It’s the equivalent of the Grand Slam or Triple Crown of chess, and Magnus Carlsen has just done it for a hard-to-believe third time.
The Norwegian superstar, who is voluntarily ceding his classical world title this year, last week captured both the World Rapid and World Blitz championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan. China’s GM Tan Zhongyi won the women’s rapid title on tiebreaks over IM Dinara Saduakassova of Kazakhstan, and fellow Kazakh IM Bibisara Assaubayeva delighted the hometown crowd by winning the women’s blitz title for the second year in a row.
Even though playing chess at very different time controls requires very different skills, this is the third time in less than a decade that Carlsen has worn all three belts simultaneously.
Even as he relinquishes his classical crown, Carlsen is playing some of the best chess of an already storied career, a clear cut above his peers and the rising generation of stars seeking to dethrone the king.
That was evident in his critical last-round rapid win in Altmaty over young Iranian GM Parham Maghsoodloo, the 2018 world junior champion. In a tense Richter-Rauzer Sicilian with pawn storms looming on both sides of the board, the Norwegian champ combines timely defense with calculated aggression to mate his young opponent in under 30 moves.
Seizing the initiative is key at faster time controls, but Carlsen as White takes time to shore up his own position before launching the winning attack on 14. Ne2 a5 (the pawn storms build with the kings on opposite wings, but Black will trail in the race as he struggles to get a second rook into the action) 15. Ng3 Qc7 16. Be3 Rc8 17. Rh2! — the engines aren’t keen on this move, preferring the immediate 17. Ba6, but for the human player the small rook lift provides psychological comfort, defending the c2-square from Black tactical tricks while clearing the way for White’s other rook to shift to the h-file.
White’s advantage grows on 17 … d5 (the classic freeing move for Black in the Sicilian, but here it doesn’t help) 18. e5 0-0 19. Ba6! (Black is doing OK on the tricky 19. exf6 Bxf6 20. Bf4 [Qd2?! Qxg3 is dead equal] e5 21. Nh5 exd4 22. Nxf6+ gxf6 23. Bxc7 Rxc7 24. Rxd4) Ra8?! (Rb8 would have been a better square) 20. Bd3, getting the White bishops lined up for the attack.
Black seeks to relieve the pressure by chopping wood, but his abandoned kingside can’t hold up after an inspired White onslaught: 22. g5 Bc5 23. Bxc5 Qxc5 24. h5 Bb5 (see diagram; now on 25. Bxb5?! Qxb5 26. g6 Ra7 27. Ne2, Black could fight on in a difficult position, but Carlsen has other ideas) 25. Bxh7+! — a neat variation on an ancient sacrificial idea.
It’s over quickly on 25 … Kxh7 (Kf8 26. h6 gxh6 27. g6! Qc7 28. Qxh6+ Ng7 29. Nh5 Qxe5 30. f4 is another win for White) 26. g6+ fxg6 27. Qf7! g5 28. h6, and Black resigned as he must give up major material just to postpone the threatened 29. hxg7 mate.
Asked afterward when he would allow someone else to wear a crown once in a while, Carlsen replied, “I’ll stop when somebody stops me.”
Maghsoodloo’s Iranian compatriot IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh, widely known on the circuit as Sara Khadem, made headlines of her own in Kazakhstan, playing without the mandatory headscarf required of Iranian women players. She revealed after the event that she and her film director husband, Ardeshir Ahmadi, would be moving to Spain rather than return home to face the theocratic authorities in Tehran, according to Spanish press accounts.
Playing top-level chess is stressful enough, so playing it when your homeland is roiled by popular protests sparked by the unpopular headscarf mandate must be close to unendurable. Still, Khadem scored a respectable 6-5 in the women’s rapid championship, helped by strong performances such as her win over English WIM Yao Lan.
Black in this Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian line typically cedes White an imposing but immobile pawn center, but must quickly hit back at that center or risk being swept off the board.
Yao misses her chance and Khadem as White establishes a nasty bind right out of the opening: 8. bxc3 Nc6?! (indicated here were moves like 8 … d5 or 8 … Bb7 to restrain White’s advance) 9. e4 Ne8 10. e5 f5 (f6 11. Re1 Ba6 12. Qe2 Qe7 13. Rb1 Rc8 14. Qc2 with strong pressure) 11. d5 Na5 12. Bg5 Qc7 13. Be7! Rf7 14. d6, and White’s central dominance will soon cost Black the exchange.
After 18. Be4! Qc7 (fxe4? 19. fxe4 hxg5 [Nc7 20. Qf3! hxg5 21. Qf7+ Kh7 22. Rf3 wins] 20. Rf8+ Kh7 21. Qh5 mate) 19. Bxb7 Qxb7 20. Nh3 Nxc4, Black already has one pawn for the exchange and the button on e7 will likely soon fall as well.
White has to cash in on her advantage before her opponent can consolidate, and Khadem proves up to the task.
Black’s still-iffy king position proves fatal as White collects the full point: 24. Rae1 Qd5?! (Nc7 holds out longer) 25. Rd1 Qc4 26. Qg2 Qe4 27. Qg3 (looking to attack, Khadem is in no mood for a queen trade) Nc4 (Kd8 28. Rd3 Kc7 29. Re1 Qc4 30. Red1 Rd8 gets the Black rook into play, but then 31. gxf4 exf5 32. Qg6 would be hard to meet) 28. Qh4+ g5? (losing, but it was also bleak after 28 … Kf8 29. Rfe1 Qf3 30. Rxd7) 29. Qxh6 Qe3+ (Ne3, perhaps Yao’s intended move here, looks very nice, forking the rooks and even threatening mate on g2, but after 30. Qh7+ Kf8 31. Rd2 Nxf1 32. Rxd7 Qe3+ 33. Nf2, Black can’t stop the mate) 30. Rf2 gxf4 31. Qh7+ Kf8 32. Rxd7 Qe1+ 33. Rf1 Qe3+ 34. Nf2, and Black resigned as there is no way to deal with the threat of 35. Qh8 mate.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Carlsen-Maghsoodloo, World Rapid Championship, Almaty, Kazakhstan, December 2022
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O Bd7 9. f3 Nxd4 10. Qxd4 Be7 11. Kb1 b5 12. h4 Rb8 13. g4 b4 14. Ne2 a5 15. Ng3 Qc7 16. Be3 Rc8 17. Rh2 d5 18. e5 O-O 19. Ba6 Ra8 20. Bd3 Rfc8 21. Qf4 Ne8 22. g5 Bc5 23. Bxc5 Qxc5 24. h5 Bb5 25. Bxh7+ Kxh7 26. g6+ fxg6 27. Qf7 g5 28. h6 Black resigns.
Khademalsharieh-Yao, Women’s World Rapid Championship, Almaty, Kazakhstan, December 2022
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 O-O 5. e3 c5 6. Bd3 b6 7. O-O Bxc3 8. bxc3 Nc6 9. e4 Ne8 10. e5 f5 11. d5 Na5 12. Bg5 Qc7 13. Be7 Rf7 14. d6 Qc6 15. Ng5 Bb7 16. f3 Rxe7 17. dxe7 h6 18. Be4 Qc7 19. Bxb7 Qxb7 20. Nh3 Nxc4 21. Qe2 Na5 22. f4 Kf7 23. g4 Kxe7 24. Rae1 Qd5 25. Rd1 Qc4 26. Qg2 Qe4 27. Qg3 Nc4 28. Qh4+ g5 29. Qxh6 Qe3+ 30. Rf2 gxf4 31. Qh7+ Kf8 32. Rxd7 Qe1+ 33. Rf1 Qe3+ 34. Nf2 Black resigns.
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