Magnus Carlsen had no trouble securing a win at the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz in Abidjan, as he had the tournament in his pocket with two rounds to spare. Maintaining a safe lead throughout three days of rapid and two days of blitz, the world champion ended on 26.5/36, three and a half points ahead of Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who finished on 23/36.
Carlsen has now added a rapid and blitz title to the list of successes he achieved in 2019. He has won every tournament he has played in this year and has suffered only two defeats, both in blitz against Vachier-Lagrave.
Additionally, he seems to have shifted his trademark positional approach to the game into a more aggressive style, sometimes getting decisive advantages very early in the game. “I don’t think too much about tournaments,” he said, “but just that if I play well I will win.”
One of Carlsen’s many records is being the first world champion to play a tournament in Africa. “It’s the first chance that I’ve had to play in Africa,” he commented. “It’s lovely to see the enthusiasm for chess and I hope that at some point it will also result in having more strong players, because there is definitely a lot of talent.”
The rapid and blitz competition in Abidjan was the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour, which consists of seven tournaments in four continents throughout the year. The next event of the tour will be in Croatia, starting June 24 with a classical time control.
Two runner-ups tied after 36 rounds
As the leader ran away with the $37,500 paycheck, the race for second place became more heated, with Nakamura and MVL dropping any reasonable aspiration to catch up with the Norwegian GM. The Frenchman’s hopes to close the gap with Carlsen, after a second victory over the world champion, were dashed by a loss to the American.
Carlsen kept a safe advantage over his pursuers for the remaining seven games. The clash for silver provided a show for the spectators and motivated the two players to close the tournament in exciting fashion. Each player secured a few wins until, in game eight, Vachier-Lagrave’s momentum came to a sudden halt at the hands of Sergey Karjakin, who was in much better form than during the rapid portion.
The many “Naka” supporters had little time to celebrate. The U.S. champion was up against Carlsen, who had already won the tournament but had no intention of calling a cease fire.
The Norwegian’s triumph allowed MVL to get back on equal footing with Nakamura after a clean win over Ian Nepomniachtchi. The two contenders shared the second prize and went home with $22,500. Additionally, Vachier-Lagrave’s great performance in the blitz portion inched him closer to his highest-ever rating of 2921, only two points behind Carlsen.
Wesley So better safe than sorry
Outside of the top three, every point was critical for the core players of the Grand Chess Tour, whose overall score from the seven events will determine the four qualifiers to the GCT Finals at the London Chess Classic taking place December 1-9.
Wesley So finished in fourth place with a satisfactory 19.5/36. After a great start to the day, earning victories against Vachier-Lagrave and Ding Liren, So couldn’t keep up the pace against more audacious competition and settled for a mildly successful tournament and a good start to the Grand Chess Tour season.
So was followed by Ding Liren (18.5/36) and Wei Yi (16.5/36), the latter participating as a wild card in Abidjan and thus not competing for the GCT Finals. The 19-year-old Chinese player, currently sitting atop the U20 rating list, demonstrated how well he can blend in among the ranks of the circuit’s top players, as if to assure us that we will see more of his creative talent in coming super-tournaments.
A quick mate in the Berlin
Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin, both on 15.5/36, had two good days of blitz, but finished only seventh and eighth on account of rapid performances well below their usual standards. Against Veselin Topalov, Karjakin had an opening surprise up his sleeve in the Berlin Defence:
Karjakin almost got the chance to prove his own 10.Bd3?! an inaccuracy in a repeat of the same line during the Russian derby, but Nepomniachtchi chose to retreat his rook to e1.
Wild cards Topalov (11.5/36) and Bassem Amin (10.5/36) rounded out the tournament standings. The African champion and world number 35 stood his ground against opponents with more impressive resumes and ratings up to 200 points higher. He played fearlessly and demonstrated the unbelievable boom that chess is currently witnessing on the continent.
During the award ceremony, Ivorian Minister of Sports Paulin Danho and GCT commentator Maurice Ashley crowned Carlsen as the winner of the first Côte d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz and awarded Nigerian IM Adu Oladapo first prize for the parallel blitz event, the ECOWAS Chess Challenge.
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Congrats to Magnus! If he is usually as unstoppable as a tank, in speed chess he is a tank with a Ferrari engine! Applause also to the organizers & the #GrandChessTour. https://t.co/wqKZl5rmvv
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) May 12, 2019
Here is the full calendar for the Grand Chess Tour:
- Cote d’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz, May 6 – 13, 2019, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire
- Croatia GCT (Classical), June 24 – July 9, 2019, Zagreb, Croatia
- Paris Rapid & Blitz, July 26 – August 2, 2019, Paris, France
- St Louis Rapid & Blitz, August 8 – 15, 2019, St. Louis, Missouri USA
- Sinquefield Cup (Classical), August 15 – 30, 2019, St. Louis, Missouri USA
- Superbet Rapid & Blitz, November 4 – 11, 2019, Bucharest, Romania
- Tata Steel India Rapid & Blitz, November 20 – 27, 2019, Kolkata, India