Team Chess Battle: Nakamura Thumps MVL In Grob Madness
This week's Team Chess Battle was a heavyweight match.

Team Chess Battle: Nakamura Thumps MVL In Grob Madness

Alessandro_Parodi
Alessandro_Parodi
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25 | Chess.com News

A wild Grob Attack decided the Team Chess Battle match between U.S. and France on March 15.

Hikaru Nakamura’s TeamBattlesUSA had the better of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s TeamBattlesFrance on a three rapid games online battle across the Atlantic Ocean. On their sides were, respectively, Chess.com’s IM Daniel Rensch and Twitch celebrity NM Kevin Bordi, aka Blitzstream.

Friday’s 25’+10” challenge followed another consultation matchup on March 8. For the occasion, Daniel Rensch teamed up with IM Levy Rozman against IM John Bartholomew and IM David Pruess and stumbled to an unpleasing 3-0 defeat.

Having found “a better partner” in Nakamura, Rensch could now rely on backup to his free spirited chess and heterodox opening repertoire.

“Play whatever makes you comfortable. I can play anything obviously!” boasted Nakamura during the live stream on Twitch.tv/Chess. The American GM also attenuated his teammate’s maverick chess, as he muddled him with ultra-deep analysis during the games.

Hikaru Nakamura Team Blitz Battle
Hikaru Nakamura: "I can play anything obviously!" | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The French against the French?!

@LyonBeast and @Blitzstream confidently crushed Rensch’s “big center” in the Chess960 portion of the match and got the white pieces. “If America can do one thing, we can afford to give France white”, reacted Rensch.

The Frenchmen quickly got into a comfortable position as Team USA tried to beat the tight-knit duo at their own game and went for the French Defence. MVL’s Steiner Variation proved effective leading to a sharp middlegame and soon to a superior endgame for White. With opposite-colored bishops on the board, however, @Hikaru and @DanielRensch managed to hold.

“We let this slip out of our hands” admitted Vachier-Lagrave, who was confident to manage the better ending but indulged in superficial choices in time trouble.

(Watch our lesson on opposite-colored bishops endgames to learn all about drawing setups and winning chances for the attacking side!)

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Team Chess Battle
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: "We let this slip out of our hands." | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

TeamBattlesUSA overlooks mating attack

The situation got heated in game two. With both Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave avoiding their home preparation, the game coasted into an apparently blunt position featuring symmetrical pawn structures.

However, with heavy pieces still on the board, the game livened up and Team USA swiftly seized the initiative. Nakamura and Rensch easily demonstrated the attacking power of a bishop pair. When Team France bit on a couple of poisoned pawns underestimating white’s chances on the kingside, the position was close to collapsing:

“You shocked us with this Bxb2 and Qxa3 line,” admitted Rensch. “Part of the problem is that we thought the position was just imminent, which I think it was if we found Kh2.”

With the score on 1-1, the two teams played a third rapid game. In case of another draw, the tie-breaker would have been a last-man-standing blitz knockout.

Blitzstream burning bridges

But on game three no one was up for another draw. TeamBattlesFrance pulled out of the hat Blitzstream’s signature Grob Attack: 1.g4!

The Americans accepted the gambited pawn on g4 and re-raised the stakes with an exchange sacrifice. France counter-counter sacrificed, hanging a rook for a promising attack. “What is going on? This is insane,” was Nakamura’s reaction.

A lurking perpetual check got the game into a delicate endgame with an extra knight for Black against a few pawns. Vachier-Lagrave and Blitzstream struggled to get their queenside pawns running and allowed the trapped black knight to come out. What’s more, they forgot Black had lost the right to castle in the opening, and overlooked a few better options. “The spirit of the Grob!” exclaimed Blitzstream. “How did we forget that?”

“It was a lot of fun,” commented Vachier-Lagrave, “but I'm so pissed at myself right now.” As Rensch celebrated victory and commended his team’s chemistry, Blitzstream responded: “I hope you play the arena Danny, just afterwards. Without Hikaru!”

The winning team took home $750, while the losing side gained $250.

The live stream on Twitch.tv/Chess had more than 8,000 viewers and proved to be an engaging formula. With a lower ranked player on the side, both Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave had a chance to explain their thinking process and engage in laid back chats with their partners and the audience. As the players agreed on a rematch, there will be more Team Chess Battles to come!

Watch the whole stream here.

The match format:

  • Two teams of two chess masters each.
  • Players may only talk to their teammates on their own move.
  • Each team must come to a consensus for each move played.
  • Fans will be able to hear and learn from each team's thought process as moves alternate.
  • Time control: rapid chess, 25 minutes plus a 10-second per move increment.
  • If either clock gets under one minute, both teams may talk freely at all times. 

Tiebreaks:

  • If the match is tied after the three rapid games, the event becomes a last-man-standing format, with individual members from each team facing off against their opponents at a blitz time control of three minutes plus a two-second increment per move.
  • Players are eliminated with a loss.
  • Drawn games are replayed with the colors reversed.
  • Last team standing wins.

Prizes:

  • $1,000 total prize pool per match
  • $750 to the winning team
  • $250 to the losing team 

Previous reports:

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