Titled Blitz Arena Recap

Lichess TeamChess

A recap of the titled 3+0 blitz tournament with a prize pool of $1000!

This Saturday saw the inaugural Blitz Titled Arena on Lichess. With a leisurely 3+0 time control compared to the usual 1+0 Titled Arenas, we saw a huge number of players show up to participate. Of course, these numbers might also be related to the current and unfortunate "self-isolation" keeping many of us indoors. Whatever the cause, there were over 700 participants at the start of the event, with 844 playing over the course of the 3-hour contest. Participating players aside, there were also over 70,000 other users on the site - and so many streamers that the chat box was almost completely hidden. We'll try to sort something out for the future!

A slower pace for the time control seemingly led to a slower pace for the regular tournament leaders, with a longer time investment needed to secure the points. The pace even appeared too slow for some, who were forced to berserk in order to get the adrenaline rush of bullet.

The Blitz Titled Arena might have been one of the closest Titled Arenas yet. The winner, GM Alireza, started with 7 out of 7 but a string of losses forced him to play catchup for the rest of the tournament. But with some tactical berserking and strong play he managed to take the first place with 99 points, finishing only one point ahead of the World Champion Magnus Carlsen on 98 points.

GM Carlsen had a slow start and after 1 hour was only halfway to catching the leader with 21 points. But with a string of wins and some clever berserking he nearly managed to win the tournament. It was a close fought battle, but in the end GM Alireza was victorious over GM Carlsen by just a single point. GM Andreikin was also fighting for the lead against GM Kovalev, in the middle parts of the tournament. But, after losing their streaks towards the end of the event, they finished in third and fourth place respectively. The last money prize went to IM Golubov who with a very strong start quickly settled himself into the battle for the top placements. But he had to settle with a strong fifth place finish after being unable to keep his streak, after losing to the strongest contenders, like GM’s Alireza, Carlsen, and Andreikin, towards the last portion of the tournament.

The final standings were:

1st: GM Alireza Firouzja (@alireza2003)
2nd: GM Magnus Carlsen (@DrNykterstein)
3rd: GM Dmitry Andreikin (@Vladimirovich9000)
4th: GM Vladislav Kovalev (@Esssquire)
5th: IM Saveliy Golubov (@Golubov_Saveliy)

Watch a short summary of how it evolved here:

Some thoughts on Berserking and Streaks

Berserking and streaks allow for interesting tactics in arena tournaments on lichess. Berserk allows you to get an extra point by sacrificing half your time, taking a higher-risk higher-reward approach. Streaks allows you to gain additional points by winning many games in a row.

Players tried different tactics to use this to their advantage. Some notoriously good bullet players like GM Tang seemed to try and berserk all their games, hoping that their speed makes up for the time disadvantage. This is the highest-risk highest-reward situation, which this time might have left him outside the top 5. But we have seen in the bullet Titled Arena how powerful berserking can be in the hands of a player like Penguin, and he still broke into the top 10 here, with a very strong field. 

Others, including GM Alireza and GM Carlsen only seemed to berserk after a loss to get their streak started. If this tournament is any indication, this seems to be the current best meta. But we expect this meta to evolve in the future. In 3+0 there is more room to experiment with this feature than in 1+0, where you are only left with 30s.

Player streams

Many of the participating players in the event streamed it as well. Impressively, IM Alex Astaneh Lopez streamed the 3-hour Blitz Titled Arena after commentating four hours of the Candidates Tournament earlier the same day for Lichess - and still placed an excellent 8th against very strong competition. (Alex will be commentating the Candidates Tournament for Rounds 6, 8, 10 and 12 from the official Lichess Twitch and YouTube channels). 

Other tournament players and streamers included GM penguingim1, with the perpetual speed-demon choosing to berserk 84% of his games and still coming in 10th place. IM EricRosen also decided to stream and play, providing his usual insightful commentary on his games, finishing mid-table.

GM Sergei Zhigalko - another frequent participant and podium placer of the Lichess Titled Arenas for bullet - provided commentary in Russian, as did GM Tilicheev Viacheslav.

Commentary streams

There were also streamers simply enjoying the moment and watching some high level games. Most notable of these were ChessNetwork, who was following the World Champion Magnus Carlsen's every move.

As always, great thanks to all the participants, viewers and streamers who make the event so much fun for us all. Another Titled Arena will be scheduled soon, stay tuned to our standard communication channels for details.