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Grischuk Knocks Out MVL In 1st Speed Chess Upset

Grischuk Knocks Out MVL In 1st Speed Chess Upset

Alexander Grischuk eliminated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave today in the MasterClass Speed Chess Champioship's first quarterfinal. Grischuk's next opponent is the winner of the match between Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So.

Don't miss the second quarterfinal, between Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepomniachtchi, on October 24 at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. New York and 7 p.m. CEST at www.Chess.com/tv.


Somehow an underdog had never beaten a favorite before in the history of Chess.com featured matches. That changed on Monday.

OK, the margins were small, but Grischuk was the fifth seed after all, and MVL the fourth seed. In the GM Blitz Battles (last year) and MasterClass Speed Chess matches (this year) so far, the higher-seeded player always won.

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The match, which could be seen as a continuation of the battle between the same players in the World Cup's round of 16 (won by MVL), was fairly balanced at the start. With five minutes and two seconds increment on the clock, both players shared a win each, and then drew the third game.

Grischuk's win in game one was a nice lesson in zugzwang — commentators GM Eric Hansen and IM Danny Rensch expected a draw, when this happened:

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Grischuk and MVL last month in their round of 16 game at the World Cup. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After the fourth game was won by Grischuk, MVL was about to level the score yet again.

What happened then could be seen as the critical moment of the match. Many games have one or two of such moments, but a match can be like that too.

Note that, at this point, Vachier-Lagrave had two minutes and 18 seconds on the clock, vs eight seconds for his opponent...

"I didn't even premove 41...d2," MVL said afterward. He admitted that he was affected by it. "It was a vicious circle from there on."

He lost the very next game in just 18 moves.

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Grischuk won two more games to deliver a close-to-decisive punch. Normally, a four-point margin shouldn't be a big deal at that stage of the match, but throughout the match Vachier-Lagrave was incapable of doing much about it. It was telling that only in game 13 he would score his second win.

Games 9-12 were four straight draws, with MVL again missing chances here and there. This one, for example, was spotted by the commentators but not by the player(s):

After game 10 the 5|2 segment was over, and the score was 7-3 for Grischuk.

Score: 5|2 Time Control

Fed Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
Alexander Grischuk 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ ½ 7
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 0 ½ ½ 3

As mentioned, MVL scored his second win in game 13. He did so after spotting a nice tactic. "If MVL is seeing these tactics it means he might get his confidence back," said a hopeful Rensch. Sadly (for the match intrigue), positive moments (for the French fans) like these were rare on this Monday:

Games 14-16 were outstanding. According to FM Mike Klein, they "might be the best trio of games we've ever seen in the Speed Chess Championship."

First, there was a classic Bxh7 sacrifice, which maybe wasn't so classic as Black was keeping the extra piece:

Then, Grischuk played a brilliant attacking game. Later he would reveal that he actually knew the theory until 13.Bxe7, but that hardly made it less impressive. 

Rensch: "After the mate he leaned back but he might as well have dropped the mike. That was nasty."
Hansen: "This was one of the best games I've ever seen. That was demoralizing for MVL."

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Grischuk: "At that point Maxime realized that the Grand Prix Attack just refutes the Najdorf so he couldn't repeat the Najdorf."

MVL: "I am looking forward to you playing the Grand Prix attack in classical games!"

Meanwhile, the chat on Chess.com/TV enjoyed the presence of top GM Hikaru Nakamura. He was mostly providing move suggestions—and mostly strong ones!

His comment to Grischuk's quick mating attack, in typical chat lingo: "OMG. OMFG. SICK. SICK. SICK."

And then there was the following encounter, which kept viewers on the edge of their seats.

A remarkable streak of Black wins followed, with six in a row. That included the second chess960 game, which ended the 3|2 portion. You can say that MVL controlled the center in this game!

This segment in fact ended in 4.5-4.5, after which the score was 11.5-7.5 for Grischuk.

Score: 3|2 Time Control

Fed Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Score
Alexander Grischuk ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ 0 1 0 4.5
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½ ½ 1 0 0 ½ 1 0 1 4.5

By game 24, after all those black wins and one draw, Grischuk still had that four-game lead. The score was 14-10. Then, something happened that led to mixed emotions in the chat.

Grischuk was completely lost, but played on longer than usual. One move before the mate, he spent about 20 seconds (making some faces on his webcam) and then resigned.

In game 27 Grischuk did something similar, as he played on for long in a completely drawn rook endgame. Rather unique for this format, the 50-move rule eventually put an end to MVL's mental suffering.

In the post-match interview Grischuk apologized for these games, admitting that it was a bit "dirty." However, he argued that something similar happened in his match last year with Magnus Carlsen, after which he had decided that he would do it as well, when needed.

In the chat, Nakamura commented: "No need to apologize! Win any way you can!" 

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MVL was a good sport afterward, and congratulated his opponent. However, he also noted that he wasn't amused about this. "In a way I understood, but it was not only frustrating, I felt it was a bit unnecessary."

At least the Frenchman got to have the last win of the match, in the third chess960 game.

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At least MVL could finish with a win.

Score: 1|1 Time Control

Fed Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
Alexander Grischuk 1 0 1 ½ 0 1 0 ½ ½ 0 4.5
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0 1 0 ½ 1 0 1 ½ ½ 1 5.5

Grischuk, who won $2,327.59 with this match, noted that "form" remains an elusive concept. "Good and bad form is very weird because sometimes you train a lot, feel good physically and then you cannot play. I have a flu, a temperature. I almost didn't prepare in terms of playing. And then I think I played quite well. You never know. It's a very weird thing."

"At the beginning I missed opportunities," said MVL, who earned $672.41. "Then Sasha started to miss things but I was not going to get way with a minus-five deficit, which I got early. At some point I started to recover and it was an interesting fight but I still was giving away games too easily."

The next opponent for Grischuk will be the winner of the November 21 match between Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So. Asked which player he prefers, the Russian GM gave 10-1 odds for Carlsen to win. "It doesn't matter whom I prefer to play. I will play Magnus."

Download Match PGN

Don't miss the second quarterfinal, between Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepomniachtchi, on October 24 at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. New York and 7 p.m. Central Europe (CEST) at www.Chess.com/tv!

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