chess24 Nov 17, 2019 | 11:50 AMby Colin McGourty

Pepe Cuenca sets up Magnus Carlsen showdown

Pepe Cuenca will play Magnus Carlsen in Round 2 of the $50,000 Banter Blitz Cup after the Spanish Grandmaster scored an incredible 9:0 victory over higher-rated Levan Pantsulaia. We’re now 48 matches down, 16 to go in Round 1, with some of the highlights including powerful displays by prodigies Alireza Firouzja and Praggnanandhaa. It’s not just about the chess. For instance, David Navara not only won his match but sang a chess-themed version of Yesterday by the Beatles!


First, a public service announcement: at 15:00 CET on Sunday 17 November World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen will play his 7th regular Banter Blitz session here on chess24. Any Premium Member can challenge him to a blitz game simply by hovering over his username MagzyBogues under the video, choosing “Challenge me!” (when he’s online) and submitting a challenge. You can find the show here.

That will be followed at 19:00 CET by one of the most anticipated Round 1 Banter Blitz Cup clashes – Peter Svidler taking on American IM Eric Rosen.

Now let’s get back to reviewing the Banter Blitz Cup action! Since our first recap 27 more Round 1 matches have been played, and you can watch any of them, from either player’s perspective, by clicking on their name below (if you don’t want to see the result you can find all the matches on our Shows page):

You can also replay all the games with computer analysis using the selector below (click a result to open the game with computer analysis):

Now let’s look at some of the recent Round 1 highlights:

The longest match: Moussard 15:13 Grigoryan

The format of the Banter Blitz Cup is a 128-player knockout, just like the FIDE World Cup. Each match is best-of-16 and played with 3+0 blitz games, so you need 8.5 points to win, but if it finishes 8:8 strange things can happen! To give both players an equal chance with White and Black they begin to play pairs of games, first one pair of 3+0 games, then, if needed, another, but then if that fails they switch to 1+0 and keep playing pairs of games until one of the players wins.

We saw some long matches, including Gordievsky 10:8 Banusz, Sjugirov 11:9 Garriga and Bartel 10.5:9.5 Cordova, and there was no lack of drama. Needing only a draw in the 18th game to win the match Peru’s Emilio Córdova here picked not one of the drawing options but Kg6 and got mated!


Poland’s Mateusz Bartel made good use of that reprieve to win the match.

By far the longest match so far, however, was between French GM Jules Moussard and Armenian GM Karen Grigoryan. It didn’t just go to bullet games, but needed an extraordinary 8 of them before a winner was determined, with no draws in 28 games!   

In one of the bullet games Jules gave a beautiful mate…


…but nothing could compare to the relief of the match finally being over!

The most incredible non-chess performance: David Navara

Don’t get us wrong – although Czech no. 1 David Navara may have missed mate-in-1 in one of the games against Daniel Dardha (25…Qxa3#!), he played some very good chess on the way to winning 8.5:3.5. But his first appearance in the Banter Blitz Cup will be remembered for a constant stream of stories and other ways to entertain viewers. Most notably, he sang a version of Yesterday!

In general, David’s appearance was unforgettable:

Top prodigies: Firouzja and Praggnanandhaa

Alireza Firouzja is a 16-year-old kid from Iran who has barged his way into the 2700 club and is currently within a point of being the world’s top junior. What remains to be seen is whether he’ll reach a plateau like 20-year-old Wei Yi, or whether he can follow in the footsteps of the likes of Vladimir Kramnik and Magnus Carlsen and reach the very top before the age of 20. He’ll get his first real chance to enter high society when he plays in the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee this January.

His phenomenal speed could be seen as he assessed complicated positions against Almira Skripchenko at a glance, though our favourite moment of the match may have been Almira’s one win!

14-year-old Praggnanandhaa from India captured the attention of the whole chess world as he came close to becoming the youngest grandmaster in history, but even if he didn’t quite break that record he looks like becoming a top player. His Banter Blitz Cup opponent Aryan Tari called him, “a tactical beast”, while the calm manner in which he explained his plans during the 8.5:4.5 victory was just as impressive. He’s not superhuman yet, though!

Praggnanandhaa’s fellow Indian star Nihal Sarin is set to play Peru’s José Martínez on December 4th.

Most crushing wins: Gata Kamsky and Pepe Cuenca

The biggest score by which you can win a match is 9:0, and two players have managed it. Former World Championship challenger and 5-time US Champion Gata Kamsky racked up the score against 5-time Spanish Women’s Champion Sabrina Vega. His explanations of his moves were perhaps the most instructive hour’s chess we’ve seen during the Banter Blitz Cup:

As he explained when the score was already 8:0:

It looks easy, but the score doesn’t tell the whole story. I think my opponent plays really well, especially in the openings, and then in the middlegames she has a feel for where the pieces go and everything, but it takes time to reach those decisions, while I had huge experience playing all sorts of positions so I have a more automatic feel for where pieces have to go without double-checking myself. That gives me a huge advantage, of course.

He wanted to give his opponent a draw in the final round to avoid the 9:0 score, but it’s credit to Sabrina that she decided to fight to the end!

That result was no huge surprise given the almost 300-point rating gap between the players, but Pepe Cuenca’s 9:0 victory over Georgian GM Levan Pantsulaia was extraordinary. At 2514 Pepe was rated almost 100 points below his opponent, whose achievements include beating Magnus Carlsen in the World Rapid Championship. The final scoreline was barely imaginable when the first game started with Pepe ready to resign with a hopeless position on the board and a deficit on the clock, but he went on to win on time and never looked back!

Magnus Carlsen is next, which, to put it mildly, is going to be tough, but we can be sure of some incredible moments as no-one does football-style commentary on chess quite like Pepe!

The greatest comeback: David Antón

For five games US IM John Bartholomew’s performance against Spanish no. 2 David Antón was every bit as impressive as Pepe’s. Despite being rated over 200 points lower, and facing a player who had finished joint 2nd in the Grand Swiss and has been Spanish Blitz Champion, John raced to a 5:0 lead. It was a largely deserved scoreline, featuring some sweet moments:

Perhaps an accidental 5+0 challenge that had to be aborted affected John's concentration, or it was just that David finally found his rhythm, but after that the Spanish star hit back to win eight games without reply and take the match!

Most self-deprecating streamer: Grzegorz Gajewski

Polish Grandmaster Grzegorz Gajewski has been the main second of Vishy Anand for the last few years now, and it’s easy to see how they get along so well! Vishy is a fan of English comedy series such as Fawlty Towers and Yes Minister and Gajewski’s commentary on his match against 23-year-old Cristobal Henríquez was full of English-style self-deprecating humour. In the first game he told us:

The most difficult thing about this game is that I’m already low on time and, as you will probably discover quite soon, I’m a terrible blitz player. So I’m slow, I’m clumsy and I blunder pieces all the time!

His commentary after that was full of phrases such as, "the knight looks really cool on f5 - even if it doesn't do anything" or, “I’ve blundered one pawn, so I may as well blunder another one”, or:

I don't understand any of his moves, I just don't understand them... To be honest, I also don't understand many of my own moves!

After starting with two wins in the first three games he lost six in a row, so that there was something to celebrate when he got the chance to win the next!

That made it 7:2, and Grzegorz managed to fight back to 7.5:5.5 before the match ended with a win for Henríquez.

We had to give out this award quickly, since this recap comes just before Peter Svidler starts his Banter Blitz Cup campaign! Peter’s opponent will be American IM and regular streamer Eric Rosen, who had to win a preliminary match to get this far. It promises to be a lot of fun, and you can watch both players from 19:00 CET on Sunday 17 November: Peter’s stream | Eric’s stream

Before that, however, there’s a regular Banter Blitz (i.e. you can play!) with Magnus:

See also:


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