Nakamura vs Vachier-Lagrave: Blitz Battle Feelings vs Facts

Nakamura vs Vachier-Lagrave: Blitz Battle Feelings vs Facts

SamCopeland
NM SamCopeland
Aug 21, 2016, 12:00 AM |
13 | Other

GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are doubtlessly deep in preparation for their upcoming Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship semifinal match on August 24 at 10 a.m. PST. They are surely doing countless finger calisthenics, timing out their restroom runs and honing their point-and-click skills with Chess.com/vision!

With mere days to go, all that is left is the prognostication. Our GM level predictors questioned Vachier-Lagrave's chances in Chess.com's poll before the semifinals. While World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen was the clear favorite — tune in to his match with GM Alexander Grischuk on August 23!  Nakamura's chances were considered far superior to those of Grischuk and Vachier-Lagrave, who ranked last in our poll.

It's hard to argue with our users. Nakamura's blitz skills are legen — wait for it — dary. Nakamura's peak Chess.com blitz rating? 3008! His peak bullet rating? A staggering 3279!

Humbly, Nakamura himself has conceded that he has peers in blitz chess. He is open in counting Vachier-Lagrave among them.

However, in bullet, Nakamura acknowledges no peers. Few others believe that he has bullet peers either. He is nearly universally recognized as the greatest bullet player to have ever picked up a mouse. Even though the bullet portion of the blitz battle will include a one-second increment, Nakamura will be considered a heavy favorite as the match speeds up.

How did Nakamura get to be so fast?! As he told Chess.com, "As with anything, I got really good at blitz chess through lots of practice and playing tons of online. As per being fast, I think I'm a bit lucky in that I seem to have very good hand-eye coordination, as well as a good natural intuition/feel for future moves, which means I'm generally a little bit faster in calculating/anticipating what will come next. While this is extremely useful in bullet and useful in blitz, it has no practical value when it comes to classical chess."

For more, read Nakamura's bullet tips.

On the other side of the terminal is Vachier-Lagrave, and right now there is probably no hotter chess player on the planet.

Despite a slightly disappointing Sinquefield Cup (in which he still finished with an even score), Vachier-Lagrave has been tearing it up in 2016. He has gained a nearly unprecedented bounty of rating points (96!) since June of 2015. Victories in Gibraltar (second to Nakamura after a tiebreak — more on that below), Dortmund, and a match with GM Peter Svidler have helped him cross 2800 and reach number two in the world. He has clearly elevated his play, but how did he do it? He wouldn't say, though Nakamura did share his own thoughts with Chess.com.

"I think Maxime has definitely become more consistent than he was in the past," Nakamura said, "but I wouldn't I say I recognize a huge difference in his level of play. He has always been an extremely strong theoretician and gotten good positions out of the openings. It seems to me that everyone has ups and downs. For example, I don't feel like I am playing any worse than I was in June 2015, when I was at 2819 myself, but somehow I am now 30 points lower!"

Enough about the players' general achievements! How do they stack up one-on-one?

The two have played a prior Death Match on Chess.com, the result of which must be of particular concern to Vachier-Lagrave. After all, the Death Match format is almost identical to the Blitz Battle format. Although he held his own and frequently outplayed Nakamura in the blitz time control, Vachier-Lagrave succumbed 8-4 in the bullet portion of the match. To win this time, he will either have to massively outscore Nakamura in the blitz portion or significantly improve his bullet performance.

Here's one of the blitz games from that match.

Overall, Nakamura has soundly bested Vachier-Lagrave in Chess.com games. These may be more relevant than their over the board contests.

How does playing online differ from playing over the board? Well, according to Vachier-Lagrave, "The biggest difference chess-wise speaking is that you see the board differently, and geometric motives are generally trickier to notice online. Other than that, the addition of premoves and the possibility of misclicks is a game changer. I probably don't need to explain why!"

Vachier-Lagrave also added, "I tend to play in the same way [as I do over the board], except in bullet, where I tend to play less complicated chess, but that would be the same over the board, as you need to keep things under control."

Here are their head-to-head statistics from Nakamura's point of view.

The two had another massive showdown this year, when they each tallied 8.0/10 to tie for first in the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters tournament. In the ensuing rapid and blitz playoff, the players split four games, before Nakamura won the final armageddon game. Here is one of the most exciting games the two played in that tiebreak.

In their over the board matches, Nakamura has a healthy advantage: he's come out ahead, 16-11. However, in rapid and blitz games only, the score is more even. Nakamura leads 6-4 with eight draws.

One memorable win among the four for Vachier-Lagrave is this one at the World Blitz Championship from way back in 2010.

So who will win? The edge has to go to Nakamura, but Vachier-Lagrave is riding high, and he may never be in better form than he is right now. In any case, if the old adage is true, the spectators are the real winners!

To be a winner, tune in on August 24 at 10 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7), 7 p.m. Central Europe, right here at Chess.com/TV.

Please add your thoughts in the comments. Are any of you bucking the trend and taking Vachier-Lagrave? What is your predicted score?

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