The 6 Best Rapid Chess Games Of All Time

The 6 Best Rapid Chess Games Of All Time

| 38 | Amazing Games

The "PRO" in the PRO Chess League stands for Professional Rapid Online. It's certainly all of these things. And now with the Arena Royale event running from September 16-24, it's time to review the greatest rapid games in history.

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At classical time controls, players have time to really sink their teeth into a position (not literally, as it's a bit difficult to bite a chessboard without knocking at least a couple pieces off their squares). As time gets shorter, however, calculation and deeper thinking become less important while intuition and feel become more so. That can lead to more mistakes, but the best faster games are no less epic than slower ones. If this weren't the case, correspondence would be the pinnacle of chess.

So here are some of the best.

Magnus Carlsen vs. Sergey Karjakin, 2016

GM Sergey Karjakin gave GM Magnus Carlsen a run for his money in the 2016 World Championship. After seven draws in the 12-game classical portion, Karjakin took a lead in the eighth game, but Carlsen tied it back up in the 10th and the match soon went into a four-game rapid tiebreak. After two draws, Carlsen won the third and needed only a draw to retain his title. 

Throughout the game Carlsen keeps a persistent edge, but Karjakin's 48...Qf2 looks nasty, threatening checkmate on g2. Defensive moves like 49.Rg1 or 49.Qg3 keep an advantage for White, says the computer, but there is actually a mate, starting with 49.Rc8+.

If White somehow miscalculated something, then that check takes a winning position and makes it impossible to defend against Black's threats, losing. But while Karjakin could have survived longer by interposing with 49...Bf8, he instead picked the move that allowed Carlsen's amazing 50.Qh6+!! Either 51...Kxh6 52. Rh8# or 51...gxh6 52.Rxf7# is mate.

No miscalculation. Just game, set, and match. 

IM Danny Rensch reviewed the game when it happened. Even more notable than the game, however, may have been Danny's beard.

Vassily Ivanchuk vs. Artur Jussupow, 1991

This game between 1991-93 world championship candidates GM Vassily Ivanchuk and GM Artur Jussupow came in the early days of using rapid chess to break ties.

Less than a decade before, FIDE had gone so far as to decide a Candidates match (between GM Vasily Smyslov and GM Robert Hubner in 1983) by roulette instead of, the argument might have gone, diluting the game with faster time controls. Don't ask how playing a casino game was any better.

Now, of course, in the 21st century, short time controls are just a normal part of chess.

It's one of those games that is so complex that computers still have trouble with it to this day. At depth 30, the Game Report analysis goes from White +5.8 after 27.Kf1 to drawn after 27...Re6. That's a computer's way of saying it has no idea what's going on. Then it tries telling you that 28.Qb7 is a "mistake" even though White is in fact simply already lost. 

Here's NM Sam Copeland's video review of the game:

Anish Giri vs. Alexander Morozevich, 2012

Unlike the previous two games, this GM Anish Giri vs. GM Alexander Morozevich contest came in a fairly low-stakes event, in that it had no world championship implications. The World Mind Games event only ran from 2011-14 and chess wasn't even the focus of the event, which included other games like bridge and go. Giri playing bridge, that's a thought, but no, the bridge players played bridge and the chess players played chess.

If you'd rather play along with Giri before looking at the game, try this Lesson.

The Catalan is usually a long-term strategic opening for White, but here Giri relentlessly delivers blow after blow until Morozevich submits after just 25 moves.

It was somewhat of a role reversal given the standard expectations. Giri has a not entirely fair reputation as a draw master while Morozevich, whose #2 peak world ranking in classical chess (achieved in 2008) is actually higher than Giri's #3 (in 2016), is considered one of the more imaginative attackers in chess. But here it was Giri playing a bit like Paul Morphy in the middlegame.

Vladimir Kramnik vs. Viswanathan Anand, 2008

Like Giri in the previous game, GM Viswanathan Anand's overall score was a subpar -1 in this non-championship event, although it was an event with a bit more staying power. The Amber Tournament was held every year from 1992-2011, usually in Monaco. It was one of the first annual tournaments focused on rapid games, which uniquely were hybrid with blindfold games. The same 2008 Amber Rapid that saw this game also featured a celebrated win for Ivanchuk over Karjakin, featuring a stunning opening novelty by Ivanchuk after which Karjakin quickly faltered.

Instead, this game between Anand and GM Vladimir Kramnik game was a slugfest. The same year they also played for the world championship, which Anand won as well.

Unlike Giri in the previous game, who quickly crushed Morozevich with tactical blows, this contest was an endurance battle that the computer considers pretty much even for the longest time. Kramnik finally errs with 41.Qb6 but it's a very high-level blunder, missing not Black's next move but the move after that. On move 41 even the silicon needs a few seconds to see the spectacular 42...Qf3!!

If Kramnik takes the queen, the recapture gxf3 leads to unavoidable checkmate on h1. It's hard to imagine being up two queens and losing, yet had Kramnik been in the mood to do just that, he could have ended the game with 44.Bxf3 gxf3 45.b8=Q Rh1#.

We can forgive him for not being in the mood.

Teimour Radjabov vs. Oleksandr Bortnyk, 2016

We have to have something from the FIDE World Rapid Championship, an event that somehow did not exist before 2012. (Nor did the official FIDE rating lists for rapid and blitz.) And why not another relentless, romantic-style attack in the style of Giri-Morozevich, this one from GM Teimour Radjabov against GM Oleksandr Bortnyk. Bortnyk is a speed demon who's achieved a 3300 bullet rating on, but in this game he was outmatched.

According to the computer, Bortnyk is trapped in a forced checkmate after capturing the knight with 19...gxf5. For the next five moves, 20-24, Radjabov only has one move available each time to stay in the mating line, including the queen sac 21.Qxh5+. After some time forcing Radjabov to find the best continuation, Bortnyk eventually just lets a mate-in-one happen, but the alternative was to dump his queen just to delay the inevitable by a couple moves.

It's always nice when mate appears on the board without the loser having to throw pieces in the way just to extend the misery.

Edward Lasker vs. George Thomas, 1912

It's perhaps the most famous game on the list, but a rapid game? Before World War I? Sort of. We'll explain momentarily.

First, let's make sure it's clear which Lasker we're talking about. It's not the world champion from 1894-1921, Emanuel Lasker, but his very distant relative Edward Lasker, who was never close to world champion (though he nearly became U.S. champion in 1923) but lives on in chess history through this game and a 1924 draw against Emanuel.

Edward Lasker in 1924. Among the several hints that it's not Emanuel: lack of mustache. Photo: Wikimedia/public domain.

According to Edward Lasker's 1942 book Chess For Fun & Chess For Blood (perhaps the greatest title in the history of chess literature) he explained the time control of the game as one where neither player could use more than five minutes more than the other. In other words, if one player had taken 10 minutes on the game so far, the other player had to make his next move before thinking 15 minutes total.

It's essentially the now-rare "hourglass" time control. The faster player dictates the pace of play, but the slower player is still guaranteed at least five minutes for the game even if the other contestant is moving instantly. No one moves instantly, of course, and by using five minutes, Lasker and Thomas picked a time control that for practical purposes would have been played... rapidly.

As for the game itself, you may have seen its amazing queen sac and king hunt before.

Lasker's decision to play 18.Kd2# instead of 18.O-O-O# remains controversial. This author likes it, for a reason similar to how Lasker explained it: "I actually considered castling, but the efficiency-minded engineer in me got the better of it and I played [Kd2] which required moving only one piece." The rook gets to deliver mate from its original square, along the rank no less, and that never happens. Let's save castling for checkmate when it's really needed, specifically to attack the king along on the d- or f-file.

Here's an artificial example in puzzle form, because we can.

The move order and other circumstances of Lasker vs. Thomas are actually somewhat unclear. Edward Winter explains the situation, and everything else about this game including the two Lasker citations above, here.


Narrowing down all the rapid games in history to just six best ones unavoidably makes room for controversy. Here is a still-limited collection of several great games that missed the cut, beginning with one offered by's Director of Training Content, NM Jeremy Kane, and the Ivanchuk-Karjakin game alluded to above.

As you can see, it does not require hours at the chessboard to create a masterpiece. Minutes to an hour or so will do.

What is your favorite rapid game of all time? Let us know! And be sure to catch the PRO Chess League Arena Royale on from now through to the finals on September 24.

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