Hikaru Nakamura is a point ahead of everyone else after the first day of the blitz in the Open tournament. In the Women’s event, Shuvalova and Gunina are tied for first place
The World Blitz Chess Championship got underway today in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the sound of chess clocks ticking quickly throughout the Baluan Sholak Sports Palace. There are 174 players in the Open tournament and 98 in the Women’s section, totalling 272 participants from more than 50 countries.
American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura is alone in first place with 10 points after 12 rounds of the Open competition. With nine rounds completed in the women’s competition, Polina Shuvalova and Valentina Gunina are tied for the lead with 7,5 points.
The first round started with a delay after Magnus Carlsen was late due to a traffic jam on the way from his hotel. There was also an issue with some players – including world champion candidate Ian Nepomniachtchi – not following the FIDE dress code.
The Open section
Out of 21 rounds in the Open tournament, 12 took place on day one. Hikaru Nakamura – who didn’t have a great experience with the Rapid – got off to a fantastic start in the Blitz with four victories.
He was slowed down by Anish Giri in round five where he conceded half a point but then scored two more victories – against Fabiano Caruana and Yu Yangyi. The game that drew the most interest in the day – even before the first moves had been made – was played between Nakamura (as White) and Magnus Carlsen. Both players were on 6,5/7. In a game which was described as “boring” by Nakamura, the two quickly exchanged pieces on the board and entered a drawn endgame. In a post-game interview, Nakamura said that he felt tired and that he needed a “break” so he decided not to try and force an even position. This game, however, was a start of a mini-series of three consecutive draws for Nakamura. However, in the final two rounds of the day, the American regained his mojo and scored two important victories ending a full point ahead of anybody else.
Nakamura is hoping to win a gold in the Blitz after winning two bronze medals (in 2014 and 2018) and one silver (in 2019).
Anish Giri leads the group of five players who are sharing second place, including – Magnus Carlsen, Daniil Dubov, Haik M. Martirosyan and Richard Rapport.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who is defending the Blitz title, is closer to the middle of the scoreboard, with 6,5 points. After a solid start with 4/5, he suffered a defeat in Round Six to a 200-point lower-rated Vasif Durarbayli. The Frenchman regained his composure with two victories but at the end of the day his concentration fell off a cliff – gaining only half a point from four games.
The Women’s section
Nine games out of 17 have been played in the Women’s Blitz. Sharing first and second place are Polina Shuvalova and Valentina Gunina who both have 7,5/12.
The Women’s Blitz has had nine rounds played out of a total of seventeen. Polina Shuvalova and Valentina Gunina, who both have 7,5/12, are tied for first and second.
Tan Zhongyi, Aleksandra Goryachkina, and Alexandra Kosteniuk (who has won a silver medal in the 2021 edition of the Blitz and has recently won the European Blitz for women) are a trio that are immediately behind and trail by 1/2 a point .
Shuvalova started with five consecutive wins. Following a draw with Tan Zhongyi in Round Six and a victory over Nana Dzagnidze in Round Seven, she slipped in the next game against none other than Valentina Gunina. In the day’s last round, however, she bounced back and defeated Harika Dronavali to earn a crucial point.
Valentina Gunina, who has the same number of points as Shuvalova but has a slightly weaker TB3, is repeating the great performance from day one of the Rapid when she was also in the lead. In the latter stages of the Rapid things didn’t go that well for her though. Blitz, however, is her forte and Gunina is looking for her second Blitz gold a decade after she won her first (in Batumi in 2012; she also has two silvers – from 2016 and 2017). In the final two rounds of the day she scored important victories against main competitors – Tan Zhongyi and Polina Shuvalova. After drawing her last game (with Goryachkina), Gunina said that she felt really tired and that she is hoping to rest before the final day of the Blitz.
The second day of the Blitz and the final day of the world chess championships in Almaty will be on Friday, 30th December. The games will start at 2 PM local time with the closing ceremony planned for 8 PM.
The organisation of the event and support
The World Rapid and Blitz championships are held by the Kazakhstan Chess Federation together with the International Chess Federation and with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, as well as the Akimat of the city of Almaty.
The event is made possible thanks to the agreement with Freedom Finance, which becomes a General Sponsor of the event. Freedom Broker is an investment company and a stockbroker. Provides access to NYSE, NASDAQ, LSE, HKEX and other largest stock exchanges on the planet.
Text: Milan Dinic
Photo: Anna Shtourman and Lennart Ootes