The current World Blitz Champion, GM Le Quang Liem, and the former World Junior Champion, GM Dmitry Andreikin, will face off in Death Match 24 on Saturday, May 3, 2014. Their average FIDE rating of 2716 makes this the highest-rated Death Match in history.
At 2722, Andreikin is riding high in the chess world. He is the second-highest-rated player to be featured in a Death Match (GM Fabiano Caruana is still easily the highest). You could almost say Andreikin is the closest Chess.com has ever had to an overall world champion, since he finished third in the recent 2014 FIDE Candidates Tournament ("almost" because GM Nigel Short played in Death Match 18, and he was even closer to becoming world champion, in 1993).
The two are treating the preparation to the match quite differently.
"Playing online is actually a bit different than actual tournaments," Liem (2710) said. "For example, premove is allowed. Therefore, I will have to take advantage from that. I think I will play some practice games before the match to gain experience." True to his word, he has played more than 75 combined games of bullet and blitz on Chess.com as of this writing, many of them with a one-second increment.
GM Le Quang Liem, carrying the Olympic torch before the 2012 Summer Olympics
He actually ranks at or near the top of both categories, which would be important if he needed to qualify for a Death Match. When you're World Blitz Champion, however, the only question is whether your invitation will be engraved.
"I will not prepare for the match," Andreikin said. "It's only entertainment for me... I don't see any reason to remember and analyze blitz games."
Before it is presumed that he is just "winging it" for the match, he told Chess.com that he wasn't planning on playing much chess at all this year, outside of wanting to participate in the FIDE Grand Prix.
GM Dmitry Andreikin, probably not thinking about chess here
There's also that "small" issue of him becoming a father in February, just before his over-acheiving performance in the Candidates Tournament. "[I have a] big family rest planned for this summer," he said.
Andreikin said he relishes the chance to be the underdog, as he has been for some high-profile tournaments recently. "It is much more pleasant than to be the Elo favorite in an open tournament," he said.
When asked who was the favorite, both players demurred. Andreikin - "Likely our chances are equal." Liem - "I consider we have even chances."
How about the world's strongest blitz player? On this question the duo differed.
"On the internet it is Nakamura - 100 percent," Andreikin said. "About live blitz, I find it difficult to answer - too many strong players."
Would Liem name himself? No. Instead: "Probably Carlsen is the strongest blitz player of all time controls right now. The gap between Carlsen and other top players, including myself, is considerably smaller as the time control is reduced." Carlsen did not play last year when Liem won the title.
GM Magnus Carlsen (8th from right, plain white shirt), GM Le Quang Liem (8th from left) and the Webster Chess Team playing soccer in St. Louis
Liem told Chess.com that he considers his game against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in 2009 to be his "sweetest" since it was his first 2700+ scalp. "I went on to win that tournament too."
A backward Polish? A reverse Orangutan? Call it what you will, Liem ably jumps around pawns five(!) abreast in the endgame to secure the point.
Andreikin, also firmly in control of the Orangutan
Unlike Andreikin, Liem expects to play a lot more chess this year. He plans to go back to his native Vietnam to represent his country in the Asian Team Championship (May, Iran). He will also fly to Norway for the Olympiad in August. Liem will attempt to defend his World Blitz Championship title in between the team events. The World Rapid and Blitz Championship is in Dubai in June.
Currently, he is enrolled at Webster University in St. Louis, U.S.A. He is studying Finance, whereas Andreikin has already finished his degree in Economics. "Now I see more positive in chess," Andreikin said about his future plans. "It is also possible that I may work in this field," said Liem about his plans after graduation. "I am just a freshman now... I like to keep everything flexible. All options are open at this moment."
If his time at Webster is any indication, this "chess thing" may work out. His team won the Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship and the Final Four of College Chess this year.
The Webster Chess Team in New York with their trophy for winning the 2014 Final Four of College Chess (photo: Susan Polgar and Paul Truong)
(left to right) GM Georg Meier, GM Anatoly Bykhovsky, GM Wesley So, GM Le Quang Liem, GM Fidel Corrales-Jimenez, GM Ray Robson
"I decided to come to Webster because I knew I would have good opportunities to have higher education and high-level chess training." His coach is former Women's World Champion GM Susan Polgar ("she is very helpful") and his teammates include three Death Match veterans - GM Georg Meier, GM Ray Robson and GM Wesley So ("we frequently analyze and train together"). St. Louis is also the home of GM Hikaru Nakamura, meaning that he has plenty of chances to interact with elite players (it also means that, despite his world title, in Andreikin's estimate he is not even the best blitz player in his own city!).
Andreikin declined to nominate a game as his best. "I hope that the most beautiful victories are waiting for me." Instead, Chess.com will pick a couple on his behalf.
For the Andreikins, with family comes modesty
How do you like your attacks on g7? With a pretty finishing move...
...Or a remarkably similar attack that helped him tie for first (and ultimately win) the 2012 Russian Championship?
If mind-boggling complications are your thing, Liem drew attention to this game that he played in 2012. Although he ended up losing "the most tactical game I have ever played," he found a beautiful sequence that would have won. "It was too complicated to figure out in time trouble," he said, and that's saying something for the World Blitz Champion! Your hint is that it is Black's 29th move - it's supremely hard to find even with an unlimited amount of time.
What's the most misunderstood part of Vietnamese culture for Americans? "The way to write our names," Liem said. "But it is not only Americans! A Vietnamese name is usually written in order of last name - middle name - first name, and the middle name is never left out. So when you say Le Quang Liem, somebody may actually think my last name is Liem. This created some confusion during my tournament play." (Despite all this, he said it would be proper to pen this article using "Liem" after the first reference. Confused yet? You could just call him "Blitz Champ" and be done with it!)
The three-hour event will take place on Chess.com/TV on Saturday, May 3 at 19:00 CET (Amsterdam), 1 p.m. Eastern (New York time, GMT -5), 10 a.m. Pacific (Los Angeles), 9 p.m. in Moscow. See here for your time! Log on then to watch IM Danny Rensch and GM Ben Finegold commentate live!