The world No 1 lost three of his opening eight games but, despite recovering, was unable to catch the 22-year-old Russian
Magnus Carlsen, so supreme at rapid chess when he wiped out Fabiano Caruana 3-0 in their world title tie-break in London last month, got off to a contrastingly shocking start in the $1m World Rapid championship which ended on Friday night in St Petersburg. In rapid each player has 15 minutes for the entire game, plus a 10-seconds increment for each move.
Carlsen’s three defeats in the first eight rounds, against internationally little-known and much lower-rated opponents from Ukraine and Uzbekistan, proved too great a handicap for him to regain the rapid title which he has won twice previously.
He fought back so strongly with four wins and three draws in the second half that victory in the final round against his old US rival and No 2 seed, Hikaru Nakamura, would have put Carlsen into a blitz tie-break. But Nakamura was ultra-solid and their game always looked a draw.
Russia’s Daniil Dubov, 22, won the gold medal. The Muscovite already has a reputation as a rising star with a creative style and Carlsen himself paid him a signal honour by including him among the coaches at his training camp before his world title match with Caruana.
The final scores were Dubov 11/15, with Shak Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, silver medal), Nakamura (bronze medal), Vladislav Artemiev (Russia) and Carlsen all 10.5. Carlsen was officially placed fifth.
All Carlsen’s games were shown live on Norwegian television and he has developed a style of verbal self-flagellation in response whenever disaster strikes. “I played like a crow”, “I’ve not played this bad ever as far as I can remember” and “I was just messing around” were some of his replies to interviewers this week. But, as Nigel Short tweeted: “It is the sign of a truly great player when he can play like total crap (by his lofty standards) and still be only half a point off the lead.”
The world blitz, which Carlsen has won three times including in 2017, will be a mammoth 21 rounds this weekend, viewable free and live online starting at noon on Saturday. Carlsen is ranked No 1 in blitz, so will again be favourite, but watch out for Alireza Firouzja. The Iranian, 15, who was national champion at 12 and a grandmaster at 14, is one among many current teenage prodigies but is attracting some rave reviews.
Firouzja is ranked near the top of the world in online blitz, has a ferocious attacking style which has been compared to the legendary Mikhail Tal, and has been publicly forecast as a future world champion by Iran’s experienced national coach, GM Ivan Sokolov.
Carlsen’s first defeat, in a two rooks v queen ending where he stood better, was a matter of misjudging nanoseconds. He was playing on the 10 seconds per move increment, and the video shows the clock ticking down and going to 0.00 just as the champion’s hand presses the lever.
His round two loss was even more bizarre. Carlsen opened with 1 e4 e5 2 Qh5?! the classic beginner’s choice aiming at Bc4 and Qxf7 mate. Hikaru Nakamura,the US No 3, used it regularly for a time a decade ago until a heavy defeat from a well-prepared opponent.
Magnus Carlsen v Shamsiddin Vokhidov, world rapid 2018
In Carlsen’s hands, 2 Qh5 produced a winning position, but at move 20 the Norwegian missed a simple way to gain material, then two moves later allowed his queen to be trapped.
Carlsen’s round two moves show that 2 Qh5?! produced a speedy advantage when 10 d6! lamed Black’s development. White had a simple win by 20 Ne8! when if Rxe8 21 Qxb8 or Bb7 21 Nxg7 Kxg7 22 Bxh6+! both win material. Instead the world champion allowed the queen trap 22…Bf8! when White could resign.
3599 1…Qxh2+!! 2 Kxh2 Rxh4+ 3 Kg3 Rh3+ 4 Kf4 Rf3+ 5 Ke5 Rg6! and Svidler resigned as 6…d6 mate cannot be stopped.