December, 13 2023
Action-packed start to World Rapid Championships in Samarkand
Intense battles and surprising results on the first day of the World Rapid championships, with 270 players vying for world titles in the Open and the Women’s tournament.
The competition kicked off today with the Rapid tournament, showcasing some 270 players divided into the Open and Women’s sections, all battling for the prestigious title of world champion.
Held at the grand Samarkand Congress Center, a spacious venue showcasing oriental architecture, the event is broadcast live on FIDE’s YouTube channel as well as all other top chess streaming platforms. Former world Champion Vishi Anand and WIM and chess journalist Anastasiya Karlovich are providing the live commentary. It is the first time Anand is commenting on the WRB.
The tournament followed FIDE tradition with ceremonial first moves made on the top boards in both the Open and Women’s sections. Alisher Sadullayev, President of the Uzbekistan Chess Federation, made the inaugural move for the Open, while Arkady Dvorkovich, President of FIDE, initiated the Women’s tournament.
The Open Rapid tournament, after its initial five rounds, has seen a captivating start. Notably, five exceptional players top the standings with 4.5 points each. Among them are Arjun Erigaisi, the 2022 champion of India, defending Rapid champion Magnus Carlsen, Yu Yangyi of China, Bulgaria’s Ivan Cheparinov and India’s Vidit Santosh Gujrathi.
The defending World Rapid (and Blitz) Champion, Magnus Carlsen, began with a draw against significantly lower-rated Nikita Petrov from Montenegro, but he swiftly gained momentum, clinching victories in subsequent rounds, including a striking win over Parham Maghsoodloo, seizing his knight with a king in the top left corner of the board. Speaking for the Norwegian broadcaster NRK, Carlsen said: “My play is so-so, but my score is just great”.
Bulgaria’s Ivan Cheparinov emerges as a surprise contender, as he is not ranked in the top 20. Opening strongly with three wins and a draw, Cheparinov ended the day with an impressive combination to score against Richard Rapport (who had shown remarkable form until that point, starting with three relatively quick victories but finishing the day with 3.5 points).
However, not all top players started on a high note. Fabiano Caruana faced a mixed bag, securing his first win in round three, but stumbled in a complicated endgame against Pavel Ponkratov in the final round, finishing the day on three points. He is joined by Anish Giri, who also had a poor start, by losing a winning position against Klementy Sychev, who is 200+ points lower rated in Rapid. The performance in the World Rapid and Blitz has special importance for Giri as this is his last chance to qualify for the 2024 Candidates.
One of the most exciting games of the first day was played between Conrad Holt from the US and one of the top seeds, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan. Despite getting the upper hand in the middlegame and approaching victory, Mamedyarov (playing as Black) blundered. In a very sharp position with both sides attacking, Black allowed an impressive combination on the board and ended up a piece down.
Vishi Anand called the game a “masterpiece”, adding “it may be a game of the year”. Mamedyarov, at 2.5 points out of five, finds himself in the lower ranks despite being the 12th highest-rated player in the event.
With 12 players half a point behind the leaders – including the heavyweights Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Daniil Dubov – there is a lot of space for many surprises and twists, which come suddenly and often in rapid games.
The Women’s tournament
Bulgaria’s Nurgyul Salimova and Zhu Jiner of China lead the pack with a maximum score of four points.
They are closely followed by a group of six unexpected contenders, with India’s Rameshbabu Vaishali as the sole top-20-rated player among them.
The first day in the Women’s Rapid saw a slow start from the reigning Rapid Champion, Tan Zhongyi, who scored her first victory only in the final, fourth round of the day, following three draws. The Women’s World Champion in classical chess, Ju Wenjun, as well as her challenger in the Match for the title earlier this year, Lei Tingjie, also underperformed, finishing the day with 2/5 out of 4.
Surprisingly, top-rated players and former Women’s World Champions Alexandra Kosteniuk (also the 2021 Women’s World Rapid Champion) and Mariya Muzychuk struggled with a loss at the start, ending with only 1.5 points out of four.
The games continue on Wednesday, December 27, from 3 PM local time in Samarkand.
The second day of the World Rapid promises a crucial test for contenders, with four rounds in each section. In an event where every move shapes destiny, surprises are likely, and champions rise and fall amidst fierce competition.
About the event:
The World Rapid and Blitz is one of the most exciting and most watched chess events in the world, attracting the strongest Grandmasters.
The prize fund totals one million US dollars, with $700,000 for the Open and $300,000 for the Women’s tournaments.
The event is taking place from December 25 to December 30, at the Samarkand Congress Center.
Written by Milan Dinic
Photos: Anastasia Korolkova