GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave convincingly won his round of 16 match against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi by the greatest margin yet in Chess.com’s 2022 Speed Chess Championship on Monday after an exceptional run in the bullet portion.
MVL’s play was electric en route to a 19.5-11.5 drubbing and his form signaled that he will be a serious contender in the SCC, as well as the upcoming FIDE World Blitz Chess Championship where he will aim to defend his title in Almaty, Kazakhstan in December.
The next round of 16 match between GMs Levon Aronian and Dmitry Andreikin will take place on November 30 at 10.00 a.m. PT / 19.00 CET.
Blitz 5|1: Vachier-Lagrave-Nepomniachtchi 5-4
Monday’s match was clearly one of the hardest to predict in the bracket and an educative endgame win for Nepomniachtchi in the first game had his backers sitting up in their seats immediately. Having won a pawn early on against Vachier-Lagrave’s King’s Indian Defense, Nepomniachtchi showed exemplary technique in the knight and bishop endgame and strangled the Frenchman’s pieces.
A Berlin draw in the second game favored Nepomniachtchi as Vachier-Lagrave failed to cause any trouble with the white pieces; however, in game three the world blitz champion tied up the match in a messy double rook endgame. A second win for Vachier-Lagrave followed in game four, finishing with a stinging tactical sequence.
Nepomniachtchi tried every trick in the book to tie up the match and his ambitiousness paid off when Vachier-Lagrave made an error that saw his rook get trapped deep in enemy territory.
A close match as Nepo takes advantage of a blunder in milliseconds to tie the score 3-3!#speedchess pic.twitter.com/rNvki95BCE
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) November 28, 2022
With the scores locked at 3-3, both players looked for ways to throw their opponent off balance and Nepomniachtchi took this to the next level in game seven, opting for a King’s Gambit. The aggressive opening was successfully countered by Vachier-Lagrave’s Abbazia Defense and the resulting rook endgame was won by the reigning world blitz champion.
The rook ending would not be the last that Vachier-Lagrave would win in the match.
Clearly content with moving on to the 3+1 segment, the players took few risks in the final two games other than Vachier-Lagrave’s enthusiastic attempt to checkmate Nepomniachtchi in a seemingly balanced rook and bishop endgame.
Following the draws, MVL finished the 5+1 segment ahead with a score of 5-4.
Blitz 3|1: Vachier-Lagrave-Nepomniachtchi 5-4
The 3+1 portion of the match was refreshingly decisive, with seven out of the nine games ending in a win for one of the combatants. Vachier-Lagrave struck first after the break, punishing Nepomniachtchi for seeing ghosts and blundering away a relatively equal position.
Brilliant moves were aplenty in the 3+1 games and Nepomniachtchi’s simple, elegant rook sacrifice in game 13 was the first of many.
In the very next game, Vachier-Lagrave scored a win with Black which was certainly a contender for the best game of the match. Using his trusty Sicilian Najdorf, he turned up the heat with the ruthless 29…Qd2!, offering up his queen for a variety of checkmate threats.
GM Fabiano Caruana, who has been actively commenting on SCC matches on Twitch quipped, “that’s so nice,” in response to this stunning move.
Though his barnstorming victory in the 13th game was flashy, the game that really tightened his vice on the match and allowed him to extend to a three-point lead was undoubtedly game 17. Having traded into a slightly worse rook and pawn endgame, MVL played with clinical precision to steal the point away from Nepomniachtchi, showcasing how best to use an isolated pawn in the process.
The world-class conversion, analyzed by GM Dejan Bojkov, will be added soon.
After the tough defeat, Nepomniachtchi did bounce back with a win of his only. but staring down a two-point deficit heading into the 1+1 section. he was left with plenty of work to do.
Bullet 1|1: Vachier-Lagrave-Nepomniachtchi 8.5-3.5
Nepomniachtchi, whose Chess.com bullet rating peaked at an astronomical 3168 in 2020, is one of the best quick chess players in the world, but he simply could not keep up with a rampant Vachier-Lagrave on Monday.
Consecutive wins for Vachier-Lagrave at the start of the bullet portion all but sealed the match as the French GM stretched his lead out to four points and a scrappy win for Nepomniachtchi in the third bullet game provided little solace.
Vachier-Lagrave would go on to score 3.5/4 in the next games and turn the match into a blowout. Vachier-Lagrave, who has spent more time playing the three-check variant of chess on Chess.com than practicing his bullet, showed remarkable consistency under time pressure and even showed off his expanding repertoire, playing the Sicilian Defense: Dragon Variation and the Caro-Kann Defense as he closed out the match.
Congratulations to @Vachier_Lagrave for winning his #SpeedChess Championship match and advancing to the quarterfinals! 👏 pic.twitter.com/70OTWkimCG
— Chess.com (@chesscom) November 28, 2022
Despite a strong performance in his round of 16 match, Vachier-Lagrave has a tough road ahead and will face the winner of the match between GMs Wesley So and Nodirbek Abdusattorov in the quarterfinals. Should he progress beyond that match, a showdown with GM Magnus Carlsen may await him.
Vachier-Lagrave took home $3,258.06 for winning, while Nepomniachtchi earned $741.94 for his efforts.
All Games – Round of 16
Speed Chess Championship 2022 Bracket
The 2022 Speed Chess Championships Main Event starts on the 21st of November and concludes on the 16th of December. Top speed-chess players will compete 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 will battle it out to determine the 2022 speed chess champion.