Luke McShane


Nine wins in a row. What are the chances? That’s how Magnus Carlsen began on the first day of blitz (fast) chess at the the Zagreb Grand Chess Tour. My guesstimate is that Carlsen wins no more than half of his blitz games against the standard of opposition that he faced in Croatia, where his toughest rivals included Alireza Firouzja, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi. So I think you would be more likely to see a coin land on heads nine times in a row than for Carlsen to repeat that achievement. (In slower games, where decisive games are less frequent, his chances would be lower still.)

Of course it took some luck here and there, as blitz chess always does, but the former world champion looked dizzy with delight, beaming like a child and describing his achievement as ‘really special’. On the second day of blitz he scored ‘only’ 6/9, but combined with a strong showing in the rapid event that was enough to leave the Norwegian as a comfortable winner in the combined standings.

His most striking game was this one, played in the rapid event, in which an imaginative tactical shot from Duda backfires thanks to a brilliant riposte.

Magnus Carlsen-Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Grand Chess Tour SuperUnited Rapid, Croatia, July 2023

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 g3 dxc4 5 Bg2 c5 6 O-O Nc6 7 Qa4 Bd7 Being greedy with 7…cxd4 doesn’t work out well here: 8 Nxd4! Qxd4 9 Bxc6+ Bd7 10 Rd1! Bxc6 11 Qxc6+ bxc6 12 Rxd4 leaves Black with a blighted pawn structure. 8 Qxc4 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Rc8 10 Nc3 Nxd4 11 Qxd4 Bc5 12 Qh4 Bc6 Grandmasters of Duda’s calibre suffer calamities in the opening only very rarely. But it happened in a game in Dusseldorf earlier this year, where Wesley So played 13 Rd1, which Duda met with 13…Qb6.

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