Kazim's Back: Gulamali on Taking Down Vegas
December 1, 2014
While GMs Robson and So battled for the grand $100,000 prize at the Millionaire Chess Open , a popular young talent, Kazim Gulamali was carving up the Under 2500 prize for a 40K payday. He won the final against another respected player from the South, IM Ron Burnett. Since the Millionaire, Kazim had another nice win at the National Chess Congress in Philadelphia, where he picked up $1600 for clear first in the Under 2500 category. 

Kazim talked to CLO about controling his nerves, his future plans and why it doesn't bug him to see amateurs playing for big bucks. 

Jennifer Shahade (JS): Last time I chatted with you for CLO, we talked about your bughouse adventures and being one of the strongest bug players, but you said you may start to taper down your bug play. 
Kazim Gulamali (KG): Yeah, I’ve played (only) 50-60 games this year. It was fun to play vs. some new and upcoming kids in bughouse at the World Open.  I also sometimes go to bug gatherings. 

JS: Wait, what’s a bug gathering? 
KG: Basically the best bug players rent a house, everyone flies in and we go to some nice restaurants. We’ve had them in Florida and every year in Vegas since the 90s. 

Sinqbug.jpg
A high rated bug battle. GMs Varuzhan Akobian, Maxime Vachier Lagrave, World Champ Magnus Carlsen watching, GMs Fabiano Caruana & Levon Aronian playing
JS: Did you hear about the Sinquefield Cup bug battles with Aronian, Carlsen, Nakamura & Caruana? 
KG: Yeah, I saw a few pics. I was hoping to make it to the tournament. I saw MVL (Maxime-Vachier-Lagrave) and Alejandro playing too! 

JS:  It was hilarious and Levon gave some pretty great bug opening advice. So, when did you decide you were going to play in the Millionaire? 
KG: I think I first heard about it early in the year and I didn’t register and get everything done till August or July.

JS: So you had to pay the 1500 instead of the 1K? Did that make you feel silly at all?  
KG: That never entered my head. I not sure what was stopping me from entering earlier but the way I looked at it, sure, I’m paying 500 extra, but the prize fund is worth the investment and worth the risk.

JS: Good point, once it was clear the tournament would have an “overlay” as we call it in poker, I was surprised more people didn’t enter. I agree part of it was this fallacy that since they could’ve entered for 1000, they didn’t want to enter for 1500, even if 1500 was still a good deal.   

Were you nervous about qualifying for the final?

KG: I didn’t even know that after seven rounds, they’d take the top scores from each section to see who qualifies for the top sections. I was about to go to sleep when one of my friends called me and said, you gotta come down, you qualified. So I’m thinking this must be a practical joke. But of course it’s not.


JS: After winning the semis against IM David Karatorossian, how did it feel to face another Southern star, IM Ron Burnett? 
KG: It was intense. I drew Burnett once at 18 or 19 but before that he always got an edge against me, because he’s more of a strategic player. He’d always take away my counterplay. So I knew I’d have to mix it up against me. 

The first game was G/25+5 and I was trying to complicate while he was trying to stabilize. I ended up sacking a piece. He won, but it could have gone either way. 


That game helped me relax, because I felt, I have $20,000 locked up. Now I felt I had nothing to lose and could just play my best.   

In game two, I got a dream position. He put his knight on h3 and he had to put his king back on e1 and his knight on g1. I was dominant strategically and was able to win that game. 

 

Now I realized the longer the match goes, it will favor me, because it’s going to get quicker and quicker.

JS: Right, because you have so much experience playing rapid time controls, from bughouse as well! 
KG: Yes, so now G/25 was done, and we move to G/15+5 s. I win the first game in that match and I’m thinking, “OK, I got this.” 

 

I didn’t change the way I play, try to do the same thing I did before, get a complicated position. Even though I only needed a draw, I still wanted to play my style. He sacrificed with 1.Nf3 f5 2. e4. This is completely not his style. We get a position where it’s pretty complicated. He sacks an exchange to keep my king in my center. He plays a nice game and ends up winning. 

 

I’m not upset at that point- he played well under the pressure and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Now we move to G/5 with a 2 second time delay. Again I have white. I get a decent position, he is able to get 3 pawns for a piece and liquidates and we trade queens and wins.

 

This time I am actually upset. I felt like I blew it.


After that, I started moving instantly. He plays the Closed Sicilian, trying to shut down any play. 

 

I manage to win the game despite being close to losing. 

JS: So it went all the way to Armageddon. 
KG: Yes, finally, we are at the final game. Five minutes with White or 3 minutes +30 seconds + black and draw odds. I would pick White, I think it’s too much time for sudden death. But he picks black.

 

My strategy is to blow up the position and get him to time pressure. We trade queens, he hangs the exchange and then at the end of the game, wins the exchange back. I still win that game and I’m really thankful, that it’s over and I won the whole thing.  


JS:  How’d you celebrate?
KG: After celebrating with my coach Giorgi Kacheishvili for a bit, I went back to my room to get my phone. It was about 11 PM (and much later on the East Coast) and everyone was still watching, my sister at college, my mom and dad. It was a really a happy moment because they were all staying up late and rooting for me. I got text messages from people all over the World. 
KachKazim.jpg
GM Kacheishvili and Gulamali, Photo Billy Johnson for Millionaire Chess

JS:  Any splurges? 
KG: Not yet. I think the splurge is gonna come a little later. I’m planning a trip to Europe. I saw you were there recently, maybe you can give me some tips.

JS:  I went for the PokerStars Isle of Man Chess International but also met in Rome with my brother Greg, who is on a round the world trip. We filmed CrossFit Chess there. Greg said he really liked Paris and had a super time playing casual blitz at the Luxembourgh park. I definitely recommend playing chess in Europe for a combination of life and chess experience! Where are you thinking of going?
KG: I’ve heard good things about the Gibraltar Chess Congress and the Iceland tournament.  

JS: I know it's rare in Europe, but I’m a little surprised by the outcry against class prizes. People can’t expect class players to pay out 1K-1500 without serious incentives. 
KG: You think about how hard a GM has to work. The financial side of chess isn’t that great. So when they see a 1400 to 1600 win big bucks, it may be aggravating. But I don’t agree with this attitude, I think that chess will become more popular in the coming years and this is a step in the right direction. 

JS:  Yeah if you think about it one amateur winning $40,000 isn’t really a big deal if it means chess can become more popular, people will buy more coaching and books, and a GM may be able to make 20% more for giving lessons or for simuls. 
KG:  Yes, even GMs who had just a decent or average tournament, got their money back. Look at the poker model. It’s kind of similar, everyone pays the 10K (in the World Series of Poker in Vegas) and amateurs feel they have a shot. I agree with you, there’s no need to be mad, there’s going to be more tournaments, more attention to chess, and in the long term this will be good for the professionals.
 
Millionaire Chess just announced that it will be back in Vegas in October 2015. Stay informed on their website and facebook page and also look for more news on CLO.

Also find CLO pieces on the Millionaire by GM Cristian Chirila and FMs Kostya Kavutskiy and Alisa Melekhina.