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Maxime Vachier-Lagrave And Bibisara Assaubayeva Wins World Blitz Chess Championship 2021

The World Rapid Chess Championship and the World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 finally drew to a close on 30 December 2021. There was drama. There was excitement. Most importantly, there were champions, new champions. Let’s take a look at a recap of the event

Smiling Champions! IM Bibisara Assaubayeva (L) and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. Image: Lennart Ootes

World Rapid Chess Championship 2021 Event

While some players struggled to adapt to the 15 minutes with a 10-second increment time control, other players used it to their advantage. The defending champion, Magnus Carlsen, particularly failed to live up to expectations as he led the pack for just a round. His reign at the summit was cut short by none other than the eventual champion, Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Open Winners

Nodirbek Abdusattorov As Champion

GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Image: Lennart Ootes.

The young Uzbek took down several tournament favorites including Carlsen, Nepomniachtchi, Caruana, Aronian, and Gelfand. In total, he gathered 7 wins, drew 5 games, and lost a game to GM Anton Korobov in the 6th round. He finished with the same points as the players that completed the podium.

Ian Nepomniachtchi With Silver

Once again, Ian fell short in an important matchup to miss out on the big prize and settle for a silver medal. His unbeaten performance of 6 wins and 7 losses from 13 rounds earned him a place in the tiebreakers and a rating gain of 22.6.

Magnus Carlsen Came Third

Caption this! 🙂 Image: Lennart Ootes

The defending champion would’ve hoped for a better outcome in the tournament, but a third-place finish out of 176 players is greatly commendable. He finished with 9.5 points and was rather frustrated not to have been included in the tiebreakers. 7 wins, 5 draws, and 1 loss to Abdussatorov were how he performed in the tournament.

Women winners

Alexandra Kosteniuk As Champion

One for the Rapids, One for the Blitz! Image: Lennart Ootes

After coming so close on several occasions, the former Woman World Champion finally got her hands on the rapid world champion title. She dominated the rapid section of the event by going unbeaten. In the process, she won 7 games, including 6 in a row, and drew 4 games.

Bibisara Assaubayeva Came Second

1st place Blitz and 2nd Place Rapids, What a SHOW! Image: Lennart Ootes

IM Bibisara put up a show in the rapid section. She came into the tournament as the 19th ranked player and surpassed expectations to seal the Silver medal. She would’ve gone unbeaten if it weren’t for WIM Ekaterini Pavlidou’s strong play in the second round. Assaubayeva was the only player that stood between a complete Russian podium in the women’s section of the rapid event.

Valentina Gunina with Bronze

Gunina is certainly proud of this win! Image: Lennart Ootes

Another second Russian GM would complete the podium in the person of Valentina Gunina. Her tournament score sheet was 2 draws, 2 losses, and 7 wins. She only lost to her compatriots, Kosteniuk and Lagno. Her good performance was the reason behind her 2525 Tournament Performance Rating.

World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 Event

Blitz is the most common time control in online chess today, and chess spectators could not wait to behold the action. The time control was 3 minutes with a 2-second increment per move.

A French-dominated Podium

France on the podium. Image: Lennart Ootes.

Maxime, The Champ

Maxime lifts the top prize. Image: Lennart Ootes.

It’s been a while since chess spectators saw the Frenchman win a major tournament, and that duck was broken on December 30th, 2021. The new champion only lost 3 games in 21 rounds to Bassem Amin, Parham Maghsoodloo, and Gujrathi Vidit. On the other hand, he accumulated 12 wins, including a victory against Magnus Carlsen in the final round of the World Blitz Chess Championship 2021.

The game against Carlsen was particularly interesting. The Frenchman opened with Ruy Lopez but lost his footing at the start of the middlegame. Carlsen’s Knight disturbances forced him to play 18.Qe4, a blunder according to Stockfish. Carlsen soon equaled Vachier-Lagrave’s blunder with a blunder of his own with move 21…Qxh3??. Stockfish recommended capturing the a pawn instead. Maxime immediately followed up with another blunder with 22.Rg3 threatening the queen. One can’t exactly blame the super grandmasters for the blunders because the time control decides a great deal in the outcome of the game.

First blunder of the game

After the rook blunder, Carlsen simply waltzed his Queen out of the danger zone with 22…Qf5. What followed was another set of moves that made the chess engine cringe. Maxime captured the g2 Knight with 23.Rxg2 and rather than using this opportunity to capture the a-pawn, Carlsen played 23…Nxg2??, another blunder. Now, the position looked a bit equal but was slightly in Black’s favor at the start of the endgame. In the endgame, both sides were under the pressure of the clock. Carlsen blundered yet again with 44…Rc5?? to threaten the Queen, but that only open a diagonal for the queen to progress to a dangerous f7 square.

From a +1.0 evaluation of the position, Magnus instantly worsened the figure to +53.0, indicating the beginning of the end. He played 45…Rxc3 rather than trying to neutralize the White Queen’s threats. While Maxime only had eyes for mate, Magnus was chasing shadows with another spectacular blunder in 46…Rd2+. After 47.Kh1, the defending champion resigned both the game and his title.

The final position

Maxime had 15 points overall, level with Jan-Krzysztof and Firouzja. He needed tiebreaks against Duda to seal his place as the new World Blitz champion. It would be his first time receiving the prestigious accolade. He puts an end to Carlsen’s streak of 3 blitz title wins in a row.

The Pride of Poland Wins Silver

An impressive finish by Duda. Image: Michal Walusza

Duda impressively finished fifth in the World Rapid event and improved in the World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 to take home the silver medal. He had 14 victories, 5 losses, and 2 draws to earn himself a place in the tiebreaker games. Some of his notable wins came against Alekseenko Kirill, Gujrathi Vidit, Sergey Karjakin, and Vladislav Artemiev. The 23-year old drew two tiebreaker games against MVL but slipped in the third game with the Black pieces.

The Ambassador Of The Juniors Takes Bronze

The 18-year-old might’ve lost some Elo rating in the tournament, but he’d be glad to take home a bronze medal to show for it. His brilliant game against Aronian in the last round gave him the propelling push he needed to land on the podium. In different settings, he might’ve even had a right to the title through tiebreakers.

The 2022 Candidate Tournament participant went all out for wins after the third round of the World Blitz Chess Championship 2021. The rest of his games after the draw against Polish GM Pawel Czarnota ended in either a draw or a win.

How Other Top Players Fared

Subpar Magnus

Not so great tournament for the world champ. Image: Anna Shtourman

The World Champion had a tournament to forget in both the Rapid event and World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 event by his standards, but he’ll have his sights set on the next challenge. Not every time do we get to see Magnus Carlsen finish in twelfth place, and the Norwegian acknowledged his subpar display.

Some days, you just don’t have it. I was nowhere close to the level I needed to be [in] today. Good outcome for the public though, pretty sure no chess fan wanted to see Alireza in the playoffs anyway. Good luck to Duda and MVL!

Magnus Carlsen via Twitter

The 31-year old seems to be mentioning the name “Alireza” a lot lately. Apparently, he finds it hard to hide his admiration for the Grand Swiss winner, and in this tweet, we believe he was, again, aiming a dig at the Buchholz System.

Dubov Dominance

The 25-year old Russian once again proved why he’s one of the fastest players in the world by finishing 4th behind Alireza. His only losses in the tournament came against two players in blistering form; Aronian and Alireza. He finished with 14.5 points in a good campaign for him.

Aronian Slip

Levon Aronian lost touch. Image: Anna Shtourman.

Levon Aronian led the field for most of the World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 tournament but was displaced after his final-round loss to Alireza Firouzja. The 39-year old put up a 2796 performance, winning against strong opposition like Daniil Dubov, Sasha, Anish Giri, and several others. Round 17 was where it started to turn sour for the Armenian. He lost 4 out of his last 5 games to relinquish his lead and ultimately a place on the podium.

COVID Disturbances

Hikaru Tests Positive

World Blitz Chess Championship 2021
Sad we didn’t get to see more of Hikaru

The World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 was marred by the virus that has rocked the world for years now. Tournament favorite, Hikaru Nakamura was unbeaten when he was confirmed positive with the virus.

Wasn’t feeling well before the Rapid, told FIDE @FIDE_chess, got tested – was neg and I played. Needed to take a test today to fly tomorrow – it’s positive. I cannot finish the tournament and now am worried for all my opponents. Will be seeing you on stream doing commentary I guess.

Hikaru Nakamura via Twitter

Lack Of Testing Facilities

GM Nakamura also called out FIDE’s poor provision for COVID testing as he lamented a lack of private COVID testing for the hundreds of players present at the event. Vidit Gujrathi revealed that he forfeited the long testing queue to make it in time for his game. FIDE apologized for the inconvenience and pledged to provide logistical support for the affected players.

Into The Women’s Section

First And Second Swap Podium Places

World Blitz Champions. Image: Lennart Ootes

37-year old GM Alexandra Kosteniuk could not replicate her dominance in the rapid section as she made way for IM Bibisara Assaubayeva, a player more than twice as young as she is, to be crowned blitz champion. The Kazakhstani teenager was the clear winner of the World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 women section after earning 14 points from 17 rounds. The tally put her 1.5 points clear of Alexandra Kosteniuk who settled for the silver medal.

Bronze-enchanted Gunina

Double bronze for GM Gunina. Image: Lennart Ootes.

GM Kosteniuk and IM Assaubayeva were the only obstacles in Gunina’s path as she claimed bronze again in the blitz event. The 32-year old Russian managed to defeat both emissaries but fell to four other players. She ultimately had 12 points from the blitz event, 2 points shy of the gold medal.

This year’s edition of the FIDE World Rapid and World Blitz Chess Championship 2021 was successful. Do well to share your thoughts on its outcome in the comments.

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