Carlsen Towers Above Rivals With Perfect Score
An ecstatic Carlsen as he reached 9-0. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Carlsen Towers Above Rivals With Perfect Score

| 32 | Chess Event Coverage

With an unbelievable perfect score on Saturday, GM Magnus Carlsen seized the lead by a three-point margin at the SuperUnited Rapid and Blitz Croatia 2023. His 9-0 blitz performance plus his victories in the last two rapid games add up to an 11-game winning streak so far. 

Previous leaders, GMs Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi are tied for second. World blitz number-one, GM Alireza Firouzja, scored victories against both, rising to fourth overall with the second-highest blitz score. 

The action continues on Sunday, July 9, at 8:00 a.m. Eastern/14:00 CEST.

How to watch
You can watch live games of the SuperUnited Croatia Rapid & Blitz 2023 on our Events Page. The last round starts at 5:00 a.m. Pacific/14:00 CEST.

Though the rapid segment finished with Caruana and Nepomniachtchi on top, Carlsen forecasted that Firouzja was more of a threat in blitz and that the previous leaders would have to fight to keep up with him. This couldn't have been more accurate.

Straight out of the gate, Carlsen showed what he's capable of in faster time controls. Facing Caruana in round one, Carlsen squeezed a win out of a queen ending, even with few pawns left, all on one side. The finish was an elegant combination of dynamic play and keen awareness of Caruana’s defensive tries—a masterclass in generating chances from a tiny advantage. 

With this victory, Carlsen climbed into a tie for second with his opponent. In round two, Carlsen won again, defeating GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda in a tense battle where the Polish grandmaster ended up blundering a critical pawn. 

Meanwhile, Firouzja took down the other previous leader, Nepomniachtchi, and crossed the 2900 threshold in his live blitz rating in the process. 

The standings began to reflect Carlsen's words from the day before: He was tied for first with Caruana while Firouzja also steadily ascended the standings.

Rounds three and four featured all decisive games. GM Richard Rapport threw a wrench in Firouzja's comeback. Perhaps inspired by the spirit of GM Mikhail Tal, the Romanian grandmaster tried an intriguing yet unsound piece sacrifice. His enterprising play paid off when Firouzja blundered a mating combination in the time scramble in the complex position.

Position after Rapport's 14.Bxh4 sacrifice

Though Firouzja’s progress stalled, Carlsen’s continued. He defeated GM Gukesh D. with another endgame squeeze. After just three rounds of the faster time control, Carlsen stood atop the scoreboard as the sole leader. For the rest of the day, he didn't give any of the players a chance to change this. 

In the GM Viswanathan Anand vs. Gukesh rematch, the protege went for a fascinating piece sacrifice, slamming his bishop into the former world champion's kingside with the hopes of sacrificing his queen next for a mating combination.

Position after Gukesh's 16.Bxg7

But Anand's defensive abilities were up to the task, accurately navigating his way free of the prodigy's attack. How would you defend against Gukesh's looming siege?

In round six, Carlsen faced his closest rival, Nepomniachtchi, gradually grinding him down in the pawn-up ending until sneaking a mating net around the enemy king.

With a 6-0 score and wins versus both the rapid leaders, Carlsen began to realize his hope for a perfect score wasn't out of the realm of reality: “When I had 6 out of 6, when I played Alireza, and I thought if I could beat him, maybe I could do it."

With five victories to his name himself, Firouzja was in striking range of Carlsen, eager at the chance to play head-to-head in round seven.

Unfortunately for the blitz number-one, it was a rather one-sided game. Surprised by Carlsen's early queen development in the Caro-Kann Fantasy Variation, Firouzja seemed unsettled from the get-go, struggling in the opening despite playing white. Carlsen soon gained a compelling initiative due to his rival's less-developed pieces and loose pawn structure.

Position after Carlsen's 3...Qa5+

Can Firouzja settle the score with Carlsen at his second shot on Sunday? Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Yet, Carlsen's greatest challenge was still ahead of him. In the penultimate round of the day, Rapport posed a major threat to Carlsen’s winning streak. Fearlessly diving into tactical complications with the hopes of outcalculating Carlsen in all phases of the game, Rapport crashed through with his dark-squared bishop leaving it open to capture several times. 

In fact, at one point, Carlsen thought he was done for: "When he played Bxg3, I thought: OK, that's it. It's not going to happen."

In the time scramble, Carlsen's exceptional endgame ability under pressure came through. The players each raced their passers down the board, but the six-time world blitz champion's queen and king worked overtime in offense and defense to create a decisive edge. This incredible duel is our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

You can tell Carlsen is doing well when he sets up the pieces after his games. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In the final game, Carlsen completed his goal in the most fitting way. With his trademark ability to create winning chances from advantages imperceptible to the human eye, Carlsen defeated Lupulescu in an even rook ending.

As GM Constantin Lupulescu offered his hand in resignation, Carlsen raised his hands in the air victoriously. His 9-0 day was official. And he had defeated every single other player in the tournament to get there.

Carlsen was in a state of sheer delight after the game: "I've had good days in terms of quality of play, but this feels really special."

Standings - Overall

Today also had a considerable effect on the live world blitz rankings. Carlsen gained nearly 30 rating points to take over second from GM Hikaru Nakamura. Now just nine points away, he's landed within inches of world number-one, Firouzja. Can Carlsen continue his streak on Sunday and take over the top spot?

Standings - Blitz

All Games - Day 4

The SuperUnited Rapid & Blitz Croatia 2023 is the third leg of the Grand Chess Tour (GCT). Starting on July 3, the event features Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand as wild cards along with Tour mainstays like Alireza Firouzja, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and more top-notch competitors battling it out for their share of the $175,000 prize fund.

Previous Coverage:

NM Vanessa West

Vanessa West is a National Master, a chess teacher, and a writer for In 2017, they won the Chess Journalist of the Year award.

You can follow them on X: Vanessa__West

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