The second round of the Losers Bracket of the 2022 Bullet Chess Championship presented by DigitalOcean ended with four decisive winners: GMs Oleksandr Bortnyk, Arjun Erigaisi, Brandon Jacobson, and Jose Martinez. Notably, the less established 18-year-old Jacobson defeated GM Fabiano Caruana, although in truth, judging by his past performance in bullet, he was not a real underdog in this format.
The tournament will continue with both the Losers Top-8 and Winners Semifinals on March 14 at 10 am PT/19:00 CET.
How to watch?
The 2022 Bullet Chess Championship presented by Digital Ocean is a double-elimination bracket knockout held by Chess.com and featuring $100,000 in prizes. All games are 1+0, and matches are 30 minutes long with a break at the 15-minute mark. In the event of a tie, players continue to play, alternating colors, until a player wins a game.
Each hard-fought match was ultimately decided by at least a two-point gap in final score. While every victory was earned rightfully, there were some opportunities for comebacks that ultimately did not pan out. The most inspiring of them was by GM Raunak Sadhwani who, facing a nearly-debilitating six-point deficit by game 11, went on to win four in a row—only to see the match clock run out of time. The dominating story, nevertheless, is that one player in each match took the lead and was able to maintain it, even despite a few hiccups along the way.
Oleksandr Bortnyk vs. Ray Robson: 10.5-5.5
The first match was a pretty decisive one that left no room for doubt as Bortnyk won game after game, the commentators remarking how many of them were won with forks. When it rained it poured for GM Ray Robson, who played this match between rounds at a strong classical tournament, the Spring Chess Classic in St. Louis. Honestly, Bortnyk played better and faster, and Robson, who is known to be a speed demon in fast time controls, was unrecognizable as he entered the halftime break with a score of 7-1. Even in cases where Ray had a time advantage, as in the following, he was unable to keep up with Bortnyk’s superior premoves and lost several games by flagging:
“He’s not quite as crisp as he normally is, especially in the realm of tactics,” said Naroditsky, who commentated on the games today after defeating Robson on the previous day in this event.
Robson threatened a comeback as he won several games in a row, eventually reaching a score of 4.5 to Bortnyk’s 8.5, but could not follow through with the number of wins necessary to tie the match. Bortnyk’s lead was never really in doubt and he converted game after game with brisk speed as premoves flew across the board by both players. Nothing seemed to click for Robson as even critical premoves seemed all too often to be mistimed:
Raunak Sadhwani vs. Arjun Erigaisi 7-9
As stated earlier, this was perhaps the closest match when considering Sadhwani’s four-game winning-streak in the end. Erigaisi took control only to let it finally go, and had the match clock provided another five extra minutes, Sadhwani very well could have turned things around. In sum, the match can be cut into two halves, with Erigaisi dominating the first half, Sadhwani dominating the second, and the former’s score having the final say.
Erigaisi’s match strategy seemed to be clear from the outset: play extremely fast even at the cost of move quality. Although his moves were not always great, they were played with lightning speed. The following reaction by Hess draws the contours of the match’s start: “How is Arjun up 10 seconds every single game?”
After a 2.5-2.5 deadlock, Erigaisi broke through to a 2.5-6.5 lead going into the halftime break. The calm nature of the commentary as Erigaisi unleashes a devastating attack against the uncastled white king, as well as Sadhwani’s exasperated reaction at the end of the game, says all you need to know about the trend this match was taking.
However, just when it looked like one player was taking over, Sadhwani showed incredible fighting spirit. after losing seven games in a row, he still did not give up hope. Instead, he pulled off four straight wins and slowly gained the psychological edge:
Not all the games produced stellar technique and, often, the results had much less to do with the position than with the clock. Funnily, a mate in one was actually missed in one of the games, but it didn’t matter as both players had mere seconds on the clock, with no increment. Curiously enough, this match featured several heavy-piece endgames, and this one featured the kind of tricky checkmates you must always watch out for with rooks or queens still on the board:
Just as Sadhwani initiated a heroic comeback, it was already too late. The match clock ticked down to zero and, due to the earlier deficit he accumulated in the match, he did not have enough time to stage what would likely have been one of the most memorable comebacks in recent memory.
Brandon Jacobson vs. Fabiano Caruana: 11-9
Now, most viewers would probably expect Caruana to be the favorite in this matchup. The Insights page, however, tells a different story. Noticeably, Jacobson plays bullet much more frequently than his more experienced opponent, but we also can notice their accuracy is about the same while the youngster wins more games by flagging. Of course, these insights feature conclusions made after only 84 games by Caruana, but that low number in itself should provide some idea of how close this match really was.
Jacobson convincingly redeemed himself at the start of his match after facing the guillotine, GM Hikaru Nakamura, on the previous day. He capitalized on a mistake by the 2018 World Championship Challenger and won the very first game with an inspiring attack.
Caruana came back and established a 2-4 score in his favor, and this is perhaps where many viewers would have expected the needle to tilt in the direction of the world number five. However, an all-out brawl started all of the sudden after Jacobson returned to tie the match at 4-4 right before the halftime break, winning a completely equal and symmetrical endgame by flagging his formidable opponent.
When they returned, the hand-to-hand combat proceeded as both players managed to find complicated tactics in virtually no time:
There were many adrenaline-inducing moments in the entire match, but the following miniature was his quickest win as Jacobson took down his opponent in 23 moves after playing an interesting pawn sacrifice for an attack:
The end was still a fight as Caruana desperately, and unsuccessfully, fought back to even the score. While there were chances for Caruana in a nerve-racking finale, Jacobson kept his cool and even won three games in a row, shutting down all hopes of a ressurection. The younger grandmaster dropped a loss in the last game, but the match clock was already over and he could safely resign on move 13, as the game had no impact on the inevitable result.
Jose Martinez vs. Alexey Sarana: 10-7
The match was by no means a runaway win for the Peruvian grandmaster, but in the early rounds and throughout the match he established himself as the clearly superior player in time scrambles. Considering the short time control, with no increment, this was the determining factor in this faceoff.
As early as the fourth game, Naroditsky predicted that Martinez would win all time scrambles that came close since Martinez seemed to simply be faster in such cases. In the following clip, Naroditsky comically called the win for Martinez from the outset, and just as Sarana achieved a winning position, Martinez came through for the commentator with his speed. It’s worth seeing his victorious fist pump at the end of the game.
Sarana came back to win the next two games and tie the score at 3-3. In the following game he won, his position was much easier to play despite the engine saying White was winning, but both players did miss a spectacular combination featuring a queen sacrifice (only to win it back with a fork):
Nevertheless, Martinez won the next two games before the halftime break and thus showed to have the better nerves and, evidently, the better games. The following attacking game was praised by both commentators and, even as it was ongoing, Hess already concluded before the checkmate occurred: “This has been an unbelievable game.”
In the final 10 minutes, Sarana was down four points but started the comeback. The following clip features a cute checkmate with one rook in the endgame:
Ultimately, despite winning four out of the last six games, it was not enough for Sarana to tie the match score at any point. Martinez has proven himself at many Chess.com online events to be a skilled speed-chess player and it remains to be seen what he is capable of in the Losers Top-8.