Carlsen Routs Petrosian 21-4 In Blitz Battle
Lest anyone think that Petrosian was not a competitive challenger, we should remind readers that Petrosian did top a long list of elite challengers including Wesley So,Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dmitry Andreikin, Georg Meier, and Baadur Jobava in the Blitz Battle qualifier to earn the right to play Carlsen. Petrosian is also ranked 22nd in the world according to FIDE's blitz ratings.
Despite his opponent's credentials, Carlsen was in a completely different class. Petrosian acquired some strong opening positions, outplayed Carlsen in some middlegames, and landed a few pleasing tactics. However, Carlsen's relentlessly accurate and resourceful play turned game after game in his favor.
Carlsen's victory means that he is slated to play Alexander Grischuk in the Blitz Battle semifinals. Dates will be announced soon. The victor in that match will play the winner between the two and three seeds, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The match set records in many categories.
- Viewers: A record 41,600 unique observers tuned in to watch the match while 7,069 were watching concurrently at the peak.
- Rating: Thanks to an impressive bullet performance, Carlsen recorded the new highest current live rating on site at 3275. That's extremely provisional, but it was enough to have Nakamura salivating at the thought of a worthy foe with a nice supply of rating points.
- Accuracy: Chess.com analyzed every game in the match and credited Carlsen with one of the highest accuracy rates ever recorded by a confirmed human player.
Petrosian played from the house of GM Varuzhan Akobian. Chess.com's CEO, Erik, was on site to monitor.
As game one got underway, Petrosian said, "I didn't know that we have to play Fischer Random." As viewers of prior matches know, the first game in each time control is Fischer Random (Chess 960).
Full match rules and regulations are posted here. Participants play 90 minutes of 5|2 (five minutes with a two-second increment) games, 60 minutes of 3|2 games, and 30 minutes of 1|1 games. A short break is allotted between each time control.
Fortunately, the confusion didn't seem to cause too many issues. The opening wasn't the problem for Black. With play that was to prove typical of the coming match, Carlsen snagged a pawn and just leveraged pressure, pressure, pressure.
The end featured some nice mating play from Carlsen, who was utterly unfazed by Petrosian's counterplay.
Game two featured more of the same as Carlsen again outplayed Petrosian as Black. Particularly appealing was the knight hop into d2 which induced severe claustrophobia in White's position.
By this point, Carlsen had been munching for about a half-hour on his secret weapon: carrots! The sheer tonnage of carrots he took in during the match astonished viewers.
After the match, Rensch asked Carlsen whether the carrots were organic, and Carlsen, ever the perfectionist, replied: "I don't think those are the healthiest carrots."
In game three, Petrosian turned the tables. Although the opening was favorable for Carlsen, Petrosian's bishops were leveraging heavy pressure, and after a slip, Petrosian won a pawn back and then won a pawn cleanly.
Unfortunately, the resulting position was not easy to convert, and after 102 moves, the draw was agreed.
The good news was that this took more time out of the 5|2 portion of the match. Petrosian confessed that part of his strategy was to get most of his points in the 1|1 portion of the match.
Carlsen struck again in game four. A particularly nice move was 17...Qe4!, which was played instantly.
The viewers were happy to finally see some bloodthirsty attacking chess from the players. Carlsen was to prove quite effective with his h-pawn in the match, and here he rapidly leveraged it to open the h-file. The coming attack was both pleasing and strong, and Carlsen managed to finish in style with 31.Rxg6!, which wins the queen or forces mate.
Just as things were once again looking extremely dark for Petrosian, he scored his first win. Carlsen was in typical outplaying mode when he seemed to blunder (or optimistically sacrifice) a knight. The resulting position was still quite playable for Carlsen, but then he blundered a key pawn as he missed 37.Bxd5!. After further adventures, Petrosian cashed in on his first win in the match.
On the board! The scoreboard that is. Petrosian gets his first win.
Move of the match? 39.Nxg5!! was gorgeous, accurate, and decisive. How much time did Carlsen need to play it? 0.8 seconds!
Once again, Petrosian turned on the heat a bit just as things were looking grim. Petrosian managed to win a pawn, but it may never have been enough to win. He managed to win a second later. Unfortunately, he was only able to do so by reaching the theoretically drawn rook endgame with the f- and h-pawns. The endgame is notoriously difficult to draw, but Carlsen held with apparent ease.
That closed the 5|2 portion of the match 6-2 in Carlsen's favor. While impressive, it seemed possible for Petrosian to recover from this deficit. He had strong positions and everyone agreed that his chances should be best in the faster time controls.
As we rounded into the 3|2 portion of the match, some viewers checked in from Charlotte, North Carolina, where new U.S. women's champion Nazi Paikidze and her summer camp students were glued to the stream while on break.
@NaziPaiki) June 23, 2016
The break didn't seem to have broken the trend. Carlsen was fully in control of the Fischer Random game that began the time control. With instructive positional play featuring an h-pawn advance and heavy piece play against the isolated pawn, he ground Petrosian down.
Carlsen had bagged a pawn and looked on his way another victory when hasty play in Petrosian's time trouble led first to 28.Qf7! and then to 29.Ne5! Petrosian's nice tactical alertness grabbed him his first (and ultimately only) point of the 3|2 portion.
Petrosian appeared to be absolutely loving the opportunity for a one-on-one battle against the champ as he unleashed a great, big grin after this victory.
Could Petrosian get under Carlsen's skin with this win? Carlsen hasn't always handled his losses ideally. Unfortunately, for Petrosian, today the few he experienced seemed a non-issue.
Objectively, Carlsen's play was not perfect in the following game. Petrosian played many accurate moves and could even have obtained a winning position, but in the wild complexities, he erred. Carlsen then wove another mating net, and even though Petrosian was allowed to promote a pawn, he could not save his king.
Once again, Petrosian had his chances. He gave Carlsen some real headaches on the light squares, but after some small errors, it was Carlsen who invaded Petrosian's light squares.
In the next two games, Petrosian turned the aggression up to 11. He ventured two pawn storms on the kingside that made for lots of fun for the spectators. The first smelled slightly of desperation as Petrosian's initial position was difficult and the storm only loosened his kingside squares.
The second pawn storm was far more promising. Although Petrosian turned down more promising lines of play, the pawn storm did offer some chances and create real challenges for Carlsen. The position could have gone either way, but Carlsen was quick and precise, and it was again Petrosian who erred.
Carlsen was in a groove -- literally; he was playing some tunes and rocking to the beat.
The final game of the 3|2 time control gave Petrosian a great opening position, but just as soon as he had cemented his advantage, he was hit by the strong 27...Nf4!, which made it in anyone's game. Petrosian decided to flip the script and sacrifice his remaining bishop for queenside pawns. Perhaps there were good drawing chances, but with time running low, Carlsen began picking off pawns like a kleptomaniac run amok.
As we closed the 3|2 portion of the match, the assertion that Petrosian's best chances would be in the faster time controls was beginning to look shaky.
Carlsen's 6-2 score in the 5|2 portion was impressive, but in the 3|2 he tallied 7-1! What's more, Carlsen had just won six in a row. If Petrosian was to close the margin to more respectable levels in the 1|1, he would have to get hot quickly!
Delivering in fine style, Petrosian confidently outplayed Carlsen in the first game of the 1|1 portion. This was more like it. Petrosian's bullet rating is one of the highest on Chess.com, and no one knew how much experience Carlsen had with bullet. Perhaps Petrosian could stage a massive upset in the 1|1 mini-match?
Team Petrosian could continue cheering as Carlsen offered a dubious piece sacrifice only to exchange queens almost immediately after. Petrosian could easily have moved to 2-0, but a hasty recapture allowed Carlsen to get after Black's king. The extra material had to be returned and Carlsen's extra time won out.
Carlsen delivered his first smooth bullet victory in game three as he got a better position, collected a pawn, and converted cleanly.
"Tacticos!" as commentator and IM Danny Rensch says. A little remove-the-guard operation won a pawn and opened up White's king to force an early resignation.
Carlsen finished a nice attack with the crowd-pleasing 31.Qg6! which offered a rook with check. It mattered little though. Mate was forced.
Carlsen's good play had him in a good mood.
What to say about game six? Carlsen's play was brutal and accurate. It never really felt like Petrosian got started in this one.
Carlsen was beginning to look like Komodo playing bullet. Merciless.
Finally, in game eight, Petrosian managed to get some mojo going. After an error by Carlsen, Petrosian, opened up the black kingside. The ensuing attack was well-played and powerful.
Petrosian cashed in with 23.Bxg7+ which won Carlsen's queen. Petrosian was winning, but as Carlsen said post-match "In general, it's not so easy to beat me."
Still, despite fierce resistance, Petrosian seemed to be overcoming Carlsen when time pressure reared its head and Petrosian played 52.Qf8+?? which simply hung the queen — a crushing reversal.
An exchange sac from a Petrosian is always worth noting. Of course, the former world champion was famous for his.
In what the players knew to be the final game, another bullet blunder decided things as 28...Nxd5 just dropped a piece. Further play did nothing to change the evaluation, and Carlsen closed out the match on move 47.
Carlsen had even managed to better his score by squeezing in one more game. He tallied 8-1 and despite opening the 1|1 match with a loss, he had closed with eight straight wins. Since the first game was Fischer Random, that meant that Carlsen won 100 percent of his bullet rated games. That pushed his provisional rating to 3275; the highest current bullet rating on Chess.com. Nakamura's peak rating is 3279.
Afterwards, Carlsen stated, "What surprised me most here is that 1|1 is actually very slow, unless you get to some scramble, but this extra second was a lot."
Petrosian also seemed disappointed by the presence of the increment, saying, "I was hoping for 1|0. Maybe I will have more chances there. Maybe not..."
Both players were kind enough to share quite a few insights in the post-match interview. Petrosian was surprised by the course of the match. He was expecting to rely on tricks to save bad positions, but instead said: "I [had] a lot of good positions, but I was blundering all the time."
He was also critical of the quality of his opening lines. "I am playing usually these lines. In blitz, it's not so serious, but I'm sure the world champion knows them all."
Carlsen had a contrasting view of the efficacy of Petrosian's openings: "I felt I was getting outplayed every time in these positions that he knows very well."
That didn't seem to trouble Carlsen. He allowed viewers a bit of insight into his long-term approach to the game saying that, unlike in soccer, "There's not a public that implores you to score a goal immediately."
Carlsen also agreed with the commentators that the recent Grand Chess Tour blitz and rapid events in Paris and Leuven had helped get his blitz into form.
"I was definitely more into the flow than I usually am," said Carlsen. "It wasn't perfect by any means, but at least I was hustling."
Carlsen refused to say much regarding his upcoming match with Grischuk, but he was willing to comment on the other semi-final match between Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave. "I expect it to be a close match, but of course, Hikaru, he's the favorite. Especially at the quicker time controls."
The full match with commentary from IM Danny Rensch and GM Robert Hess is here.
Correction: This article originally stated that Carlsen's very provisional bullet rating of 3275 was the highest ever on site. It is the highest current rating, but Hikaru Nakamura's peak rating of 3279 remains four points higher.