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Chess.Com Death Match 15: Caruana vs. Aveskulov Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
May 30, 2013
Chess.com's Death Match 15 pits a world top-ten super grandmaster against a player who is 250 points lower and taking a break from tournaments. GM Fabiano Caruana, an American-Italian dual citizen who plays for Italy, will have the largest-ever Death Match rating advantage against Ukrainian GM Valeriy Aveskulov on June 9 at noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific.

Unlike the "Miracle on Ice" at the 1980 Winter Olympics however, the American will be the heavy favorite...


World number four(!) on the live ratings list, GM Fabiano Caruana

The reverse symbolism doesn't end there. Caruana is from New York. The Olympics took place in New York. The Soviet team was made up of professional players; Caruana is a full-time chess professional. The American hockey team comprised amateur college players; Aveskulov is currently is in college getting a Ph.D.

Aveskulov is even more obseqious than American Hockey Coach Herb Brooks. The actor Kurt Russell, channeling Brooks: "If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine." Aveskulov: "I think, I don't have any serious chances." 

Actually, even though Caruana is by far the highest-rated Death Match player (and the first super GM, since Wesley So wasn't quite 2700 when he participated), the ratings tables only give him an 81 percent chance to win a single, over-the-board game. But that's the beauty of the Death Match - the players will play more than 30 games at lightning-fast speeds, and Aveskulov has proven himself quite adept as the clock ticks down (his Chess.com bullet rating is fewer than 50 points away from Caruana).


 Former Ukranian Champion, now chess coach GM Valeriy Aveskulov

Based on prior experience, he's not in as dire of a situation as the American skaters. Two weeks before their Olympic meeting, the Soviets beat the Americans 10-3. In the only classical game between Caruana and Aveskulov, the Ukranian drew without issue as black.

As for which openings we may see, Aveskulov plans to play aggressively, even as black. His recent book Attack With Black was well received and focuses mainly on meeting 1. d4 with his treasured Benko Gambit (an opening he has played since he was seven!). It's possible we'll have a Benko-theme match. "Probably, I will play some gambits, but so far I'm not sure about my general strategy for the whole match. I wish somebody of Caruana's level took a look at my book. Considering he used to play Benko himself, he probably already looked at the book. It would be a big honor for me." (Nowadays, it is much more likely for Caruana to be on the white side of a Benoni, as he was here last month against Kramnik in the FIDE Grand Prix in Zurich.)

Here Aveskulov destroys the number one Slovakian player with his well-researched opening:

Aveskulov qualified based on his Chess.com bullet rating, and he thinks the 1+1 time control will be his strongest. "It's gonna be my best chance in this battle," Aveskulov said. "But I will try to offer some resistance in 5+1 and 3+1 as well." Traditionally, the final hour of bullet has proven to be the pivotal portion due to the high number of games, and lots of streaky outcomes. In Death Match 14, the players played nine 5+1 games, nine more 3+1 games, then 17 bullet games. The one-minute time control saw each player rattle off winning streaks of at least five games in a row.

The underdog has some peripherals on his side. Caruana is juggling a dogged schedule, currently playing in the rigorous FIDE Grand Prix Tournament in Greece. Only two days after the Death Match, Caruana will play in the even more difficult Tal Memorial, lead by GM Magnus Carlsen (at least in Greece there was one non-2700 in the field; Rustam Kasimdzhanov registered at 2699). The peripatetic Caruana is only 20, and while he may not get fatigued, he won't want to show his opening secrets. "Fabiano plays a lot of tournaments and is always warmed up and it's hard to imagine he won't play seriously enough to give me many chances. Though, probably, he won't be able to show his 100 percent."

Here is the type of energy that a recent teenager can possess (Caruana was 16 at the time):


Although it's a longshot, let us close by remembering that Death Matches, like hockey games, take place over three periods (though at least hockey players get two intermissions). In 1980, the favored Soviets dominated the first two periods, but the U.S. kept it close, just as Aveskulov said he hoped to. If the match is within a game or two going into the bullet, it may give Aveskulov all the confidence he needs for an historic moment.