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Carlsen Headlines Chess.com Blitz Championship

Carlsen Headlines Chess.com Blitz Championship

MikeKlein
Feb 29, 2016, 11:24 AM 79 Chess.com News

Nakamura. Vachier-Lagrave. Grischuk. Aronian. Caruana.

$40,000 in prizes. Blitz. Bullet.

What could make Chess.com's Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship better?

We offered the final open slot to World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and he said yes. 

Carlsen will be the top seed in the hunt for the largest prize fund ever offered by Chess.com and event sponsor Peopletalk.ru, which is also the biggest for any online blitz event in history. The former world blitz champion, Carlsen, nabbed the number-one seed thanks to topping the FIDE Blitz Ratings List for February. He clocks in at 2890, Nakamura at 2884. 

We are also pleased to announce that GM Pentala Harikrishna will be joining the field. Previously announced competitors are GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Alexander Grischuk, GM Levon Aronian, and GM Fabiano Caruana.

This makes world numbers one through four on the blitz ratings, and Aronian, Caruana, and Harikrishna to boot!

Sharp-eyed readers will note that leaves us with only seven players — one short of a full field. Who is our mysterious eighth competitor? Perhaps you! Our final competitor will be the qualifying champion of a $5,000 blitz tournament to be held on Chess.com.

The GM Blitz Battle Championship will be a head-to-head series of knockout matches played throughout 2016. The four first-round matches will take place this spring, likely from April to June. The qualifier event for the right to play Magnus Carlsen is tentatively scheduled for May 31, with the subsequent match a few weeks later. 

Here's the bracket. Stop drooling. (Click on the bracket for a larger version.)

Just for inking the contract, each player wins at minimum $1,000, and that's if he loses all of his games. Each quarter-final match will award $3,300 in prize money. Both players get $1,000 with an additional $1,000 to be split based on the total win percentage. A special prize of $300 will be awarded to the best game in each match.

That money ramps up to the finals, where $11,000 will be split between the last two players.

The format, described in full in our GM Blitz Battles article, is as follows:

  •  Three hours of blitz and bullet chess
  •  First time control: 5|2 for 90 minutes, then 3|2 for 60 minutes, then 1|1 for the final 30 minutes (the same as the Chess.com Death Matches)
  •  The first game of each time control will be Chess960
  •  Total match score will determine who moves onto the next round
  •  In case of a tie, a best of three series will take place (one game in each time controls)
  •  Complete rules can be found here.

A small change from the Death Match format is that clocks will stop after each time control to allow the players a short break before the match moves into the next time control.

#1 Magnus Carlsen vs #8 Qualifier

CARLSEN:

  • Current world champion
  • World blitz champion in 2009, 2014
  • Highest classical rating of all time: 2882
  • Current world number one in all formats: classical, rapid, and blitz
  • Current world rapid champion

QUALIFIER:

Chess.com will be announcing details for our qualifying tournament shortly. For now, we can say that the qualifier will be a blitz tournament open to IMs and GMs with a FIDE rating of 2500 or greater.

We are confident that there will be numerous competitive entrants. Early Chess.com fan favorites will likely include Titled Tuesday regulars such as GMs Georg Meier, Dmitry Andreiken, Baadur Jobava, Jon Ludvig Hammer, and Laurent Fressinet.

Of course, it is not yet possible to make predictions regarding how our unknown participant will fare against the world champion, but spectators must be excited to see how Carlsen handles the bullet portion of the match.

Carlsen's bullet skills remain a complete unknown at this point. Well, except IM Danny Rensch did get a little taste last year. Will Carlsen have to build a lead in the blitz and escape in the bullet or will his bullet skills prove every bit as formidable?

#4 Alexander Grischuk vs #5 Levon Aronian

Grischuk:

  • Reigning world blitz champion (also champion in 2012)
  • World number four in blitz chess

Aronian:

  • Chess.com live blitz rating: 2788
  • World number seven in blitz chess
  • 2010 world blitz champion

Aronian and Grischuk have played by far the highest number of games of any two competitors in the field. Counting all time controls, Aronian currently has a slight lead in their individual games as he has won 11 games to Grischuk's nine with 35 draws between them. However, just counting faster time controls, Grischuk edges Aronian, six to five in wins.

Grischuk may have the perception of the favorite due to his legendary skill as a blitz player and the fact that he is the current world blitz champion. But Aronian has played enough bughouse in his day to make most kids jealous -- and that's usually played at no more than three minutes per side.

#3 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs #6 Fabiano Caruana

Vachier-Lagrave:

  • French number one in classical chess
  • Chess.com live blitz rating: 2871.0
  • World number three in blitz chess
  • Winner of Death Match 29 over world blitz #19 GM Dmitry Andreikin

Caruana:

  • American number one in classical chess
  • Winner of Showdown in St. Louis over Nakamura
  • Chess.com live blitz rating: 2665
  • Winner of Death Match 15 and Death Match 36

Including all formats, Vachier-Lagrave has the edge against Caruana with seven wins for Vachier-Lagrave, four wins for Caruana, and eleven draws. Counting only accelerated time controls, the Frenchman's advantage is more pronounced -- four wins to one.

Both have extensive Death Match experience, although Caruana's won two while Vachier-Lagrave won one but also lost one to Nakamura.

As the "Showdown in St. Louis" showed, Caruana can feel confident playing blitz against Nakamura if he gets that far. What about the Chess960 games? Vachier-Lagrave may be more at home with variants. He seems to have no trouble mastering life-sized bullet chess or three checks.

#2 Hikaru Nakamura vs #7 Pentala Harikrishna

Nakamura:

  • Live blitz rating: 2884
  • Current Chess.com blitz rating of 2864 and bullet rating of 3155
  • World number two in blitz chess
  • Winner of two Death Matches
  • Widely considered the best speed player of all time (Confirmed by a vote of Chess.com's titled players.)

Harikrishna:

  • Live classical rating: 2756
  • Indian number two in classical chess
  • World number 14 in classical chess

Nakamura plays often on Chess.com and needs little introduction. His massive scores in prior Death Matches against top-10 players (17.5-11.5 against Vachier-Lagrave and 21.5-11.5 against GM Wesley So) make it hard to bet against him in any match.

Harikrishna has made major rating strides in the past year. He has broken into the top 15 players in the world, and he is within a few points of surpassing Anand for the Indian number one spot.

It seems Harikrishna has found the secret to continued chess improvement, and it will be exciting to see him go toe to toe against more top 10 players.

Counting all games, Nakamura has a slight edge in individual matches against Harikrishna. Their lifetime score currently stands at two wins for Nakamura, one win for Harikrishna, and five draws.

While anything can happen, many pundits will surely make Carlsen and Nakamura early favorites in the event. Like most sporting events, the top two seeds could meet, but only in the finals. 

While Carlsen has a well-known edge against Nakamura in classical chess, with a tremendous score of 12 wins, zero losses, and 18 draws, the two are much more competitive in faster time controls.

Witness their following duel in the World Blitz Championship with commentary from IM Danny Rensch.

This video has a special place in the Chess.com lore as it is the origin of our 404 error image! Now if you find a bug you'll remember this moment.

We will be distributing more information as events get closer. Look forward soon to announcements regarding contests that you can participate in.

All GM Blitz Battles will air live on Chess.com/TV and Twitch.tv/Chess. Check our Blitz Battles article and Chess.com/news for schedule and participation updates. Remember that the first matches will be in April.

Who knows, if Aronian wins the Candidates' Tournament, he may have to face Carlsen for three hours as a prequel to the world championship!

Additional sponsorship for the Chess.com GM Blitz Battle Championship has been provided by Indigo Capital Partners and Buran Venture Capital.

Interested in sponsoring an event? See our press release. 

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