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World Rapid Chess Championship Day 3: Abdusattorov and Kosteniuk Crowned World Rapid Champions
Abdusattorov did the unthinkable today, defeating the best players in the world on his way to the world rapid crown. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

World Rapid Chess Championship Day 3: Abdusattorov and Kosteniuk Crowned World Rapid Champions

AnthonyLevin
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90 | Chess Event Coverage

After many twists and turns on day three of the World Rapid Chess Championship, 17-year-old Uzbek GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov won the event with 9.5/13 in the Swiss tournament, after winning the second tiebreak blitz game against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. Notably defeating GM Magnus Carlsen in the first round of the day, Abdusattorov is the youngest world rapid champion to date.

Carlsen finished in third place and GM Fabiano Caruana came fourth although both had scored 9.5/13 as well. The two did not qualify for the playoff due to a controversial tiebreak system in this event.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk won the women's world rapid title convincingly with 9/11, making most of her gains on day two, where she took a 1.5-point lead ahead of the rest of the field. IM Bibisara Assaubayeva, who is also 17 years old, finished in second place and GM Valentina Gunina came third.

The World Blitz Chess Championship will begin on Wednesday, December 29, at 6 a.m. Pacific/15:00 Central Europe

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Going into the first round of the day, round 10, Carlsen was only a half-point above his competition, allowing plenty of room for others to catch up if he so much as drew his game. Unlike his counterpart in the women's section, Kosteniuk, the world champion had not broken away from the rest—and as we now know, at the end of the day, he never would.

Abdusattorov surely had no idea the fortune that awaited him today. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The top boards at the start of the day featured Carlsen vs. Abdusattorov, GM Alexander Grischuk vs. Nepomniachtchi, and GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Alireza Firouzja. Commentator GM Irina Krush had high expectations for the board-one matchup, listing Abdusattorov's upset his wins against elite players by this point: GMs Caruana, Levon Aronian, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and Boris Gelfand before this game.

The tense game ended with the young Uzbek prodigy applying pressure until the very end. Just when Carlsen seemed to achieve an equal queen-endgame, and was defending with remarkable technique, he chose the wrong plan on move 81 when he instead had a perpetual check in hand.

Nepomniachtchi won a technical queen and rook endgame against Grischuk, a big win against one of the three players a half-point behind Carlsen before the round's start.

Meanwhile, the game between Nakamura and Firouzja was simply off the rails as Firouzja offered a knight sacrifice for many moves. While the Iranian-born grandmaster seized a winning advantage convincingly, Nakamura showed yet again how elusive a win can be against him, even for the world's number-two.

A surprising bit of opening preparation by GM Jorden Van Foreest, one of Carlsen's seconds in the recent world championship match, featured creative play, perhaps causing onlookers to wonder if Carlsen also had prepared Scotch lines with the white pieces. Aronian, however, kept his cool, dispelled the attack, and won the game.

Going into round 11, two players led the tournament: Abdusattorov and Nepomniachtchi, on 8/10 points. They were trailed by Carlsen and Caruana, each with 7.5. Of course, excitement was through the roof as this round saw the pairing between Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi, only 18 days after their match in Dubai.

Carlsen (right) and Nepo (left) shake hands for the first time at the board in almost three weeks. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The two heavyweights agreed to a draw in what commentator GM Jon Ludvig Hammer called "the most convincing performance" against the world champion in the entire tournament. After repeating the Catalan opening from their match encounter, Carlsen missed only one opportunity on move 15, where Na4 would have given him an advantage. But besides that, it was a game so clean it could have easily been mistaken for a classical game.

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Caruana ended in a high-class draw, displaying the high quality of chess these grandmasters are capable of even in shorter time controls. Meanwhile, Abdusattorov saved a game where he was dead-lost more than once. and held onto the lead. Like Nakamura did in his game against Firouzja, the youngster proved impossible to beat in this tournament, no matter how bad some of his positions were, as we will see again and again throughout subsequent rounds.

Enigmatically, after firmly outplaying the world's number-two, GM Ivan Cheparinov agreed to a draw with Firouzja in an objectively winning position. After he defeated GM Anish Giri on the previous day, spectators would have been dazzled with another remarkable victory.

GM Gukesh D, the Indian prodigy who earned his GM title at age 12,  jumped into a tie for second-place after defeating GM Baadur Jobava, who was performing exceptionally in this tournament. He converted an unusual endgame with an extra rook against four connected passed-pawns.

This round also featured some strong endgame technique by elite grandmasters, even despite the short time control. Grischuk converted a model game using the bishop-pair advantage. Meanwhile, Giri nicely demonstrated the power of a passed rook pawn against a knight.

Going into round 12, Abdusattorov and Nepomniachtchi remained in the lead with 8.5/11; behind them were Carlsen, Grischuk, Nakamura, Aronian, Caruana, and Gukesh.

Nepo vs. Nakamura ended in an uneventful 14-move draw in a Berlin. Meanwhile, Carlsen managed to convert, in textbook fashion, a difficult rook vs. bishop endgame with one pawn for each side. His deep exhale in the video-clip below shows just how much of an emotional toll these long squeezes can cause, even after winning.

Grischuk vs. Caruana featured a queen sacrifice by Black, but one that only lead to an equal position. The decisive blow came after Grischuk erred with 28. Kxf2??, allowing Black to break through. With this win, Caruana entered a tie for first for the first time since round two.

Caruana (right) unleashed a ravaging attack against Grischuk (left) in their game. Photo: Anna Shtourman/FIDE.

Gukesh vs. Abdusattorov was an insane game that ended in a comical draw, as sometimes happens in these extremely sharp positions. The Uzbek GM showed, once again, that he can be as slippery as soap when it comes to beating him.

The leaderboard going into the last round was what Hammer referred to as a "traffic-jam" of players. Four players were in first with 9/12: Abdusattorov, Nepo, Carlsen, and Caruana; they were followed by Nakamura, Gukesh, and Duda, half a point behind.

The premier game was between Nakamura and Carlsen, who have been rivals both over-the-board and online for many years now. Impressively, Nakamura had not lost a single game in the entire 13-round tournament, including this one against the world's number one.

Both Carlsen (left) and Nakamura (right) must have been disappointed with this draw. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

They made a professional and correct draw in a Queen's Gambit Declined; it was so solidly played, in fact, that the commentators speculated as to whether both players knew they were in a must-win situation.

All the top-board games—Caruana vs. Nepo and Abdusattorov vs. Duda—ended in draws, actually, which is not so unusual in the final rounds of these elite events, when the competition only gets increasingly harder. Abdusattorov was once again in trouble in his game, but the win slipped away from his opponent as easily as it came.

Carlsen, during his must-win game against Nakamura, checks on how Abdusattorov is doing in his game against Duda. Photo: Lennart Ootes/FIDE.

Although it did not affect standings at the top, GM Sergey Karjakin won against Firouzja in an impressive two rooks vs knight and rook endgame with zero pawns after 83 moves.

Karjakin (left) produced a marvellous win over the world's number-two. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After the round, even though four players were tied for first with 9.5/13, only the two with the highest tiebreaks would participate in the playoff match. These two players were decided based on the Buchholz tiebreak system, which gives a higher score to players based on their opponents' scored points. Thus, this left Carlsen locked out of the playoff match and, after his last-round draw, he would certainly not be the world rapid champion this year.

While this controversy extended on social media platforms before, during, and long after the playoff games actually occurred, people outside of the tournament had relevant memories and opinions to share.

Still, revising a tiebreak clause in the middle of an event with very little time is difficult for organizers, and they ultimately stuck to the system they agreed upon before the event. The final blitz playoff games were to be played between the players with the highest tiebreak scores: Abdusattorov and Nepomniachtchi. Commentator Krush observed an even score between them in Chess.com games; out of six blitz games, there were four decisive games and two draws. Thus, she called the players "closely matched."

The blitz playoff between Abdusattorov (left) and Nepo (right). Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The first game saw a draw in a complicated knight endgame where Nepo ultimately sacrificed his knight to liquidate White's remaining pawns.

In the second game, however, Abdusattorov played confidently against one of the world's greatest speed-chess players. Having a time-advantage for most of the game, but ultimately slipping into a crazy under-10-second time-scramble, he emerged victorious out of a four-rook endgame.

The players shake hands after a nerve-racking blitz-game. Photo: Mark Livshitz/FIDE.

Abdusattorov, Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen, and Caruana all pocketed $45,000, sharing the total of the top four prizes.

Curiously, the new world rapid champion is not in the top 10 in rapid but the number 45 with an updated rating of 2671.

The world's top ten rapid players by rating. Image: 2700chess.com.

2021 World Rapid Championship | Final Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Fed Name Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 59 GM Abdusattorov Nodirbek 2593 9,5 103,0 109,0 2674
2 4 GM Nepomniachtchi Ian 2798 9,5 100,5 107,5 2699
3 1 GM Carlsen Magnus 2842 9,5 97,0 103,0 2691
4 6 GM Caruana Fabiano 2770 9,5 95,0 100,0 2649
5 3 GM Duda Jan-Krzysztof 2801 9,0 98,0 103,0 2679
6 14 GM Aronian Levon 2728 9,0 96,0 100,0 2544
7 2 GM Nakamura Hikaru 2836 9,0 95,5 102,0 2650
8 15 GM Mamedyarov Shakhriyar 2727 9,0 92,0 98,0 2588
9 174 GM Gukesh D 2050 9,0 91,0 95,0 2619
10 10 GM Rapport Richard 2750 9,0 88,0 94,0 2592
11 9 GM Karjakin Sergey 2757 9,0 78,5 82,5 2519
12 69 GM Van Foreest Jorden 2563 8,5 98,0 103,5 2715
13 8 GM Grischuk Alexander 2763 8,5 97,5 102,5 2655
14 21 GM Fedoseev Vladimir 2692 8,5 94,0 98,5 2639
15 173 IM Mitrabha Guha 2107 8,5 90,0 95,5 2622
16 12 GM Dubov Daniil 2735 8,5 90,0 95,5 2561
17 5 GM Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 2773 8,5 86,0 92,0 2562
18 13 GM Salem A.R. Saleh 2729 8,5 85,0 90,5 2556
19 26 GM Sarana Alexey 2680 8,5 84,0 89,0 2537
20 33 GM Firouzja Alireza 2656 8,0 97,5 102,5 2626

(Full final standings here.)

All World Rapid Championship Games