Aronian-Grischuk Blitz Battle Opener April 6: Once More We Play Our Dangerous Game

Aronian-Grischuk Blitz Battle Opener April 6: Once More We Play Our Dangerous Game

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Mar 31, 2016, 12:00 AM |
28 | Chess Players

Chess.com's first-ever GM Blitz Battle Championship is right around the corner, and the field's two most experienced players will kick things off April 6 at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT-7), 1 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. London.

What does experience come with? Wisdom, and also four combined world blitz championships.

GM Alexander Grischuk, 32, and GM Levon Aronian, 33, aren't exactly pensioners yet, but blitz and bullet traditionally are a young man's game. The shared history of the fourth and fifth seeds goes back at least 20 years, back when Magnus Carlsen's shoes still had velcro and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave knew about as many French words as I know.

As Sean Connery might say, "Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary."

Who has the edge in the upcoming three-hour match? Let's break it down via three categories: blitz experience, head-to-head history, and intangibles.

Blitz Experience

Grischuk's taken three FIDE World Blitz Championship titles, in three different formats. In the inaugural 2006 event in Israel, he won in a round robin of top players and second-tier Israeli players. He also won in 2012 in a long double round robin of 30 total games. He made it a triple at the most recent iteration in 2015, with the world's elite present in Germany in a giant Swiss. 

Interestingly, Carlsen participated in all three championships that Grischuk emerged victorious.

Aronian didn't play in 2006 or 2012, but he did in 2015 (finishing 11th). The Armenian's lone win, in 2010, came after a Herculean 37 games! (Don't let Karpov or Kasparov talk about 1984; they may laugh at that notion.) During Aronian's title run, Grischuk finished ninth.

Outside of the World Blitz Championship, Grischuk's done well in numerous other fast time control events. He was a finalist in the 2008 ACP World Cup, beating Karpov, Svidler and Karjakin in mini-matches. The next year he won the Moscow Blitz Championship.

Fourth-Seeded GM Alexander Grischuk, Russia

In 2013 he narrowly lost out on another world title (losing to GM Le Quang Liem by a half-point) but he did win the ACP Rapid Cup. In 2014 he took second in the Tal Memorial Blitz Tournament and won the blitz and rapid portions of the World Mind Games.

Aronian beat Kramnik in 2007 in a rapid match, and the won top honors at the 2009 World Rapid Championship. Four years later he won the blitz portion of the World Mind Games and in 2014 he finished in equal second, losing only to Carlsen in his quest for another world rapid title.

Those are of course singular events, so what about their blitz ratings? FIDE's only been keeping track for a couple of years (and the ratings are heavily dependent on the World Blitz Championship) but Grischuk has an edge with a small statistical significance. The Russian clocks in at 2851 (world number four) and Aronian at 2814 (world number six) on the March list.

Fifth-Seeded GM Levon Aronian, Armenia

According to ratings guru Jeff Sonas, that translates to about a 55 percent win expectancy for Grischuk in a single game. Again, the sample size from which the ratings are derived is much smaller than that used for their classical chess ratings (just look at who is number seven). When we slow things down, Aronian has the lead. After the Candidates' Tournament, the Armenian dropped slightly in regular rating to 2784, while Grischuk did not qualify and thus stayed at 2752. Aronian's expected win percentage if this were classical chess? Also 55 percent!

Head-to-Head History

It seems likely these two competed much growing up, as they are only one year apart in age, although Moscow to Yerevan is 2262 km by car. As you might expect from the last extrapolation of ratings, officially the score is mixed, depending on the time control.

Of all the chess tournaments in all the towns all over the world...Aronian and Grischuk chat before one of the rounds of the 2015 London Classic.

In classical chess, Aronian has a 6-3 lead in decisive games, with 22 draws. A 29 decisive-game percentage -- eat your heart out Candidates' (28.5 percent)!

However, when the hourglass contains less sand, Grischuk nips Aronian. He's ahead 5-4 with 13 draws in rapid and blitz games.

Some of their first encounters in the database are actually from the rapid/blindfold combination Melody Amber Tournament, which is now defunct. Aronian won the rapid portion of the event's series twice, and the overall three times (Grischuk never won the overall).

Their shared history goes back at least as far as 1997, when both men competed in the "Kasparov Cup" in Moscow. That one extra year on Aronian's calendar must have helped a lot -- he won by two full points (8.0/9), besting not only Grischuk, but also a litany of future stars (Varuzhan Akobian, Gabriel Sargissian, Teimour Radjabov, and Vugar Gashimov, to name a few).

Back then the two drew in a Four Knights, but Aronian showed in one of their first rapid encounters that he may play just about anything with reduced time. Here's the duo's game from the 2006 Melody Amber, when Aronian goes for "The Kopec System"!


Grischuk got his revenge that year in the blindfold, but of course that's not part of the GM Blitz Battle Championship (but maybe for next year).

Both men qualified for the 2007 FIDE World Championship, creating two of their most important game versus one another. Aronian won once and drew the other, and his full point was arguably one of the games of the tournament. And what is it with Aronian's h-pawn again?!


Aronian kept notching important wins against Grischuk (2008 FIDE Grand Prix, 2009 Bilbao Masters Grand Slam). Then they met again in an official blitz event -- the 2009 World Blitz Championship. Although Carlsen won, Grischuk finished fifth and took 1.5/2 from Aronian, who struggled and finished on 50 percent.

Grischuk's 32nd "cleared" the air in their person rivalry.


En route to his lone world blitz crown, Aronian took out Grischuk in one of their most electric encounters. You're supposed to need three minors to fight against a queen, but sometimes you can get by with two:


In the 2011 Candidates' Matches, Grischuk used a strategy against Aronian in the first round, and later against GM Vladimir Kramnik, that showed the belief he has in his rapid skills. He drew all the classical games in both matches, but advanced in the rapid/blitz tiebreak in each.

In fact, he needed to go to blitz in both matches. In their eighth game in the opening round, Grischuk was finally able to put away Aronian, and restore humanity's belief in the power of the queen.


They've drawn nearly all their games since then, but the last two wins have come from Grischuk -- one in blitz (2013 World Mind Games) and one in classical (2014 Norway). Amazingly, in that contest, Aronian again ditched his queen, although this time may have been out of desperation. Still, it gives us the final verdict on the lasting argument of Grischuk's queen versus Aronian's army:


Intangibles

Both men have competed in numerous accelerated time control events in their storied careers, so rapid and blitz is clearly something they both care about.

Who will come into the battle with the better mindset? Grischuk hasn't played in about four months (he's fairly active in poker too), while Aronian just missed his chance in Moscow to qualify for the 2016 World Championship.

After failing to win the Candidates', the Armenian sounded deflated at the press conference: “Honestly I'm heartbroken. The amount of work you put in to get a position where you're playing well and you get good positions, and just to ruin them like this, of course is my own personal tragedy. I'll have to live with that.”

GM Hikaru Nakamura finished equal to Aronian in Moscow, but intimated that being close to winning but coming short is far more difficult psychologically than never having a chance at all.

So which is better preparation: being tested by the world's best but not succeeding, or plain old inactivity? Both have had long enough careers that neither event should burden them too much. It can be argued that opening research or technical play is not as needed in this series, but rather a different skill set -- intuition, speed, and a strong constitution.

Here's the two men just after their biggest successes of last year. First, Aronian won the 2015 Sinquefield Cup:

One month later, Grischuk captured his third world blitz title in Germany:

What also matters more is one's temperament once a streak unfolds in the Blitz Battle. In a three-hour match with only short pauses, there's little time to collect oneself if a string of results goes against you. Unlike previous Death Matches, there will be short breaks between each of the three time controls.

Much less is known about their bullet skills, but both have played thousands of games online and surely have experience there. Aronian's known to be a bughouse maven, so he should be just fine when the clock is low and crazy positions appear. As for Grischuk, this reporter witnessed him beat Carlsen at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup when both were very low on time (a Grischuk specialty) but his reaction suggested nothing special had happened.

Let's also not forget that each time control will open with a Chess960 game. Aronian clearly has more experience, having won the open and invitational Chess960 events in Mainz several times each.

 

With all this in mind, no prediction is being offered. That's your job -- please let us know who you think will win and why in the comments.

Make sure to watch the action live. For the first time ever, Chess.com is offering coverage in three languages. GM Robert Hess and IM Danny Rensch will commentate in English at www.chess.com/TV and www.twitch.tv/chess. GM Sergei Shipov and will cover the match live in Russian with GM Alex Yermolinsky at twitch.tv/chessrussia.

Blitzstream (Monacan master Kevin Bordi) along with special guest, GM Vladislav Tkachiev, will discuss the action in French at twitch.tv/chessfrance.

Remember, this first match of the GM Blitz Battle Championship will be April 6 at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT-7), 1 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. London, 8 p.m. Yerevan, 9 p.m. Moscow.

After this, the next matches will be: 

  • Nakamura vs Harikrishna -- May 4 at 10 a.m. Pacific
  • Caruana vs Vachier-Lagrave -- May 10 at 10 a.m. Pacific
  • Qualifier Event on May 31 -- (entries already include GMs Le Quang Liem, Baadur Jobava, Gawain Jones, Max Dlugy and many others)
  • Carlsen vs Qualifier -- June 8 or 15 (most likely) again at 10 a.m. Pacific

The GM Blitz Battle Championship and its $40,000 prize fund is made possible by sponsors PeopleTalk.ru, Indigo Capital Partners, and Buran Venture Capital.

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