World Rapid Chess Championship Day 1: Duda, Carlsen, Jobava Share Lead
Duda started with a perfect 4/4 before drawing his round-five game. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

World Rapid Chess Championship Day 1: Duda, Carlsen, Jobava Share Lead

| 61 | Chess Event Coverage

GMs Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Magnus Carlsen, and Baadur Jobava share first place with 4.5/5 after day one of the World Rapid Chess Championship. The Polish number one, playing in his home country, started with a fantastic 4/4 perfect score, but his round-five draw with the other leader, Jobava, opened the gates for Carlsen and those following with a half-point behind to catch up.

GMs Valentina Gunina and Alexandra Kosteniuk lead the women's section with a 4/4 perfect score each. While the open section featured five rounds, the women's section had four on Sunday. GMs Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina, two favorites in this tournament, both suffered early upsets on the first day.

Both rapid events will continue on Monday, December 27, at 6 a.m. Pacific/15:00 Central Europe

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The most prestigious rapid and blitz event, which did not take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has long been anticipated by spectators and players. While the global pandemic and omicron variant continue to exist, there has been no shortage of drama and intrigue.

Firstly, the tournament was relocated from Kazakhstan to Poland with less than a month's notice, due to recent changes in COVID restrictions by the former's government. Thankfully, the event has been salvaged and will not suffer a two-year hiatus, as chess players and enthusiasts may have feared.

Secondly, and perhaps more excitingly for fans, this tournament may feature the first encounter between the world's number one and two in classical chess, Carlsen and GM Alireza Firouzja (currently at 4/5 score), since the world champion's statement that it is "unlikely" he will play in the next world championship match unless his challenger is the latter. Firouzja has declined his invitation to the Tata Steel Chess Masters 2022 this year after the controversy that occurred in the previous one. Thus, they will not face each other soon in a classical format.

Firouzja finished the first day with 4/5, only half a point behind the leaders. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After ending Carlsen's 125-game streak of no losses by winning in their encounter at the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, Duda made headlines earlier this year by winning the FIDE World Cup. The Polish GM is another promising player in the rising generation. His performance today proves that Firouzja may not be the only youngster worthy of Carlsen's attention.

Duda proudly leads the tournament in his home country. Photo: Anna Shtourman/FIDE.

Other notable players include previous world championship challengers GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi (2021), Fabiano Caruana (2018), and Sergey Karjakin (2016). GM Hikaru Nakamura (score: 3.5) and three-time world blitz champion GM Alexander Grischuk (score: 4/5) are also present.

After playing mostly online during the pandemic, Nakamura has joined this prestigious event in person. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.
Grischuk in deep concentration. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Carlsen currently holds the world titles in all three categories (classical, rapid, and blitz) and surely hopes to keep it that way after this year.

Most former women's world champions in rapid and blitz are participating as well: GMs Anna Muzychuk, Antoaneta Stefanova, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Nana Dzagnidze. Also GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, the 23-year old rising star who is the sixth female in history to break 2600, played a brilliant queen sacrifice in round two, but lost in round four to IM Anastasia Bodnaruk.

The 13-round rapid tournament kicked off with most of the favorites winning their games, as expected. However, not all of the elite grandmasters prevailed. 

GM Merab Gagunashvili played Carlsen's own opening against him, an Anti-Marshall with 8...Rb8, which the world champion recently employed in his title defense! After holding the world champion convincingly for the entire game, the Georgian grandmaster traded into a rook vs. rook and bishop endgame, which was objectively a draw, but he ultimately lost after blundering his rook on move 103. 

Carlsen's trademark style of squeezing water from stone was shown to be particularly dangerous in the rapid time control, where players do not have as much time to think.

The Georgian GM Gagunashvili gave the world champion a real fight. Photo: Anna Shtourman/FIDE.

Nepomniachtchi, who is known to play quickly and pressure his opponents on the clock, was one of the first games to finish in the round. He won a nice opposite-colored bishop endgame where he made it look easy.

Nepo waits for the game to begin. Photo: Anna Shtourman/FIDE.

Duda, the 23-year old Polish GM, won his game convincingly after sacrificing a pawn to blow up the center and converting his initiative into a full point. 

GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who recently won the strong Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival, scored the full point in his round one game with the flashy 18.Bxh6!?.

In round two, both tournament favorites Carlsen and Nakamura were held to draws by GMs Samvel Ter-Sahakyan, and Jorden van Foreest, respectively. Still, the other elite grandmasters produced some intriguing games.

With 15...Rxe5, Duda sacrificed an exchange to damage White's center and activate his minor pieces maximally. Check out this great game by the young Polish GM:

By round three, the leaderboard included names such as Caruana, Nepomniachtchi, Duda, Grischuk, with 20 players having 2/2 points in total.

It should be mentioned that the round start times were frequently delayed by a few minutes, the longest being in round three when players waited for 15 minutes because Carlsen's seat needed to be moved for better footage. The other players looked somewhat restless as they waited anxiously for the round to begin. 

With round three underway, Carlsen, playing White against GM Aleksey Dreev, essayed the Catalan, an opening that led to extremely dynamic play in the recent world championship match, especially in the chaotic game two. After 8.b3, the world champion committed to a pawn sacrifice, and after the second pawn sacrifice 10.d5!, one must wonder how much of the game was prepared beforehand. He went on to win a pawn-up rook endgame. 

Meanwhile, Duda won his third consecutive game in a row. As commentator GM Jon Ludvig Hammer put it on's broadcast: "Playing in front of his local Polish crowd, he is the hope for Polish chess and he now confirms that even when the pressure is high, when he is playing at home with the hopes of a nation, he is getting off to a fantastic start."

Jobava, who also won three consecutive games by the point, also demonstrated a nice win after finding 18. a5 and 19.Nxe6.

A funny pairing in round three was between GMs Jorden Van Foreest and GM Daniil Dubov, entertaining because both players worked as seconds for the world champion less than a month ago in the world championship match.

Dubov had to play a former ally in round four. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Meanwhile, GM Levon Aronian, playing as Black, demonstrated what seemed to be a prepared line in the Queen's Gambit Accepted, allowing 8.Bxg8 Rgx8 9. Qh5+, after which the natural 10.Qxh7?? looks to be a blunder because it opens the h-file for an attack that wins decisive material. 

Aronian showed impressive opening preparation in his round-three game. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In round four, the toughest matchups were Duda vs. Alekseenko and Nepomniachtchi vs. Abdusattorov, all players who boasted a perfect 3/3 score by this point. Nepo and Abdusattorov were unable to prove any advantage in a Ruy Lopez and agreed to a relatively quick draw by move 33. In the other encounter, however, Duda was able to win his fourth game in a row after creating a dangerous passed d-pawn with 24...c4!

Round four also saw the following, incredible turnaround. GM Rasmus Svane was trying to win a queen endgame being two pawns up but blundered a nasty check and suddenly GM Anish Giri not drew, but even won this game as it would be mate on the next move:

Finally, round five saw a duel between the only two players to have a perfect score of 4/4,  Duda and Jobava, which ended in a draw and allowed Carlsen to squeeze back into the lead with 4.5/5. Jobava, who had also had a perfect score in the first four games, faced an average opponent rating of 2560 while Duda scored four wins against an average opponent rating of 2628.

Notably, GM Timur Gareyev who had defeated GM Richard Rapport in the previous round, almost followed it up with shocking win over Caruana, but allowed the world-number-four to slip out with a half-point.

Gareyev was on the verge of upsetting Caruana. Photo: Anna Shtourman/FIDE.

This round ended tragically for GM Alexei Shirov, who held Carlsen to an equal position until he lost on time. This somewhat miraculous win allowed the world champion to catch up with the two other leaders with a final score of 4.5/5 for the day.

2021 World Rapid Championship | Round 5 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Fed Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 3 GM Duda Jan-Krzysztof 2801 4,5 13,0 15,0 2628
2 1 GM Carlsen Magnus 2842 4,5 12,0 13,5 2609
3 27 GM Jobava Baadur 2679 4,5 11,5 13,5 2560
4 4 GM Nepomniachtchi Ian 2798 4,0 14,5 17,0 2618
5 59 GM Abdusattorov Nodirbek 2593 4,0 14,5 16,0 2674
6 8 GM Grischuk Alexander 2763 4,0 14,0 16,5 2575
7 62 GM Gareyev Timur 2578 4,0 14,0 15,0 2657
8 45 GM Anton Guijarro David 2627 4,0 13,5 15,5 2354
9 154 GM Niemann Hans Moke 2327 4,0 13,0 16,0 2633
10 35 GM Gelfand Boris 2648 4,0 13,0 13,5 2611
11 7 GM Giri Anish 2767 4,0 12,5 14,5 2619
12 23 GM Korobov Anton 2689 4,0 12,0 14,5 2574
13 33 GM Firouzja Alireza 2656 4,0 11,5 13,0 2518
14 47 GM Cheparinov Ivan 2621 4,0 11,0 12,5 2554
15 21 GM Fedoseev Vladimir 2692 4,0 11,0 12,5 2539
16 49 GM Petrosian Tigran L. 2621 4,0 10,0 12,0 2499
17 110 GM Harsha Bharathakoti 2484 3,5 13,5 15,5 2722
18 19 GM Shirov Alexei 2702 3,5 13,5 15,0 2617
19 10 GM Rapport Richard 2750 3,5 13,0 15,0 2551
20 6 GM Caruana Fabiano 2770 3,5 13,0 14,5 2577

(Full final standings here.)

All World Rapid Championship Games