Magnus wins Katara International Bullet Tournament Final


To paraphrase a famous football saying: chess is a board game with 64 squares and 32 pieces, and at the end Magnus wins. 

The 15 qualifiers and the world champion took part in the knockout portion of the Katara International Tournament yesterday. They would play best of 12 matches of 1+0 chess to decide who advances. The event coverage was provided by WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni and IM Alex Astaneh Lopez, who impressively managed to give cogent commentary about chess that was literally moving faster than they (or anyone) could speak.

On the surface bullet chess may seem prone to huge variance. One bad 2 hour chess game can cost you a classical tournament, but in this event, it would only take 5 or 10 mins of bad chess to ruin your day. Nevertheless, the winners and high performers of bullet tournaments do not vary nearly that much. There have only been 6  people to ever win a Bullet Titled Arena since they began 3 years ago, and 3 of them reached the semi-finals of this event as well. 

The matchups in the semifinals were GM Magnus Carlsen vs. GM Andrew Tang, and GM Daniel Naroditsky vs. GM Alireza Firouzja. Naroditsky is the only one of the 3 to never have won a Titled Arena, so you might think he was an underdog but the match didn’t go that way. (Naroditsky consistently finishes near the top of Titled Arenas and it's probably a matter of time until he wins one.) 

The Naroditsky-Firouzja match started out as a close affair. Naroditsky jumped out to a 2.5-1.5 lead when the match reached a turning point. Alireza played well and reached this endgame with an extra pawn:

I suppose I will try not to fall into the trap of calling anything about elite chess games “easy” just because the Stockfish evaluation is in double digits, but Alireza must still be kicking himself about what happened next. The game's acpl graph tells the tragic tale:

After this game, Naroditsky won the next 4 in a row to close out the match. Magnus seemed incredibly impressed with this performance, it was only 4 days before that Firouzja won a Bullet Titled Arena 29 points ahead of Naroditsky and 68 (!) points ahead of Magnus.

The other semifinal featured incredible drama as Lichess Bullet fixture Andrew Tang was not intimidated by Magnus and won the first 3 games in incredibly short order. In the first two games Magnus was down a piece by move 7. Already half-way to losing the match after only 2 minutes of real time, Magnus could have easily fallen apart. Instead, he rallied and won the match in short order, winning 7 of the next 8 and taking the match.

The Naroditsky vs. Magnus Final was similarly dramatic. Magnus looked dominant in the beginning, taking 3.5 of the first 4 points. The third game had what is probably the most amazing moment of the match. In this position Naroditsky played 15. Bxf7.

Calculating that after 15...Kxf7 16. Qh5+ Kf8 17. Bd6+ Black could choose between 18... Bxd6 losing the queen and 18... Kg8 19. Qxe8#. 

Not missing a beat, Magnus gave up his queen and played 18... Re5! 

...winning the Queen back with interest. Here is the full game. Afterwards, Magnus humbly admitted that he hadn't seen Re5 from the beginning. Sometimes its better to be lucky than good. It's even better to be lucky and good like Magnus.

Naroditsky fought back bravely, winning 3 in a row to even the score, but then it was Magnus’ turn. He won the next 3 games to end the match and the event.

Lichess would like to thank the Qatari Chess Federation and all of this event’s more than 5,000 participants. We hope to bring you more great events like this soon.