GM Ronen Har-Zvi
Chess, COVID, and Drama—a lot of drama and quite a bit of COVID!
The 2021 World Rapid and Blitz Championship has truly turned out to be one of the most memorable chess events in recent history. Starting with the surprise of the century, the win in the Rapid by the very young and promising Nodirbek, and then the drama in the Blitz. To explain the drama in the Blitz tournament, you need just one sentence to explain everything.
The champion for the last three tournaments, 2019, ‘18, and ‘17 (2020 was canceled in the first COVID lockdown) lost a total combination of three games in the three tournaments he won the title in: one loss in 2019, none for 2018, and two losses in 2017. In this tournament, he had three losses after only nine rounds and six losses in the entire tournament. Carlsen has lost double the number of games in this tournament alone as the previous three together!
Hikaru Nakamura, who has been considered one of the top three blitz players for many years and has tied with Carlsen in the last World Championship in 2019, has regained the number one spot in the Blitz rating. But this is only the smaller part of the story; the actual headline? You guessed it: COVID! Hikaru was tested positive for COVID before the start of the second Blitz day and had to leave the tournament with 8.5 of 12 without any losses. A quick unimportant aside here, Hikaru played 13 games in the Rapid without any losses and another 12 in the Blitz without any either, and certainly, he wouldn’t want the tournament to end this way.
Having the top two blitz players in the world “out” should have made the tournament more interesting, one would imagine!
The now U.S. representing Levon Aronian was actually dominating the tourney and seemed completely unstoppable with a whopping 13 out of 16. His game in the 17th round turned out to be the most defining game in the tournament of all the rest. It was the game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who would win the 2021 Blitz World Champion title! Aronian started better-off as Black and found himself winning—completely winning only to end up losing the game and then two of the following games! Three losses in a row, and still, he had a chance for the title! Just showed how wild things were. Another critical game was in round 20: Daniil Dubov had a solid lead with 14 out of 19 and played white against Alireza. Dubov immediately dropped the ball right out of the opening as white, losing without any chance of return; you could feel that the pressure was genuinely intense, even with the best of the best. Before he moved to the last round, one decision turned awry in round 19. Dubov, the then sole tournament leader, played black against M.V.L. and reached a comfortably superior position only to offer a draw, which was then accepted by M.V.L. There was no point for that! Dubov had not only more time but a better position to boot. Maybe this was the key decision in the whole tournament? The last round had an extraordinary six players in the lead, all with 14 points: M.V.L., Duda, Dubov, Alireza, Aronian, and Artemiev; all of them can easily be counted as some of the best players in the world.
M.V.L. played white against Carlsen, who had 13.5 points. The Frenchman messed up early on and gradually lost, only to fight back and snatch victory! Alireza had a horrible start but beat Aronian, Duda beat Artemiev, and Dubov again made a strange decision to offer a quick draw against Giri—honestly a bizarre idea, but maybe the pressure and the nerves were a lot to handle at this point.
3 players had 15 points: Duda, M.V.L., and Alireza, of whom had the short end of the tiebreak as it was Duda and M.V.L. who were in the playoff; games 1 and 2 ended with a draw, and in the third game of the tiebreak, which we will be looking at, M.V.L. finally won the title, becoming the 2021 World Blitz Champion, showing great fighting spirit and extraordinary resilience.
Photo credit: Lennart Ootes (https://lennartootes.com/)
This was definitely a memorable tournament with all the drama and fascinating matches!
Find HERE a few games I analyzed. Enjoy!