The World Rapid Championship: Dubov Wins by a Nose
Thursday, January 3, 2019 at 11:09PM
Dennis Monokroussos in 2018 World Rapid & Blitz Championship, Daniil Dubov

While the World Blitz Championship was a breakaway battle with only two contenders down the wire, the Rapid Championship that finished two days earlier was a wild affair in which at least three players had a real shot at first entering the last round and five players could contest for a tie for first.

Magnus Carlsen fit into the latter group, but not the former. But first, the leading pairings going into the last round:

1. Mamedyarov (10) - Dubov (10.5)
2. Nakamura (10) - Carlsen (10)
3. Karjakin (9.5) - Artemiev (10)

(N.B. Carlsen was always listed and seated as board 1. This is rather obnoxious, but probably has to do with Norwegian TV and money. That makes it understandable, but it's still obnoxious, and a slap in the face of those players who have outscored him at any given moment in the event.) Five other players had 9.5 points entering the last round, but as the pairing guaranteed that the tournament winner would have at least 11 points those with 9.5 weren't contending for the top prize.

So why was Carlsen out of the running for first? Because of his terrible start: he lost his first two games and three of his first seven, and that meant that he played a lot of relatively weak and ultimately low-rated, low-scoring players on his way back to the top. That guaranteed that his tiebreak scores wouldn't be very good, and indeed, it eventually put him off the podium even though he tied for second. Hikaru Nakamura's were better, but they weren't good enough to surpass Daniil Dubov's or Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's, so even if he finished tied for first whichever one of them had 11 (or more) would have come in front. Likewise with Vladislav Artemiev.

Anyway, what happened in the last round will bring tears of anguish to all those who hate classical chess for its drawishness and want faster time controls: the first three games all finished in draws. In fact, all the games featuring 9.5 pointers also finished in draws. The 22-year-old Dubov thus came in first with 11 points, followed by Mamedyarov, Nakamura, Artemiev, and Carlsen all with 10.5 points, in that tiebreak order. Carlsen thus had the best overall performance in the two events, winning one and coming only half a point out of first in the other, but Nakamura took home the most hardware with a pair of bronze medals.

Carlsen's plight was already alluded to. He lost the first game on time in a better position - pretty startling, since it was in a position where there were no big risks and they were playing with 10-second increments. In game 2 he eventually obtained a big advantage against 2304-rated Shamsiddin Vokhidov, playing the jerky 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, but an error on move 20 lost the advantage and blunders on moves 22 and 23 left him with a completely lost game. Vokhidov did his job, and Carlsen was 0-2. He didn't have anything special in round 3 against another 2300 either, but then the fellow thoughtfully blundered into an obvious mate in two, and then Carlsen was off and running. He won three more in a row, and after a loss to Alexander Zubov in round 7 won another three in a row to enter the last day only half a point out of first, though behind seven players and tied with nine more. He drew in rounds 11 and 12 with Dubov and Viswanathan Anand, beat Grigoriy Oparin and Dmitry Andreikin in rounds 13 and 14, and as noted above drew with Nakamura in the last round.

Nakamura was the second seed in the event, and he got off to a better start, winning his first two games. Prosperity didn't last though: he drew in round 3 and then lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 4 to fall off the pace. He won in round 5, but then lost again in round 6 to Tigran Petrosian to fall behind Carlsen. He leapfrogged him with a win in round 7, then drew in round 8 to slip back into a tie with Carlsen at 5-3. After a win in round 9 he again slipped back with a draw in round 10, leaving him a point off the pace going into the last day. A drew with Duda in round 11 didn't help, but then he put together his only three-game winning streak of the tournament, defeating Alexander Riazantsev, Gabriel Sargissian, and Yu Yangyi before his last round draw with Carlsen.

Vladislav Artemiev was the third seed, and he started with wins over A. Tari, Nikita Vitiugov, and Farrukh Amonatov before tasting defeat at the hands of Andreikin and then the talented Iranian youngster Alireza Firouzja. His comeback with immediate, and after wins over Markus Ragger, Daniel Fridman, Dmitry Bocharov, Anton Korobov he was again tied for first. This continued after a draw with Yu Yangyi, and he was in the group of seven entering the final day with 7.5/10. Draws with Wang Hao, Maxim Matlakov, and Dubov left him half a point back - behind Dubov - and although he defeated Boris Gelfand in the penultimate round it wasn't enough. He drew with Sergey Karjakin in the last round, and finished tied for second but without a medal in fourth.

Mamedyarov was the sixth seed (though hewould have been the second seed based on classical ratings), and he outperformed his seeding by finishing in second. He won two, drew, and then won and drew to finish the first day with a healthy and undefeated 4/5. Things were slower on day two: a draw, a win, and then two more draws. Finally in round 10, a serious setback: a loss to Matlakov. At 6.5/10 he was a point behind the leaders. He came back strong, defeating Artyom Timofeev, David Anton Guijarro, drawing Andreikin and then beating Saleh Salem with the Black pieces in the penultimate round. In the last round he had the ideal pairing: White against the only player with more points than him, but he got nothing from the opening and offered a draw on move 24 in a slightly worse position. It was a surprising decision from a great fighter, but it was a practical approach. He was a little worse, had a little less time, and the position wasn't very tricky, so there wasn't much reason to think that a swindle would be likely. if he lost, the monetary difference would be substantial, so the draw made sense.

Finally, let's trace Dubov's path to the title. He was a relatively low seed - only 25th. His rating wasn't bad at all - 2723 in rapid - but it was a strong tournament! He got off to a good start: two wins, a draw, a win and and another draw to finish the first day with 4/5. Day two kicked off with a pair of draws, and then he beat Kacper Piorun, drew with Peter Svidler, and defeated Firouzja to finish the second day undefeated and tied for first with 7.5 points. In round 11 he drew with Carlsen, and then defeated Korobov in round 12 to take the clear lead for the first time in the tournament. He drew with Artemiev in round 13, but all his closest pursuers also drew, so he maintained the lead. In round 14 he beat Wang Hao with Black, keeping that half-point lead, and as we've already noted his last-round draw with Mamedyarov was good enough to take clear first as all the people who could have caught him drew their games. (And even if they had, they probably would have finished behind him on tiebreaks.)

Going undefeated in such an event is an extremely impressive feat, and Dubov was the deserved winner of the competition. Congratulations to the youngster, who has been considered a "talent" for a long time. Now he's not just a talent, but a world champion, albeit not THE champion. Will he break through to the next level? Time will tell...

Here too, readers, I ask: did any games from the tournament grab your attention? Please note them in the comments - there were far too many for non-professionals to go through them all, so let's do some crowdsourcing to find the cream of the crop.

Article originally appeared on The Chess Mind (
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