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Karjakin Leads After World Rapid Day 1

Karjakin Leads After World Rapid Day 1

After staging an epic comeback to win the 2015 World Cup, GM Sergey Karjakin deserved a long vacation. Instead, the indefatigable Russian hopped on a plane and flew to Berlin for the 2015 FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Championships. And his brazen decision has not been in vain: after day one of the grueling, 15-round rapid, Karjakin leads the field with 4.5/5, while a coterie of 15 Grandmasters are in hot pursuit with 4.

All photos by Elena Kashirskaya, Gregor Anthes and Nailya Bikmurzina

With a total prize fund of $400,000 (you read that right), the 2015 World Rapid and Blitz has attracted a mouthwatering assemblage of grandmasters. Of the 166 participants, 19 are rated above 2700, but — for some unfathomable reason — all eyes are on a little-known Norwegian by the name of Magnus Carlsen. 

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The breaking point: Carlsen against Ghaem Maghami in round one. 

Last year, Carlsen dominated both the rapid and the blitz, outclassing and outpacing his opponents to take home a combined $80,000. This time, however, things are not going as smoothly. In round one, Magnus was held to a draw by Iranian GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami, who held a slightly worse rook endgame with machine-like precision. 

Of course, one draw means relatively little in the grand scheme of things, but it is quite important to hit the ground running. GM Alexander Grischuk did just that, downing Indian GM Baskaran Adhiban in a fantastic tactical display.

Clint Eastwood would be proud; 11.Be5 was played in the true spirit of the wild west! Fireworks of this kind are rarely seen at an elite level, but the World Rapid and Blitz is no ordinary event. Here, blood runs freely, and draws are the exception rather than the norm.

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The fearsome Alexander Grischuk deep in thought.

By round three, the preliminary situation began to clarify. Carlsen recovered handsomely by defeating Wagner and Vallejo, while the high-flying Grischuk was suddenly and spectacularly dismantled by 20-year-old GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi. 

So much for opposite-side castling! With this massacre, Vidit skyrocketed to 3/3, and joined the coterie of leaders with two solid draws against Nepomniatchtchi and Leko.

Meanwhile, Sergey Karjakin's path was a rocky one indeed. In round four, he misplayed a complex middlegame against Ukrainian GM Yury Kryvoruchko, and found himself down a pawn with seconds on his clock. By now, we are all acquainted with his superhuman resilience, but in case you need any more evidence...

Gustafsson's tweet says it all:

The survivor did not miss a beat, deftly outplaying GM Georg Meier in round five and ascending to the top. 

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Time-sensitive: Karjakin glances at his opponent's clock.

Not all of the pre-tournament favorites were able to overcome adversity, though. Most notably, Vishy Anand — a legendary rapid player who won the event in 2003 — encountered trouble from the outset. In round four, he lost his footing in a complex Ragozin against GM Daniil Dubov, and was unable to salvage a draw in the endgame. 

A fantastic positional display by the young Russian, who drew in the following round to join the pack of leaders. Meanwhile, a devastated Vishy suffered his second consecutive defeat at the hands of GM Pavel Ponkratov.

Of course, not all of the thrilling action occurred on the top boards. In round four, Viktor Bologan and Pavel Eljanov — both of whom could not find their form — played one of the most insane games that I have ever seen, rapid or otherwise.

Quality and entertainment value are not always directly proportional! Indeed, the last time I was this glued to my seat in astonishment was probably when I was watching the finale of Breaking Bad.

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Oh so close! Viktor Bologan laughs about his misfortune with GM Alexander Motylev. 

And so, after a day of tooth-and-nail chess, nothing has been decided. If the past is any indicator of the future, things will truly come down to the wire.

Will Sergey Karjakin hold on to his lead? Will Magnus Carlsen break free and go on one of his winning rampages? Or does Caissa have other plans? Only time well tell! 

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