GM Alexander Grischuk showed his formidable blitz skill by defeating his compatriot GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in the most brilliant and complicated Speed Chess Championship match of the season.
The match outcome was a triumph of statistics: 65 percent of participants in the fantasy prediction contest chose Grischuk over Nepo. The SmarterChess match prediction model considered Grischuk the favorite with 63 percent certainty and his score 17.5/28 makes exactly 63 percent of possible points.
The statistics cannot fully grasp what happened on board, especially in the first third of the match, as Nepo continually got positional and material advantages, and played much faster. However, with cunning defense Grischuk minimized the damage and after 1.5 hours the score was even.
Nepo himself described what happened in the remainder of the match: “I was really mad at some point about this and that’s why I couldn’t control my emotions too well in the 3+1 section and at some point I started tilting and it never goes well. I lost that section minus-three and Sasha is really better in bullet. It was a logical outcome.”
The Chess.com SmarterChess predictions proved to be really smart.
Lost opportunities: 5|1
The starting game was smoothly won by Nepo who grabbed an isolated pawn in the center and accurately increased his advantage, which became decisive in the endgame. “Ian is extremely good in such positions with a small edge and no risk,” said Grischuk after the match.
IM Danny Rensch, who was commenting on the match, said game three became “an epic collapse by Nepo,” who hung a pawn and very nearly went from winning to losing. Kudos to Grischuk who played half of the game with only 10 seconds left.
“I think there’s only several people in my life who love time-trouble this much,” said co-host GM Robert Hess.
Game seven was another success for White and important for mainstream opening theory, which is a rarity in Speed Chess matches, where the opponents usually try experiments and avoid their favorite OTB openings.
Last month in Dortmund, on his birthday, Nepomniachtchi played this variation against GM Anish Giri, and got the decisive advantage by doubling rooks on e-file and pushing forward the h-pawn to attack on the kingside (after some mutual errors the game was drawn).
Now he used an absolutely different plan, pushing forward the a-pawn to weaken the opponent’s queenside. Lines opened, the white rook entered the seventh row and the mating threats followed.
Nepomniachtchi thought he should have led +2 or even +3 after the first section.
The spectacular game eight made Nepo mad: “I lost on time [in] the game where I have had a forced checkmate.” Objectively, the endgame was won for him, but there was no forced checkmate, although Nepo spent his last seconds looking for it. An opposite outcome could have driven Grischuk mad, whose advantage in the opening was overwhelming.
Score: 5|1 Time Control
Lost Temper: 3|1
After 90 minutes of play, Nepo began to crack and made several blunders in game 11. Grischuk won with Black, grabbed the lead and never released it.
Grischuk proved once again that nobody except for the world champion can be his rival in blitz.
Nepo could win just one game in the 3+1 section. The position for a long time remained fairly equal, but finally the h-file occupied by the black rook and weakness of the white squares allowed his mating threats to take shape.
Score: 3|1 Time Control
Lost hope: 1|1
The match was not yet decided by the three-point advantage, but Grischuk dominated in 1+1 games, like he did in 3+1 section. After a draw at the start, Nepo sealed his fate in game 20, where he chose a passive setup with Black and continued playing cooperatively, finally letting his knight be caught by a pawn.
Grischuk continued playing solidly and profited from risky moves by Nepo, who had to resign again in game 25, where his bishop was pinned and about to be captured. In game 26, Grischuk got a strong attack and Nepo resigned before any decisive moves, admitting that resistance is futile. “Nepo’s gone full tilt,” said Rensch.
When the score left Nepo no hope to catch up and Grischuk was in no danger to be overrun, Nepo won two games out of the final three, slightly improving the overall result.
Game 27, where the black king hid behind triple pawns, was the funniest.
Score: 1|1 Time Control
With this win, Grischuk advances to the Speed Chess quarterfinals, where he will play the winner of the GM Sergey Karjakin vs. GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda match, where Karjakin is a clear favorite. Grischuk said that GM Magnus Carlsen is clear number-one in blitz and Karjakin shares 2-3 with Nakamura, but such a matchup is OK for him: “I want to play with the strongest,” he said.
As for the prizes, Grischuk earned $1,666.95 and Nepomniachtchi: $460.05. Of the total prize fund, $127 was donated by the chess community on Twitch.