By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – After a string of 43 unbeaten games, chess grandmaster Wesley So was decisively beaten in a series of blitz and bullet games by the top American player in the Death Match 30 played Jan.3 on chess.com/TV.
No title was at stake, but in what amounts to earning bragging rights, Hikaru Nakamura beat So 21.5 to 11.5 in the battle between the No 1 and No.2 of American chess.
Nakamura, the highest-rated active blitz and bullet player on Chess.com won the 5+1 portion convincingly. The opening five games produced 4.5 points for Nakamura although So stabled himself with four draws at the end of the 75-minute segment.
So’s first win actually came in game 10, the second of the 3+1, when Nakamura disconnected in a better position. The match clock was briefly paused, and when play resumed, So used it to gain some wins and finish the segment even 4.5-4.5.
But with a burst in the bullet segment, Nakamura turned off So’s comeback the Filipino came as close as -3.
Then the top-rated American won four straight to open up an insurmountable lead.
It was the third largest margin in the Death Match history. Ironically, So holds the record with 14 points set in Death Match 7.
The match played on the Internet – So was in Minnesota and Nakamura was in Italy – $1,000 was up for grabs. Nakamura won $750 ($500 for the overall win and $250 for winning two segments and tying one). So took home $250.
The prizes were just peanuts for both Nakamura and So, who will meet again in a few days at the prestigious Tata Steel Tournament in the Netherlands. The world’s top chess players are competing, including world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.
Blitz games are played 10 minutes or less for each player. Usually sudden death (no increment), may also be played with a small increment. More recently due to the influx of digital clocks, three minutes with a two-second increment is also preferred.
In bullet games, each player is given one to three minutes. The time control for this setting is 2 minutes with one-second increment or 1 minute with a two-second increment. It’s also called “Lightning” chess.
“Bullet I enjoy being the best at it,” Nakamura told chess.com “But it’s not a measure of what counts in chess. It would be nice if there was a bullet world championship.”
So has not lost a single game since the St. Louis Open chess tournament in April last year, after 43 games and four tournaments.
His official FIDE ratings of 2762 ranks him No. 10 in the world, although that rating will change when the 8.7 points he earned by winning the 24th North American Open at the Bally’s Resort Casino are added to his total ratings for 2014.
But in the match against Nakamura, he was a “toddler playing against an adult,” according to online commentators.
“I think I should have won the match by a bigger margin overall, but a win’s a win,” Nakamura said.
Although Nakamura is from St. Louis, where So played for Webster University, the two had never played a blitz game, whether in person or online.
The two were also teammates on the U.S.chess Olympiad , where Nakamura was a player and So was a coach
Nakamura said in an interview with Chess.com,” “I don’t think we’ve ever played blitz over the board or on the internet.”
So agreed:“I don’t believe Hikaru and I have played over-the-board blitz before. Our only tournament game was Tata Steel 2014 where I was White and it ended in a draw.”
After the game, So said Nakamura was far superior than him.
“He can calculate very quickly. If he gets an advantage, it’s over…I look at the time — I have 20 seconds and he has 55. It was hard. Hikaru’s a legend in online chess.”