The 2018 edition of the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championship got underway in St Petersburg, Russia on Wednesday. The 15-round Swiss league will be played over three days until Friday, 28 December before the event proceeds to a two-day blitz on the following day. The rate of play for the rapid event will be 15 minutes for the entire game with a 10-second increment from move 1. Some of the top names in the field include Magnus Carlsen, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura and the reigning world rapid champion Viswanathan Anand. The women's group also sees a long list of top-notch players including the reigning world champion, Ju Wenjun, Mariya Muzychuk, Kateryna Lagno, Alexandra Kosteniuk and other top players. The Indian charge is headed by Harika Dronavalli and Koneru Humpy who are seeded ninth and tenth respectively in the starting rank.
The championship, despite its Russian venue, owes its name to the Saudi king since a large part of its $1 million prize fund comes from Saudi Arabia. In fact, the kingdom was even slated to host the event for the second time in a row this year before getting stripped of hosting rights due to its refusal to provide visas to Israeli players. Further, several of the top participants, with the reigning classical world champion, Magnus Carlsen among them, had threatened to withdraw from the tournament had it been held in Riyadh again.
Carlsen, after having steamrolled his world title challenger, Fabiano Caruana less than a month ago, was very confident about his chances in faster time controls. Prior to the championship, he had already expressed his intention to clinch the top title in all three formats. "I am going to take back the triple throne – no usurpers are going to be left alive," Carlsen had said earlier.
Even during the opening ceremony, Carlsen had stated that he felt that he had what it took to win the rapid and blitz world titles and was pretty optimistic about his chances. But the inaugural round turned out to be a rude awakening for the reigning world champ.
Although, with a rapid rating of 2903, Carlsen is, by far, the strongest player in the field, clinching the title won't be easy. In the inaugural round, before Carlsen had faced any real 'usurpers' like Nakamura, Mamedyarov or the reigning champion Anand, he suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of Ukrainian GM Adam Tukhaev.
As black, Carlsen had done everything right in the game. He had equalized comfortably out of a Sicilian Sveshnikov and was pushing for a win, having won a pawn by the 30th move. Tukhaev, however, found the best practical chances in the game and put up stern resistance. Late in the endgame, he was very close to stealing a draw via perpetual checks. Carlsen was forced to spend time to find some tricks to circumvent the splitting of the point. Deploying some neat tricks, he even managed to get a better position but by this point, he had run out of time and, thereby, lost the game.
Wounded, Carlsen wanted to come back with a roar in the succeeding game against Shamsiddin Vokhidov. He went after checkmate from the word go, whipping his queen out on the second turn. But round two provided no respite either. Just when Carlsen seemed to be on the front foot, the World No 1 stumbled again and suffered a ruinous loss of material owing to his blunder on move 22.
In the remaining three games of the day, Carlsen mended the damage to the best of his ability, winning three games in a row. Meanwhile, the top spot was shared at the end of the day by Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dmitry Andreikin and the 15-year-old Iranian GM Alireza Firouzja.
Scoring wins in all of their first four games, Nepomniachtchi and Andrekin concluded the day with a relatively uneventful draw in the fifth round against each other. However, Nepomniachtchi's fourth-round win against Hikaru Nakamura was especially noteworthy. After the American grandmaster's overambitious play in the opening, Nepomniachtchi had a strong bind over the position and pulled off a dominating victory.
Andrekin, too, had scored a fine win with the black pieces to move up to the top spot after the fourth round. In a Four Knights Defence game, he generated a strong attack on Vladislav Artemiev's king to force resignation in 37 moves.
Firouzja was half a point behind the leaders at this point and only got to join the leaders after they drew among themselves in the final round of the day. In his game against Vladislav Artemiev in round 5, the Iranian teenager had won an exchange in the middle game and made no mistake converting his material edge to move up to 4.5/5.
Defending champion, Viswanathan Anand finished day one with an undefeated 3.5/5, scoring two wins and three draws. In the fourth round, Anand had good chances to score a win in the endgame against Russian GM Artyom Timofeev. But the Indian ace did not manage to find the most critical continuation and ended up conceding half a point. Still, with ten more rounds to go, he is still very much in the running being only one point behind the tournament leaders.
The women's group had one less round on the opening day. After the scheduled four rounds for the day, second seed GM Ju Wenjun finished on top of the leaderboard winning all of her games. On her way to the top, she defeated some strong players like Olga Girya and Valentina Gunina. In the fifth round, she will be pitted against the top seed of the tournament, GM Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine.
Among the Indians, Koneru Humpy was the most impressive. Scoring two wins and two draws, she concluded her opening day campaign with an undefeated 3.0/4. As of now, she is joint third by score, a full point behind Ju Wenjun.
Harika Dronavallli, meanwhile, had a very bad day at the office. With two draws, a loss and a win, she only managed to muster up 2 points in her first four games and has fallen down to the 68th spot on the leaderboard.
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Updated Date: Dec 27, 2018 15:43:03 IST