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Millionaire Moves: Kavutskiy on Games from Vegas Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
October 20, 2014
Kostya Kavutskiy, Photo Tim Hanks

In my view the 2014 Millionaire Chess Open was a step in the right direction in GM Maurice Ashley's dream to turn chess into a popular spectator sport. While there are sure to be many articles, blogs, and Facebook statuses discussing the future of chess and its viability to access the mainstream media, here I'd like to cover the actual chess that was played as well! For anyone who missed it, the live commentary at the MCO was quite excellent, featuring an entertaining team of GM Robert Hess, IM Lawrence Trent, and WIM Arianne Caoili. The coverage in full can be found here. 

Though the whole tournament was essentially a marathon in order to get into the finals on Millionaire Monday, the true drama began in Round 7 (the final round before the playoffs), with the pivotal matchups being GM Wesley So - GM Timur Gareev, GM Daniel Naroditsky - GM Yangyi Yu, and GM Ray Robson - GM David Berczes. The six players led the field with five points, and with only four spots available in the playoffs a tense fight was no doubt about to occur. The biggest surprise of the group was Berczes, who joined the leaders after his fire-on-board style victory in Round 6 against one of the pre-tournament favorites, GM Le Quang Liem:

Following that, in Round 7, So dispatched GM Timur Gareev, nicely demonstrating the power of a rook and two pieces against a queen:

Meanwhile, Naroditsky and Yu drew a relatively uneventful game, while Robson and Berczes found themselves in the following middlegame:

Robson - Berczes 1.jpg

At this point Black is up two pawns and White is without any serious threats. It seems that Berczes was one or two good moves away from punching his ticket to the finals. Now came 39...Nxc2
Not a bad move, but really, why not Rxe4? (After 39...Rxe4, as pointed out by commentators and spectators alike, Black is up three pawns for absolutely zero compensation. Berczes must have seen some ghost when rejecting this line.) 40.Rxc2 Qb1+ 41.Kh2 Rxe4 42.Bxd6 Now Black is up two pawns, though c5 seems to be falling fairly soon. 42...Bf5 43.Rcd2 R4e6 44.Rd1

Robson - Berczes 2.jpg

Qxd3!? A questionable decision considering Black had a better option in 44...Re2! 45.Qxc5 (45.Qxe2 Rxe2 46.Rxb1 Bxd3-+) 45...Qc2! Perhaps Berczes overlooked this move? Black is technically winning after 46.Qxc2 Rxc2 47.R3d2 Nxd6 48.Rxd6 Ree2-+) 45.Rxd3 Bxd3 46.Bxc5 Rc6 47.Bxb4 Re2 48.Qa7! White's hopes are pinned to the queen becoming active. Be4 49.Qe7 Ne5 50.Qf8+ Kh7 51.Qe7+ Kg8 It seems that Black must now be content with a draw, but... 52.Kg3!!
Robson - Berczes 3.jpg  

What!?!? Everyone -- the spectators, the commentators, and probably Berczes himself assumed that Robson was simply looking for enough counterplay to draw the game. But the truth, as Robson must have realized, is that White's queen is active enough to guarantee a draw at any moment, and it is Black who must be careful to hold the balance. 52...Rcc2? The most natural move on the board, yet it loses instantly. (The only move was 52...Bxf3! eliminating White's knight, and after 53.gxf3= neither side can make progress without neglecting their own king.) 53.Qf8+ Kh7 54.Qe7+ Kh6 (Black could continue repeating with 54...Kg8 but Robson likely intended 55.Nxe5 fxe5 56.Qe8+ Kh7 57.Qf7+ Kh8 58.Bf8! where Black has no defense to mate and runs out of checks after 58...Rxg2+ 59.Kh4 g5+ 60.Kh5+-) 55.Qxf6!

Robson - Berczes 4.jpg
The key move. White threatens Bf8+ with a quick mate, as well as Nxe5. The rest of the game was played with just seconds on the clock for both players, though the final result was no longer in doubt. 55...Rxg2+ 56.Kf4 Kh7 57.Qe7+ Kg8 58.Nxe5 Bf5 59.Ng4 Bxg4 60.hxg4 Rcf2+ 61.Kg5 Rf5+ 62.Kxg6 1-0

After this heart-breaking loss Berczes was visibly destroyed. He missed out on a golden chance to contend for first place and guarantee himself a prize of at least $14,000. Fortunately his tournament wasn't over - he finished with 1.5/2 in the final two rounds and ended up tying for 5th overall.

This meant So and Robson qualified directly into Millionaire Monday, while the other two spots would be decided through a qualification round, as Yu and Naroditsky now had 5.5/7, as did GM Jianchao Zhou and GM Sergei Azarov, who caught up by winning their last round games. The qualification round promised excitement, as the format was a single round-robin played under rapid time controls. It turned out to be a bit anti-climactic, however, as Azarov and Naroditsky simply did not play their best, and the Chinese GMs qualified into Millionaire Monday without too much trouble.
Photo Billy Johnson

In the first round of the playoffs, the top seed So was paired against fourth seed Zhou, while Yu would take on Robson. The format was a two game rapid-knockout match, with blitz and Armageddon to follow in the event of a tie, much like in the FIDE World Cup. So and Zhou split their first two games, but in the second round So took over and won both games in the 15 + 3 time control. The match between Yu and Robson also seemed to be one-sided, with the players reaching this position in their first game:

Yu - Robson 1.jpg

Following the razor-sharp poisoned pawn variation of the Najdorf Sicilian, Black enjoys an extra pawn in exchange for a very uncomfortable king. Robson has just played 25...f5, either overlooking or underestimating Yu's reply: 26.Bxf5! Exchanging the bishop for an open e-file, a ruthless, crushing sacrifice. 26...exf5 (Black is even more lost after 26...Rxf5 27.Rxf5 exf5 28.Re1+- With threats of Nd5 and Qg7.) 27.Rbe1 The combined threat of the queen infiltrating through h8 along with the pressure against Black's dark-squared bishop is too much for Black to overcome. 27...Kf8 28.Qh8+ Rg8 29.Qxh6+ Rg7 30.Nxc8 Qxc2! The only chance, bothering White's king.  (30...Rxc8 loses trivially after 31.Rxf5+ Kg8 32.Qe6+ Kh8 33.Rh5+ Rh7 34.Rxh7+ Kxh7 35.Qf7+ Kh8 36.Rxe7+-) 31.Qh8+ Rg8

White to play and win: (Hint: the difficulty level is 1600 rather than 2600)

Yu - Robson 2.jpg

An uncharacteristic lack of tactical awareness. (Set this position up as a problem and most half-decent chess players will find 32.Rxf5+ Qxf5 33.Qxg8+ Kxg8 34.Nxe7++- with an easy win. I can't imagine Yu's anguish when he discovered this possibility after the game. No doubt we'll see this game in one of Aagaard's future books!) 32...Rxc8 33.Rxf5+ Ke8 34.Qh5+?! Another error, this one more understandable. (The silicon beast is able to calculate 34.Rxe7+! out to a win, and announces mate in about 20 after 34...Kxe7 35.Qh7+ Kd6 36.Rf6++- but this is nearly impossible to sort out for a human, especially with just a few minutes left on the clock.) 34...Kd8 35.Rd5+ Kc7 Amazingly, Robson has escaped! It is White's king that's in danger now. 36.Qe5+ (36.Rxe7+ leaves White with a hopeless back rank after 36...Kb8 37.g3 Qf2!-+] 36...Kb6 37.Re2

Yu - Robson 3.jpg
Likely perturbed by the recent events, Yu switches to defense, hoping to confuse the issue in mutual time trouble. 37...Qb1+ 38.Re1 Qxa2 39.Qe4 Qc2! Robson spent two of his remaining three minutes on this move, which practically seals the game. White is left down a piece and without chances for survival. (It was not too late for Black to misstep: 39...Bc5? 40.Rb1+ Ka7 41.Rxb7+! Kxb7 (41...Ka8 42.Rg5!+-) 42.Rd2+ Ka7 43.Rxa2+- and White is back on top.) 40.Rb1+ Ka7 41.Rxb7+ Ka8! (41...Kxb7 would lose after 42.Rb5+ Kc7 43.Qxe7+ Kc6 44.Qb7+ Kd6 45.Rd5+ with mate in 11 or so.) 42.Qf3 Qxg2+!

Yu - Robson 4.jpg

Played instantly. 43.Qxg2 Rc1+ 0-1

Following this collapse Yu tried to create winning chances in the next game, but with the White pieces Robson played solidly and was never worse, making a comfortable draw and advancing to the finals. Clearly Robson enjoyed a great deal of luck with his miracle escapes against both Berczes and Yu (he was even nicknamed "Lucky Ray Robson" by the commentators), but his efforts and "never give up" mentality surely brought a lot of excitement to the event.

The finals seemed a bit awkward for Wesley and Ray, seeing as how they're teammates at Webster University and were even college roommates for an extended period of time. I suppose the guaranteed $100,000 & $50,000 prizes for first and second place was a decent consolation. Of course the players were true professionals and held nothing back -- the first game featured an interesting French Defense that eventually simplified out into a draw:

Photo Billy Johnson

In the second rapid game, Wesley played a rare opening idea (8.Qa4+) that stumped Robson, who landed himself in real trouble soon after. The position after 15 moves can already be considered winning for White, who has an extra pawn and the more active pieces. With a huge edge on the clock as well, Wesley converted briskly:

The win gave Wesley the title and the $100,000 check, both of which he fully deserved, displaying the most consistently high level of play throughout the event.

As for my own performance, I came into this tournament quite confidently, having recently won the Southern California Championship with a score of 6/7 against an average rating of 2270 FIDE. My confidence was quickly brought back down to earth after my first round game with none other than Yangyi Yu:

If I had any doubts about Yu being the deserved MVP of the 2014 Tromso Olympiad, they were more or less dispelled following this encounter. I went on to have a lackluster event, finishing with 4/9. A lone bright spot was my last round win over IM Florin Felecan:

Let's just say I was quite pleased to find 15.Kf2!, after which Florin played much too aggressively with 15...b5.

To sum up, the Millionaire Chess Open was exciting not only because of the potential boost in popularity of chess, but also because of the actual chess itself! The imposed 30-move draw rule in the open section, albeit rare for open tournaments, led to lots of fighting chess in the later rounds. I would encourage fans to check www.millionairechess.com for more games, photos, and full standings of the event, and I very much look forward to seeing what Millionaire Chess will bring to the chess world in the future!

Also see Alisa Melekhina's piece on the Millionaire here,
and look for GM Chirila's follow-up on Million Dollar training later this week.