UPDATED: Norway’s chess ace Magnus Carlsen was an angry young man on Friday afternoon, after losing his chance to win back the championship title in blitz chess in Qatar. He’s still the World Chess Champion, but he also lost his stab at hanging on to the rapid chess championship he held earlier in the week.
Carlsen chalked up just as many points as his arch rival Sergey Karjakin, the Ukrainian now living in Russia who Carlsen beat at the classic chess championships in New York just a month ago. Karjakin ended up winning the blitz title away from Carlsen on Friday, though, because of what Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) called a controversial rule regarding “quality” points during the match. The rule favours those who have met tougher opposition earlier in the tournament. When Karjakin met the tougher Carlsen in the fifth blitz game on Thursday, Karjakin won, and that put pressure on Carlsen.
Carlsen had been in the lead on Friday, with half-a-point over Karjakin, but Carlsen only managed a remis (tie) in the last game against Peter Leko of Hungary. And then Karjakin won his last game, after what Carlsen called a “stupid” move by Karjakin’s opponent Radoslaw Wojtaszek. “That was one of the dumbest moves I’ve seen, completely sick,” an angry Carlsen fumed to NRK. If Wojtaszek had won against Karjakin, Carlsen would have clinched the championship.
Instead both he and Karjakin ended with 16.5 points after 21 rounds of the very fast blitz chess that ran over Thursday and Friday. Carlsen fell to second place, and won the silver medal, also because Karjakin had won better quality points earlier in the tournament, not least the victory against Carlsen himself on Thursday. It was another bitter setback for Carlsen, who “only” won bronze on Wednesday in the rapid chess portion of the FIDE World Chess Rapid and Blitz Championships that began Monday in Doha.
Carlsen was in such bad humour when it was all over that he left the winners’ podium early during the medal ceremony. He looked thoroughly disgusted through the showering confetti and cheers. While some may view Carlsen as being sore loser, Karjakin was a gracious winner. “I understand Carlsen (and his reaction),” he told NRK. “I would also have been very angry.”
‘Incredibly exciting’ nonetheless
Commentators called the culmination of the tournament “incredibly exciting” with Carlsen seeking revenge after Wednesday’s failure to win the rapid chess title and also seeking to defend the blitz title that he already held. At one point, the 26-year-old Norwegian was the only person ever to hold all three championship titles at the same time.
Winning them all again was not to be, even after Carlsen opened the second day of blitz competition with a victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. That victory was not easy, since the French player has worked closely with Carlsen earlier in preparations for the classic chess tournament. He clearly was familiar with some of Carlsen’s secrets and strategy.
Carlsen himself admitted that first game on Friday was a challenge. “It was a bit difficult,” he told NRK. “I felt under pressure at the opening, but eventually I took over against him on the clock and had a fine position. And then it was like it’s been earlier here: I have played best when I have little time.”
Another loss to Grischuk
From there on he won against Hikaru Nakamura of the US and Alexander Grischuk of Russia (who was the defending blitz chess champion), only to lose once again (for the second time this week) to Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine, against whom Carlsen also lost the rapid chess championship. “He is very good,” Carlsen said of Ivanchuk. “I think it’s difficult to play against him.”
Carlsen made a comeback in the next game with a victory against Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan. “That was extremely important,” Carlsen said. “It was important to win right away after a loss (to Grischuk). It was far from perfect, but there have been many such games that I’ve won, where I’ve fought to the goal.”
Then came another win against Baadur Jobava of Georgia, against all odds, some noted, since it had looked like Carlsen would lose that one. He prevailed only after what NRK called a “fantastic rush” at the end. “That was just incredible,” said NRK’s chess expert Torstein Bae.
Ended up ‘furious’
That fired Carlsen up in the 19th and 20th games against Vladimir Onischuk of Ukraine and his earlier World Championship opponent Vishy Anand of India. Then came the tie against Leko and, for Carlsen, a disappointing silver medal.
Carlsen was clearly dissatisfied that he also lost his chance at the blitz gold, and he kept blaming the Wojtaszek for losing to Karjakin. “I got so angry,” Carlsen told NRK. “There was still a chance to get the highest rating, and then he overlooked such simple things. He had a position where everyone wins. It’s not possible to lose with such a dominant position as he had. And then he sets it all aside. The only thing I needed was a damn half point. Then he finds the only way to lose. That was really sour.”
After calming down, Carlsen also criticized himself for losing his second chance at a championship title this week. “I didn’t do my job in the last game (that ended in the tie against Leko), but it wasn’t so easy to beat him with the black pieces on command. I didn’t manage to mobilize.”
“I’m furious,” Carlsen concluded. “I have nothing more to say than that.”