MVL Upsets Carlsen, Faces Hikaru Nakamura in Speed Chess Championship Final

French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave pulled off a major upset in the Speed Chess Championship on Friday, defeating World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen 13-11 to reach the finals of the online blitz and bullet tournament.

Speed Chess Championship final odds
Hikaru Nakamura (left) will face Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (right) in the final of the 2020 Speed Chess Championship on Saturday. (Image: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com)

Vachier-Lagrave outscored Carlsen in both the five-minute and three-minute portions of the match, then held on for dear life as Carlsen attempted to stage a furious comeback during the one-minute bullet phase.

Carlsen Comeback Comes Up Short

After the first two sections, MVL held a solid 9-7 lead, winning 4.5-3.5 in both portions. He then jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the bullet section, pushing his lead to 12-8 with just over 10 minutes left to play.

With time winding down, Carlsen needed to win out to have any chance of catching Vachier-Lagrave. He proceeded to win the next three games to close the gap to 12-11 with just over one minute remaining.

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The rules of the Speed Chess Championship dictate that any game which starts with time on the clock must be completed, meaning Carlsen now had a chance to force overtime with the Black pieces. But Vachier-Lagrave held his ground, forcing Carlsen to take more and more chances from a poor position in order to keep hope alive. Ultimately, Carlsen lost on time, and MVL won the match by a two-game margin.

“I looked at the clock when it was about 10 minutes to go, and I was down three, and I figured I should be able to win two games in time to get a decisive game,” Carlsen said afterwards. “Obviously, it wasn’t a given that I would win those games…it was exciting at least to get that chance.”

Vachier-Lagrave came into the semifinal as a significant underdog, but figured to have a chance if he played well and the breaks went his way.

“I knew I was nowhere near a favorite, but my match plan was to play for tricks all along, and it worked,” Vachier-Lagrave said.

Nakamura Looks for Third Speed Chess Championship Title

The victory sends MVL to the final, where he’ll face off against two-time defending Speed Chess Championship winner Hikaru Nakamura. Earlier this week, Nakamura earned his spot in the final by slipping past American grandmaster Wesley So by a 13.5-12.5 margin.

Nakamura has earned a reputation as one of the world’s two best speed chess players – rivaled only by Carlsen – and comes into the final as a solid favorite. Unibet lists Nakamura as a -400 pick to win the match, with Vachier-Lagrave fetching +250 odds.


Speed Chess Championship Odds (via Unibet)
Hikaru Nakamura: -400 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: +250

MVL will need to fire on all cylinders to beat Nakamura, and that likely includes running out the clock on the match if he gets a lead. He failed to do so against Carlsen, a decision that nearly cost him. Vachier-Lagrave says he won’t make that same decision in the final.

“If I get the opportunity to use the clock against [Nakamura], I will definitely do it because he’s done it repeatedly,” Vachier-Lagrave said after beating Carlsen. “I didn’t feel like using the format today to my advantage.”

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