So Beats Vachier-Lagrave In Speed Chess Quarterfinal

So Beats Vachier-Lagrave In Speed Chess Quarterfinal

| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

Wesley So defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on Tuesday in the third quarterfinal of the Speed Chess Championship. The American grandmaster will now face Vladislav Artemiev of Russia in the semifinals.

Already in India for the Tata Steel Rapid & Blitz Grand Chess Tour event which starts on Friday, So started his match at 10:30 p.m. local time— presumably after a "large curry dinner" as he had been planning on. It worked out for him, as he took a big lead early in the match and although Vachier-Lagrave mounted an impressive comeback, he could never close the gap. 

The French GM had a slight plus score over the American in over-the-board play: eight to six, with 15 draws. Also, So has never beaten MVL in a classical game. All that proved of little relevance.

SmarterChess prediction Vachier-Lagrave vs Wesley So Speed Chess
The SmarterChess predictions for this match picked So.

"I'm still happy I made it a match after my dreadful start," said MVL, who was at some point trailing by seven games. He actually started with an excellent win in the first game, but somehow couldn't keep it up. He wouldn't win for another for 15 games in a row.

It was the only time So was down in this match, and he fixed the situation right away. In a Sveshnikov—MVL would try a wide array of openings against 1.e4 in this match—So needed just one mistake from his opponent:

Speed Chess Championship logo
Two draws followed, with So failing to win the second being a piece up. He did win game five, after a howler of a blunder by MVL. "This match was a bit strange because we both couldn't get to our best level at the same time. Generally the games were of poor quality by our standards," the French GM would say afterward.

Vachier-Lagrave also tried the French in one game, but that wasn't a success. As it turned out, So could follow one of his over-the-board games from four years ago, although he perhaps didn't do so consciously:

5+1 games | Score

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Score
1 So @GMWSO 3018 3168 0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 ½ 9.5/13
2 Vachier-Lagrave @LyonBeast 2995 2845 1 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ 3.5/13

The three-minute segment started with a draw and then another win for So, who by that point had extended his lead to seven points, the highest margin in the match. Asked how he deals with potential tilt, Vachier-Lagrave said: "I didn't realize until late that I was on tilt, this is the issue, you don't realize it until it happens right in front of your face and by then it's already too late."

2019 Speed Chess Championship Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
However, it was at this point that the French GM started his big comeback. His win in game 16 was his first since the very start of the match.

This time he used the Caro-Kann ("I really didn't have any opening preparation sorted out for today," he said) and punished his opponent for an early pawn snack:

Desperate times call for desperate measures and in game 21 Vachier-Lagrave decided to sacrifice an exchange, and play with a knight and two passers on the queenside. The engines pointed out several improvements for both players in this endgame, which was just too difficult for a blitz game:

Vachier-Lagrave ended up winning this segment 6-3. It was the first time So lost a 3+1 segment in Speed Chess history; he once defeated Magnus Carlsen and tied with Hikaru Nakamura in this particular time control.

The players went into the bullet with a 12.5-9.5 score for So. "Of course ideally I would have been on 50 percent or more before the bullet section but once I was down by seven, any sort of reducing of the margin was fine by me," said MVL.

3+1 games | Score

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Score
1 Vachier-Lagrave @LyonBeast 2943 3117 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 0 1 1 6.0/9
2 So @GMWSO 3057 2823 ½ 1 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 0 3.0/9

After winning two bullet games in a row, MVL had managed to bring back to gap to just one game. That was a brief moment of tilt, if you will, for So. "I guess I just felt a bit comfortable with the lead I had and I thought I would do better in the 3+1 but somehow got pressured by the result," he said. 

In the first bullet game Vachier-Lagrave surprised his opponent with the Evans Gambit, so much that So actually didn't respond well. His eight move was a big mistake, after which White got his dream attack:

As impressive as it was, Vachier-Lagrave's comeback ended after his two early bullet wins. So won the next two games to gain back control. Being three points down and the match clock running down, MVL played 1...h5 in the last game, and won that one:

"At the end I was basically saved by the bell and Maxime ran out of time," said So.

1+1 games | Score

# Fed Name Handle Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 Vachier-Lagrave @LyonBeast 3069 2928 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 ½ 0 1 5.5/10
2 So @GMWSO 2893 3034 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 ½ 1 0 4.5/10

So was obviously happy with this match win: "Other than Hikaru [Nakamura] he is one of the favorites to win this tournament, so the start was obviously surprising. To be honest before the match I thought I had to be leading before the bullet section."

2019 Speed Chess Championship Wesley So
Vachier-Lagrave earned $703 based on win percentage. So won $1,500 for the victory plus $797 on percentage, totaling $2,297.

So will now play against Artemiev of Russia in the semis, who eliminated Levon Aronian. Commentator Danny Rensch suggested that Artemiev might be the slight favorite, while Robert Hess still went for So: "He is monster in these Speed Chess matches."

2019 Speed Chess Championship bracket quaterfinals
The last quarterfinal will be played Wednesday, December 4 at 9 a.m. Pacific (noon Eastern, 18:00 CET) between Hikaru Nakamura and Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

Replay the commentary with GM Robert Hess & IM Danny Rensch.

All match games for replay and download:

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