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Grischuk Looks In Mirror, Turns History Around Against Rapport

Grischuk Looks In Mirror, Turns History Around Against Rapport

The first two segments of the Speed Chess Championship clash between GM Alexander Grischuk and GM Richard Rapport were as competitive as they come. Both the five-minute and the three-minute portions essayed nine games each, and in total produced five lead changes.

The bullet decided everything. Grischuk had many more rounds in his clip. The one-minute also had nine rounds, and Grischuk struck with all but one of his shots. The 8-1 drubbing matched the most lopsided segment in Blitz Battle/Speed Chess Championship history; GM Magnus Carlsen also produced the same bullet score against GM Tigran Petrosian last year, and repeated it again against no less than Grischuk himself.

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Is it the "Carlsen effect"? Everyone's wearing glasses these days it seems.

In fact Petrosian plays a second, more important role in this report. When asked after today's match if he played any training games, Grischuk said he prepared yesterday with a bullet match on Chess.com. His opponent? Petrosian.

"It was quite painful," Grischuk said. "I think I was down 4-10." Grischuk was trying to practice more bullet to head off a repeat of his ill-fated ending with Carlsen, in which he kept things very close until the bullet fiasco. Grischuk made up some ground and ended his session against Petrosian only down 10-12, but clearly the training paid off.

As he noted after the match, today was eerily similar to that semifinal loss to the eventual champion in 2016.

"I think it was like a mirror match of my match against Magnus," Grischuk said. "It was really close until the bullet, when it was one-sided."

The allusion could not be more apt. Against Carlsen, Grischuk tied the five-minute, lost by only a game in the three-minute, then was trounced 8-1 in the bullet. Contrast today, where Rapport tied the five-minute, lost by only one game in the three-minute, then got crushed 8-1 in bullet chess.

"It's very funny because in the last half year I only played bullet," Rapport said. So much for training.

(Checking the game histories of the players reveals that they two actually played two bullet games yesterday, against each other!)

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With today's final score of 17.5-9.5, Grischuk moves on to face the winner of the GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. GM Jeffery Xiong match.

Rapport struck first in the opening Chess960 game, although after a few moves, any middlegame with the Hungarian at the helm tends to look like it stemmed from Chess960. Then, as was the case with much of the first two hours, the other player struck back.

Grischuk evened the score in game two after Rapport played the Scandinavian, something he really doesn't play in over-the-board chess.

Rapport did shift to openings he knows more about, namely the Modern Defense as Black, which he's played more than a dozen times in tournaments. However, he got swept up with the so-called "North Sea Defense" whereby Black fianchettoes his knight. It's been seven years now since Carlsen tried this obscure line (and failed) against GM Michael Adams. Rapport actually won his first game with it, but admitted after the match his openings weren't getting him anything.

"I played my main repertoire!" he joked about all the offbeat systems. "I think it was better than playing the main lines, but as you can see it backfired...I was worse in most of the games."

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Here's 20,000 reasons Rapport can still sleep well tonight.

"He's a honey badger in terms of his opening style," commentator IM Danny Rensch said, quite mindful that "honey badger don't care."

(Surprisingly there is a "Honey Badger Chess Club" on Chess.com. Not surprisingly, Rapport is not a member.)

The black pieces did quite well at the start, winning five of the first 10 games. In game seven, the first that featured mutual time pressure, Grischuk took his first lead. He took the full point impressively from a symmetrical position.

"He put on his Russian technique big-boy pants," Rensch said of the conversion.

Despite getting more than the draw from that equal opening, Grischuk later left half-points on the scoreboard left and right. In several games, he botched winning positions and only mustered a draw. In the most egregious example, the opening game of the three-minute block, he turned a sure draw and possible win into an immediate loss.

Grischuk recovered to get the point back in game 11, but then left another opportunity go to waste in game 12. Rapport stuck with the Scandinavian, but had switched to the 3...Qd6 line. After opposite-sides castling, the Russian broke through with a classic knight sacrifice on f6. How Black eluded mate is still not clear:

"It's like nothing can go right for him here," commentator GM Robert Hess said.

The following round, Rapport played more than a bit part in his own fortune. After hanging a pawn for nothing, he found a cute idea: trading the final set of pieces. You're not usually supposed to trade down into a king-and-pawn ending when you are behind, but GMs know all the secrets.

The idea "inspired" commentators everywhere.

Grischuk again got back into form, winning three of the next four points to take a one-game lead into the bullet. He remained stoic most of the match while Rapport, listening to music, regularly bobbed his head.

Afterward Rapport said one of his main tracks was "Japanese Jesus."

"It's incredible, I can recommend it," he said. It may not surprise you that the man playing the North Sea Variation picked out a deep cut. The song seems to be so rare that it's not available on YouTube.

Grischuk didn't listen to music during the match, but said he thinks the track listing should reflect the time control. While classical is good for blitz, he recommended "rap or Guns N' Roses" for bullet.

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So obviously a choice for bullet chess that the band even has "guns" in its name and on its logo. Image: gunsnroses.com.

The one-game lead quickly ballooned to seven games as Grischuk took the first six bullet contests.

Game 21 was particularly brutal and reminded of the queen+knight combo made famous from Ivanchuk-Yusupov, 1991. Welcome to the jungle, Richard.

Grischuk wrapped up the six-in-a-row streak with this pleasing game. The queen is supposed to be easier to play with in bullet, but when the collection of pieces is this strong, the minors will win every time:

"In many games I had miserable positions," Rapport said, adding that he couldn't recover in the bullet like he could in the longer time controls. "It's very hard to be resourceful when you have one minute."

The win by Grischuk means there has still never been an upset by rating in the two-year history of the Blitz Battle or Speed Chess Championship. It also means those picking "Grischuk" in the comments to the preview video were right.

The next opening-round match will be on August 23 between GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Levon Aronian, who also played in the opening round of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup yesterday. We will see if Nepomniachtchi can make his own mirror effect and use some of Aronian's own analysis against him.

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