In a little under two weeks time, Magnus Carlsen will defend his world championship title in Manhattan, New York City against his Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. Carlsen is the big favorite to retain his title in the scheduled 12-game match - but on the eve of the match, Carlsen took a ‘time-out’ from his preparations to go online to face another rival, America’s Hikaru Nakamura, in a blitz showdown that thrilled the thousands of fans who watched it.
Last Thursday, Carlsen and Nakamura, the four-time U.S. champion, and unofficial world champion of online blitz and bullet chess, went head-to-head in Chess.com’s online Grandmaster Blitz Battle final, which was billed as the Ali vs. Frazier of online chess - and it more than lived up to its billing, as their 3-hour chess slugfest broke all records on the website for viewership and sign-ins.
More than 28,000 Chess.com members joined the live chess server on Twitch (nearly 3,000 more than the previous chess-high), and more than 183,000 unique visitors watched the main live broadcast (more than double Carlsen's semifinal victory over GM Alexander Grischuk), as Carlsen - despite being the slight underdog in online blitz to his American rival - comprehensively beat Nakamura to now have the bragging rights to being the online No.1 as well as the over-the-board No.1
Carlsen - playing from his Caribbean training camp - done all the damage in the first two sessions, as he went on to defeat Nakamura by the overall score of 14.5-10.5 to take the title and the first prize of $6,200, Nakamura the consolation of taking home $3,680 (There is still the $1,000 prize for best game, to be decided later by Chess.com). Carlsen won the blitz 5m section 5.5-3.5 and the blitz 3m section by an even larger margin of 5-2, and although Nakamura rallied to win his strongest session of 1m bullet by 5-4, the world champion’s lead ultimately proved to be insurmountable.
"As a player it is definitely very interesting to play [this format]," commented a jubilant Carlsen after his victory. "For the viewers it's wonderful.” And if you missed it, you can watch a replay of the full broadcast on Twitch by clicking here.
Overall Score: Carlsen 14.5-10.5 Nakamura
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Hikaru Nakamura
Chess.com Blitz Final 3m+2spm, (12)
1.Nf3 Ahead of his crunch World Title Match with Sergey Karjakin, Carlsen avoids playing any of the standard openings we'd expect from him. Here, it is fun and freestyle in this blitz showdown for the World Champion. 1...d5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.d4 c6 5.0-0 Nf6 6.b3 0-0 7.Bb2 a5 8.c4 Ne4 9.Nfd2 This is the reason why Carlsen delayed the development of his queen's knight, as often this challenge is by far the best, as the ...Ne4 is now under attack twice. 9...Nxd2 10.Nxd2 Be6 11.e4 Carlsen has emerged with a nice little edge from the opening - the sort of edge that, in a normal classical game, he would grind on and on trying to crack his opponent. While this is blitz, Carlsen's signature grind even works here. 11...dxc4 12.Nxc4 Bxc4 13.bxc4 c5 14.e5! Carlsen still retains that small edge from the opening - and he continually builds on exploiting this tiny advantage until his opponent cracks. 14...cxd4 15.Qxd4 Nc6 This is Nakamura's best chance, accepting he's going to be on the back-foot throughout the ensuing ending. 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Qc5 Carlsen should have continued with 17.f4 if he wants to make anything of this position. 17...Qd2! Active play is Nakamura's best chance to hold this. 18.Bd4 Rfd8 19.Be3 Qb4 20.Rad1 Rxd1 21.Rxd1 Qa4?! Bad judgment from Nakamura, as surely he missed a golden chance for equality with 21...Qxc5! 22.Bxc5 Bxe5 23.Bxe7 Rb8 and even Carlsen can never win this. But now, the mistake gives Carlsen that tiny moment he needs in a game to win from a seemingly equal position. 22.Rd2 Stronger was the immediate 22.Rd7! Bf8 (If 22...e6 23.Qb6! threatens both Rd8+ and Rxf7 winning.) and 23.e6! leaves Black's kingside pawn structure crippled, and now vulnerable to a White attack. 22...e6 23.Qe7 Again, 23.Rd7! as in the above note, was good and strong. 23...Bf8? Nakamura makes a monumental blunder, perhaps seeing 'ghosts' in the position - but there was nothing to fear after 23...Qxc4! 24.Rd8+ (24.Rd7 Rf8!) 24...Rxd8 25.Qxd8+ Bf8 26.Qxa5 (If 26.Bh6 Qb4! defends everything, and a pawn to the good to boot!) 26...c5 27.Qa8 Qd5 and Nakamura can never lose this. But such are the vagaries of blitz chess that you just have to accept the ebb and flow of both players making mistakes they normally wouldn't with more time on the clock. 24.Qf6 Now Rd7 is going to be a big blow. 24...Qb4? The second blunder proves decisive. Nakamura can't play 24...Bg7? as it will lose on the spot to 25.Rd8+ Rxd8 26.Qxd8+ Bf8 27.Bc5! His best try at stopping Rd7 was with 24...c5! 25.Qf3 (If 25.Rd8 Rxd8 26.Qxd8 Qxa2! 27.Bxc5 Qb1+ 28.Kg2 Qe4+ leads to a repetition.) 25...Rb8 26.Kg2 and White will have a small advantage, as suddenly it all becomes a tad awkward for Black, as he will always have to be wary of the omnipresent threat of Rd7 or Rd8. 25.Rd7 Qb1+ 26.Kg2 Qe4+ 27.f3 Qc2+ 28.Bf2 Qf5 29.g4 Carlsen is winning now, but more clinical was 29.Rxf7! 29...Qxf6 30.exf6 g5 Forced, otherwise, Carlsen will play g5 himself that will leave Nakamura in dire straits, as his rook and bishop will be locked in forever defending the back-rank mates. 31.c5! The squeeze is on! Carlsen has successfully rendered Nakamura's rook and bishop to hopelessly standing by as spectators, as he calmly picks which way to win. 31...h6 32.Rc7 Kh7 This is the only slim hope for Nakamura to try and get something, anything, to prolong the game and perhaps save the draw if the World Champion falls short of time. 33.Rxf7+ Kg6 34.Rc7 Rd8 35.Rxc6 Rd2 Sure, Nakamura can play 35...Kxf6, but after 36.Ra6 Carlsen easily picks off Black's a5 pawn and defends his c- and a-pawns for an elementary win. But this is blitz (in the 3m+2s session), and what Nakamura is trying his best to do is to prolong the game as best he can to try to stump Carlsen in the time pressure. 36.Kf1 Rxa2 37.Rc8 Kf7 38.Bg3! This assures that the c-pawn passes quickly now. 38...Rc2 39.c6 e5 40.Bxe5 1-0