- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2022

If you start the year with three world titles and end it with just one, can it really be called a successful year?

That’s the philosophical conundrum facing Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who came into 2021 with a unique trifecta as the world champ at classical, rapid and blitz time controls. He successfully defended the classical title (to our way of thinking by far the most important one) against Russian challenger GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in November, but he came up just short in the FIDE Rapid and Blitz title tournaments in Warsaw held over the year-end holiday break.

In a stunning upset, 17-year-old Uzbekistan GM Nodirbeck Abdusattorov*, ranked 59th in the 176-player field, captured the rapid title in a playoff over Nepomniachtchi. Carlsen and American No. 1 GM Fabiano Caruana matched the finalists’ 9½-3½ score, but failed to qualify for the finals because of tiebreaks. Abdusattorov defeated both Carlsen and Caruana during the regular tournament, along with such strong veterans as GMs Levon Aronian and Boris Gelfand, so it’s hard to say the result was a fluke.

Carlsen then ceded another crown when French super-GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won the world blitz title tournament, this time in a playoff over Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof  Duda*.

Veteran Russian GM Alexandra Kosteniuk took her women’s rapid title by a half-point over another up-and-coming 17-year-old phenom, WGM Bibisara Assaubayeva. Assaubayeva of Kazakhstan made it a banner week for Central Asian chess by bouncing back to edge Kosteniuk for the women’s blitz world title.

Abdusattorov had some good fortune, saving some lost positions and upsetting Carlsen when the champ pushed too hard in a drawn ending, but he made some of his own luck as well. Some tactical alertness led to a fine win against Polish GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek in Round 9 in a tense English Four Knights.

In a balanced position, Wojtaszek upsets the dynamic with a positional pawn sacrifice to activate his rook and take over the b-file: 23. Qf2 c5!? 24. bxc5 dxc5 (Ndxc5?! 25. Bc2 Qf6 26. Be3 Qxf2 27. Bxf2 Nd7 28. d4, and White’s central pawns dominate the play) 25. Rxb7 Rfb8 (the point: White must cede control of the file) 26. Rxb8+ Rxb8 27. Nc3 Rb2, with good counterplay.

But a nice re-positioning of the White bishop — 33. Bd1! Qd6 34. Bh5 — sets up a winning tactic: 34…Rb7 35. Qd1 Ng6?! (f6 36. g3 Qd7 keeps White’s advantage to a minimum) 36. Qg4 (hitting the kingside and threatening 37. Qc8+) Qe6 37. Qxe6 Nxe6 38. g3 (Bxg6 fxg6 39. a4 also was good, but White’s move lures Black into a fatal complacency) Rb3? (see diagram; Black’s kingside is not as solid as it seems; on 38… Bd4! 39. Bc1 Ne5, Black is still in the game) Ne7+!.

White harvests a second pawn after 39…Nxe7 (Kh7 40. Rxf7 Nh8 41. Rf5 Bf6 42. Nc6 Rxd3 43. Bf2 keeps White on top as well) 40. Bxf7+ Kh7 41. Bxe6, when 41…Rxa3? 42. Bxc5 skewers rook and knight.

The young Uzbek GM finishes up in style: 44. Rf7 Nc6 (Ng6 45. Bf5 Re3 46. e6 d3 47. Rd7 Re1+ 48. Kg2 Re2+ Kf3 Re5 50 g4 and wins) 45. Bf5+ Kg8 46. e6 Re3 47. Rc7 g6 (Na5 48. Rc8 is mate) 48. Bxg6!, and Black resigns as 48…Rxe6 49. Bf7+ picks off the rook.


GMs Awonder Liang and Vladimir Akopian shared top honors at the 31st North American Open, the traditional year-end chess bash in Las Vegas. GM Alex Shabalov finished in a tie for fourth a full point back, but the famed attacker added another gem to his resume in a sharp tactical melee with IM Sam Schmakel arising out of a Taimanov Sicilian.

Never one for passive play, Shabalov as Black sacrifices a pawn to activate his pieces and target the vulnerable White king with 15. Qxd6 c5!? 16. Qxc5 Bb7 17. Rg1 Ne4 18. Qh5+ g6 19. Qe5 0-0, mobilizing his army with impressive speed.

Attack and defense are superbly balanced in the ensuing scrum: 23. Bg2 e5!? (opening lines at all costs before White can consolidate) 24. fxe5 Rxe5 25. Kd3 Rc8 26. Bf4?! (Kc2 d5 27. Kb1 looks safer) Rd5!!, offering up a rook for a mating attack.

Schmakel hangs tough with 27. cxd5 Ba6+ 28. Ke3 Nf6+ 29. Be4 Rc4 30. Kf3 Ne4!? (Rxd4 31. Rxd4 Qf7 32. Re1 and White is still in the game) 31. Qe3, but falters in the face of Black’s relentless play.

Thus: 31…g5! (starting a new line of worry for White) 32. Rc1 Rb4 33. Rc6 Bb5 34. Rc8+ Kf7 35. a3? (finally falling off the tightrope; White can still hold with 35. Re1 or 35. b3) Rxb2 36. Qxe4 (Re1 g4+! 37. Kxg4 Qd7+ 38. Kf3 Nd2+ 39. Kf2 Nc4+ and wins) g4+!, and White resigns facing 37. Ke3 (Kxg4 Qxe4) Re2+ 38. Kd4 Qxe4+ 39. Kc3 Rc2+ 40. Kb3 Ba4 mate.

Abdusattorov-Wojtaszek, World Rapid Championship, Warsaw, Poland, December 2021

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e4 Bb4 5. d3 d6 6. a3 Bc5 7. b4 Bb6 8. Na4 Bd4 9. Rb1 Bg4 10. Be2 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 a6 12. Qd2 Ba7 13. O-O Nd4 14. Bd1 O-O 15. Nc3 h6 16. Kh1 c6 17. f4 Qe7 18. Qe1 exf4 19. Bxf4 Ne6 20. Bd2 Nd7 21. Qg3 Bd4 22. Ne2 Be5 23. Qf2 c5 24. bxc5 dxc5 25. Rxb7 Rfb8 26. Rxb8+ Rxb8 27. Nc3 Rb2 28. Nd5 Qe8 29. Ba4 Nd4 30. Qe1 Qe6 31. Qc1 Rb8 32. Be3 Nf8 33. Bd1 Qd6 34. Bh5 Rb7 35. Qd1 Ng6 36. Qg4 Qe6 37. Qxe6 Nxe6 38. g3 Rb3 39. Ne7+ Nxe7 40. Bxf7+ Kh7 41. Bxe6 Bd4 42. Bxd4 cxd4 43. e5 Rxd3 44. Rf7 Nc6 45. Bf5+ Kg8 46. e6 Re3 47. Rc7 g6 48. Bxg6 Black resigns.

Schmakel-Shabalov, 31st North American Open, Las Vegas, December 2021

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Nxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Ne4 Qc7 9. f4 Qb6 10. c4 Bb4+ 11. Ke2 f5 12. exf6 Nxf6 13. Be3 Qd8 14. Nd6+ Bxd6 15. Qxd6 c5 16. Qxc5 Bb7 17. Rg1 Ne4 18. Qh5+ g6 19. Qe5 O-O 20. g3 Rf5 21. Qd4 Qe7 22. Rd1 d6 23. Bg2 e5 24. fxe5 Rxe5 25. Kd3 Rc8 26. Bf4 Rd5 27. cxd5 Ba6+ 28. Ke3 Nf6+ 29. Be4 Rc4 30. Kf3 Nxe4 31. Qe3 g5 32. Rc1 Rb4 33. Rc6 Bb5 34. Rc8+ Kf7 35. a3 Rxb2 36. Qxe4 g4+ White resigns.

*CORRECTIONS - An earlier version of this column misidentified the home country of GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov. He is from Uzbekistan. The first name of Polish GM Jan Krzysztof Duda was also misspelled.


• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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