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Carlsen In Speed Chess Final After Beating Grischuk

Carlsen In Speed Chess Final After Beating Grischuk

Magnus Carlsen is the first player to reach the final of the 2017 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship. On Tuesday the world champion beat Alexander Grischuk with a five-point margin despite losing the bullet segment.

This week's match was the complete opposite of last year's Grandmaster Blitz Battle between the same players, when Carlsen had a rusty start but crushed his opponent in the bullet.

Yesterday, Carlsen was cruising from the start, and yet another dominating performance was looming. Winning the 5|2 portion with a 6-2 score (and good chess), he continued the great form he had shown half a week earlier in his Speed Chess match with Wesley So and  his match against Ding Liren at the Champions Showdown.

But this time, Carlsen couldn't keep the pace.

Grischuk finished that five-minute portion by winning the chess960 game, his first in the match. With the next four games ending in draws, the three-time world blitz champion was definitely in the match.

However, by the time the bullet started, Carlsen had built up a six-point margin and that was just too much. Grischuk managed to win the bullet segment, but that was only for the books.

Thus, Carlsen has again qualified for the final, after he won last year's GM Blitz Battle where he defeated Hikaru Nakamura. We might see a repeat final if Nakamura beats Sergey Karjakin in their semifinal match which is tentatively scheduled for December 15.

Chess.com Speed Chess Championship Bracket

Afterward Carlsen admitted that playing his match with So only a few days before had definitely helped him to stay focused. "That was certainly an advantage and it probably told at the start," Carlsen said. "He needed a bit more time to get into it." However, in the very first game both players needed to warm up a bit:

Two draws followed, but then a brief "Carlsen show" started, with the world champion winning four in a row. He played good chess, and he played it fast. Meanwhile Grischuk needed more time on the clock, played less accurately and couldn't hold slightly worse endgames due to the lack of time. Game four was a good example of this.

Alexander Grischuk at the Speed Chess Championship

It didn't exactly boost Grischuk's confidence when he spoiled a completely winning endgame and turned a win into a loss in game five. Like in his match wit So, Carlsen was as slippery as an eel.

Commentator IM Daniel Rensch: "He just won another game he had no business winning."

After losing an objectively drawn endgame with opposite-colored bishops and queens (again due to lack of time), Grischuk missed another winning chance in game seven. Carlsen blundered his queen, but after grabbing it Grischuk immediately played a bad move and he had to give up his queen as well. He then missed a chance to draw the rook endgame. 

"In basketball we say ball don't lie...score don't lie!" said commentator GM Robert Hess.

Blundering a queen can only be trumped by one bigger blunder, and that is allowing a mate-in-one in a drawn position. That actually happened in the very next game and again it was Carlsen who was the victim. When was the last time a world champion made two major blunders in a row?

This one, played in the first chess960 game of the match (and Grischuk's first win!) came as such a surprise that Carlsen jumped back in his chair and even smiled a bit.

Rensch: "I'm telling you we're gonna have a sassy 3|2 session!"

Score 5|2 segment

Fed Player FIDE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2948 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 0 6
Alexander Grischuk 2801 0 ½ ½ 0 0 0 0 1 2

Starting off with a four-point deficit wasn't great for Grischuk, but with the first four games in the 3|2 section ending in draws, he suddenly hadn't lost for five games in a row! However, the next decisive game went to Carlsen, who had to give up his queen once again in a Ruy Lopez, and once again got away with it.

Rensch, on pawn d6: "That pawn had dreams to one day grow up and dance on the stage with the other divas."

With two more wins in games 15 and 16 Carlsen set the score to 11-4, and he seemed in total control.

This one was nice: a Taimanov that looked exactly like a Scheveningen if you put the white pawn on f4 and swap Bb7 and Qc6. When Carlsen also won this game, Rensch said: "I think Magnus will beat anybody in the history of the game in this format."

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However, that's where Carlsen's hegemony ended. In the last 10 games of the match his play was much less convincing, and in fact at this point he lost three games in a row. The first of this "terrible trio" was the chess960 game that concluded the 3|2 portion. It was a good win for Grischuk, where the commentators thought the pawn ending was a draw, perhaps trusting Carlsen's decisions too much.

Score 3|2 segment

Fed Player FIDE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2948 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 0 5.5
Alexander Grischuk 2801 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 3.5

Next he got checkmated, and then an Evans Gambit went wrong. Rensch: "Why don't we get to see more Evans Gambits?"

As the cliche goes, only the very best can find back their form at the moment when it matters. Just when Grischuk started to get hope, Carlsen won again. It was a crucial game, because Grischuk had chances for a fourth win in a row:

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Just as Grischuk was lacking time on the clock at the start, he was now lacking time to catch up in the bullet section. He did win this part five to four but that was obviously not enough. At least he got to finish the match with a win—one that was hilariously short as Carlsen forgot the castling rule Chess960 for a moment:

Score 1|1 segment

Fed Player FIDE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Score
Magnus Carlsen 2948 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 4
Alexander Grischuk 2801 1 1 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 5

Carlsen blamed technical reasons for not being able to play fast moves in the bullet portion, but also praised his opponent there. "It's hard to get a rhythm...I think I was outplayed in the bullet portion," he said.

"At the beginning I played very slowly which is almost equal to very bad," said Grischuk. "It's impossible to play so slow; I could not calculate any simple tactics. You sort of postpone blunders.

"Overall Magnus played very good, extremely well at the beginning. Already after the 5|2 games I was minus-four or five, it was very difficult. At least I am happy I sort of competed in bullet. The only good thing for me in this match."

Carlsen was also satisfied with his play in the first part. "I think it's a lot about when you're feeling good, and playing well, then you also play much faster," said Carlsen. At the start I think I was playing well, much better than I was in my previous matches."

Carlsen won $4,788.46 with this victory; Grischuk $1,211.54. It was the best viewed match of 2017 so far, and compared to last year the number of views is increasing, suggesting that this format of online speed chess is getting more popular.

Whether it's further proof or not, it should be noted that at some point in the Twitch chat, one of the most famous Heartstone streamers, zalae, was talking about Heartstone with plbrta a.k.a. GM Peter Svidler. Perhaps contacts like that can get chess closer to the success of other esports.

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