Magnus Carlsen vs Tigran Petrosian: Preview

Magnus Carlsen vs Tigran Petrosian: Preview

| 40 | Chess Players

What's the biggest underdog story in sports? What's the biggest in chess?

Thursday's much-hyped GM Blitz Battle between top-seeded World Champion Magnus Carlsen and qualifier Tigran Petrosian might seem more equal if the "other Petrosian" were the challenger.

Instead, it won't be the late world champion conjuring moves from the grave, it will be Tigran L. Petrosian, born one month after his namesake passed away in 1984. This final Blitz Battle quarterfinal begins at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7) on June 23.

Petrosian declined to give his own odds of the match, but could they really be worse than the 30-1 that the Ginger GM gave "anyone else" in the qualifier?

We know the ratings, the accolades, the near-invincibility of Carlsen. He's the reigning world champ, the current rapid champ, and former blitz title holder. He has the highest classical rating in history and until the recent Grand Chess Tour event in Belgium (which he won with three rounds to go), he had a blitz rating over 2900.

This will be his first appearance playing publicly on since a simul event in late 2014 (although he has been tuning in and commenting on the other quarterfinal matches). Although Carlsen had 25 minutes per game in that simul, he played that event like it was blitz too, finishing with more time than most of his opponents!

Carlsen is clearly adept at handling pawn storms, but how will he fare against the constant barrage of arrows launched over three hours of combat? "Tigran," which means "fighting with arrows" in Armenian (and we presume they won't be from cupid on Thursday), might also be the best name for a chess player in one of the most chess-centric countries in the world. Besides being the same name of the country's biggest chess hero, "Tigran" likely comes from "Tigranes," a series of historical kings of the land.

Petrosian will need a great many of his 25 or so kings to remain standing to win the match. Before writing off his chances, consider some stats that support his case that this will be a close contest.

First, he is higher rated in blitz than one of the invited players, GM Pentala Harikrishna, and is in a virtual tie with another, GM Alexander Grischuk (who is already through to the semifinals).

Up until this last week, he was also ahead of GM Fabiano Caruana. Pundits gave ratings-peers Grischuk and Caruana great chances to advance, and Harikrishna battled GM Hikaru Nakamura closely until the final half-hour.

Petrosian has some honors that reflect his acumen in this format. He is the past rapid champion of Armenia and also won the first Armenian Chess960 Championship -- the first game of each of the three time controls will be Chess960. In addition, in 2007 he won a massive Chess960 event online, besting a field of nearly 1,000 other players and taking out GM Gata Kamsky in the finals.

His classical achievements include being twice Armenian champion and twice Olympiad gold medalist.

Carlsen and Petrosian met recently over the board, at the 2015 World Blitz Championship. Despite the then-reigning blitz champion applying his usual pressure, Petrosian was up to the task. He told that Carlsen has "good nerves" but White looked cool in defense here:

According to the favorite, they've played many more games in addition to this one. Given the numbers offered, presumably they must have been online.

"I've played, maybe, I would say even hundreds of blitz games with him over the years," Carlsen told "So I know him pretty well. I know what he can do and I now what he can't do. He's a good blitz player but I'm confident that I can beat him at quick time controls."

Here's one of their head-to-head games played online a decade ago:

Carlsen said that the Paris and Leuven rapid/blitz events weren't enough preparation for the Blitz Battle. He said he planned to play bullet to prepare.

"It's no secret that I have more chances in bullet," Petrosian said. How many close might he need to keep it before the final one-minute segment? GM Robert Hess handles that question below:

Petrosian told that he's "very busy right now" and won't do any special preparation. If he changes his mind, he'll have no shortage of helpers. Petrosian is currently in the U.S. and will play from Los Angeles, home of the largest Armenian diaspora outside of the former Soviet Union. GM Varuzhan Akobian and former coach GM Meliset Khachiyan, among many others, reside in the L.A. metro area.

He may not need to prepare openings much. His hybrid systems did just fine in the qualifier, and he didn't even have to waver. In the 11 games, he played only two openings exclusively: the King's Indian Attack as White and the Modern (often the "Tiger," or is it "Tigran" Modern?) as Black. Will Carlsen prepare for these? Or perhaps Petrosian will abandon them and got for something else?

So what do you think? Will Petrosian be as tough to beat as his like-named progenitor? Hey, they both have only one loss in their Olympiad careers (never mind that Tigran V. played 129 games while Tigran L. played 14!).

Let us know in the comments, and of course don't forget to tune in to on June 23 at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7) for live commentary with IM Danny Rensch and GM Robert Hess. You can also watch the broadcast in French or Russian.

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