Caruana vs Aronian Kicks Off 2018 Speed Chess Championship
The world #2 matches with world #13 in the first SCC battle.

Caruana vs Aronian Kicks Off 2018 Speed Chess Championship

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Jul 23, 2018, 8:58 AM |
16 | Chess Event Coverage

Get your brackets ready! The 2018 season of the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship begins tomorrow with a blockbuster of an opening-round match. Contrary to reports, it's not the only Blockbuster left!

World championship challenger GM Fabiano Caruana will face off against FIDE World Cup winner GM Levon Aronian at 10 a.m. Pacific (1 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central Europe) on Tuesday, July 24. You can watch all of the action at Twitch.tv/chess or at Chess.com/TV.

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There are many questions going into this season. Would a possible Aronian win (12th-ranked) even be an upset over the higher-seeded Caruana (5th-ranked)? (Despite the popular theory in the NCAA "March Madness" Tournament that 12-seeds do very well against 5-seeds, they still only win about one out of every three opening-round games.)

Caruana is trying to even his record in SCC play (he's 1-2 lifetime) while Aronian is trying to break through for the first time and erase memories of the controversial exit from last year's event. He's 0-2 lifetime, with both losses coming by only two points each. Both players are on the "Nakamura side" of the bracket, but at least for them the two-time champion GM Magnus Carlsen is not playing this year.

speed chess championship bracket

With all that in mind, let's hear from the players on how they think the opening round will go!

Caruana Speaks

Chess.com: You really got a lot of use out of the confessional booth at the U.S. championship. Since you have a camera on you at all times in the SCC, is it kind of like one long confessional booth?

Caruana: I think the confessional booth is more of a form of entertainment for the spectators, while during blitz you rarely think about how you look or whether you're entertaining the fans. The games are usually too fast to think about anything but the chess, so it's easy to forget about the camera!

Your overall SCC record in two seasons is 1-2. Do you feel like you have something to prove in the event?

In my last match against Hikaru a number of things went very wrong, so even though the bullet was close I didn't have much of a chance near the end of the match. I think I'll be better prepared for this match though. In any case, I find playing blitz matches against top players very interesting, so I try to enjoy the games without worrying too much about the result.

You’ve really gotten into bughouse the last few years, and Levon has been one of the world’s best for a long time. Would he be your ultimate bughouse partner, or would you pick someone else?

I've improved a lot in bughouse, so I think that a team of Levon and I would be very competitive even against top bughouse players. [Ed: Note the, ahem, *slight* difference of opinion below when Aronian was asked to rate Caruana's skills.] But I enjoy playing with any partner. I'll give a shout out to my friend Robert Hess, because we always make a good team.

Is it possible that any of your world championship training could help you in the SCC? Are you worried that the SCC could hurt you in any way in regards to the world championship?

No, I don't think the SCC or the world championship have any relevance toward one another. Generally, I think practice is good though.

Robert Hess Fabiano Caruana

GM Robert Hess (left) would be one of Caruana's top picks for bughouse partner. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

One of the members of your Candidates’ training camp, GM Leinier Dominguez, qualified for the SCC this year. If you faced him later on, would you have more insight into his game, or would he have more insight into yours?

I'd enjoy playing Leinier, since he's such a strong and creative player, but I don't think us working together will help either one of us in blitz against the other!

With no Carlsen this year in the SCC, does the event feel a little more wide open?

Magnus would of course be considered the favorite if he were playing, and it would be a tougher field—if that's even possible—but it's still not a given that he would make it to the final. Online blitz can be very capricious!

speed chess championship prizes

Chess.com’s internal statistical models say that Aronian is a favorite in the 5-minute and 1-minute but you are a favorite in the 3-minute. Do you agree or disagree?

I honestly have no idea! I think all formats will be close, and the 1-minute will be very nervy, because after playing hours of blitz you can easily get disoriented by the sudden change of pace. Often in these matches the bullet portion decides, but I wouldn't consider either of us a favorite.

smarterchess speed championship odds

Chess.com’s model also gives odds that each player will win the overall title at season’s end. Without me informing you of the odds they gave you, give me a guess as to what you think they should be.

I don't want to think about my odds. It's a big knockout so nobody can have really good odds, but the hope is to avoid elimination one match at a time.

Aronian Speaks

Chess.com: Is this your favorite event since it is about the only one in which you can wear an NBA jersey?

Aronian: It's good to play from home where I get to listen to rap and hear my dog root for me!

Levon Aronian

Aronian always has plenty of other humans rooting for him, too. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Speaking of which, were you hoping Lebron would take his talents to Boston?

I think [the] Celtics have enough talent to beat the cheating Golden State Warriors!

You’ve lost two SCC opening-round matches by a combined total of four games, and last year there was also controversy due to some technology issues. Still, you returned. Do you have something to prove this year?

I have nothing to prove, most chess fans know that I am a much better player over-the-board. I might be flagged mercilessly, but that should not stop me this year from going to the finals.

What do you think of your side of the bracket, especially with having Fabiano as a first-round opponent?

I like playing against Fabiano, he's a good boy! Right now I'm only looking forward to this match.

Caruana Aronian

In over-the-board chess, Caruana has a small lead in classical, but Aronian has a sizable lead in faster time controls. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Do you think the SCC is more wide open this year without Carlsen playing?

I have never played Magnus online, so I do not know how good he is.

Your national team, the Armenia Eagles, won the PRO Chess League this year. Did you watch the finals?

I did root for Armenian Eagles, some of my good friends played for the team. I did not have the time to watch the finals but I am very proud.

Armenia Eagles

The Armenia Eagles celebrate after winning the 2018 PRO Chess League's in-person finals. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Any chance you'll join them in the league next year?

I would not mind playing in the PRO League some day. Looks like a fun event.

In the final season of "Parts Unknown," the late Anthony Bourdain visited Armenia and the subject of chess came up twice in the show. Did you see the episode and did CNN try to contact you at all?

I was contacted by late Mr. Bourdain's management, but unfortunately I did not have the time to be a part of the show. It's a real pity; I am a big fan of his work. I did see bits of the program. Some of my favorite places were visited!

Do you see any similarities between you and Tony? You both seem to be able to discuss music, film, and food, and you are both well traveled, yet you both came from humble beginnings.

I do see something in common with many people of the art and sciences (isn't food the mix of both?) scene. Most of my non-chess friends come from the world of music and art.

Fabiano has been playing a lot of bughouse, for instance nearly every night at the U.S. cChampionship. I assume you’ve seen him play a few games. How would you rate his skills?

Fabiano is a quick learner. He can be a solid 2000 in bughouse.

Aronian walking

Aronian had a "colorful" way of describing Caruana's fledgling bughouse skills. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Chess.com’s internal statistical models say that you are a favorite in the 5-minute and 1-minute but Caruana is a favorite in the 3-minute. Do you agree or disagree?

I would think I am a favorite in 5 and 3 but 1 should be Fabi's domain. I saw him playing snake on a mobile phone, the guy is a beast!

Lastly, Chess.com’s model also gives odds that each player will win the overall title at season’s end. Without me informing you of the odds they gave you, give me a guess as to what you think they should be.

I think people would rate my chances as 60-65 percent.

Since we've now asked both players about their odds, we can reveal what odds our internal statistical models give all players of advancing past each round and winning the overall title:

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Can Aronian fulfill his self-proclaimed status as favorite, or will Caruana's "playing for fun" approach win the day? It all begins tomorrow for the title of 2018 Speed Chess Champion.

Make sure to clear out your calendar tomorrow, July 24, at 10 a.m. Pacific (1 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central Europe). You can watch all of the three-hour action and interviews at Twitch.tv/chess or at Chess.com/TV. Planning even further ahead? Here's the calendar of all SCC matches and other major chess events around the world.

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