It's Vachier-Lagrave vs Caruana May 10: GM Blitz Battle #3

It's Vachier-Lagrave vs Caruana May 10: GM Blitz Battle #3

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
May 6, 2016, 12:00 AM |
20 | Other

Who will be the third player to reach the semifinal, Fabiano Caruana or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave? We'll know at the end of Chess.com's third GM Blitz Battle Championshipscheduled for Tuesday, 10 May at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT-7), 1 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. London.

Watch it live Tuesday on Chess.com/TV.

Two of the hottest chess players on the planet will battle it out in our third Blitz Battle (hashtag #blitzbattle ). In classical chess Fabiano Caruana (23) is the current world number-three in the live ratings, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (25) fifth with in between them only Levon Aronian, who was knocked out by Alexander Grischuk in the first battle.

OK, maybe it's better to look at the current FIDE blitz rating list, since this fight will be blitz (and bullet) after all. There we see a big difference: whereas MVL is still the world's number four, we need to scroll down in that top 100 to find Caruana's name on number 84!

Blitz Experience

Yes, the odds are against Caruana, or “Fabi” as friends tend to call him. In last week's Ultimate Blitz event (the one where Garry Kasparov played) he ended in last place, only days after winning his first U.S. championship title.

In the last world blitz championship he played, Caruana finished in 36th place although there, in Dubai 2014, MVL only scored half a point more. Last year in Berlin Caruana was absent because the tournament coincided with Millionaire Chess. Vachier-Lagrave won the silver medal, scoring half a point less than Grischuk.

The French GM in fact has three titles when it comes to blitz: he won both the 2010 and 2012 European Blitz Championships, and the 2015 blitz opener of the Norway Chess tournament. It's fair to say that MVL is a favorite.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave must be considered the favorite, right?

MVL also seems to have more experience in blitz than Caruana. If we take the period in which FIDE-rated blitz tournaments exist, starting from March 2012, the Frenchman has played in 10 of those events versus only five for the American player.

Those 10 events include for example the 2013 French Blitz Championship won by Vachier-Lagrave ahead of Etienne Bacrot and Sergey Fedorchuk. At the 2014 SportAccord World Mind Games, MVL finished second behind Grischuk in the blitz. In his last rated event MVL scored 6.0/9 at the blitz opener of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger. He shared third place with Vladimir Kramnik, behind Anish Giri (second) and Magnus Carlsen (first).

One of the earliest rated blitz events Caruana played was the Tal Memorial blitz tournament in 2012 in Moscow. He finished last with 2.0/9 in a tournament where Alexander Morozevich edged out Magnus Carlsen on tiebreak. A year later the same tournament was won by Hikaru Nakamura; again Caruana finished last.

At the 2014 Norway Chess blitz Caruana did a bit better, finishing on 3.5 points together with Vladimir Kramnik but ahead of Veselin Topalov and Simen Agdestein. At the end of that year he finished last again at the blitz event in London. In 2015 in Norway, where MVL won, Caruana finished second-last, just ahead of Jon Ludvig Hammer.

Who will bet on Caruana, besides his manager Lawrence Trent?

Both players also have experience with playing on Chess.com and with this format: both have played two Death Matches! 

What's "The Prodigy Desk"? Click the banner below to find out more about Fabiano's new venture!

In November 2014 Vachier-Lagrave narrowly defeated another blitz specialist in DM 29: Dmitry Andreikin of Russia. The score was 17-16 for MVL, who entered the bullet segment with a two-point lead but lost the bullet by one game. A year later Vachier-Lagrave lost 17.5-10.5 in DM 34 to the ultimate specialist: Hikaru Nakamura.

Caruana played a Death Match as early as June 2013, when he defeated GM Valeriy Aveskulov in DM 15 with a 16-9 score. Earlier this year, in February, Caruana beat Robert Hess 14.5-10.5 in DM 36 (where Hess received odds).

If Caruana wins, Phil Collins already knows how.

Chess.com asked the players if they would do anything differently from their Death Match experience, i.e. whether they learned from that for this match. 

“Not to force events if things aren't going too well as there's always quite some time to recover. Otherwise, I've heard that this time we'll have breaks in between sections so that will avoid many possible issues,” said MVL. “Since I won my two Death Matches, I hope not to do things too differently!” said Caruana.

Head-to-Head History

OK, so if we look at blitz, a victory for Caruana in this third Blitz Battle is against all odds. However, in the past few years Caruana has performed better than MVL in classical chess, with for instance his stellar performance at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, and his recent win at the U.S. Championship. That must count for something, right?

Well, let's have a look at how they did so far head-to-head.

In classical chess the score is in fact equal, with three wins each and 11 draws. After drawing their very first game in Biel 2009, MVL won their second encounter later in the same tournament. Even back then the Frenchman was a principled warrior against the Berlin. He was 18, his opponent 16.

Keeping the theme, here's a video where Caruana speaks about the Berlin at the 2015 London Chess Classic, after his game in that opening against...MVL.

After several draws, MVL was one of Caruana's "double victims" at the latter's amazing 2014 Sinquefield Cup. This was how Caruana moved to his historic 7.0/7.

MVL then leveled the score at the Tashkent FIDE Grand Prix the same year and also won a few months later in Wijk aan Zee. In both games he was Black in a Najdorf Sicilian. Especially the second was a killer game by the Frenchman with two names.

However, Caruana won the last classical encounter that ended decisively between the two, at the Khanty-Mansiysk FIDE Grand Prix one year ago — also as Black:

In rapid chess it's also equal: 1.5-1.5, with two of the three games played at the 2013 FIDE World Cup in Tromsø. The two drew both their classical games and the first rapid, when MVL eliminated his opponent in the second rapid game. (He would lose to Vladimir Kramnik, the eventual winner, in the semifinals.)

Interestingly, the two players have never drawn a game yet in over-the-board blitz. The score is, not surprisingly, in slight favor of the Frenchman: 4-2. However, these statistics aren't the most reliable as five of these six games were played in 2010, and one in 2015.

The Young Grandmasters section of the 2010 Biel tournament was decided in a blitz playoff. Vietnamese prodigy Nguyen Ngoc Truong was directly qualified for the final but first a semifinal between Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave had to be played. That one was decided in a crazy Armageddon game (see below). Caruana went on to beat Nguyen Ngoc Truong 1.5-0.5 to win.

“We've played quite often indeed, according to the stats I have I'm around 55 percent, achieved mainly in the bullet section. But we haven't played for some time,” Vachier-Lagrave told Chess.com about his games with Caruana, who said: “We've played a lot, both online and over the board blitz. The overall score is probably in Maxime's favor, but I remember it usually being fairly close.”

And...what about bullet? Well, that's always hard to predict, but we have seen them playing in Death Matches. Caruana won his bullet segment convincingly vs Aveskulov and also against Robert Hess he won that part: 4.5-3.5 (including one odds win for Hess). MVL lost both bullet parts in his two Death Matches but his opponents were pretty strong: Andreikin and Nakamura. He told Chess.com that feels he'll have the biggest advantage vs Caruana in bullet.

MVL has more experience with playing games on the Chess.com server in general, and we shouldn't forget that he also has some more experience with bullet, albeit not in front of a computer.

Last but not least, we remind you that each segment starts with one Chess960 game. The players seem to have little experience with that.

“Chess960 is exceedingly close to chess compared to Crazyhouse, KotH or 3 Checks, so I expect it to be a close call. It'll definitely be exciting,” said MVL.

“This part of the match worries me more. Basically, if I get out of the opening with a playable position I'll be satisfied,” said Caruana.

So who will win? And what do the players think themselves?

 MVL: “In general, I think I'm more or less on the same level with Fabiano, even though I have better stats in bullet. Whoever gets a winning streak of some sort might throw a definite punch!”

Caruana: “In my last death match, vs Robert Hess, I only really struggled in the bullet segment. I'm fairly confident I'll be more up to the task this time around, though.”

 

Both players have been fairly active in recent months. As mentioned, Caruana's hands are still a bit sore perhaps from playing 18 blitz games in two days one week ago in St. Louis. That was shortly after he won his first U.S. championship title in the same playing hall.

After Stavanger, MVL played one more game, last weekend in fact: he drew with David Howell in the 4NCL.

Will they prepare? Well, a bit.

“I'll probably play a bit of blitz in the days prior to warm up, but the most important thing is not to be tired the day we play,” said Caruana.

“My preparation will mainly be doing sports and watching tennis, football and the NBA playoffs, the usual stuff! But I might face Danny as well in his Call of the Wild!” said MVL.
Whatever happens, there's a good chance we'll witness another epic battle! Don't miss the action next Tuesday 10 May at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT-7), 1 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. London, 8 p.m. Yerevan, 9 p.m. Moscow.

Chess.com is offering coverage in multiple languages:

  • Chess.com/TV official broadcast (English) with GM Robert Hess and IM Danny Rensch -- watch here to see the ChessTV chat.
  • Twitch.tv/Chess official broadcast (English) with GM Robert Hess and IM Danny Rensch -- watch here to see the Twitch chat.
  • Twitch.tv/chessgermany -- German language broadcast with GM Georg Meier and IM David Pruess.
  • Twitch.tv/chessrussia -- Russian language broadcast with GM Sergey Shipov and GM Alex Yermolinsky.
  • Twitch.tv/chessfrance -- French language broadcast with GM Vlad Tkachiev and Kevin Bordi. 
  • Twitch.tv/filipinochess -- Filipino / Tagalog language broadcast with GM Julio Sadorra and Oliver "Dimaks" Dimakiling.
  • Twitch.tv/chessportuguese -- Portuguese language broadcast with GM Alexander Fier and GM Felipe El Debs

After this, the next matches will be: 

  • Qualifier Event on May 31 -- (entries already include GMs Le Quang Liem, Baadur Jobava, Gawain Jones, Max Dlugy and many others) -- at 11 a.m. Pacific. 
  • Carlsen vs Qualifier -- June 23 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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