The chess firmament has a new and surprising star: the Uzbek Nodirbek Abdusattórov, aged 17, 147th in the rankings, is proclaimed world champion of rapid games two weeks after winning the Spanish tournaments in Llobregat and Sitges consecutively. After defeating the reigning king, Magnus Carlsen in the 10th round, the Central Asian knocked down Russian Ian Niepomniashi in the lightning tiebreaker. Franco-Iranian Alireza Firouzja, 2nd in the world, fell to 20th place. David Antón (39th) was the best Spaniard. Russian Alexandra Kosteniuk won the Women’s World Cup; Marta García finished the 65th of 103. The Lightning World Cup is played this Wednesday and Thursday, also in Warsaw (Poland).
It was a bad day for Carlsen who, once again, saw how hard it is to stay at the top. Everything was looking good for him, the only leader in the absence of four rounds, and taking into account that his performance in the last days of this type of tournaments is usually very high. His goal of retaining the triple crown (classical, rapid and blitz chess) was on the right track.
The super champion could not imagine that an Uzbek young man, very promising since he was a child but still far from the super elite, was going to sour the end of the year. The two met in the 10th round. Carlsen, with black, had a clear advantage, but Abdusattórov managed to keep his tricks alive. The Norwegian blew his chances and slowed down in his persistence to win against a rival of unbecoming toughness and temper for his age, until the Central Asian managed to endorse Carlsen’s only defeat in the entire tournament.
As if the tension were not enough, the Scandinavian then had to face Niepómniashi, his victim two weeks ago in the World Classical Chess World Cup. Contrary to the sad image he gave in Dubai, the Russian was this time himself, and introduced a new idea with the black pieces in a very sharp position. Carlsen got the advantage despite everything, but became entangled in complications and had to give up the tie, while Abdusattorov saved a near-losing position against Russian Vladimir Fedoseyev.
Meanwhile there was another big surprise, whose protagonist is even younger than the Uzbek. The Indian Dommaraju Gukesh, 15 years old, stood very high after beating the Israeli Borís Guélfand and the Georgian Baadur Jobava. And his next opponent, in the penultimate round, was Abdusattórov. The duel was tremendous: Gukesh achieved a great opening advantage and a winning position, according to the machines, shortly after; but Abdusattórov found a series of amazing combinations, as difficult as they were beautiful, and started a vital draw as Carlsen managed to defeat the American Levón Aronian in another epic fight.
There were four leaders before the last round. In tiebreaker order: Abdusattórov, Niepómniachi, Carlsen and the American Fabiano Caruana. Apparently, he did not know that, in case of equality of final points, the two with the best tiebreakers, not all those even on points, were going to play the blitzkrieg to decide the champion; Only in this way can it be explained that he made a draw with Niepomniashi in just six movements.
That left the spotlight on two games, and both games ended with four rooks, with Carlsen and the Polish Jan Duda clearly ahead of the American Hikaru Nakamura and Abdusattórov, respectively. But the Norwegian had to be nothing short of perfect to turn it into a victory, and he wasn’t; the draw left him out of the final duel, which caused him a tremendous tantrum, which he unleashed on Norwegian television NRK, calling the tiebreaker system “idiocy”.
Meanwhile, the incredible Abdusattórov came out of the coffin again in front of the local idol and started the half point necessary to challenge Niepómniashi for the gold in two games of three minutes per side plus two seconds per play. In the first, with black, Abdusattorov once again exhibited his nerves of steel and his technical virtuosity, incredible for his age: he was clearly worse, but again he came back and forced the tie.
Even more astonishing was the way in which the new star defeated Niepomniashi, a gladiator hardened in a thousand battles, in the 2nd round. It first brought him into a passive position, which the Russian is not used to, and also achieved an annoying advantage on the clock, until the Slav succumbed to the Uzbek’s refined technique.
It is early for very strong statements about the future of Abdusattorov. But the undeniable fact is that very few chess stars in history have shown such profound mettle and knowledge at age 17. Carlsen is one of those few.
Final classification: 1st Abdusattorov 9.5; 2nd Niepómniashi 9.5; 3rd Carlsen 9.5; 4th Caruana 9.5; 5º-11º Duda, Aronián, Nakamura, Mamediárov, Gukesh, Rapport y Kariakin; 173 participants.
Full results: https://bit.ly/3pt5eHx
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.