The New Yorker Or The Norwegian: Who Ya Got?
You've marked your calendar for October 27.
You've read the reasons you should watch the biggest event in online chess history.
You've read the stats and analytics showing just how incredibly accurate the two combatants play.
The Chess.com Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship: Where sunglasses are not only allowed, they're encouraged!
What are you missing? Thoughts from the players themselves! As a bonus, how about predictions from past Blitz Battle players?
If you sense a cook, well, there is a small one. GM Magnus Carlsen has entered his "bubble" prior to the world championship. No media requests are being granted, but unlike this guy below, after going in the tank, Carlsen promises to come out on October 27 and play his hand.
Luckily GM Hikaru Nakamura gave Chess.com lots of insight into his blitz skills, the match, and its implications.
He watched the first two Carlsen crushes, paying special attention to the second. For those that need a reminder, Carlsen beat GM Tigran Petrosian 21-4 and GM Alexander Grischuk 16-8. What was Nakamura's takeaway?
"I watched a small portion of Carlsen's match with Petrosian," Nakamura said. "However, it was simply a wipe out, so there wasn't much to take away. I did watch the majority of Carlsen's match with Grischuk. The only thing that really surprised me was how the time management, especially in the bullet portion, was so much better for Carlsen as opposed to Grischuk who seemed to be trying to survive every game with 5-10 seconds on his clock."
Is he in Oman? New York? Norway? Croatia? Magnus Carlsen has had past training sessions seemingly everywhere, but he'll pop his head out for three hours on Thursday.
You might be wondering how Nakamura's speed and skills compare to Carlsen's when playing online. Sure, they played that famous impromptu match in Moscow a few years back, and they've also met regularly at over-the-board blitz tournaments and classical event prequels. But what happens when you add a mouse, pre-moves, and play a long series instead of just one or two games? Nakamura said this likely happened once.
"I suspect that I most likely played a long match with Carlsen [online] some years ago, but I can't say with 100 percent certainty that it was him," Nakamura said." Overall, I don't think past results mean very much. As an example, I've played extended matches against MVL and Aronian, but I wouldn't be surprised if the result is completely flipped the next time we play!"
Apparently Chess.com pairs well with an ice-cold energy drink.
Nakamura is only a few years older than Carlsen, but what about comparing the American's present-day acumen to that of his former self? Does the increase in knowledge offset the normal reduction in reflexes and motor skills?
"I think I'm probably slightly worse at blitz than I was five years ago," Nakamura said, "but I think that becoming a much stronger player in classical chess is a great trade-off! As far as bullet goes, I'm definitely slower than I used to be, but I think I've become significantly better at anticipating moves, so I might have become even better despite the fact that I'm approaching middle age for a professional chess player."
Two years ago, he borrowed from poker legend Stu Unger and expressed his confidence in the Chess.com chat:
However, by his own estimate, it has been about a decade since Nakamura was at his peak in blitz.
"I would say that I probably was playing my best blitz around 17-18 years old. Perhaps I wasn't as strong overall, but I was significantly faster. Nowadays, I will occasionally go into 25-30 second thinks during blitz games whereas that never used to happen."
Carlsen will try for a twofer in these next four weeks: online champion and over-the-board champion.
When asked if he would be happy with an even match or a small minus going into the bullet, Nakamura said that form would be more important at that point than the actual total.
"I don't think the score going into the bullet portion will matter as much as who has the momentum from the previous portion of three-minute."
While that was a slight demurral, one group with intimate knowledge of the Blitz Battles gave more exact predictions for the match. Grischuk is busy at the Russian Superfinals, but the other five eliminated players gave their thoughts on how the historic three hours would play out.
Chess.com asked them to pick an overall winner, a margin, and winners of each segment (5+2, 3+2, 1+1):
- GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: Carlsen by 4 games. Draw, Carlsen, Carlsen.
- GM Tigran Petrosian: Nakamura by 1 game. Carlsen, Carlsen, Nakamura.
- GM Pentala Harikrishna: Carlsen by 3 games. Carlsen, Carlsen, Nakamura.
- GM Levon Aronian: Carlsen by 2 games. Carlsen, Draw, Draw.
- GM Fabiano Caruana: Carlsen by 4 games. Carlsen, Nakamura, Carlsen.
Interestingly, Petrosian and Harikrishna agree completely about the segment winners, but come to a completely different conclusion as to the overall winner. Petrosian's prediction that Nakamura will win the match by only winning the final segment is completely plausible statistically since there are usually more one-minute games than there are five-minute or three-minute games.
If you're wanting the average, that would be Carlsen, winning by 2.4 games. These five think the number-one seed will win the five-minute and the three-minute sections, but they are evenly divided on who will win the bullet.
Something suggests they won't be texting each other before the match.
If Petrosian is right, could the Blitz Battle have a carryover effect on next month's title defense for Carlsen?
"I don't think the result will have an impact on Carlsen's psyche before the world championship match," Nakamura said. "If anything, I would expect it to motivate him even more to crush (GM Sergey) Karjakin!"
As a final reminder, the GM Blitz Battle final between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura will be October 27 at 10 a.m. Pacific or 7 p.m. Central European Time. Watch it at Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/chess.