Vachier-Lagrave Eliminates Carlsen In Speed Chess Semifinal

Vachier-Lagrave Eliminates Carlsen In Speed Chess Semifinal

| 109 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defied the odds as he defeated GM Magnus Carlsen to reach Saturday's 2020 Speed Chess Championship final presented by OnJuno. MVL scored 13-11 and will face GM Hikaru Nakamura in the final.

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The final of the Speed Chess Championship presented by OnJuno will start December 12 at 9 a.m. Pacific / 18:00 CET. The games are played on the live server. They are also available on our platform for watching live games at and on our apps under "Watch." Expert commentary can be enjoyed at

The live broadcast of the match.

Few had reckoned with the possibility that this year's Speed Chess Championship would not have another showdown between Carlsen and Nakamura. The two giants had met in the final in both events when Carlsen participated, 2016 and 2017. They also have been the most successful duo in the many online events during this year of the pandemic.

However, on Friday, David knocked on the door of Goliath and said: I'm here! And when the Frenchman started with two losses, they turned out to be "just a flesh wound." Just like last year at the London Chess Classic, Vachier-Lagrave ended up beating Carlsen.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2020 Speed Chess
How did he do it? Well, apart from Carlsen being in an "awful shape," as he put it himself, MVL had some sort of a coffeehouse strategy. "I knew I was nowhere a favorite, but my match plan was to play for tricks all along, and it worked," said Vachier-Lagrave.

The modern-day, virtual Cafe de la Regence saw a record French audience, as MVL himself pointed out when the match was over: "I know there were like 15,000 watching today from France. That was amazing, and I want to thank them."

Meanwhile, the English broadcast was a packed stadium with 28,000 watching on Twitch and another 20,000 on YouTube at one point.

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As said, the start of the match was absolutely fine for Carlsen and only supported the general thought that he was going to win this match without too much trouble. His win in the first game was arguably his best game of the match:

When MVL was then outplayed in a 6.d3 Ruy Lopez in game two, there were hardly any fans left who dared to put money on him. If only they knew.

First, he was helped a bit by his opponent in game three where Carlsen lost on time in a difficult but not clearly lost position. After that, the world champion went against his old adage of not believing in fortresses as he gave up his queen for a rook and bishop. He couldn't hold:

After a draw, Vachier-Lagrave won a good game to take the lead: 3.5-2.5. In hindsight, it's still hard to believe that from that point, Carlsen would never even manage to tie the match. He was better and often winning in three five-minute games that ended in draws, such as here:

Vachier-Lagrave won the five-minute segment with 4.5-3.5. After a draw in the first three-minute game, the players exchanged wins with the white pieces for the next seven games. As a result, MVL was leading 9-7 before the bullet.

Two early 3+1 games left no doubt: Carlsen was having an off-day.

And what to think of this one?

Carlsen did play a few excellent games, such as this vintage endgame win where he outmaneuvers MVL in what was a drawn endgame from the start:

Sometimes Carlsen's mistakes were indeed the result of MVL's "playing for tricks." This happened in the only Berlin endgame of the match:

Speaking of tricks, MVL found a great one in game 19, after surviving a lost position out of the opening:

As he won two games and drew two at the start of the bullet phase, MVL was leading 12-8 when the match clock had 14 and a half minutes left. If Carlsen wanted a comeback, he had to start there—and he did.

Afterward, Carlsen reflected on the moment when he managed to score 12-9: "I looked at the clock when it was about 10 minutes to go, and I was down three," said Carlsen. "I figured I should be able to win two games in time to get a decisive game. Obviously, it wasn't a given that I would win those games.... It was exciting at least to get that chance."

Magnus Carlsen Speed Chess 2020

The Norwegian star won the next two games as well to make 12-11. There was still one minute and 17 seconds left. He had to win one more game on demand to force a tiebreak.

Just in time, MVL got back his mojo. He got an overwhelming position in a Modern Defense, then struggled for a while, but was back to a winning position when Carlsen lost on time. This end of the match was a bit anticlimactic, but Vachier-Lagrave's victory was definitely deserved.

Carlsen: "From the start, I felt that I was in really, really awful shape today, but then I managed to channel some energy for the first couple of games to win them... and then I lost the third and the fourth. After that, it was clearly going to be an uphill struggle."

Vachier-Lagrave could perhaps have made things a bit easier for himself if he had used a few moments early in the bullet phase to win time on the match clock. He didn't but also didn't rule out that he will in the final.

"If I get the opportunity to use the clock against Hikaru, I will definitely do it because he's done it repeatedly.... I didn't feel like using the format today to my advantage."

Carlsen won $2,750 based on win percentage; Vachier-Lagrave won $6,000 for the victory plus $3,250 on percentage, totaling $9,250. The French GM will now play Nakamura on Saturday in the Speed Chess Championship Final presented by OnJuno.

All Games

Speed Chess bracket 2020

The 2020 Speed Chess Championship Main Event is a knockout tournament among 16 of the best grandmasters in the world who will play for a $100,000 prize fund, double the amount of last year. The tournament will run November 1-December 13, 2020 on Each individual match will feature 90 minutes of 5+1 blitz, 60 minutes of 3+1 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1+1 bullet chess.

Speed Chess Fantasy standings
The current leaderboard for SCC Fantasy.

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