Sarana’s First Knockout Victory: Rapid Chess Championship Week 11

GM Alexey Sarana won week 11 of the 2022 Rapid Chess Championship presented by Coinbase, defeating GM Andrey Esipenko in the knockout final. 

GM Hikaru Nakamura won the Swiss tournament and made it to the semifinals along with GM Jeffery Xiong. GMs Vidit Gujrathi, David Navara, Daniil Dubov, and Jose Martinez made it to the quarterfinals. 

Participating in the event were 33 elite players from the FIDE top-100 list, top-10 women, and top-10 juniors in the world, alongside 10 wildcards. The event will continue next weekend, April 30-May 1, starting at 9 a.m. Pacific / 18:00 Central Europe.


The Rapid Chess Championship is a weekly tournament held by Chess.com. It is a nine-round Swiss event with a 10+0 time control held every Saturday, followed by a knockout event on Sunday between the top-eight finishers and a 10+2 time control. If players draw, they play another 3+2 game; if drawn, they play a 1+1 game; and if that is drawn, a single armageddon game is played.


Swiss

For the second week in a row, Nakamura finished in clear first in the Swiss. He won a pivotal 25-move victory over GM Dmitry Andreikin in round seven. When Andreikin blundered on move 18, Nakamura immediately capitalized on it. 

In the next round, Nakamura won yet another critical game where he fought back from a worse position against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. 

Vidit finished in second after winning back-to-back key games in rounds six and seven against fellow qualifiers Dubov and Esipenko. In his game against Esipenko, Vidit squeezed his opponent’s weakened queenside, won the isolated c-pawn to create a passed pawn, and eventually supported his passer down the board to promote. 

Sarana had a turbulent path to finishing third with alternating losses and wins in rounds four through seven, including a 27-move victory over GM Maxim Matlakov where he successfully employed a bizarre, computer-confusing rook maneuver. 

Xiong qualified with a must-win victory over Andreikin in the final round where he displayed his tactical awareness. 

Martinez snuck into qualification with the top tiebreaks of those with 5.5. Can you find the mating net he created in his victory against GM Amin Tabatabaei?

Saturday Swiss | Final Standings (Top 20)






















Number Rk Fed Title Username Name Rating Score SB
1 1 GM Hikaru Hikaru Nakamura 2849 6.5 31.75
2 15 GM viditchess Vidit Gujrathi 2691 6 33.25
3 6 GM mishanick Alexey Sarana 2748 6 28.25
4 18 GM Andreikka Andrey Esipenko 2693 6 26
5 14 GM FormerProdigy David Navara 2683 6 25.5
6 5 GM Duhless Daniil Dubov 2709 6 22.75
7 4 GM jefferyx Jeffery Xiong 2725 6 21.5
8 10 GM Jospem Jose Eduardo Martinez Alcantara 2697 5.5 27.25
9 3 GM FairChess_on_YouTube Dmitry Andreikin 2759 5.5 23
10 27 GM igorkovalenko Igor Kovalenko 2579 5.5 20.5
11 22 GM Annawel Jules Moussard 2666 5.5 15.5
12 21 GM vladislavkovalev Vladislav Kovalev 2602 5 23.25
13 12 GM Bigfish1995 Vladimir Fedoseev 2672 5 22
14 7

GM lachesisQ Ian Nepomniachtchi 2710 5 21
15 13 GM amintabatabaei Amin Tabatabaei 2672 5 20.25
16 32 GM Njal28 Aram Hakobyan 2469 5 13.25
17 20 GM OparinGrigoriy Grigoriy Oparin 2600 4.5 20.75
18 16 GM Indianlad S.L. Narayanan 2644 4.5 19.5
19 9 GM Parhamov Parham Maghsoodloo 2682 4.5 17.75
20 31 GM Elegance_Riks Harika Dronavalli 2492 4 17.75

(Full final standings here.)

Knockout

In the Nakamura vs. Martinez quarterfinal, Nakamura pressed his time advantage in a knight and pawns vs. rook ending, inducing a blunder by Martinez. 

In the Esipenko vs. Navara quarterfinal, Navara played an interesting exchange of his queen for three minor pieces but followed it up with a mistake that cost him material. 

The Vidit vs. Xiong rapid game was a tense fight that culminated in a threefold repetition that saved the game for Vidit.

In the blitz playoff that followed, Xiong built up both a positional and time advantage. As his opponent’s clock fell under a minute, Xiong played 19.Qb4, setting up tactical ideas along the a3-f8 diagonal. Under the pressure, Vidit overlooked Xiong’s threats. 

In the Sarana vs. Dubov quarterfinal, Sarana gained and maintained a significant time edge despite having a tough position to defend. As soon as Dubov made a mistake, Sarana cleanly capitalized on it, bringing his king to the center of the board to do so.

The Nakamura vs. Esipenko semifinal game was a close and complex game until Nakamura’s 26.f3, which loosened the position around his king. Esipenko ultimately won the match.

In the Sarana vs. Xiong semifinal, Sarana was down two pawns and on the defensive for much of the game but maintained a comfortable time advantage regardless. As his clock ticked under 40 seconds, Xiong blundered the critical f7-pawn and lost. 

In the final, Sarana gained a significant time advantage from the opening, reaching the eighth move with more time on his clock than he started with—while Esipenko had already used two minutes. This time advantage was even more useful when Sarana found the tactical shot 23.Bxg6! to trade into a winning endgame. Although Esipenko fought well, he was unable to hold on against the pressure on the board and on the clock.

The key to Sarana’s success was his ability to gain time advantages against all of his opponents, even when he was faced with challenging positions. Commentator Rudolf shared her insight on his time-usage strategy: “Whenever he has something super concrete, he does take the time to calculate. Otherwise, he goes with his intuition.”

In his winner’s interview, Sarana shared his perspective on his time management: “It is my usual style. Even in classical chess, I play pretty fast.” He also shared his thoughts on the tournament overall and on his games:

Standings, Results, Prizes

The winner of the Swiss tournament is Nakamura, and the winner of the knockout tournament is Sarana. Below are the full standings and prizes of the knockout:

Sunday Knockout | Final Standings










# Fed Player Place Prize
1 Alexey Sarana Winner $7,500
2 Andrey Esipenko Finalist $3,500
3-4 Hikaru Nakamura Semifinalist $2,500
3-4 Jeffery Xiong Semifinalist $2,500
5-8 Vidit Gujrathi Quarterfinalist $1,000
5-8

Daniil Dubov Quarterfinalist $1,000
5-8 Jose Martinez Quarterfinalist $1,000
5-8 David Navara Quarterfinalist $1,000

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