phenomenal endgame player. This is the same principle as in the previous note — he destroys white’s pawn on b5 so that the remaining pawns will be close together. Besides, if he tries to defend his e5–pawn then 55…Kd6 56.Ba8! Be7 57.b6! wins.

56.Kxe5 Kc5 57.Ke6 Ba5 58.e5 Bd2 59.e4

Here Firouzja missed 59.Kf7! Kxd5 60.e6 Bb4 61.e7 Bxe7 62.Kxe7 Ke4 63.Kf6 but c’mon, both players had only seconds left on their clock.

59…Bc3! 60.Kf5 Kb6 61.e6?

Why didn’t he take the g5 pawn? I believe 61.Kxg5! wins.

61…Kc7 62.Kg6 Kd8 63.Kxg5 Ke7

In contrast with the position on the 61st move, Black’s king has managed to make it back in front of the pawns. I couldn’t believe it but a look at the 7–man tablebase says that the position is drawn.

64.Kh5 Bd2 65.g5 Bf4

Actually the losing move. Correct is 65…Bc3! 66.Kg6 Bd2! 67.e5 Bc1 White cannot make progress


Throws away the win (66.g6!) but also… I will let GM Dejan Bojkov tell the story: “In this very complex position the unthinkable happened. Right after moving his king to g4, Firouzja tipped over his king and after first putting it back, Firouzja was just too late to hit the clock and he ran out of time, while Carlsen moved his bishop to d2. His position was declared a loss as theoretically speaking a mate is possible to happen with opposite-colored bishops on the board! What a dramatical finish of a spectacular game!”

66…Bd2 0–1 <D>


Theoretically, the position on the board is a draw. In the video of the finish you can see Grischuk calling Magnus and telling him that he should get a win as there is the possibility of checkmate on the board. The arbiter on the scene agreed and awarded Magnus the point. Firouzja protested and the chief arbiter, the very well respected Takis Nikolopoulos, was summoned to make a ruling. He upheld the win and clarified that, yes, Black gets the win because the rule is that if checkmate is possible for Black, no matter how remote the possibility, then Black gets the win. Here is one possibility for checkmate: 66…Bd2 67.Kf5 Be3 68.Kg6 Bd2 69.Kh7 Be3 70.g6 Bd2 71.g7 Be3 72.g8N+ Kf8 73.Kh8 Bd2 74.e5 Be3 75.Be4 Bh6 76.Bh7 Bg7#

This is where there is a divergence between online and live play. In online chess you cannot win without mating material. Since Carlsen only had a king and bishop the game would have immediately been declared a draw.

After this very tough loss Firouzja lost again in the next round (to Kramnik) and drew in the final round to finish in 6th place. On the other hand Magnus Carlsen was also in a state of nervous exhaustion and drew his last two games and that is what allowed Nakamura to catch him.

As you can see, Carlsen versus Firouzja was not just another blitz game.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.