International Chess Federation
Tuesday, 03 Nov 2020 13:19
Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen advance to quarterfinals

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (@Lyonbeast) defeated GM Nihal Sarin (@NihalSarin) 16.5-11.5 in the first match of the 2020 Speed Chess Championship Main Event. Winning the Junior Speed Chess Championship was a fine achievement by Sarin, but on Sunday he had to admit that the Speed Chess Main Event is a whole other ball game. World number-three in blitz, Vachier-Lagrave won in all three time-controls, while Sarin put up a great fight that included some fine tactical shots. 

Sarin could keep the pace for four games when the match was still tied. Vachier-Lagrave then won game five and, after two draws, also games eight and nine to finish the five-minute segment with a three-point lead. That became four points after the second three-minute game as MVL successfully tried a knight sacrifice that is almost certainly stored in Sarin's laptop, but the young Indian GM forgot about how to draw against it. 

The match seemed over. However, with two fine wins in a row, Sarin was back. However, Vachier-Lagrave won the next two games to restore the four-point margin, and Sarin never got close again. Like in the three-minute portion, the French GM won the bullet segment with a one-point difference. 

Sarin earned $821.43 based on win percentage; MVL won $2,000 for the victory plus $1,178.57 on percentage, totaling $3,178.57. He moves on to the quarterfinals, where he will play the winner of GM Levon Aronian vs. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. 

One of the issues for Sarin was that he was getting low on time in many games early in the match. "I did spend a bit too much time," he said. "It was mainly that Maxime was playing very strong moves very fast, and I was sort of forced to think."

GM Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) returned to with a crushing 24-5 win over GM Parham Maghsoodloo (@Parhamov). If Carlsen wanted to make a statement in his first match of the championship, that certainly worked. He was the big favorite to win against Maghsoodloo but to do it with a 19-point margin was beyond the expectations of most fans.

Part of this was the result of Maghsoodloo clearly "tilting" at some point. The score was still tied 2.5-2.5 after five games when Carlsen won an incredible 11 games in a row.

Maghsoodloo did quite well early in the match. In fact, Carlsen felt his opponent was more in control: "I would say I didn't play so well at the start. He was sort of dictating those games. I haven't really played so much blitz online in a long time so I needed some time to get going."

One reason for Maghsoodloo's troubles was his indecisiveness; he repeatedly got in time trouble and in several games, he seemed to just forget about the clock. Also, dropping a full knight like in game 12 didn't help.

After a few wins in a row for Carlsen, the crowd in the stadium started shouting "10! 10!" The world champion delivered and even won 11 straight before Maghsoodloo could get a draw in game 17.

The first draw Maghsoodloo got, after getting punched so many times, came in a funny way. At first, there was nothing to laugh about for the Iranian as he spoiled a winning position but it was rather entertaining when Carlsen voluntarily went into a pawn ending being a pawn down to demonstrate his knowledge of distant opposition.

This was exactly where the other Iranian grandmaster Alireza Firouzja had messed up last month at Norway Chess. As Carlsen got the draw, both he and his opponent were laughing on camera.

After the match, Carlsen said: "Frankly I didn't feel that I ever found much of a rhythm; it was just a bunch of chaotic games that were somehow going my way."

"I think this match format is very difficult to handle because once it starts going south then it's all psychological. At some point, if you stopped and played a different opponent the result might be very different but since you continue to play the same guy and you suffer against them, everything becomes a lot more difficult."

Maghsoodloo: "I had so many good positions which were close to a win but I spoiled them very badly; I didn't make a draw but I lost them. When you do this for a lot of positions you completely lose control of the match."

Maghsoodloo won $344.83 based on win percentage; Carlsen won $2,000 for the victory plus $1,655.17 on percentage, totaling $3,655.17. He moves on to the quarterfinals, where he will play the winner of GM Anish Giri and GM Vladislav Artemiev.

Asked for his favorite next opponent, Carlsen replied: "I'd rather play Artemiev, I think he's by far the strongest blitz player of those two."

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.

Text: Peter Doggers