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The Million Dollar Journey: GM Chirila on Vegas Part II Print E-mail
By GM Ioan Cristian Chirila   
October 24, 2014
The arrival
It’s Wednesday, October 8th. I am boarding my flight to Las Vegas for the Millionaire Chess Open, the first open tournament with a $1 Million prize fund, something that was quite a utopian idea a few years back. I was extremely curious to see how the organizers will be able to pull this one off, on the paper it looked like the perfect tournament for all the participants.

For lower rated players this tournament was the perfect opportunity to shine and gain a serious purse for their efforts. This is a controversial topic and a lot of stronger players do not agree with this concept, some low rated players made more money in this tournament than some professionals did in their entire career. But ok, let’s say the organizers had a valid point in trying to make chess appeal to the masses. For the strong grand masters that came for a chance at the impressive 100k 1st place purse, the tournament was quite a good value bet. The $1k entry fee was quite substantial, but so was the prize fund awarding a player’s efforts up to the 50th place ($1k).  


Yours truly enjoying the limo ride with FM Alex Barnett, Photo Sabrina Chevannes 

The Millionaire experience, as advertised by the organizers, started quite well as I stepped out of the airport to find a limo waiting for me. The first 20 GMs to register were awarded this perk.  Fast forward half an hour and I was already at Planet Hollywood where I met my roommate and good friend GM Alejandro Ramirez and the countless pictures of Bruce Willis (the hotel has some sort of movie thematic).We decided to take advantage of the few hours before the registration and grab lunch. We chose the famous Burgr, Ramsey Gordon’s restaurant. This was quite an inspired idea as I really enjoyed my meal as well as the relaxed vibe of the restaurant. 

The registration and the interview

At 6 PM the tournament registration booth was supposed to open its gates, every player had to register or confirm his participation in the tournament. We went as soon as possible, judging that as the hours progressed it will be more and more crowded. We couldn’t be more wrong! 


Apparently everybody used the same logic and decided to show up in waves for the early registration. Kudos to the staff members that were managing the people quite fast, and after a 20-30 minutes wait we got to the registration desk and confirmed our participation. While I was waiting in the line I was kindly asked to remain around the site in order to give an interview, unfortunately there were a lot of players being asked the same thing which made the interview line even longer the registration one. Nevertheless it was an experience most chess players are not usually exposed to, and a crucial factor if we want to change the face of chess and make it more of a spectator’s sport. I have to give credit to the production crew that was extremely friendly and made everybody feel welcomed in the studio. 


Day 1

After a fairly mild gambling night, we had to wake up quite early for the inaugural breakfast.


 The organizer’s advertised that this will be a $55 breakfast. There was no check-in enforced so everybody who wanted to join wouldn’t have had any problems in doing so. A comedian was brought in to lighten the spirit and entertain the grumpy bunch of chessplayers. Coming from outside the chess world and making a chess crowd laugh can prove to be a daunting task, even if you have previously performed for Barack Obama. I still think the idea was a good one, despite a few haters there was also a healthy dose of laughter. 

After finishing the breakfast we had to return to our room and wait for the 1st round pairings. We were aware that this is going to be a strong tournament and that we will probably face a difficult opposition quite early in the tournament. As with most tournaments in North America, the pairings were not up till just before the round. We waited till 11:50 AM to know who we are going to face, and the game was scheduled to start at noon. Fortunately I’ve been around for a few years now and I knew what to expect so this didn’t interfere with my pre-game concentration. 

After a smooth win as black against a talented youngster, I got paired against the revelation of the first round : Justus Williams. The kid was coming after delivering a terrible blow to one of the top seeds, Sergei Azarov. Justus is a very sharp and talented guy, his main strength comes from his ability to play very good middle games and swindle his opponents in tactical battles. Unfortunately for him he was not able to handle the opening well and I managed to get a strong advantage out of it. After that I converted a tricky endgame with a pawn up and my 2/2 start was quite encouraging.

Sheng,Joshua (2236) - Chirila,Christian (2529)
Millionaire Chess Open Las Vegas (1), 16.10.2014 

Black has complete control over this position, the only open file is in his custody and the white queen is completely out of play. Only some technique is needed to convert the advantage 23.b4 [23.Qg3? Qb6 24.b3 Qxe3! 25.fxe3 Ne2+ 26.Kh2 Nxg3-+]
Opening up a second front in order to infiltrate my forces into my opponent's camp  
24.a3 Ra8 25.Rc1 axb4 26.cxb4 
26.axb4 Qb5 27.Kh2 Ra2 28.Bb1 Rb2 29.Rd1 Qa4 30.Ree1 Ra8 31.Qg3 Ne2-+
26...Rxa3! 27.Rxa3 Ne2+ 28.Kh2 Nxc1 

29.Ne1 was a bit more resilient but doesn't really save the day 29...Qb6 30.Qh5 Rd8 31.Rg3 Kh8 32.Qg6 Rg8-+ and black will continue collecting material
29...b5 30.Bd1 Qd6 31.Bc2 Qxb4 32.Re3 Qb2 0-1


We ended our day by blowing some steam off at the Blackjack tables, encouraged by a very friendly croupier that made us all some money. One of my friends was especially mesmerized by this girl, but I will leave the details to the reader’s imagination. The second day was going to be much tougher. 

Day 2

The second day we had to adjust our clocks one hour earlier as the game started at 11AM instead of 12PM. I was paired against Iran’s top player Ghaem Maghami as black. I knew this was going to be a tough game but I was quite optimistic about my chances. After an unusual line of the Anti-Grunfeld we reached a complex middle game in which I had a small advantage due to my active pieces and lead in development. My opponent played very precisely and managed to steer the game into a drawish endgame without many difficulties. Still I was quite pleased with my performance as I managed to neutralize and even press with black against a strong opponent. 

But then the evening round came, and with that I got to meet one of the most uncomfortable opponents for me, Ray Robson. I faced him few times now, in our first encounter I win quite a nice game but since then I was not able to repeat the result. He now probably has a +5 score against me, maybe even more. Unfortunately this wasn’t the game to change that, and I slowly got outplayed in a Grunfeld in which I allowed my opponent to decisively expand on the queen side and exert enough pressure to make me crack. Losing as white is something I really despise. Still,, the tournament was not over and I had to bounce back in order to keep my qualifying chances alive. 

Chirila,Ioan Cristian (2529) - Robson,Ray (2610) [D85]
Millionaire Chess Open Las Vegas (4), 16.10.2014
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2 Bg7 6.e4 

I  expected 6...Nb6 but unfortunately he read my intentions and immediately captured on c3.
7.Bxc3 0–0 8.Qd2 c5 9.d5 Bxc3 10.bxc3 Qd6 11.Nf3 Bg4 12.Be2 e6 13.0–0 Nd7 14.h3? 

In my opinion one of the big mistakes of the game. Allowing black to expand on the queenside without any opposition is a very bad idea. [14.Rab1 Rab8 15.h3 Bxf3 16.Bxf3 exd5 17.exd5 b5] 
14...Bxf3 15.Bxf3 exd5 16.exd5 b5! 
Despite the fact the position is still very close to equal, black has the much more pleasant game ahead. Being a Grunfeld player myself it’s quite a shame that I allowed this to happen. 
17.a4 a6 18.Rfb1 Rab8 19.axb5 axb5 20.Ra2 

20.h4 trying to create any sort of counterplay on the kingside would have probably been a better idea 20...h5 21.Qg5 Nf6 22.Re1 Kg7
20...Rb6 21.Rab2 Rfb8 22.Be2 b4 23.cxb4 Rxb4 
23...cxb4 24.Bd1 Nc5 25.Qd4 b3 26.Rc1 Rb5
24.Rxb4 Rxb4 25.Rxb4 cxb4 
The computer is saying this position is completely equal, unfortunately over the board play is certainly a different story. 
26.Bc4 h5 27.Bb3 Kf8 
As with all the positions of this type, black is trying to pretend that he is doing something and hope that white will err decisively.
28.Qd4 Qc5 

29.Qd1! trying to keep a fortress with my queen and bishop should have been preferred. I hurried trying to find counterplay in a position where such thing doesn't exist 29...Ke7 (29...Qc3 30.d6 Nc5 31.d7 Nxd7 32.Bxf7! now the black king is weakened enough in order to always have a perpetual) 30.Qe2+ Kd6 31.Qd2 Qc3 32.Qf4+ Ne5 33.Qf6+ Kc5 34.Qe7+ Kd4 35.Qh4+ Kd3 36.d6= such lines are extremely hard to calculate over the board
29...Kg7 30.Kf1 Qc3 31.Qc4 Nc5–+ 
Completely missed that I can't go d6 in this position.
32.d6 Nxb3 33.Qxc3+ bxc3 34.d7 c2 35.d8Q c1Q+ black promotes with check and is simply a piece up.
32...bxc3 33.Bc2 Kf6 
34.Ke2 Ke5 35.Bb1! would have been more resilient, black still wins with precise play though 35...f5 (35...Kxd5 36.Ba2+ Kd4 37.Bxf7 Nd3 38.Kd1 Nxf2+ 39.Kc2 h4 40.Bxg6 Nh1 41.Bf5 Ng3 42.Bg4 Nf1 43.Kc1 Ne3 44.Bf3 Kd3 45.Bc6 white will hold) 36.Ba2 h4 37.Kd1 Nd3–+
34...Ke7 35.Ke2 Kd6 36.g4 h4 
36...hxg4 37.hxg4 Kxd5 38.g5 Kd4 39.f5 gxf5 40.Bxf5 Ne4–+
37.g5 Kxd5 38.f5 gxf5 39.Bxf5 Ne4 40.Kd3 Nxg5 41.Kxc3 Ke5 42.Bc8 f5 43.Kd3 Kf4 44.Ke2 Nxh3 45.Kf1 Ng5 46.Kg2 Kg4 47.Bd7 h3+ 48.Kh2 Nf3+ 49.Kh1 Ne5 50.Bc8 Kg3 51.Bxf5 h2


At this point, I discovered the highly advertised VIP room, in which titled players were invited to spend a relaxing time after their chess filled days. With this feature the organizers did a tremendous job, the players were being offered free massages in a glamorous environment. The type of treatment superstars receive in Vegas. After I got my massage I decided to call it a night and get ready for the next day’s grind. 


Day 3
The third day of the tournament was quite similar to the previous one. I managed to win a nice game as black against a lower rated opponent, while in the afternoon I was paired against Mamedov Rauf, a 2670 GM from Azerbaijan. Despite my decent opening, I burned too much time and finally ended up spoiling a good advantage in a very complicated middle game. Unfortunately this round cut all my hopes for reaching the Millionaire Monday. My rating performance was a bit higher than expected but I can’t really say I was satisfied with my performance, losing two games as white is quite unpardonable, even if it is against much higher rated opponents. 

On the 4th day we would only have one round so I took advantage and spent the night with friends in the city. Las Vegas is an incredible place, full of enthusiasm and a lot of party spirit. Unfortunately I still had a round to attend in the morning so my escape was not very wild. 

Day 4 & 5
I managed to win my last round before the cut-off for Millionaire Monday. Unfortunately it was already too late to aspire to the first 4 places qualifying for it. Sunday was full of drama and unexpected results, the biggest upset being David Berczes’ loss against Ray Robson in a completely winning position. David is my good friend and former teammate at the University of Texas at Dallas and it was painful to see him blow his qualifying spot in such a dramatic matter.

Robson,Ray (2628) - Berczes,David (2471) [C96]

Las Vegas Millionaire op Las Vegas (7), 12.10.2014


32...Qa2 33.Nf3?

Missing black's tricky resource, better was 33.Rxc3 bxc3 34.Qxc3 Qa3, the only way to save the queen, but now white gets an important shot at grabbing the initiative 35.Nf3 Bxg3 36.Bxg3 f5 37.e5 Qb4 38.Qxb4 cxb4 39.Bd3 despite being down an exchange, White is clearly in the driving seat. 

33...Bxg3 34.Bxg3 Nxd5! 35.Rd3

35.exd5 Rxe3 36.Rxe3 Rxe3 37.Qxe3 Qxc2 38.Qe8+ Kg7 39.Qxc8 Qxb3 Black's pawns look extremely dangerous; 35.Qxd5 Qxc2 36.R3e2 Qc3 

35...Nc7 36.f5 Nb5 37.fxg6 hxg6 38.Qf2 Na3 39.Re2


Black has played almost perfect chess up to this point. He managed to build a decisive advantage and now all he has to do is collect the fruits of his labor.


Starting to err [39...Rxe4! no refutation against this simple pawn grab 40.Rxe4 Rxe4 41.Bd1 Qxf2+ 42.Bxf2–+ 3 pawns up and no queens on the board, white can simply resign]

40.Rxc2 Qb1+ 41.Kh2 Rxe4 42.Bxd6 Bf5 43.Rcd2 R4e6

43...c4! 44.bxc4 Rxc4 it is important to create the passed free pawns 45.Rd4 Rxd4 46.Qxd4 a5 47.Qxf6 Re6–+

44.Rd1 Qxd3

44...Re2! was necessary 45.Qxc5 Qc2 46.Qxc2 Rxc2 47.R3d2 Nxd6 48.Rxc2 Bxc2 49.Rxd6 Bxb3 50.Rxa6 Rb8–+ the b-pawn will prove unstoppable.

45.Rxd3 Bxd3 46.Bxc5 Rc6 47.Bxb4 Re2 48.Qa7


It must have been extremely tough for David to understand that he had lost all his advantage in just a few moves, especially when the stakes are so high.

48...Be4 49.Qe7 Ne5 50.Qf8+ Kh7 51.Qe7+ Kg8 52.Kg3 Rcc2??

A terrible blunder [52...Bxf3 53.gxf3 Re3 was the only way to maintain the balance 54.Qf8+ Kh7 55.Qe7+ Kg8=]

53.Qf8+ Kh7 54.Qe7+ Kh6

54...Kg8 55.Nxe5 Rxg2+ 56.Kh4 fxe5 57.Qf8+ Kh7 58.Qf7+ Kh8 59.Bf8 g5+ 60.Kh5+-

55.Qxf6 Rxg2+ 56.Kf4 Kh7 57.Qe7+ Kg8 58.Nxe5 Bf5 59.Ng4 Bxg4 60.hxg4 Rcf2+ 61.Kg5 Rf5+ 62.Kxg6


A terrible blow for David after Robson showed incredible nerves in a lost position. Chess is 90% psychology and cold blood is always necessary to finish a top player off. 1–0


Despite his loss, he managed to pull through and win his next game against the very strong Russian GM Evgeny Najer in order to tie for the top spots at the end of the tournament. Personally I had a decent 5th day when I managed to miraculously escape my third loss as white against GM Akobian, and win my last game as black against a strong 2450 IM. 

Abel,Dennes (2450) - Chirila,Ioan Cristian (2529) [D91]

Millionaire Chess Open Las Vegas (9), 14.10.2014


White's position is doomed, he can still try to be more resilient and disallow the game continuation.


Hurries the verdict [35.Ba2 Rh8 36.Bb1 Rhe8 37.Qe2 Qc6–+ the pawn on d2 is simply irresistible.

35...Rxg5+! 36.Kh2

36.fxg5 Qg3+ 37.Kf1 (37.Kh1 Nf2+–+) 37...Qxh3+ 38.Qg2 Qxe3 (38...Ng3+ 39.Kf2 Nh1+! 40.Qxh1 Qxe3+ 41.Kg2 Qg3+ 42.Kf1 Re1+–+) 39.Qe2 Qf4+ 40.Kg2 h3+ this was the line I calculated and decided that it's over

36...Rg3 37.Bd3 Nc5 38.Qxd2 Rexe3 39.Bf1 Qxf4 40.Rxg3 Qxg3+ 41.Kh1 Ne4 0–1


I finished the tournament on a decent 6/9 and gained a few rating points.  

Wrap up 
Millionaire Chess was supposed to be the most glamorous open in history. It definitely lived up to the expectations and I am very pleased to have been a part of it. The organizers did their best efforts to make the participants feel like they took the right decision when paying the fairly high entry fee. Despite a few slip-ups and inconveniences throughout the event (late/wrong pairings, confusing change of starting hour especially in the final round which was plagued by several forfeits) I think that most participants enjoyed their MC experience and will be back for the next highstakes event.

Personally I want to thank the organizers for materializing this idea and giving their best in transforming the face of chess. I definitely hope that this tournament will become a regular in the international calendar, and that next time there will be even more players attending. 

Kudos to Maurice and Amy for the effort they put in this tournament. Getting to know them a little bit during the event makes me believe that this is not their last event. Their entrepreneurial spirit and the energy they put in this tournament show just how much these two are dedicated to elevating the image of chess.

Congratulations! Till next time!