Speed Chess Championship Starts This Week

Speed Chess Championship Starts This Week

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The 2019 Speed Chess Championship, with a prize fund of $50,000, continues Friday with the fourth match in the round of 16 between Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) and Anish Giri (Netherlands).

The waiting is over. This year's Speed Chess Championship begins with no fewer than four matches in the round of 16:

All matches can be followed in Live Chess and with expert commentary on

2019 Speed Chess Championship bracket
The 2019 Speed Chess Championship bracket.

Sept. 2: Ding Liren vs. Sam Shankland

[Ding won 19-12; see news report.]

Only days after his magnificent victory at the Sinquefield Cup, where he beat Magnus Carlsen in the playoff, the 26-year-old Ding Liren plays in the opener of this year's championship.

Born in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, Ding is a three-time Chinese champion and the current world number-three in the classical FIDE rating list. He is known to be one of the most solid players in the circuit; he managed to stay undefeated for 100 games between August 2017 and November 2018.

Ding doesn't play online very much, and mostly with friends. He said he was "mostly going to rest" as preparation for the match. Fair enough!

Ding Liren 2019 Speed Chess

Born in Berkeley, California, Sam Shankland won individual gold for board five at the 2014 Tromso Olympiad. As board four, he won team gold at the 2016 Baku Olympiad. In 2018, Shankland won the U.S. Chess Championship and breached the 2700 Elo barrier.

He said he isn't playing online so much these days either, but did a lot when he was younger: "I've been playing some blitz online the past few months. As the match gets closer, I will look at Ding's games specifically and come up with a more concrete plan."

Like probably everyone else, Shankland agreed he is the underdog in this match:

"Obviously Ding is a big favorite. He just made the greatest player of all time look totally uncompetitive in a blitz playoff, and I believe he is currently the second best player on earth. Still, I don't mind the underdog role. All of my career highlights came when they were most unexpected, I never go into any game or match expecting to lose, and I will play the same as I always do. Chess would be a very boring game if the favorite always won."

Shankland 2019 Speed Chess

Playing from his home in Walnut Creek, California, Shankland won't find himself in the best circumstances. Last month he hurt his left hand while trying to catch a falling glass container, and it hit the counter with his hand right on top of it. He severed the flexor tendon just below his left pinky and needed surgery to reattach it.

"I am right-handed so I should be fine, but I'm not sleeping that great," Shankland said. "I think I should be able to play at my normal strength or at least close and would never use an injury as an excuse if I end up underperforming."

You can watch Ding Liren vs. Sam Shankland on Monday, Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. Pacific (9 p.m. Eastern, Sept. 3 at 03:00 CEST) with expert commentary on

Sept. 3: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Wei Yi

[MVL won 21-10; a news report will be posted soon.]

Born in Nogent-sur-Marne, the 28-year-old Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is currently the world number-six in the FIDE rankings. Partly thanks to his win at the Paris Rapid & Blitz, the French GM is the number-three in the current Grand Chess Tour standings. 

Vachier-Lagrave was the world junior champion in 2009 and is a three-time French champion. He is a winner of the international tournament in Biel (five times!), Dortmund (2016) and the Sinquefield Cup (2017).

MVL said he doesn't have enough time lately to play online but keeps it up whenever he has free time between tournaments: "It helps at keeping some tournament play instincts, it’s fun, and it offers a lot of diversity with the opponents you can face."

Asked about the best advice a coach ever game him, Vachier-Lagrave's answer, "Play fast!" could be useful in this format. His preferred time control is 1+1. "But I hope to strike before."

What will he do with the prize money if he wins the SCC? MVL: "I would throw a giant party for my friends. And with the remaining funds I’ll get a chess coach for Danny Rensch...."

Vachier-Lagrave Speed Chess Championship

Born in Yancheng, Jiangsu, China, the 20-year-old Wei Yi entered the bracket by winning the inaugural Junior Speed Chess Championship. In the final held last month between the top two juniors on the planet, Wei defeated Jeffery Xiong eventually in an Armageddon tiebreak.

The youngest player ever to cross the 2700 Elo mark (at 15 years, eight months and three days), Wei was part of the Olympic team that won the 2014 Tromso Olympiad. He won the Chinese championships of 2016 and 2017, and in the latter year he clinched the first prize at the Danzhou Super-GM tournament.

Wei was remarkably modest when asked for his chances in this match: "Close to 0.999%."

Wei Yi Speed Chess

We also asked what the players think is the biggest strength of their opponents.

MVL: "Wei is obviously a very strong and universal player. He has already given me and other players lots of headaches during games, so I’m not taking this match lightly. But as for his biggest strength, I would be unable to answer."
Wei: "Self-confidence. He plays Najdorf and Gruenfeld all the time."

You can watch Vachier-Lagrave vs. Wei Yi on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 7 a.m. Pacific (10 a.m. Eastern, 16:00 CEST) with expert commentary on

Sept. 4: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Elina Danielian

[Nepomniachtchi won 27-2; a news report will be posted soon.]

Born in Bryansk, the 29-year-old Ian Nepomniachtchi has made steady progress over the years and is currently the world number-five player. His tournament victories include the European Individual Championship (2010), the Russian Superfinal (2010), the Tal Memorial (2016) and the Aeroflot Open (2008 and 2015).

"Nepo" was the first of all players to provide answers to our questions, but some of them might have to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, he gave chances against Danielian as "50 percent" (possibly suggesting that he either wins or doesn't), and he needs to determine the strategy "with his cat."

What about his opponent's biggest strength? Nepomniachtchi: "Iron will!"

Ian Nepomniachtchi Speed Chess

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, the 41-year-old Elina Danielian has been Armenia's top female player for many years. She won the Armenian women's championship six times and represented Armenia 13 times at Women's Olympiads (1992-2014 and 2018). In 2003 she won gold at the Women's European Team Chess Championship in Plovdiv.

Danielian entered the event by winning the inaugural Women's Speed Chess Championship. She did that as the big underdog, first winning an online qualifier and then, as the lowest seed, beating Kateryna Lagno, Harika Dronavalli and then Valentina Gunina in the final.

"The tournament was kind of checking my nerves, especially during the final match when I was quite behind in score and, yes, I passed the exam. My nerves are still OK :-)" Danielian said.

What about her chances against this top grandmaster?

"My chances? :-) First, let's define your question—chances for what? For winning any single game or to draw it? :-)" joked Danielian. "Of course, I'm the favorite in our match. By the way, who is my next opponent? :-))) But, if seriously I hope I can play and score a bit better than Hou Yifan against Hikaru Nakamura."

Elina Danielian Speed Chess

About prep, Danielian said: "I'm going to learn closely more Ian's games [and] his playing style, and I will try to figure out the way of his thinking. That's all what I'm going to do in my preparation, but anyway nothing will help me :-)"

IM Sopiko Guramishvili will have the call just as she did for Danielian's incredible run during the WSCC. Will Guramishvili's presence act as a good luck charm once again for Danielian as she attempts to pull off the unthinkable?

Sopiko Guramishvili
Sopiko Guramishvili will once again provide commentary for Wednesday's match

You can watch Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Elina Danielian on Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 7 a.m. Pacific (10 a.m. Eastern, 16:00 CEST) with expert commentary on

Sept. 6: Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Anish Giri

Born in Krakow, the 21-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda is the world number-25 in the FIDE rankings. He achieved his grandmaster title in 2013 at the age of 15 years and 21 days. He won the 2018 Polish Championship, and since then he's been the number-one player in Poland, ahead of Radek Wojtaszek.

Duda is a speed chess specialist. Last year he eliminated both Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk from the Speed Chess Championship, and he also finished in second place in the world blitz in St. Petersburg.

He likes his chances: "Frankly pretty good. My opponent is obviously a very strong player, but I think he is considerably weaker in online chess. Having said that, I must knock on wood.... I'm very superstitious ."

Duda said he can't do much prep: "I don't have that much time as I wish because I'm playing in Polish Extraliga, and the next day there is the match. I'd probably prepare some not-so-good opening ideas; I'd also practice a bit."

Jan-Krzysztof Duda Speed chess

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, but living in the Netherlands since 2008, the 25-year-old Anish Giri is the world number-four player. He became a GM at the age of 14 years, seven months and two days.

Giri won the 2017 Reykjavik Open and shared first place in the 2015 London Chess Classic and the 2018 Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. This summer he won first alone at the Shenzen Masters in China.

The Dutch GM said he followed both the Women's and Junior championships: "I commentated on two junior matches and heard my wife commentate on the women's despite our thick wooden doors. She is very loud."

Anish Giri Speed Chess

Giri doesn't see himself as the favorite just yet, saying the chances are fifty-fifty. "It depends on the form of the day."

He said he won't prepare for it at all. Or will he? "OK, maybe I will solve tactics for an hour and revise my 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 that he does far too often."

You can watch Jan-Krzysztof Duda vs. Anish Giri on Friday, Sept. 6 at 9 a.m. Pacific (noon Eastern, 18:00 CEST) with expert commentary on

Note that you can also still enter your picks for our Fantasy Game before 6 p.m. Pacific time on Sept. 2!

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