After four grueling days of non-stop and high-speed chess action, the final winners for the last FIDE chess tournament of 2021 have emerged.
The tournament was divided into two segments of rapid and blitz chess. It was further divided into an open section and a women’s section for each segment. Therefore, there were potentially four winners that could take home first-place trophies.
Each segment was played using the Swiss tournament format. The rapids segment had a time control of 15 minutes plus 10 seconds increment per move. The blitz segment had a time control of 3 minutes plus 2 seconds increment per move. The Rapid segment had a total of eleven rounds and the blitz segment had a total of seventeen rounds.
The rapids open segment was won by GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan. He became the youngest ever to become a world rapid chess champion. The women’s rapid section was won by Russian “Chess Queen” GM Alexandra Kosteniuk. The winner of the blitz open section was GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and the women’s blitz section was won by IM Bibisara Assaubayeva of Kazakhstan. Incredibly, both Abdusattorov and Assaubayeva are only 17 years old. It was up to 37-year-old Kostenuik and 31-year-old Lagrave to keep the honor of the veteran chess players intact.
On the men’s side, Abdusattorov won the Open rapid by beating GM Ian Nepomantchi of Russia in the second game of the tiebreaker playoffs. In the women’s section, rapid winner Kosteniuk has closed out a great year. Besides this win, she had also won the first-ever Women’s Chess World Cup in 2021.
During the final day, Vachier-Lagrave was able to overcome Polish hometown favorite Gm Jan-krzysztof Duda in another playoff match. This particular playoff featured two draws from the first two games. Vachier-Lagrave was finally able to secure victory through a positional advantage from a Ruy Lopez (Spanish Game) opening.
The women’s blitz winner, Assaubayeva had a fantastic tournament. Even though she has not yet achieved the GrandMaster norm, she achieved a second-place finish in the women’s rapid the day before the blitz segment started. On the final day, she completely dominated the women’s world blitz segment. Essentially, Assaubayeva took the lead in the eighth round and kept it all the way until the very end.
Even though the victors celebrated with prizes and trophies, all did not go as smoothly for the tournament organizers. The first controversy occurred on the final day of the Rapid Opens when four players were tied on points. This group included reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
Tournament rules indicated that only two players could participate in the playoffs. These two players would be determined based on the strength of their opposition throughout the tournament. In a tie situation, this rule essentially punishes high-rated players and provides a boost for lower-rated players. Based on this regulation, Magnus Carlson and GM Fabiano Caruana were not allowed to participate in the playoffs which would determine the winner.
This unfortunate tiebreak rule was also in effect for the Blitz segment of the tournament. In this case, there were only three players who were tied for the lead. However, the world’s second highest-ranked player, Iranian-born Alireza Firouzja, was also not allowed to participate in the playoffs.
Ultimately, the world’s number 1 and number 2 classical chess players were excluded from playing for the title – even though they had earned the exact same number of points as the playoff contenders. Many in the chess community anticipate that this arcane rule will most certainly be restructured very soon. It will be interesting to see how tournament organizers handle tiebreakers and playoffs in upcoming chess events throughout the world.
But if the tournament organizers thought that this was their only headache, they were sorely mistaken. Another controversy occurred during the concluding day of the tournament. Professional player and chess streamer, GM Hikaru Nakamura of Team Solo Mid, announced that he had tested positive for Covid.
Although Nakamura was well-positioned on the leaderboards, he understandably withdrew from the tournament. It could have been possible that Nakamura had spread the virus to his opponents or others in the playing hall. After a lengthy delay to consider their options, the tournament organizers decided to proceed with the final day of the blitz event. It remains to be seen if anyone will test positive for Covid when they return to their home countries in the upcoming days.
Watching live, over-the-board chess events has proven to be very exciting for fans of the game. However, given the nature of the pandemic, even greater precautions should be in place for future live events.