Nakamura, MVL To Play Death Match Monday

Nakamura, MVL To Play Death Match Monday

| 35 | Chess Players

Two of the best chess players in the world will face off Monday morning in the biggest Death Match of all time as American number-one GM Hikaru Nakamura is set to battle French number-one GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

The match will be broadcast live on and, with coverage starting at 9 a.m. Pacific on Monday, December 21. (Click here to see what time the match starts in your local timezone.)

Nakamura, currently world number-five in the live ratings, has spent a good portion of the year in the world’s number-two spot.

Vachier-Lagrave has surged to number seven in the world live ratings, and was called the “hottest player in chess” in this week’s episode of ChessCenter. 

The grueling match offers a $1,000 prize fund, and will span three hours of nonstop chess: 90 minutes of 5+2 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+2 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet. Coverage will also include postgame interviews with the players.

Let us know who you think will win the Death Match in the comments or on Facebook

Both Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave are previous Death Match winners.

Vachier-Lagrave defeated GM Dmitry Andreikin by a score of 17-16 to win $650 in Death Match 29 last November. 

Nakamura bested GM Wesley So, 21.5-11.5, to win $750 at Death Match 30 in January. 

This is the first Death Match to feature two grandmasters in the top seven in the world, and will also boast the highest combined FIDE rating of any Death Match, at 5571.2.

But that’s actually selling the match short. Since the time controls will be all blitz and bullet, it’s more appropriate to use the players’ blitz ratings.

In blitz, Nakamura is officially the best in the world, with a rating of 2884.

Hikaru Nakamura.

Vachier-Lagrave checks in at number three in the world at 2871, trailing only Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen.

In terms of blitz, this is a match between the world number-one and the world number-three — in short, a match you don’t want to miss.

Nakamura is also ranked number one on the blitz rating list, at 2888, while Vachier-Lagrave ranks number four at 2743.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Each player recently took first place in the December Titled Tuesday event, with MVL winning the early tournament outright, and Nakamura splitting first with GM Maxim Dlugy in the nightcap. 

In addition to being a mainstay in Titled Tuesdays, neither player is a stranger to the wacky world of

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played giant bullet chess with the Death Match commentator Rensch earlier this year in St. Louis. The full match is available on YouTube below.

Nakamura joined the staff this fall in Mexico at its annual company meeting, playing all comers in time odds chess, five minutes to one minute. Nakamura defeated the entire company until IM Daniel Rensch managed a draw in the last game of the match.

Here’s Nakamura using only 21 seconds to take down the journalist FM Mike Klein:

Klein interviewed both players by e-mail in anticipation of the Death Match.

Mike Klein: What was the most fun or interesting game you played in 2015?

Hikaru Nakamura: I don’t know if I would call it fun at the time, but the game with Jobava in the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansiysk was certainly enjoyable and it helped contribute to me qualifying for the Candidates' tournament!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: My game against Caruana in Wijk aan Zee is a good candidate.

MK: What the most impressive single move you saw played in 2015 (could be from anyone)?

HN: I thought the combination sequence in the game Khismatullin-Eljanov from March was incredible. 44.Kg1 was…wow!

MVL: All pretty standard but Khismatullin's Kg1 against Eljanov was a nice shot. Magnus' 61st move against Topalov in Norway. (We're still waiting on that move, of course -- M.K.)

MK: What was the most important thing you learned in your first Death Match that you'll carry over to this one?

HN: The most important thing I learned in the first Death Match is to always keep the pressure on and never start thinking about the time left in the match or time control.

MVL: Have your computer updated and disconnect your phone!

MK: What's a bigger online handicap -- playing blitz on an iPad or using your left hand?

HN: Playing blitz online with my left hand would be the worst! I’d prefer typing moves at bullet before playing with my left hand!

MVL: I think most players are just never using a mouse with the left hand so I'll go for that one. Though left-handed table tennis isn't too bad!

MK: What's your favorite part of French (Maxime) or Italian (Hikaru) culture?

HN: Without a doubt my favorite part about Italian culture is the history. I’ve always been a huge fan of Roman history, and having a chance to see so many of these places.

MVL: Our tendency to appreciate a good meal.

MK: What are your New Year's Eve plans for this year?

HN: Will be spending New Year's with my grandmother and my mother out in California.

MVL: Get drunk with friends.

MK: You have $1,000. A bartender, who stocks every drink/wine/beer ever made, asks what you'd like. What's your order?

HN: If I had a $1,000 budget, I would probably just like to try a mix of the various Nikkei Whisky and a nice bottle of wine from either the Mouton Rothschild vineyard or one of the many vineyards in Tuscany.

MVL: It's not about the drinks (especially when you're no wine fan like me) but all about the company.

MK: Favorite Olympic sport to watch?

HN: My favorite sport to watch by far is tennis, but when it comes to the Olympics nothing compares to the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dash. Michael Johnson forever!

MVL: Ski jumping in winter, table tennis in summer.

MK: What was the moment in your life where you knew you wanted to become a chess professional?

HN: I never really, truly believed that I would become a professional chess player due my many diverse interests, but it all sort of happened and fell into place in 2009 when I won the U.S. Championship, San Sebastian, and then got invites to a lot of major events.

MVL: As soon as I was a decent enough player able to understand the concept as I was enjoying the atmosphere in the tournaments. So around 12.

MK: Which tournament on the circuit traditionally shows you the best hospitality or do you look forward to the most?

HN: For the hospitality, I always enjoy playing in St. Louis the most.

MVL: The Olympiads to witness the French dismantle the opposition!

In case you needed any more reason to watch (you didn’t), the Death Match will include the return of IM David Pruess to Pruess, a former co-director of content for, will join IM Daniel Rensch in giving live commentary for the match.

The pairing of Rensch and Pruess is appropriate for the biggest Death Match ever, as the duo played the first Death Match nearly four years ago.

Rensch took home the title in that long-ago match, pocketing a $790 prize. You can watch the match in all its 2012 glory here.

Death Matches have come a long way since that primitive battle, but there is one downside to the modern versions — they no longer feature heaps of cash dumped on the table like in Death Match 1. CEO Erik (foreground) stacks cash for IM David Pruess (left) and IM Daniel Rensch (right) to fight over in the first Death Match. 

Still, $1,000 is up for grabs in this match: $500 to the winner, $200 to the loser, and $100 to the winner of each of the three match segments.

Tune in to and on Monday, December 21 at 9 a.m. Pacific to watch the match live.

Let us know who you think will win the Death Match in the comments or on Facebook

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