Carlsen vs Grischuk: Blitz Battle Facts vs Feelings
GM Magnus Carlsen has proven himself the world's best in classical, rapid, and blitz. Now it's time to face the bullet.
Having won official world championships in three disciplines, there aren't many mountains left to climb, even for a Norwegian. The inaugural Chess.com Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship is now two steps away, but they are giant ones.
His path is currently blocked by GM Alexander Grischuk. The two combatants will meet August 23 at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7), 7 p.m. Central Europe right here on Chess.com/TV.
Carlsen vs Grischuk at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup. Grischuk ran his clock down to seven seconds before defeating Carlsen for the first time in classical chess.
The Russian presents a formidable boulder. While he has never competed in a world championship match, Grischuk is even more decorated than Carlsen when it comes to one format, the most important one: blitz. Two-thirds of the Blitz Battle disciplines are in that realm (5+2 and 3+2), while the final clock setting is bullet (1+1).
Not only has Grischuk's blitz acumen netted him several world championships, there's another factor in his favor. Nothing in the match rules prohibits smoking, even though the players will be on camera. There goes one common handicap for Grischuk!
Grischuk also told Chess.com that his online blitz skills are likely better than over the board.
"I guess it is supposed to go up a but since I am a bit autistic, or let's put it politically correct, an introvert," he said.
Let's digest some hard numbers before we get emotional and talk about feelings.
Grischuk has nabbed three world blitz championships; Carlsen only two. You may cite Grischuk's seven-year advantage on the Norwegian, but remember that the World Blitz Championship only recently became annual.
Additionally, Carlsen participated in all three fields in the years when Grischuk emerged victorious.
So now you're thinking, "Well... Magnus was probably nine for some of those Grischuk titles."
Not exactly. Carlsen's ages during Grischuk's three victories: 15, 21 and 24. Grischuk also happens to be the reigning world blitz champion.
"But Magnus was rated 2900+ during that tournament, they couldn't have played then!"
"Surely Magnus didn't lose?"
"He must have been given Black."
And Wham! Here's the proof, complete with "George Michael's" commentary.
Perhaps now you're rationalizing the data and thinking, "OK, but head to head, I'm sure Carlsen's got some sort of career lead."
Again, no. Grischuk has a small lead in non-classical games (The exact score varies depending on what events you want to count.).
And finally, you may now be exasperated and question this analysis with one last salvo: "But what about a head-to-head consecutive series, played in one session? Come on, this is Magnus, the Mags, Mr. Ustoppelig, Das Wunderkind."
No surprise, Grischuk quells this idea too. As recently as June, he beat Carlsen 2.5-1.5 (also in a semifinal) en route to winning the ICC Open.
(For those who rummaged the depths of Chess.com's archives and found that this writer gave Petrosian some inkling of a chance in the last match, please don't remind anyone about that.)
Here's their one-on-one battle on board one during Carlsen's "triple crown" when he won world titles in all disciplines in 2014.
Because speed will be of the essence, we also present this video from the 2009 World Blitz Championship (played at 3+2, the same as the middle portion of the Blitz Battles), which Carlsen won.
The two have played several 90-movers in blitz, so expect some slow (yet fast!) maneuvering in their match. Here's the moves to that game you just watched. Yes, Grischuk could have drawn by taking White's last pawn when he had the chance.
Carlsen is the undisputed strongest player alive. He's fast and he's confident. He once took out this reporter in 5-1 time odds with ease. However, all the numbers add up to one thing. This match is going to be very closely contested, despite the polling data from Chess.com members.
Now let's talk about "feelings." When the field began as eight players, more people took Carlsen than "the field."
After Carlsen's 21-4 opening-round demolition of GM Tigran Petrosian, the field halved to four players. The other three matches were much closer — none more so than Grischuk's 11.5-9.5 nail-biter against GM Levon Aronian.
However with blitz phenom GM Hikaru Nakamura and world number-two GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the mix, surely Carlsen couldn't "up" his percentage, right?
Wrong. Three times as many Chess.com regulars voters weighed in on this one.
That's right. Carlsen earned so much respect in his quarterfinal that he's now about a 2-1 member favorite over the entire remaining field! The warm fuzzies members feel for the classical world champion managed to increase even further.
It seems, just like with former United States Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, many people are voting their "feelings" more than their "facts."
That's a massive number to be favored by, but what do the players think about their own chances?
"One can beat Magnus, but no one can be a favorite versus him at this point," Grischuk told Chess.com.
"Sasha (Grischuk) is one of the toughest players out there for me, both in classical and shorter time controls," Carlsen told Chess.com. "He is definitely one of the top-three opponents I find hardest to play... I'll have to do a little bit of training."
In 2015, Carlsen was dejected several times after playing Grischuk. Here he is after his loss in St. Louis, and in the first video of the report, we saw his reaction at the World Blitz Championship. He later recovered to beat Grischuk in London. Carlsen told Chess.com he's expecting some "ebbs and flows" in his Blitz Battle match.
The Blitz Battles also include one chess variant. Each of the three time controls opens with a Chess960 game. When asked which other endeavor would give him the greatest advantage (bughouse, three-check, a basketball-shooting contest), Carlsen didn't think any of these would help his chances.
"Sasha is actually a decent basketball player. I don't know if he can shoot threes, but I can't either."
Grischuk added that having a tougher opening-round match probably won't help him, but that beating Aronian was "great by itself." He also reworked a famous quote to explain his desire to compete in the Blitz Battle Championship: "The second-best thing, after playing Magnus and winning, is playing Magnus and losing."
One of those two events will occur on August 23 at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7), 7 p.m. Central Europe right here at Chess.com/TV. The winner punches his ticket to the finals, and will get to sit and watch GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave do battle the next day at the same time.
Please add your thoughts in the comments. Did this analysis change your mind? Is everyone out there still picking Carlsen?