A 2500 in a Millionaire Event (2/2)

by Alejandro Ramirez
10/19/2014 – The second report on Alejandro Ramirez's Las Vegas adventure. This article focuses on the second half of the tournament, shines a light on some of the organizational details of the event, and explains how one should go around to winning the big money in Las Vegas! After a stressful five days of chess, the author can only say one thing: "I can't wait for this event to happen again."

We left off in the middle of the tournament, I had just drawn Mamedov and I'm sitting at 3.0/4...

Yu Yangyi meanwhile was crushing the event with 4/4, but he seemed a little distant from me. It didn't help that after drawing Mamedov I was back with the crowd in the other tables, looking at the stage from afar. My roommate lost with White against Robson and was not in the best of moods.

To get to the restaurants, or to the Las Vegas Strip, or to the huge mall next to Planet Hollywood called Miracle Mile, it is necessary to go to the Casino Level. It was not uncommon to pass tournament players sitting down at a table game, with a drink in their hand, a gogo dancer right behind the dealer, with an unassuming face that read "how did I lose to that idiot?".

The view from the Mezzanine, the level where the tournament was being held. Photo from PH's official website.

The stairs in the far right connected the Miracle Mile shops/restaurants to the playing hall. The temptation to sit down and play a hand or two at a table should not be underestimated.

One of my two disappointments from a chess perspective in this tournament occurred in round five. Playing the very talented 14-year old Jeffery Xiong (who lives about a dozen miles from my residence in Dallas) I had a decent opportunity to bounce back to the top boards. After playing a questionable opening I outplayed my young opponent, only to blunder the win away in the endgame, obtaining only half a point. I would need two in a row to qualify for the play-offs, as the format of the tournament was very unusual.

[Event "Millionaire Chess Open 2014"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2014.10.11"] [Round "5.16"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Ramirez, Alejandro"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C60"] [WhiteElo "2470"] [BlackElo "2574"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2b5/1pp1k2p/p1p3p1/N1Pn4/1P4P1/3N1P2/5K1P/8 b - - 0 39"] [PlyCount "29"] [EventDate "2014.10.09"] 39... Kf6 40. h3 {My opponent has just made his 40th move. I'm under severe time pressure but will get another 30 minutes when I make my 40th. I thought any normal move would allow White to set up some kind of fortress as I can't really move my queenside pawns; however I thought it was a brilliant time to strike with b6.} b6 $1 41. Nxc6 Bd7 42. Nde5 (42. Nd4 Nxb4 {was the point of my combination.} 43. Nxb4 bxc5 44. Nxa6 cxd4 45. Nxc7 Ke5 {and even though I was not sure if this was winning for Black, it looked pretty bad for White.}) ( 42. Nce5 Bb5 $19 {Black will just follow up with a5 and advance the pawn.}) 42... Bxc6 $2 {I had already calculated this to a good knight endgame, but I didn't bother to check wether Be8 was winning.} (42... Be8 $1 {and now White's knights are stuck, which means I can simply advance my a-pawn and win.}) 43. Nxc6 bxc5 44. bxc5 Nf4 (44... Ne7 $1) 45. Ke3 Nxh3 46. Nb4 a5 47. Nd5+ Ke5 48. Nxc7 {This is the position I had reached in my mind when I played b6. Now I was convinced that Black had to be winning, but I did not find the correct path.} a4 (48... Nf4 $1 49. Nb5 Nd5+ 50. Kd3 h5 $1 $19 {Somehow I forgot th at White cannot play c6 here due to the fork on b4.}) 49. Nb5 {and I also forgot that Kd5 isn't possible because of Nc3+. Man I'm not very good with these horsey thingies.} Nf4 50. g5 Nd5+ 51. Kd3 Ne7 $2 {Missing my opponent's reply.} (51... Kf4 52. Nc3 (52. Kc4 Ne7 $1 53. Kd4 Kf5 $1 $19) 52... Nxc3 53. Kxc3 Ke5 54. Kb4 Kd5 55. Kb5 a3 56. c6 Kd6 57. Kb6 a2 58. c7 a1=Q 59. c8=Q Qb2+ {is probably drawn but White will suffer a bit.}) 52. Nc3 (52. Kc4 {transposes to something more or less along the lines of what I was planning.}) 52... a3 53. Kc2 Kf4 {Absolutely terrible technique!} (53... Kf4 54. Ne4 Kxf3 55. Nf6 {is very obviously drawn.}) 1/2-1/2

Little Jeffery Xiong played seven grandmasters back to back from rounds two to eight,
and he was rewarded a GM norm for his efforts

In most Open tournaments the format is very straightforward. You play nine rounds, and whoever scores the most at the end is the winner. At Millionaire chess things worked a little differently. After seven rounds the top four players from each section (u1400 to open) would play a knock-out to determine their winners. These top four players were determined by amount of points, and in case of a tie a rapid tie-break was used to separate the players.

A nice win against Fishbein was possible thanks to an opening idea by Tkachiev that I simply copied. Saturday night was not so easy for me, one of my best friends in the world had her birthday party in Las Vegas, but my mind was somewhat focused on my next round. Azarov, from Belorussia, with white.

Sometimes things go completely wrong. Your opening preparation misses, things are not clicking. I arrived at a positionally complex situation, and I made the worst mistake a chess player can make: I used too much time.

Time control is not something Maurice and I see eye to eye on. For me faster time controls based on increment are the future, 25+10, 3+2. The archaic two hours for 40, one hour to finish plus five second delay is not good for chess, especially as most players are now used to their 30 second increment, but I digress.

The tournament had best dressed prizes, but the competition was stiff

In time pressure I got nervous, was badly outplayed and lost. Azarov went on to play the playoffs for the top four, and although he didn't make it I did feel I had blundered my own chances...

Sunday was the only day without a double round. The people playing their play-offs had their games, while I at least had a day to relax and forget about my loss.

Monday was strange, at least for me. Millionaire Monday was happening next door, on the top boards - that is that the top players played a rapid (why rapid, I do not know) knock-out for a huge amount of money. Meanwhile the difference between place 50 and a tie for 10th was of only $1000. We weren't even in the same room as them, the DGT boards were taken away from us and it really felt as if we didn't matter anymore, we were just playing so the tournament could have its IM and GM norms.

It was clear that you either have to be in absolutely top shape and be one of the strongest in the world, or be incredibly lucky to be able to claim the big money. Wesley So was definitely the former. The runner-up, Ray Robson, definitely the latter. After an unbelievably lucky win against Berczes to qualify for Millionaire Monday the American player pulled a rabbit out of his hat in his win against Yu Yangyi in his rapid match. Meanwhile, Daniel Naroditsky, a player who had a 2700+ performance, played clean and amazing chess, simply got too strong of pairings in the last rounds, did not get lucky in the playoffs and did not qualify for Monday Morning. Such is the nature of opens, the nature of Las Vegas and maybe, to some extent, chess.

Yu Yangyi had several moves that would have finished off Robson, but somehow he kept missing them

I scored 1.5/2 to finish in a big tie for 11th, good enough for $1800 and change. I also won some rating, so overall I'm happy with my performance, but oddly enough the happiest feeling I get from the tournament is that it might actually happen again.

The organization was not top-notch, but that does not mean it wasn't good. For a tournament that was held for the first time, you could say it was excellent. It had botches here and there, which I am sure will be fixed for future editions. Some arbiters seemed to be friendliest people in the world while others seemed to have been hired to nag on people. The commentary team of Arianne Caoili, Robert Hess and Lawrence Trent received mixed reviews, but everyone agreed they were opinionated and entertaining, if nothing else.

The tournament had a large production team, and an on-site commentary room

Arianne Caoili and Robert Hess interview tournament winner Wesley So

I never felt that the tournament was anything out of this world; it certainly wasn't a revolutionizing experience... except for one thing, maybe the most important. The prizes.

One really nice thing about the event was the "water girls". They ran around the playing hall handing out water. One not so nice thing is that there was no way to obtain food or snacks once inside the playing area, which you couldn't leave without finishing your game (you even got a stamp on your hand to prove that you had finished so you could show it to security on your way out).

The VIP room was nice, but it wasn't the easiest to find and it never had many people.
Massages were free, though, so that was a plus.

Kazim Gulamali (blue striped shirt) won the u2500 for $40,000.
He is congratulated by IM Pedromo and his coach GM Kacheishvili.

Ray Robson and Wesley So are actually roommates in
college, and they took $150,000 between the two of them!

Any injection of money to the chess world is, in my view, positive. For many grandmasters it is depressing that someone rated below 1400 won more money in one tournament than what they have made in their lifetimes playing the game. But as long as they are fueling the top category prizes, as long as these kind of tournaments are more accessible for professionals and as long as the prizes in the top section are increased (I believe it was too top heavy, $8,000 for fifth and $100,000 for first doesn't sound right) it is an event that I will mark in my calendar every year. For its first year, I categorize Millionaire Chess as a success, and I hope that the business model of creating interest in the first few years to reap the rewards when more and more people sign up in later years becomes successful.

Also, in my view, it is very important to emphasize how much work the organizers put into promoting their event. Even the FIDE Grand Prix does not get reports about it on BBC, and yet this Open tournament in Las Vegas did. Again, anything that puts the spotlight on us is fantastic. Overall I congratulate Maurice and Amy, and I hope that next year the tournament is held again, even better, with even more fantastic prizes.

A relatively small crowd went to congratulate Wesley So. Most people had already left as if you weren't in the top section or playing Millionaire Monday there was no reason for you to stay there.

So with a well deserved hundred grand.
Hopefully these kind of prize funds are seen more in the future.

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.
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Najdork Najdork 10/19/2014 07:24
Great article!! As far as commentary goes i understand maurice wanted a more "exciting" less technical commentary (maurice himself is maybe the best in that respect). Lawrence trent was funny and fairly on the point though of course you cant expect great analysis in seconds. The american commentator was ok though he kept saying incredible and amazing about anything. I'm sorry to say caoili was a train wreck unable to put together a coherent thought. If you need a good looking female commentator Jen Shahade has great presence and understands a lot about chess too.
vincero vincero 10/20/2014 03:18
really surprising to me that more top GMs didnt even bother to try for this large first place prize.....
airman airman 10/20/2014 03:36
Does anyone know what the entry fee was?
Rama Rama 10/20/2014 11:10
The 'discounted' fee for early entrants was $1,000. USD
The closer to the tournament start date the higher the entry fee was.
algorithmy algorithmy 10/20/2014 11:12
this tournament is a shame in the history of chess. Is that what the world has come to be? a chess tournament in Las vegas in a casino with strippers, to play in such an atmosphere makes me sick!?
strange world, i shall never understand it, so noisy yet vacant of meaning, so flashy yet not impressing me at all, and when i leave one day, all what i will miss is nothing of those things people die for!
verticall verticall 10/20/2014 12:45
I hope next year it come to Africa, Africa R1m closed
Queenslander Queenslander 10/20/2014 02:29
Thanks for a first-rate, honest and thought-provoking article Alejandro. Just a pity about some of the content in these posts that suggest ChessBase needs to review is policy on posting. I don't go to Chess Base to read thoughtless 'trash talk'. It's especially disappointing to read disrespectful comments tinged with misogyny and/or racism. In particular, Australian/Filipina WIM Arianne Caoili is a very highly educated, articulate and respected international who would grace any commentary team anywhere in the world.
Shurlock_V Shurlock_V 10/20/2014 04:46
Events such as this are for the pretentious fools of the world.
zedsdeadbaby zedsdeadbaby 10/20/2014 07:38
Aye, the dancing ladies is unfortunate...
Cool World Chess Cool World Chess 10/31/2014 07:13
Ramirez, you incorrectly say Jeffrey Xiong received GM Norm. No. He Not receive GM Norm because played PINTO HENRIQUEZ Rodrigo rating 2115. Xiong needed someone above 2200 rating in last round. So like many youngsters in Europe this year, he also stuck in the last round. Plenty of points, But no GM Norm.


20 38 IM XIONG Jeffery USA 2470 4½ 1 - 0 4½ PINTO HENRIQUEZ Rodrigo ESP 2115 117
21 49 FM VISWANADHA Kesav USA 2424 4½ ½ - ½ 4½ GM BARCENILLA Rogelio PHI 2462 40
22 64 FM SCHNEIDER Igor USA 2338 4½ 0 - 1 4½ IM KJARTANSSON Gudmundur ISL 2439 45
23 22 GM HOLT Conrad USA 2571 4 1 - 0 4½ FM LI Ruifeng USA 2365 57
24 39 IM ASHWIN Jayaram IND 2468 4 0 - 1 4 FM INANTS Aghasi ARM 2305 70