Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Magnus Carlsen’s hopes of continuing to hold three world crowns at the same time were destroyed in Warsaw last week, first by the rules and then by his rivals. The Norwegian legend was controversially excluded from the last draw in the World Rapid (15-minute matches), and then dropped back to twelfth place in the World Blitz (three-minute matches).

The number one started suffering six defeats in 21 for his lowest finish ever in a dozen World Blitz attempts, which included five gold medals, and then said: “Some days you just do not have it. I was nowhere near the level I should have been. ”

His setback followed the controversial end of World Rapid two days earlier, which ended in a four-way tie at 9.5 / 13 under Carlsen, his last two title challengers Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi, and the rapidly improving 17-year-old of Uzbekistan, Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Under Fide regulations, only the two with the best draw of the main event could compete in the playoffs, thus excluding Caruana and an enraged Carlsen, who condemned the rules as “idiotic”. Either all players on the same number of points join the play-off match, or no one does. ”

Officials from the International Chess Federation (Fide) have pointed out that some multiple ties in previous major events have involved as many as eight players, which combined with potentially long draw series in a play-off match could disrupt an already tight schedule. But Carlsen’s position was supported by the blitz results, where France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the play-off match against local hero Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda, while the fan favorite and current world no. 2, 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, was excluded despite the same total score.

The current rules have been unchanged and tacitly accepted for more than four years. Ironically, Nepomniachtchi dropped out of the playoffs in the 2017 World Rapid, but there were no complaints then.

Abdussattorov met and defeated the strongest opposition of all. He beat Carlsen and Caruana in the main event, and Nepomniachtchi in the playoffs, while also winning against Levon Aronian and Boris Gelfand of the elite. The 10 minute video of his final victory is fascinating to watch. For FT viewers, can you see the three consecutive moves near the end where the Uzbek misses in two? The answer is with this week’s puzzle solution.

Uzbekistan has long beaten its weight in world chess, starting with silver medals behind Russian gold in the 1990 Olympics. In 2004, Rustam Kasimdzhanov won the Fide version of the world title and defeated England’s Michael Adams in the final. Now, in 2021, four teenage Uzbeks led by Abdusattorov did well in the Fide Grand Swiss in Riga. One secret is to cultivate the very best talents for age, as the former USSR did in the 1930s and England, despite limited resources, in the 1970s.

Covid-19 is currently a threat to all chess tournaments, and Warsaw, with nearly 250 participants in the open and women’s events, had a narrow escape. On the final blitz day, five-time U.S. champion and popular streamer Hikaru Nakamura had to withdraw along with two others. The round was delayed for an hour while the grandmasters lined up in temperatures below freezing for public tests as private tests in the playroom could not be arranged. There was a similar close escape at the Riga Grand Swiss, but keeping the players and organizers in a single big bubble avoided a disaster.

Next weekend, the chess action will move to the “chess Wimbledon” at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands, where Carlsen will launch his declared campaign to achieve an all-time record rating of 2900 points. He is currently at 2865, with an official high of 2882 and an unofficial daily high of 2889.


Carlos Palermo v Predrag Todorcevic, Novi Sad 2017. Black to move and win. If you are experienced in tactics, it will seem simple, but a sneaky trap awaits careless solvers.

click here for solution

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