Scoring another 2.5/3 on the final rapid day, Magnus Carlsen goes into the blitz with a three-point lead at the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave closed the rapid segment with three victories over Veselin Topalov, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Bassem Amin. The French player, who had lost two important games in the first two days, is now third on 11/18 (rapid games count double), only one point away from Hikaru Nakamura (12/18).
“It’s a good thing to finish on a high,” he commented. “Things went my way at some critical moment, so the result is great of course.”
Magnus Carlsen (15/18) is still out of reach for Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave, thanks to two victories against Amin and Wei Yi and a draw with Ding Liren. He is now three points ahead of Nakamura, who did well today but not well enough to stay on par with the World Champion. With 18 blitz games to go in the next two days, we can expect an exciting chase to take place this weekend.
The other participants of the tournament, which inaugurated the Grand Chess Tour 2019, are Wesley So, Sergei Karjakin and Veselin Topalov. The blitz phase of the competition will be a double round robin between the ten players, with a time control of 5 minutes and a 3-second delay.
You can follow all the games live here as part of our live portal.
The Race Intensifies
Since Carlsen’s exceptional performance is forcing others to play for a win in all rounds, and some inaccuracies and blunders are starting to appear on the board. Karjakin, Topalov, Nepomniachtchi and Amin fell apart against fierce opponents, who are in better shape and pushing to score in each game.
In the first round of the day, Topalov allowed Vachier-Lagrave to demonstrate his expertise in the Sicilian Najdorf with a straightforward attack leading to a 29 moves victory as black:
The French GM is accompanied at the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz by a troupe of film-makers from Vivendi, one the main sponsors of the tournament. The production is working on a documentary about his chess career and exploring Abidjan with the player.
“The city is very nice,” he remarked. “It’s an opportunity to show chess to a general audience in France, it will be about my tournaments seen from my eyes.”
On the other boards, Carlsen didn’t take long to convert a crushing space advantage, while Karjakin ran into a sudden attack in a delicate defensive game against Ding. Nepomniachtchi was outplayed by So, who got a good confidence boost from the game and went on to grab three more points in the following rounds.
Fighting Chess Escalates In Round Eight and Nine
Things got messy from round eight, when a thematic sacrifice in Topalov-Amin made the Egyptian’s position close to unbearable. Just as the African Champion was about to resign – as he admitted at the end of the game – Topalov missed a couple of killer blows and instead went for an endgame where Black can still resist. In time trouble he overestimated a dubious sacrifice and ended up lost.
Vachier-Lagrave managed to clutch Nepomniachtchi into a checkmate net thanks to an active rook and a phenomenal bishop pair:
The 10 players went at each other in a turbulent last round. Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave and So made it out with a win and hoped to catch up with Carlsen. The Norwegian GM, however, had another dominating game, this time against Wei Yi, and kept his plus-three lead.
While the super-GM tournament is in progress, the collateral competition ECOWAS Team Challenge ended today. The East African competition was dominated by the two Nigerian teams – by far stronger than the rest of the field – which conquered the first and second spot ahead of the Ivorian, Togolese and Ghanaian teams.
Here’s the full schedule of the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz:
- Wednesday, May 8 – Rapid Rounds 1-3 from 5 p.m. GMT (19:00 CEST, 1 p.m. Eastern and 10 a.m. Pacific.
- Thursday, May 9 – Rapid Rounds 4-6 from 5 p.m. GMT (19:00 CEST, 1 p.m. Eastern asfand 10 a.m. Pacific)
- Friday, May 10 – Rapid Rounds 7-9 from 5 p.m. GMT (19:00 CEST, 1 p.m. Eastern and 10 a.m. Pacific)
- Saturday, May 11 – Blitz Rounds 1-9 from 2 p.m. GMT (16:00 CEST, 10 a.m. Eastern and 7 a.m. Pacific)
- Sunday, May 12 – Blitz Rounds 10-18 from 2 p.m. GMT. (16:00 CEST, 10 a.m. Eastern and 7 a.m. Pacific) Playoffs and prize giving from 6.30 p.m. GMT (20:30 CEST, 14.30 a.m. Eastern and 11.30 a.m. Pacific)