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Carlsen and Lagno clinch blitz world titles; Nihal Sarin rakes 152 Elo points finishing 11th!

by Aditya Pai - 31/12/2018

Magnus Carlsen may have missed out on clinching the title in the Rapid event, but at the Blitz championship, he brought back his flair and won the event scoring an undefeated 17/21. However, he was closely chased by Jan Krzysztof Duda of Poland and had to come up with one win after another to keep his pole position. In the Women's group, Kateryna Lagno also achieved an unbeaten finish to clinch the title with a score of 13½/17. Meanwhile, Nihal Sarin, whose starting rank was 139, stunned all spectators -- except IM Sagar Shah, as he explains in this report -- with his 11th place finish. On the final day, Nihal defeated some world-class GMs like Gawain Jones, Nikita Vitiugov and Le Quang Liem and earned a whopping 152 rating points!

The final day of the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championship in St Petersburg, Russia, witnessed nine rounds of blitz chess in the open group and eight in the women’s. After the dust of the battles had settled Magnus Carlsen and Kateryna Lagno had emerged as the world champions, remaining unbeaten through the course of the tournament. Magnus scored 17/21 in the open group and took home $60,000 while Kateryna finished with 13½/17 and collected $40,000.


Jan Krzysztof Duda and Hikaru Nakamura took silver and bronze in the open group. In the women’s, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh bagged her second silver of the event while Lei Tingjie of China clinched third.

Top three finishers from the open (L to R): Jan Krzysztof Duda, Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In both of the segments, the tournament was toughly fought all the way through. Carlsen had been leading alongside Vladimir Artemiev of Russia at the start of the day but had taken sole lead after round 13, defeating Anish Giri. In the game, Carlsen dominated the four knights variation of the English with the white pieces. Giri found his king in trouble very early in the game and had to expend a lot of time to find the right defence. By the 24th move, he had lost on time.

Carlsen went off to a perfect start beating Giri in merely 24 moves | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Artemiev, in this round, did not manage to keep up with Magnus as he drew against Peter Svidler on board 2. This allowed Jan Krzysztof Duda catch up in the second place after his win over Ian Nepomniachtchi, and as the tournament unfolded, Duda turned out to be Carlsen’s biggest challenger, remaining within striking distance until the very end.

In the eighteenth round, Duda suffered his only loss of the day to GM Hikaru Nakamura. Carlsen, who was a half point ahead by this point, grew his lead to a full point after drawing his game against Boris Gelfand. But in the penultimate round, Duda got back into contention beating GM Alexander Indic with black while Carlsen drew against Jan Nepomniachtchi in merely 21 moves.

Carlsen’s penultimate round draw kept Duda’s chances to win the title alive but it still depended on the result of Carlsen’s final game. Duda did win his final game against Boris Gelfand but Carlsen too had scored a crushing victory over Anton Korobov and had bagged his fourth world blitz title.

Duda fought hard and chased Carlsen until the very end | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Magnus Carlsen finished with a commanding win over Anton Korobov to clinch the World Blitz Championship | Photo: Lennart Ootes

After the event, Carlsen said he was “relieved” having won the title. “Today was a very tough day. I was always kind of in front but I was being chased by Duda all the way. It was never easy,” Carlsen told Eteri Kublashvili, the Press Officer of the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships-2018.

The top performer from the Indian contingent was, surprisingly, not Anand or Harikrishna but the 14-year-old Nihal Sarin. Nihal had already played impressively on day one, beating some strong grandmasters like Ahmed Adly, Salem AR Saleh and Alexander Motylev. On the final day, he raked 6½ points out of his nine games, beating world class grandmasters like Le Quang Liem, Nikita Vitiugov and Gawain Jones. His only loss of the day came in the 18th round when he was defeated by GM Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia.

Seeded 139th, Nihal finished 11th at the 2018 King Salman World Blitz Championship! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

At the end of the 21st round, Nihal, who was the 139th seed in the tournament, had scored a total of 13½ points and had finished 11th in the final standings, ahead of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the recently crowned world rapid champion, GM Daniil Dubov, Alexander Grischuk, Yu Yangyi and even the Indian chess legend, Viswanathan Anand! His rating performance at the event was a stunning 2777. Furthermore, he will be gaining as many as 152 rating points.

Nihal's performance chart

Anand, on the other hand, struggled on the final day and was able to add only 4½ points to his score, bringing his total to 12/21. The day had begun rather badly for him as he lost back to back games against Zhamsaran Tsydypov and Evgeniy Najer in rounds 13 and 14. He did make a comeback winning two games in a row in the next two rounds but his results remained mixed until the end.

Anand finished with mixed results, scoring 50% on the last day | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Like Anand, GM Vishnu Prasanna also scored 4.5/9 on the last day and brought his final tally to 10/21 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Reigning national blitz champion, Dinesh Kumar Sharma finished with 8.5/21 and added 10 Elo points to his rating

Harika Dronavalli was the top scorer from India in the women’s group. However, she could only finish 21st in the final standings. The day had begun well for Harika who drew against Ju Wenjun in the first round of day two and then pulled off a win over Alina Bivol of Russia. But two losses followed this and after a few ups and downs, she managed to hold a pawn down queen endgame against Olga Girya to take her final score to 10½/17.

Harika Dronavalli was the top scorer from India in the women's group

The other Indian in the fray, GM Koneru Humpy, remained half a point behind Harika. With a score of 10/17, she finished 24th in the final standings.

Standings (Open)

All Games (Open)

Standings (women)

All Games (women)


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