Grischuk Beats Aronian 11.5-9.5 In Epic 1st GM Blitz Battle
In an epic first round of Chess.com's Grandmaster Blitz Battle, Alexander Grischuk defeated Levon Aronian 11.5-9.5. The Russian GM won $1547.60 (Aronian got $1452.40) and Grischuk qualified for the second round, where he will face the winner of the match between Magnus Carlsen and the Chess.com qualifier.
“When I face a player of such caliber, the first thing I do is to start shivering! And then I try to take hold of myself.”
Alexander Grischuk started his introduction interview with host IM Danny Rensch with one of his typical quips, and in doing so he broke the ice for everyone.
This is how Chess.com's inaugural GM Blitz Battle began, the strongest online chess event ever held. Besides thousands of chess fans (more than 3,000 concurrent views, more than 23,000 total live views) the whole Chess.com team was watching, and after months of preparation, I can admit that we were in a mixture of excitement and slight nervousness. Would it all go well?
Well, it did. Aronian (playing from Yerevan, Armenia) and Grischuk (from Moscow, Russia) provided three hours of great, online chess entertainment full of exhilarating chess.
“Sasha [= Alexander, PD] has been a player I played many games with. It's always very exciting to play with him because he's a creative player,” said Aronian. “We had some battles online before, some matches. I'm generally very excited. I hope it will be an equal match.”
It was both an equal match, and not. The score was never more than two game points in favor of one player, but on the other hand, it was always the same player who took the lead: Grischuk.
The reigning world blitz champion directly grabbed that lead in the first 5|2 game (5 minutes plus 2 seconds increment), which was in fact a chess960 (Fischer random) game. Each segment started with one of those games, and all three positions had been provided to the players days before. (The colors for these games were randomly chosen, although it was made sure that one player wouldn't get three Whites in the chess960s.)
After the match was over, Grischuk revealed that he had in fact prepared for this first game. “I analyzed it. Yesterday. I was too lazy to look at the others. But the first one was quite an interesting position. (...) I know it sounds I'm a crazy guy to do this but OK, what can I do?”
He had seen 7.Bxh7 and 8.Qc2 before, and kept his advantage. At some point GM Hikaru Nakamura, online as a spectator, said in the game chat that he suspected White was winning, but later Magnus Carlsen, also online, predicted a draw.
As a Chess.com regular, Nakamura's presence wasn't surprising but the members were delighted to see the world champion (a participant in the Blitz Battle later this year!) online as well. Earlier in the day he had announced that he would watch.
@MagnusCarlsen) April 6, 2016
Throughout the match, members were discussing a possible match between Carlsen and Nakamura in the chat, which indeed seems to be the dream final of this whole event. But it won't be easy for them to reach the final in December!
Grischuk also won the second game, the first “normal” blitz game. Aronian is not known as a 1.e4 player but tried it out here. The game was a Fianchetto Dragon where White's opening play didn't impress. Aronian did defend stubbornly in the endgame, but Grischuk showed killing technique.
Around that time Aronian's fiancée, WIM Arianne Caoili, came home. As it turned out, both their dog and she hadn't eaten yet, and for some reason Levon had put his computer in the kitchen. Did this temporary household logjam affect Aronian's play? Well, not too badly.
After drawing the third, Aronian was definitely on the scoreboard when he won the fourth game. He needed a big blunder from his opponent though: 28...gxf4?? instead of 28...Nxf4 where Black is better.
“The Armenian strikes back!” said Rensch. Nakamura in the chat: “Worst pun ever.” IM Greg Shahade, also in the chat: “Rensch is rated about 1300 at puns.”
In game four Grischuk was again doing well. He was definitely winning the opening battles. (Nakamura: “I don't care who wins, but Grischuk has been better out of the opening in every game.”) However, Aronian was a true escape artist in this match, surviving several losing positions by finding amazing tactical possibilities.
Levon Aronian was a true escape artist yesterday.
Grischuk would later state that this didn't really disappoint him. “All those games he saved, I was much behind on time and they were all really complicated so not really.”
Aronian leveled the score in game six, and this ended the first session after one-and-a-half hours. Because the players had been allowed to take a quick toilet break during that first session (bending the rules slightly), it was decided to continue with the next session immediately: an hour of 3+2 games.
This one also started with a chess960 game, although the players quickly reached a fairly normal middlegame. With 15...Nd5 Aronian sacrificed a pawn to get a strong knight to c3. There it was just waiting for a tactic, and it came with 24...Bh6!. Aronian won an exchange, but had underestimated White's attack after 30.Nd5! and unexpectedly lost.
@GMRainz) April 6, 2016
Aronian quickly won the next (normal chess) game after Grischuk blundered away an exchange, but lost just as quickly when he miscalculated in the next. Perhaps GM Georg Meier hadn't expected the number of mistakes at that point, when he said in the chat: “I believe Carlsen will have a tougher opponent in the first match than in the potential second match. ;-)”
Two more draws followed, with Aronian showing another Houdini act in the second. His 19...Ng5 was a big mistake, and the endgame should be a technical win but somehow the Armenian got away again!
It's not easy to give commentary and see more than a 2700 grandmaster, but every now and then Hess and Rensch managed. In the following game Black was winning after he went for a dangerous pawn grab on the queenside (“Did his hand got stuck in the cookie jar?” -- Rensch) but then allowed 34.Rxe6!, a move spotted by Hess/Rensch but not by Aronian.
A strong candidate for best game of the match (worth another $300!) was the last 3|2 game. In another unsuccessful Queen's Gambit Declined for Aronian, he was a clear pawn down after the opening, but 10 moves later he was already playing for a win. Eventually the infamous f+h rook endgame came on the board, evaluated by Rensch as a draw, which it often is.
However, in this particular case the position was winning, and a fun debate between Hess and Rensch went on for several minutes while the players were having their final break.
One member left this hilarious comment in the chat: “Rensch once analyzed my game at a tournament in Arizona. He said it was a “good game” and I've held on to that my whole life... WAS HE WRONG THEN TOO ??!?!?”
Winning the second part 4-3, Grischuk was now leading the match 7-6 going into the final segment: a half-hour session of bullet chess, again with the first being a Chess960 game.
Aronian struggling to survive,just a matter of time till Grischuk start pouring his shots. Bullet section will be deadly #blitzbattle— Cristian Chirila ( @CristianChirila) April 6, 2016
This time Aronian's Houdini wasn't in time to break loose.
The next game ended in quick repetition, but Aronian won the third bullet fight as Grischuk showed remarkable sportsmanship. He resigned in a position where Aronian had a mate in one, but less than a second left on the clock.
Nakamura: “Bullet is where you don't care. :-)” IM Greg Shahade: “I resign whenever my opponent has a mate in one.” NakamuraL “Uh huh. You never resign in bullet.”
Before the match Aronian had stated that he had never played bullet before (“I kept my score very neutral with everybody!”) and afterward Grischuk would motivate his decision as follows: “It is clear that Levon is a bit inexperienced in bullet. One thing is to play a more or less playable position to use his inexperience, but another thing is just to try to flag him when he can mate me in one and he has two extra pieces. It's a different thing.”
Grischuk won the next, but then Aronian won two in a row and suddenly the match was all equal again! Only seven minutes were left, and it could go either way.
The next was crucial. Another Dragon, with Aronian doing much better this time, winning a pawn. He couldn't hold on to it, but the rook endgame was still slightly better (although clearly drawn). But here is inexperience started to tell: he got low on time and even lost.
In what turned out to be a must-win game, Aronian went wrong tactically, and quickly lost that one too. The bullet score ended in 4.5-3.5 in favor of Grischuk, who won the overall match with a total score of 11.5-9.5.
Although they were constantly updated on the score during the bullet session, both players weren't aware of it (“You were in the zone!” -- Rensch) and in fact started another game (also won by Grischuk).
“The difference between me and Sasha is that he takes blitz very seriously, while I just enjoy to play and I don't look to win or lose. So I guess that shows in the result,” said Aronian.
“I thought that I wasn't really playing my best today. I was trying my best but I was getting lucky at times, I have to admit, to equal the score.” “But I also got incredibly lucky!” said Grischuk, who then started giving several examples where he got lucky.
Grischuk, the winner of the first GM Blitz Battle!
Both players earned $1,000 and another $1,000 was divided based on the winning percentage, which resulted in $1,547.60 for Grischuk and $1,452.40 for Aronian. Another $300 will go to the best game (feel free to vote in the comments; you can find all games by going to e.g. LevonAronian's game archive).
The expected value of future prizes for Grischuk is another (estimated) $5,450, assuming equal skill. His next opponent, in the semifinals, will come from the quarterfinal match between Magnus Carlsen and the winner of the qualifier event on May 31. Carlsen will probably play his quarterfinal somewhere in June of this year.
The next GM Blitz Battle will be Pentala Harikrishna vs Hikaru Nakamura on May 4th.
You can watch a full video replay of the Grischuk-Aronian broadcast on Twitch or embedded below: