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Vachier-Lagrave Wins World Blitz Championship in a Playoff vs. Duda; Firouzja Third

As with the Rapid, so with the Blitz: the event finished in a tie with more than two players, and so the "extra" players - or in this case, extra player, singular - was left out of the playoff. Alireza Firouzja was the unfortunate third wheel this time, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jan-Krzysztof Duda went to battle for the title of World Blitz Champion (and perhaps unofficially, the title of the strongest player with a hyphenated name).

The playoff began with a pair of blitz games: both drawn. In many events the next stage is an Armageddon battle, but not here. Instead, the players were to contest as many games as needed until one of them won a single game; in other words: "sudden death". That places a significant premium on luck: if one is fortunate enough to win the toss to get the white pieces first, they may very well win their white game without the opponent's getting a chance for his own white game. And that's just what happened: MVL got White, won, and that was it.

Having skipped to the end of the story, let's go back to its beginning - at least the beginning of the day's goings-on. The first noteworthy event was a non-event: Hikaru Nakamura no-showed against Daniil Dubov, self-quarantining after testing positive for COVID. As for the players who did participate, the day 1 leader, Levon Aronian, started off in terrific form and increased his lead. He defeated Bassem Amin in round 13 (the first round of the day), and after draws with Arjun Erigaisi and Ian Nepomniachtchi beat Anish Giri in good style. With five rounds to go he was in the driver's seat, leading Dubov by a full point and everyone else by even more, but then everything went awry. He lost a clearly won game against Vachier-Lagrave, and while he remained in clear first by half a point things got worse. He overpressed against Haik Martirosyan and lost, and then lost to Vladislav Artemiev as well. Remarkably, a win over the very young, very talented Javokhir Sindarov put him into a six-way tie for first entering the last round, but he lost to Firouzja.

As for Firouzja, he came on like a mac truck at the end, winning his last five games and seven of his last eight, but his slow start left him in trouble when it came to tiebreaks.

Another player who entered the last round tied for first was Dubov, who had in fact been leading going into the penultimate round, when he lost with white to Firouzja. In the last round he again had White, against Giri (who was a point behind), but incredibly offered him a draw after eight moves, which was accepted. As for Giri, he was in good shape after defeating Magnus Carlsen in round 15, but then he lost to Aronian in round 16 and then drew his last five games.

Carlsen was not part of the tie; he was half a point back entering the last round. That was impressive, considering that he started the day a point and a half out of first and started today's action rather poorly. He began with a win over Parham Maghsoodloo, but then drew with Martirosyan and then lost twice, first to Giri and then to Alexander Grischuk. At that point he was three points back, but that was when Aronian started losing. Carlsen scored 3.5 out of his next 4, capped by a win against Nepomniachtchi. In the last round, he was defeating MVL - which would have meant a playoff between Firouzja and Duda - but he slipped on one last banana peel, allowing his desperate opponent to force mate.

Duda was of course part of the tie for first entering the last round, as was his opponent, Vladislav Artemiev. If anything, Artemiev had an even worse start in the event than Firouzja, beginning with just half a point out of three. He righted the ship on day with a run of 7/8, and was undefeated today heading into the last-round game with Duda. Unfortunately for the young Russian, that final game was a bit of a disaster, and Duda - who won his last three games and seven of his last eight - made it into the playoff.

Finally, MVL. He got off to a decent score in the early rounds, going +4 from his first eight games, but then he lost in rounds 9 and 10 to Amin and Maghsoodloo, respectively. From then on he went undefeated. He won his last two games on day one, and then mostly alternated wins and draws today. He beat Boris Gelfand in round 13, drew Giri in round 14, beat Sindarov in round 15, drew with Martyn Kravtsiv in round 16, beat Aronian and Erigaisi in rounds 17 and 18, drew Dubov and Artemiev in rounds 19 and 20, and then won - swindled! - Carlsen in that critical last round battle.

Congrats then to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave for winning the blitz world championship, to Nodirbek Abdusattorov for winning the rapid world championship, and to Magnus Carlsen for not having persuaded anyone to join him in devaluing the classical world championship. (At least not to the extent that anyone would consider Abdusattorov or MVL some sort of co-champion.) Thus despite his best rhetorical efforts, 99.99+% of the world still considers him the world chess champion, and rightly so.

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