We’re 26 matches into the $50,000 Banter Blitz Cup, with Magnus Carlsen among the 21 players currently through to Round 2 after beating Argentinian GM Alan Pichot 9:3 in their match. There are 106 matches still to go, though we’ve already had a whole lot of fun with blunders, brilliancies and wild time scrambles all accompanied by commentary from the players. The biggest shock so far has been 2455-rated Spanish GM David Lariño taking down former Top 10 player Pavel Eljanov, while Jan Gustafsson was also on the ropes against 2437-rated Carlos Suárez García.
If you’ve somehow missed the first two weeks of the Banter Blitz Cup the following short video gives an idea of what you’ve got to catch up on!
133 players are competing in a knockout tournament where each match is played with 3-minute, no increment blitz games in the chess24 playzone. It’s best of 16, so the first player to reach 8.5 points wins. And, as you’ve seen, every player not only needs to play to but to talk about the games while playing.
The main knockout is 128 players, just like the FIDE World Cup, but we had so many applicants that we also decided to hold five preliminary matches for a place in Round 1 – to see the full details check out the pairings tree. Those matches went as follows (click a player’s name to rewatch their live show - the country code after a name is the language spoken, not necessarily where a player is from):
The preliminary match that got the biggest buzz was English IM Lawrence Trent taking on Norwegian IM Sebastian Mihajlov for the right to play reigning champion Leinier Dominguez in Round 1. Lawrence wasn’t sure who his opponent was, or at least the trash talk was better that way!
But 20-year-old Sebastian, who works for Play Magnus, proved to be a serious challenge, and there would be some very memorable moments… such as the game Lawrence described midway through as, “as close to a masterpiece as you’ll ever see!” You can watch how that self-jinx worked out here, though be ready for some swearing.
In the end Sebastian won 8.5:5.5 after some epic commentary on the final game:
Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet were later asked if Lawrence would play in the Banter Blitz Cup!
“He was the first guy out without being in, which is kind of typical Lawrence Trent style”, said Laurent, though it wasn’t quite true. Melanie Lubbe had been knocked out the day before, but only after a fantastic fight back after losing the first 5 games. The German Women’s Grandmaster made it 7:5 before losing the final two games, finding some fantastic tactical shots along the way:
Here 32…Bh3!! ultimately won the game. If 33.gxh3 then 33…Qf3+ 34.Kg1 Be3# is mate.
The winner of that match, Spanish IM David Martínez, is the co-organiser of the event with Spanish GM Pepe Cuenca, who also survived a great fight back from Lefong to reach Round 1. David’s immediate goal is to try and avoid losing 9:0 to blitz monster Jan-Krzysztof Duda, while Pepe faces Levan Pantsulaia for the privilege of playing Magnus Carlsen in Round 2.
US IM Eric Rosen will play Peter Svidler in Round 1 after winning an incredibly hard-fought match against Spanish IM Andrés Merario, while the final qualifier was 14-year-old Belgium IM Daniel Dardha, who proved to be a natural both on the board and in front of the camera. He wasn’t afraid to show his emotions and found one of the nicest finishes in a game from his match against German IM Nikolas Lubbe:
21.Rxg7+! Kxg7 22.Nf5+ Kh8 23.Nxe7!
For the preliminary matches you can find all the games by going to the chess24 profiles of the players, but it gets easier for the full 128-player knockout. After matches end we’re adding all the games to a normal tournament, so you can review then with computer analysis just as you could all the FIDE World Cup games (click on a result to open that game):
And again, here are all the match results with a click on the name of a player taking you to his or her live commentary on the games:
The top seed in the Banter Blitz Cup is of course World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who had a potentially tricky Round 1 match with 21-year-old Argentinian Grandmaster Alan Pichot. Magnus made it clear right from the start that he wasn’t planning on taking things easy!
He opened with two wins, but after that there was some turbulence, as he lost the next three games with the black pieces. One of them finished in a memorable final position:
Magnus restored order after that, however, winning the final five games to clinch the match 9:3. You can watch his commentary below:
The biggest shock so far has been 2455-rated Spanish GM David Lariño beating 2663-rated Ukrainian star Pavel Eljanov. The ratings don’t tell the whole story, since David is rated higher at rapid and blitz and is both a fast player and talker. Pavel would join almost every player in the Cup by regularly commenting, “I must play faster”, but the problem with Lariño is that he also has the reputation for being something of a genius! He wasn’t going to miss little tactical tricks (this game eventually ended in a draw)…
…while in Game 11 he found a glorious idea. When the Tal-style 18.dxc6! was met by 18…Bf5 he got to unleash a thunderbolt:
19.Qxf4!! exf4 20.cxb7! Here Pavel spent 35 seconds getting over the shock and realising that there was no hole in his opponent’s concept. He eventually responded 20…Reb8!, but although the position remained balanced he didn’t have the time to withstand the second wave of the attack. A stunning game that we can watch from both players’ perspectives:
David scored an impressive 8.5:4.5 victory, while we almost got another sensation in the match between chess24’s own Jan Gustafsson and another Spanish player, IM Carlos Suárez García. The match didn’t start off ideally for Jan, who got flagged in an overwhelmingly winning position in the first game before getting mated from an excellent position in the second. The contrast in emotions between the players couldn’t have been much greater
Jan won the next game but soon found himself trailing 4:1 after another two losses. He was descending into a spiral of despair and self-loathing, and it’s hard to be sure when the lowest point came. Was it commenting, “Now it’s just going to come down to ‘can I win one game a piece up or not?’” in Game 6 (you can probably guess the answer), or when Lawrence Trent appeared in the chess24 chat at around this point and casually asked about the score, or missing mate-in-1 in a later wild time scramble game that ended in a draw?
The darkest hour was just before the dawn, however, and gradually Jan managed to clamber out of the hole, scoring 3 wins to level the score. Losing a good position in Game 13 was still a heavy blow, and when Game 14 was coming down to a time scramble it looked as though the match might be slipping from Jan’s grasp. It was all the more impressive, then, that he managed to find the will to fight on:
It’s acceptable for players not to commentate during a time scramble, by the way, and in any case, no words could have expressed the drama!
After that Jan won the last two games of what was one of only three matches so far to go the full 16 games (if the players are tied at 8:8 they start playing mini-matches of two blitz games, then eventually two bullet games, until a winner emerges):
“A smooth victory that was never the least in question!” was Jan’s verdict.
Too much chess has been played to summarise, but there have been a lot of highlights. Some players were expected to be good commentators, and haven’t disappointed. For instance, US GM Alejandro Ramírez scored a comfortable win over Cuban-Paraguayan GM Neuris Delgado, though it wasn’t always smooth sailing!
Alejandro also perfectly captured one of the advantages of Banter Blitz - that the players can’t pretend afterwards that they had everything perfectly worked out. After a blunder which ended well he confessed:
If this wasn’t Banter Blitz I’d just be like, “Oh, I saw this, and I like my queen against the rooks”, which is not completely dumb – but I didn’t see any of this!
There were also surprise stars, however, with 2016 Ukrainian Chess Champion Mykhaylo Oleksiyenko winning a lot of new fans for his lively and instructive commentary on his match against former World Junior Champion Alexander Galkin from Russia. Funny comments included, “guys, who calculated that?” in the final game after he found himself with less pieces than he expected, but the show-stopper was the checkmate in Game 7, the last win in a 4-game streak that completely altered the course of the match:
Galkin had also briefly thought, “unexpectedly, I got counterplay” before the sacrifice on f6, but he congratulated his opponent on the idea during the livestream. He also, of course, graciously allowed the mate to appear on the board. Oleksiyenko won 8.5:6.5, but Galkin later wrote on Facebook:
Despite the loss I really liked the idea. I was afraid that I would speak nonsense, but after watching the video I was absolutely calm and everything was decent. It really is cool to watch the videos of the matches and listen to the voice of the grandmasters commentating the course of their games and the whole match.
The only issue for a wider audience is that Alexander was one of a handful of participants so far to take the option of commentating in Russian. Among those there was one star, Igor Kovalenko, whose stream, despite some technical issues at the start, was a real treat for Russian-speaking chess fans:
In this short clip from his 9:5 victory over German GM and chess24 author Ilja Zaragatski Igor begins by noting his opponent still has a dark-squared bishop and could build a monument to it - “monument to the dark-squared bishop!”, he repeats – and then later he sings the farewell song to the bear mascot from the 1980 Moscow Olympics and then, “Eto Vsyo” [“This is all”] by the Russian rock band DDT.
We won’t be lacking in English commentary for Igor’s next match, however, since Latvian no. 2 Arturs Neiksans almost talked too much on the way to an impressive 8.5:5.5 win over World Cup star Niclas Huschenbeth of Germany. Arturs was really looking forward to the all-Latvian struggle.
21-year-old German Grandmaster Alexander Donchenko was another player who impressed on the board and in commentary, scoring an 8.5:4.5 victory over Ruben Felgaer while explaining his ideas in relaxed and flawless English.
No-one can stay entirely relaxed when things get close, however, with some matches going right down to the wire! India’s GM Gupta went on a brilliant 4-game winning streak to level his match with French GM Yannick Gozzoli 7.5:7.5, only to then lose the final game. The other match to end 8.5:7.5 was controversial, entertaining and unforgettable! French Grandmaster Sébastien Mazé was set to take on Argentina’s GM Sandro Mareco, but technical issues on the French side delayed the start by half an hour. When more issues saw Sébastien’s clock run out after 16 moves of Game 1, it was decided to award a full point to a frustrated Mareco.
That decision didn’t meet full French approval, but Mazé wasn’t going to let that stop him putting up one heck of a fight against his higher-rated opponent. He’s often been the French captain at the Olympiad and other major events, but only now did we see what captain really means! He had a pilot’s uniform and, after what seems to have been a fruitful afternoon in a fancy-dress shop, he also had confetti to celebrate his wins. Fortunately for us, there were six of them:
In the end Sandro Mareco triumphed 8.5:7.5, however, with the final game fittingly ending with bare kings.
Banter Blitz is a chance for experienced pros to share their chess wisdom and, for instance, we saw plenty of strategic mastery from renowned chess trainer and author Jacob Aagaard in his match against young Peruvian Jorge Cori, but that’s not always what wins games or half points!
Gadir Guseinov, a 3-time European Champion with the Azerbaijan team, shared his blitz philosophy:
Gadir will play chess24’s own Laurent Fressinet in Round 2 after beating Pablo Salinas. The full list of Round 2 match-ups we know so far is:
For now, though, we’re still only 21 matches into the 64 in Round 1. We expect to have a quieter few weeks as the Grand Swiss and the European Team Championship keep a lot of the players busy, but you’ll be able to find all the scheduled matches on this page. You can also find all the matches (without any spoilers for the scores!) on our Shows page – note the search and filter options there that may help you find exactly what you want.
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