Magnus Carlsen is still first in the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz after one day of blitz. However, not everything went according to the script for the world champion, who had a tough day at the Pullman hotel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, but managed to be on top of things nonetheless.
The threat to Carlsen’s domain in the tournament came from an incredibly motivated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The French grandmaster, who had finished the rapid phase of the event with three wins in the last round, beat direct competitors Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura in an eight-win streak that got him on the trail of the world champion despite losing against an always resourceful Veselin Topalov.
Behind the leaders Carlsen (20/27), Vachier-Lagrave (17.5/27) and Nakamura (16.5/27), the group of Ding Liren (15/27), Wesley So (14.5/27) and Wei Yi (13.5/27) follows from a distance and is in contention for important Grand Chess Tour points to qualify for the GCT finals in London.
Lastly, Ian Nepomniachtchi (10.5/27), Sergey Karjakin (10/27), Veselin Topalov (9.5/27) and Bassem Amin (8/28) are all playing exciting chess but are heavily penalized by the rapid standings.
As a part of the Grand Chess Tour, the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz adopts a 5 minutes + 3 seconds delay formula. The delay, which unlike the increment doesn’t allow a player to gain time playing quickly, has led to some extra sharp games and an overall thrilling first day of blitz.
It’s a psychological game!
A relaxed Vachier-Lagrave started the blitz portion of this tournament with a confident win over So. Since Carlsen had to be content with a draw as black against Amin’s super solid play, the Norwegian and the French had mixed emotions facing each other in the following round.
Chess.com’s interview with Vachier-Lagrave.
The world champion, less comfortable than during the rapid games, forced his hand in an equal position. This allowed Vachier-Lagrave to play his second exchange sacrifice in the Najdorf for the tournament, the same idea which allowed a miniature win against Topalov in the rapid games.
In the time squabble, Vachier-Lagrave’s pressure on the white king was hard to meet and Carlsen got caught in a checkmate net. Net fishing is indeed one of the main activities in the lagoon of Abidjan!
The Frenchman ended the first day of blitz with a partial score of 6.5/9 against Carlsen’s 5/9. Vachier-Lagrave will need more than that to catch up with his rival in the last day of the tournament, as the current gap between the two is 2.5 points. Nakamura, only one point behind MVL, can also still have his say in the final sprint in Abidjan.
Chess.com’s interview with Nakamura.
Join the 2900 club
After Carlsen’s 7.5/9 win at the Grenke Chess Classic, his fans started believing again that he could become the first in history to reach a classical rating of 2900. As he’s in his best shape in all time controls, the world champion passed the 2900 mark – again – in the live rapid list and is on 2923 in blitz despite dropping a few points so far. This allowed Vachier-Lagrave to even take over the Norwegian in the blitz live standings (2937) and at some point he could have hoped to be the first human in history to reach 3000, even if just in blitz.
Opposing the presence of three different ratings in classical, rapid and blitz, the Grand Chess Tour introduced in 2017 the Universal Rating System (URS). The URS is an alternative to FIDE’s Elo ratings combining the three time controls in an elaborate formula whose creators consider being more precise and reliable than the current criteria. GCT Technical Director Graham Jurgensen explained:
“Combining the three time controls, the URS gives more credibility to speed chess, which is on the rise in the top circuit. We feel that it provides a more accurate calculation of each player’s strength, as it is adjusted monthly based on historical opponents’ performances. In a nutshell, your URS rating can change even in periods when you are inactive.”
Showmanship all around
Far from the tournament leaders, the competition is alive and the games showed the fighting aptitude of all 10 players in this first portion of the Grand Chess Tour. More than anyone else, Topalov’s games are a pleasure to watch with the Bulgarian still playing spectacular blitz at the age of 44. His critical game was in round seven, when he put a halt to Vachier-Lagrave’s race to the top.
Nepomniachtchi is also playing very good blitz, for a change from his terrible results in rapid. He only lost one game, against his countryman Karjakin, after dropping a piece in a won position.
Chess.com’s interview with Bassem Amin.
Talking about blunders, can you see what So missed playing black against him? (Note that the puzzle erroneously says it’s White to move, and the game ended in a draw.)
Even the greatest players can overlook a mate in one in blitz!
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)