GM Richard Rapport prevailed against GM Alexey Sarana 16.5-14.5 in a marathon 31-game match in the 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event and moves on to the quarterfinals. Rapport will face the winner of the next round of 16 match between GMs Alexander Grischuk and Nihal Sarin, which is scheduled to start on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 a.m. Pacific / 16:30 Central European Time.
The games of the 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event are played on the Chess.com live server. They are also available on our platform for watching live games at Chess.com/events and on our apps under “Watch.” Expert commentary can be enjoyed at Chess.com/tv.
The live broadcast of the match.
It was a match full of turnarounds in which we saw several beautiful attacking games by Rapport, strong technique and gritty defense by Sarana, as well as some shocking blunders by both players.
Sarana took the 2.5-1.5 lead in the first part of the 5+1 segment after a couple of nice wins in a row. The fourth game particularly stood out as the Russian star semi-bluffed Rapport with a piece sacrifice; then outplayed him in a complicated position.
In the next game, however, he was not so fortunate as he got his rook trapped in a superior position. Rapport took the gift and evened the score.
Rapport carried this momentum into game six, which he won in his trademark attacking style.
Things looked great as he also won the seventh game and had a winning position in the eighth. However, Caissa turned her back on Rapport at the very end of that game when the unimaginable happened.
Sarana won the next game, as well, to end the 5+1 portion in a 4.5-4.5 tie. The 3+1 blitz segment began with a fine strategic victory for Rapport in the Winawer variation of the French defense, which seemed to have taken his opponent by surprise.
However, Sarana showed some really good chess in the two games that followed, winning both and reclaiming the one-point lead. The 13th game was the most dramatic in this part of the match as it featured a mutual rook blunder and finally saw Rapport flag in a rook endgame in which he still harbored some drawing hopes.
That was the third lost game in a row for Rapport (5.5-7.5), who surely welcomed the short five-minute break before the second part of the 3+1 segment. Like the commentators, GMs Daniel Naroditsky and Robert Hess pointed out, he was moving too slowly in this part of the match, often falling behind on the clock and getting into difficult situations. A seasoned blitz player that he is, Sarana knew full well how to take advantage of this.
Indeed, the Hungarian grandmaster regrouped and struck back with vengeance in games 14 and 15, tying the score at 7.5-7.5. This was followed by a couple of draws until, in game 18, it was Sarana’s turn to blunder checkmate in one in a technically drawn rook and pawn versus rook endgame!
This game allowed Rapport to completely shift the momentum of the match in his favor at that point, as he also won game 19 after Sarana’s piece sacrifice/blunder, to complete the blitz segment with a two-point lead, 10.5-8.5.
Sarana had enough time to recuperate from a string of unpleasant losses during the much-needed break before the bullet segment of the match began. He was coming into the bullet mini-match as a slight favorite as his speed in this time control is well-known.
To the joy of the spectators, the bullet match was as dramatic as it gets. We saw some lucky escapes, hard-fought draws, and even… a full queen blunder!
But, most importantly, Sarana got back into the match and managed to drag it into the four-game bullet tie-break! It was a treat for the fans, who have already had a chance to watch the third close Speed Chess Championship match in a row.
And what a start it was for the 21-year old Russian, who punished Rapport’s tactical mistake in the first game of the tie-breaker and seemed to be headed for a full turnaround. However, the Hungarian overpowered him in the second game of the tie-breaker, 29th in this epic match, tying the score again.
The next game proved to be critical. Rapport gradually outplayed Sarana with Black and struck while the iron was hot.
The final game of the match was a miniature. Sarana got himself into a risky position and, once he castled, he had no chance of stopping one of the most fearsome attackers on the planet.
It was clearly a moment of relief and joy for Rapport, who struggled in the match due to the recent lack of playing short time controls, as he admitted in the post-game interview: “I am obviously relieved. I actually was pretty sure that I would get destroyed today. I haven’t played online for ages. My biggest preparation was trying to find my password for Chess.com!”
Sarana praised his opponent: “Today, I think that I played pretty well, my opponent was just stronger in the end.”
Indeed, Rapport’s play was very impressive on the white side of the Closed Sicilian and black side of the King’s Indian, where he could usually get into his attacking groove. Sarana was more successful in technical positions and mainstream opening variations, which is something that the match-winner tried to avoid: “My main strategy was to basically avoid theoretical lines as much as possible and just to get something playable.”
He did, indeed, and the players gave us another treat in the 2021 edition of the Speed Chess Championship!
Sarana earned $935.48 based on a score percentage, while Rapport will receive $2,000 for the victory plus $1,064.52 on percentage, or $3,076.92 in total. He advances to the quarterfinals where he will play the winner of the match between GMs Grischuk and Sarin.
The 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the best grandmasters in the world who will play for a $100,000 prize fund. The tournament will run November 8-December 19, 2021 on Chess.com. Each individual match will feature 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess.