World Rapid and Blitz 01: Unbeatable Anand
Team India kicked off with a bang on day one of the World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After the first five rounds, Vishy Anand is the highest scorer from the Indian contingent. With an undefeated score of 4.0/5, Vishy is half a point behind tournament leaders Baadur Jobava and Vladimir Fedoseev. Besides Anand, Vidit, Adhiban and Hari also had a fantastic run on day 1. In the women's group, Padmini Rout and Harika Dronavalli are in a nine-way-tie for second with a score of 4.0/5. An illustrated report with pictures and analysis.
Despite all the controversy regarding the venue, the World Rapid and Blitz Championship attracted the participation of 237 players from 55 different nationalities. Some of the top names in the fray include world champion, Magnus Carlsen; world rapid champion, Vassily Ivanchuk; French number two, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave; and the Indian chess legend, Viswanathan Anand.
Part of the reason for this high attendance might be the record prize fund of $ 2 million ($ 1.5 million for the open group and $ 0.5 million for the women’s group). Also, many of the participating players praised the organization of the event. “The organization is simply superlative; it’s outstanding,” said Viswanathan Anand in his interview after the first day of the event.
More importantly, abaya or hijab has not been enforced on women in this tournament. “I don’t feel I am in Saudi or I am under some restrictions. This is really nice that they are doing their best to give us comfortable stay and I think it’s a good change for them also. I wouldn’t complain about hijab because I have played in Iran for 25 days but this is definitely better,” said Harika Dronavalli, the highest rated Indian female at the event.
The Indian success story
For Indians, the first outing was quite a successful one. Five rounds were played on the first day and after the dust of the battles had settled, three Indians – two in the women’s group and one in the open – found themselves on the joint second spot on the leaderboard. In the open group, it was the Indian number one, Vishy Anand emerged with an unscathed 4.0/5, winning three games and drawing two. Most notable were his games against Peter Leko in round two and Anton Demchenko in round four.
Anand and Leko have met each other several times over the chess board. This time, Anand went for the Giuco Piano with the white pieces. After some ambitious play in the centre by Leko, Anand generated a spectacular attack on Leko’s king. Sacrificing two minor pieces, Anand succeeded in prying open Leko’s king. In order to survive the onslaught, Leko sacrificed his queen in return for three of Anand’s minor pieces, an exchange which would have been a sound one had Anand not had extra pawns all over the board. Mopping up didn’t take Vishy too long.
Indian number two, Pentala Harikrishna also had a fantastic first day in Riyadh. Having scored 3.5/5, he is in the joint third place on the leaderboard, half point behind Anand. His biggest win of the day came in the third round when he beat the reigning world rapid champion, Vassily Ivanchuk in the Zaitsev variation of the Ruy Lopez.
Youngsters, Vidit Gujrathi and Adhiban Baskaran also scored big upsets on day one. While Vidit got the better of Ian Nepomniachtchi in the fourth round, Baskaran outplayed tournament’s second seed, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a Sicilian defence. After five rounds they are both on 3.0/5.
In the last round of the day, Gujrathi could have forced repetition and drawn against the Ukrainian GM Martyn Kravtsiv. Whether it was overambitious play or time trouble is hard to tell but he let Kravtsiv’s king escape and ended up losing. Had he drawn, Gujrathi would have been much higher on the leaderboard.
Harika and Padmini are joint-second
Just like in the open group, the top-seeded Indian female, Harika Dronavalli, also remained unbeaten in the women’s category. Although unlike Anand, Harika’s play seemed shaky.
Harika had lucky stars smiling on her yesterday | Photo: Official website
In the second round, Harika was in a totally lost position against Anita Gara but the Hungarian international master failed to find the right continuation and the position went downhill for her eventually.
In the fourth round again, Harika was in a fairly balanced position against GM Natalia Zhukova when the latter blundered mate in one and threw away the point.
Reigning National champion, Padmini Rout displayed top form in Riyadh on the first day. Not only did she win against all the lower rated opponents she was pitted against, but she also came back with a bang after her loss against Ju Wenjun in round three by both of her remaining games of the day. In the final round, she convincingly defeated Nana Dzagnidze, who is almost 200 points higher rated than her. By the end of the day, she had gathered four points out of a possible five and is currently joint second on the leaderboard.
Top seeds falter early
Unlike Anand, most of the top seeds struggled on the first day. Both Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier Lagrave lost their first-round games.
In the very first round of the tournament, Chinese GM Bu Xiangzhi proved that his win against Carlsen at the world cup was no fluke by beating the Norwegian for the second time in four months, and this time, with the black pieces.
Five rounds into the tournament, Anand seems to be in a great form and might turn out to be a strong contender for the title prize. He is only half-point behind the current leaders and in a faster time control with 10 more rounds to go, it won’t be a difficult task to overcome this lead if he continues his form. Harikrishna, Gujrathi and Adhiban also have played extremely well on day one and they too retain good chances of making a podium finish.
In the women’s group, Chinese GM Ju Wenjun won all her games and is leading the women’s group with a perfect score of 5.0/5. Harika Dronavali and Padmini Rout are in joint second place along with nine other players. It will be interesting to see how the chase unfolds.
Standings after 5 Rounds (Open)
Standings after 5 Rounds (Women)
About the Author
Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He has been an advertising copywriter and is currently pursuing a Master's in English Literature at the University of Mumbai. He loves all things German and is learning the language. He has also written scripts for experimental films.