MVL Overwhelms Xiong In Speed Chess Champs
The closest match featuring a speed chess qualifier turned into a rout in the second half. The world junior champion, Jeffery Xiong, actually took the lead in this tight match as late as game 14, but that seemed to serve only to awaken the "Lyon Beast" (MVL's Chess.com handle) as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave bashed out five wins, opening a sizable lead to end the blitz portion of the match.
With the momentum and the time control in his favor, he only grew the lead in bullet, finally winning the match with an impressive 19 points to Xiong's 12.
As we dive into what was an exciting set of games, we should remind everyone of the format: as many 5|2, 3|2, and 1|1 games as possible are played in sets of 90 minutes, 60 minutes, and 30 minutes. Additionally, one Chess960 game is played after the clock expires in each time control.
Slugging It Out
In this match between two world junior champions (Xiong the reigning one and Vachier-Lagrave the 2009 victor), the smart money was on Vachier-Lagrave. The reigning world number-two is also a feared speed chess player and has been in fine form of late, winning the Sinquefield Cup and making @AntonSquaredMe question his video editing skills.
@AntonSquaredMe) August 28, 2017
Vachier-Lagrave also has experience with online chess and the speed chess format as he has played the grandmaster blitz battles and multiple death matches.
@Vachier_Lagrave) August 30, 2017
While the smart money was on Vachier-Lagrave, the curious money (AKA the Conor McGregor money) was on Xiong. Currently 16 years old, he became world junior champion when he was 15. It seems certain that surpassing 2700 is a matter of time (He has been as high as 2674 this year.), and many are betting that he will one day reach the upper echelons of chess that Vachier-Lagrave already occupies. This match served as a first long look at Xiong's style and resourcefulness for many interested chess fans.
With a short draw to open the match, Xiong revealed one problem that would plague him throughout the match, a failure to get anything with the white pieces. He acquiesced to three draws in under 25 moves with White.
Vachier-Lagrave won his first game as White with brilliant blitz preparation. Does this preparation hold up to classical scrutiny? Probably not, but it was perfect for a quick and beautiful victory in speed chess!
It's just a pity the game didn't finish 25...Kxe6 26.Qxe5+— MVL ( @Vachier_Lagrave) August 30, 2017
Vachier-Lagrave dropped yet another bomb in the Najdorf, but unusually he was playing the white pieces!
Xiong then revealed one of his strengths: excellent endgame play! He snagged a pawn with good opening play and converted a nice endgame.
He nearly won another endgame in the following game as Vachier-Lagrave overpressed, underestimating the potency of Xiong's active king. Only a slight moment of haste spoiled the win for Xiong, the first of two critical endgames where such haste (and associated time trouble) cost Xiong a full point.
Two short draws bookended a fine win by Vachier-Lagrave with bishop and knight battling against a rook and pawn for Xiong. It was then that Xiong faltered in what might have been his best game of the match. Once again outplaying Vachier-Lagrave in a sharp endgame (a Berlin), he had three pawns for a knight, but with seconds to go, he could not figure out how to break Vachier-Lagrave's blockade.
A pair of offsetting victories concluded the 5|2 portion of the match, except for the Chess960 game that is played after 90 minutes have elapsed. In a hilarious spectacle, Xiong won in five moves! Vachier-Lagrave grabbed a pawn on a2 and after 4.Na3, he could not see how to extricate his queen. He therefore resigned after 5.e3 intending 6.Re2!
Score: 5|2 Time Control
The Lyon Beast Awakens
A pair of draws opened the 3|2 time control, but then Xiong used three minor pieces to defeat a rook and three pawns. The final mate was quite pretty.
A high-water mark for Xiong!
Thus, Xiong took the lead for the first time in this contested match! To this point, one could argue that he had played the superior chess. Not only did he lead by a point, but he had let two clear wins slip from his grasp. Sadly for Xiong's fans (of whom there will be many more after this match) this was where the fairy-tale-upset-to-be ended.
Vachier-Lagrave won the next five games, and in all of them, he held the advantage for most of the game. Xiong scored an amusing victory in the final Chess960 game as Vachier-Lagrave castled kingside in a sharp position and planted a knight on e6. Unfortunately, the knight was unstable on e6, and Xiong found the correct tactics to win it.
Score: 3|2 Time Control
Vachier-Lagrave's Bullet Display
Despite winning the last game, Xiong was now down three, and he was a serious underdog in the bullet time control. According to Hikaru Nakamura in the chat, Vachier-Lagrave is the ONLY player in the world who can hang with Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen in bullet.
@chesscom) August 30, 2017
True to Nakamura's evaluation, Vachier-Lagrave proved far faster in bullet, thrice flagging Xiong. Xiong seemed surprised when he ran out of time, struggling to make the transition to the bullet time control.
Undoubtedly, the best bullet game was the seventh, which Vachier-Lagrave ended attractively. Can you find and name the pattern that Vachier-Lagrave spotted and played in 1.8 seconds?
Score: 1|1 Time Control
Although Vachier-Lagrave had a satisfying margin of victory, Xiong's performance will surely have impressed many. Xiong plays in the World Cup, which starts on Saturday, and he may surprise some players there. Surely chess fans look forward to bright future from him and will hope to see him in future Speed Chess matches, perhaps as a seeded participant.
Remember: The final round-one match is World Champion Magnus Carlsen vs Gadir Guseinov on October 5.
Missed the live event? Watch the replay in full with commentary from IMs Danny Rensch and Aman Hambleton.
Co-commentator Hambleton has sworn not to shave off his beard until he earns his grandmaster title. He has but one norm remaining, and Rensch is suffering from a little bit of beard envy. We challenged spectators to give Rensch a beard as manly (or mangy?!) as Hambleton's. The victor ( @WoolMool) classed up the joint with his submission, but there were many excellent pieces submitted. Thanks to all who helped assuage Danny's insecurities
@chesscom) August 30, 2017
@Wool_Mool) August 30, 2017
@cabokingz) August 30, 2017
@IAmG2K) August 30, 2017
@ManofReason3) August 30, 2017
@Sam_Copeland) August 30, 2017
Vachier-Lagrave pocketed $1,613 for his victory while Xiong received $387.