Speed Chess Championship: Ding Eliminates Aronian, Reaches Semifinals
Ding Liren impressed with a strong performance against Levon Aronian

Speed Chess Championship: Ding Eliminates Aronian, Reaches Semifinals

| 4 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ding Liren beat GM Levon Aronian by a score of 15-11 in the second quarterfinal match of the 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event. In the semifinals, he will face the winner of GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Anish Giri.

The last quarterfinal match between GMs Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana is scheduled for Thursday, December 9, at 10:00 a.m. Pacific / 19:00 Central European Time.

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2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event

The live broadcast of the match.

This match was Aronian's first official appearance under the U.S. flag. Ding prevailed in a great fight that saw only two draws in 26 games. Although the winner displayed excellent calculation skills and strong technical play overall, it was largely poor time management by Aronian that resulted in a rather one-sided affair despite the initial odds favoring him as a 59-41 percent favorite (according to the SmarterChess predictions).

Ding took the initiative early in the match, winning the first three games in a convincing fashion. In the first game, he might have set a new SCC record for most time spent on a move with a full three-minute think on move 15! Despite that, he prevailed in a tense mutual time scramble.

The Chinese grandmaster was on the path to winning game four as well after Aronian blundered his central pawn and then sacrificed a queen for a couple of pieces. However, instead of smoothly converting his material advantage, Ding first blundered a knight fork and later a queen in a drawn endgame for a 180-degree turnaround which was best described by GM Daniel Naroditsky's witty remark: "The eval bar is doing a workout here."

The eval bar is doing a workout here.
— GM Daniel Naroditsky

A peculiar and quite common pattern in this match was both players getting down to their last seconds and then losing on time in all sorts of positions for no apparent reason except perhaps not being quick enough with their mouse. This happened to Aronian much more often than to his opponent, and game six was particularly shocking in this regard as he flagged in a completely winning endgame.

After that game, the scoreboard was showing 5-1 for Ding and the new American super-GM decided that it was time for radical measures. With the black pieces, he switched from the typically solid Queen's Gambit Accepted, in which he suffered three consecutive losses, to a riskier Czech Benoni. It worked as he scored two important wins with black pieces to cut into Ding's lead and make it a 6-3 score at the end of the 5+1 segment.

The shorter time control (3+1) in the second portion of the match made the flagging issue even more pronounced. At some point, the co-commentator GM Benjamin Bok wondered: ''when was the last game when a player did not flag?'' By game 14, Aronian was trailing by a manageable three points, but just when he got a chance to get closer, he lost on time once more.

In the next game, Ding finally found an antidote to the Czech Benoni, which kept Aronian afloat in the 3+1 segment. After this loss, it became very difficult for Aronian to get back into the match. Ding preserved a five-point lead, going into the final stage of the match with an 11-6 score. It would have taken one of the greatest bullet comebacks in SCC history for Aronian to overcome this deficit, but it was not to be.

Ding successfully deflected Aronian's blitzkrieg attempts in the first few games of the bullet segment, keeping a comfortable lead. In game 21, he showed yet another masterclass in positional play against the Czech Benoni and extended his lead to 13.5-7.5, which effectively decided the outcome of the match.

With the tension out of the way, the Chinese grandmaster played the remaining games visibly more relaxed, which led to a couple of blunders, such as the following one in game 24.

The final game of the match ended peacefully, which was in stark contrast with the rest of it. Ding deservedly claims his spot in the semifinals as he was more consistent and, at times, simply better than Aronian, who, despite serious time management issues, also had his bright moments in the match.

In the post-match interview, Ding didn't hide his excitement: "I am very happy with my performance in blitz. Overall, my play was good. I spent a lot of time in the opening stage to come up with the right plan and find the best moves and it turned out to be a good strategy."

Aronian admitted that the match didn't go the way he wanted from the start, but he also praised his opponent: "I was generally frustrated that I was losing on time and it didn't matter what opening I was playing. So, I thought that I might as well have some fun. I was just randomly trying to confuse Ding with some openings, but he is not the guy to be confused. He played really well."

The world's number three player, Ding Liren, is "not the guy to get confused", said Levon Aronian after the match.

Players were also asked about their preparation for the match, to which both gave interesting answers. "Besides opening preparation, I went to the supermarket to buy some milk and fruit since I knew that it will be a very long and tough match," said Ding. Aronian, on the other hand, enlisted a friend's help: "My preparation was spending a nice evening with Varuzhan Akobian, playing some blitz with him. But it obviously didn't work out so well."

Finally, he solved the mystery of constantly flagging in time scrambles: "The main issue is that I forgot my mouse at the house and since I am visiting my friends, I had to use their mouse, which was problematic as I am not used to it." It will be something to keep in mind for the next time.

Aronian earned $1,269.23 based on his score percentage, while Ding receives $3,000.00 for the victory plus $1,730.77 on percentage ($4,730.77 total). He advances to the semifinals where he will play the winner of Nakamura vs. Giri.

All Games

The 2021 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the best grandmasters in the world who will play for a $100,000 prize fund. The tournament will run November 8-December 19, 2021 on Each individual match will feature 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess.

Find all information about the Speed Chess Championship here.

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