Carlsen Dismantles World Blitz Champion, Doubles Score In Flight To Final

Carlsen Dismantles World Blitz Champion, Doubles Score In Flight To Final


 GM Magnus Carlsen defeated GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the 2022 Speed Chess Championship second semifinal match on Friday. 

The world champion steamrolled through yet another match in what has become a series of dominant wins over the world’s best chess players. He was dissatisfied with his quality of play in the post-game interview despite nearly doubling his opponent’s score and even causing the French GM to resign the match with eight minutes still left.

The final between Carlsen and GM Hikaru Nakamura takes place on Sunday, December 18, at 11 a.m. PT / 20:00 CET.

Vachier-Lagrave, the reigning blitz world champion, is the only player to defeat Carlsen in SCC history, which he did in the 2020 semifinals. He also boasted a positive score against his formidable opponent in the blitz time control: an 18-17 score (15 draws) over the board and online together. 

Nevertheless, SmarterChess predicted a 68%-32% victory for Carlsen, while the community voted 84%-16% for the Norwegian champion as well. He lived up to expectations, as the final score evidently shows.

Blitz 5|1: Carlsen-Vachier-Lagrave 6.5-2.5

The first segment of the approximately four-hour show featured dominant play by Carlsen, who converted endgames with the same precision that’s distinguished him in the chess world since his teenage years. He tended to play the Colle Zukertort type of setup with White, perhaps hoping to catch his opponent in less defined territory, and the Ruy Lopez (one experiment with the Modern Opening) with Black. 

Both players had chances in game one, and while the position petered out to equality toward the end, it was another case of “Magnus doing Magnus things.” While many other players would see the game to its peaceful conclusion, the world champion converted the symmetrical endgame.

Carlsen played the Modern Opening in game two, perhaps a dubious opening in classical chess but a fighting attempt in blitz. It ended in a draw, and he switched to 1.e5 for the rest of the segment.

Next, the 2021 world blitz champion struck back resoundingly to tie the score.

In game four Carlsen employed the slightly unusual move 11…Bb7 (instead of 11…c6) in the Ruy Lopez Marshall Gambit. The classical world champion demonstrated the compensation of two bishops, down a pawn, and converted an opposite-color bishop ending with “freakish technique,” according to Hess, in the end.

This stellar game is analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao as our Game of the Day below.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

Carlsen spread his wings and took flight in game five after his opponent blundered a piece.

After a draw, Carlsen won two in a row, and it seemed like a familiar storyline might be developing: runaway-train Carlsen on a rampage, as we’ve seen in his matches against GMs Gukesh D and Fabiano Caruana

The Frenchman drew the last game of the segment, but would he muster the strength to recover from a four-point deficit in the faster time controls?

Blitz 3|1: Carlsen-Vachier-Lagrave 5-4

Although Vachier-Lagrave played better chess in this segment than his opponent, as commentator Hess opined on the broadcast (and this author agrees), he was unable to convert even technically winning positions. He found many chinks in the Norwegian player’s armor, but even in one instance failed to convert an extra piece. 

The first five games ended in draws, showing that the world champion was content as long as he maintained his lead. Indeed, he lost just three games this entire match—which is more than we can say about his others.

Vachier-Lagrave jettisoned efforts in the Ruy Lopez and took up the English Opening with the white pieces in the first game of this segment, an opening he would not return to in the 3+1 after a draw—instead opting for the Italian Opening in later rounds.

Carlsen blundered a piece in the next game, but like the antihero Deadpool, he could take a hit and still never die. He drew this game …

… and the next game.

In a “heartbreaker” of a game, Vachier-Lagrave collapsed in an opposite-color bishop endgame with a pair of rooks, losing his b5-pawn and stepping into a mating net shortly after.

The next game was a surgical dismantling of the Bishop’s Opening in a 22-move miniature with the black pieces.

“There’s enough time for a comeback, but Magnus is not just going to give away seven games in a row. He’s just not going to do that,” said Naroditsky as the match clock kept ticking. Playing well wasn’t going to be enough—Vachier-Lagrave’s task seemed more and more impossible as the world champion was simply impervious to losing.

The French grandmaster won the last game of the segment with a nice bit of preparation and merciless technique in a rook endgame.

Still, with 30 minutes left on the match clock for the bullet segment, Carlsen built himself a five-point buffer.

Bullet 1|1:  Carlsen-Vachier-Lagrave 5.5-2.5

The first two games of this segment ended in draws, and although the beast of Lyon struck blood first in game three, the world champion took over in the rest of the segment. 

Game three featured a beautiful queen trap with 31…Re4! to take the first victory of the bullet.

Carlsen responded with a win of his own. After the incisively accurate 21.Kf1!, using his own king to defend the knight on e2, Naroditsky observed: “Kf1, the best engine move. Carlsen is a freakin’ machine. It’s unbelievable how often he finds engine moves in critical moments.”

After Carlsen found his rhythm, the pain train never slowed for his adversary. On air, Naroditsky asked: “How do you beat a Magnus Carlsen that’s this alert, that’s this sharp, that’s this fast, that’s this merciless, that’s this technical?”

It is certainly a question with which the world’s best players have been wrestling for over a decade—and one Nakamura sure hopes to answer this weekend.

How do you beat a Magnus Carlsen that’s this alert, that’s this sharp, that’s this fast, that’s this merciless, that’s this technical?

—Daniel Naroditsky

After two more consecutive wins by the world champion, Vachier-Lagrave resigned the match with eight minutes remaining on the match clock. Understandably, he faced an insurmountable eight-point deficit and the match was mathematically lost.

After the match, Carlsen curiously shared: “I felt that the games were pretty even all the way. I never felt like I was sort of pulling away, even if the score said so.”

On his upcoming final match with Nakamura: “I think none of us showed anything close to our best level in the semifinals, so whoever can step up for the final will probably have good chances.”

Carlsen won $9,923.08, while Vachier-Lagrave took home $2,076.92 by win percentage.

All Games | Semifinals

Speed Chess Championship 2022 Bracket

The 2022 Speed Chess Championships Main Event started on November 23 and will conclude on December 20. Top speed-chess players are competing at three different time controls in a 16-player knockout as they vie for a share of the $100,000 prize fund along with the most prestigious title in online chess.

The likes of GMs Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Ding Liren, Nodirbek Abdusattorov, and many more battle it out to determine the 2022 speed chess champion.

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