Millionaire Chess 2: Fighting for a million

by ChessBase
10/12/2015 – The Millionaire Open is in its second edition, and is the first serious open in history to bring three of the Top Ten players in the world. More than that, it offers unbelievable prizes for each and every category, with tens of thousands of dollars even for under-1200! The competition is well underway, with four lucky players fighting for the top prizes. Massive illustrated report.

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The fight for a million dollars

By Sabrina Chevannes - Photos by David Llada

It’s that time of year again where chess players from all over the world head to Sin City to gamble. However, they are not necessarily gambling in the casinos here, but the fact that they have all paid a steep entrance fee (some have paid as much as $2000) to enter this Millionaire Open chess tournament. The tournament prides itself as one of the elite tournaments in the chess world, with an extremely generous prize fund, professional commentary, great playing conditions, whilst also trying to provide extra perks for the players. This year, they even added a new “Millionaire Square Prize”, where one of the players who reaches the Millionaire Monday will get a 1 in 64 chance of becoming an instant millionaire. Welcome to Vegas.

Last year’s winner, Wesley So, also came back to try his luck
at the $100,000 first prize

However, So is no longer the top seed in the event, with his Olympiad
teammates Hikaru Nakamura, world no. 2, and ...

... Fabiano Caruana looking for a piece of the action.

The tournament began with a bit of an unconventional start, with several players winning their games within 30 minutes due to opponents failing to turn up. This seemed somewhat of a bizarre occurrence that so many players would pay such a hefty entrance fee for the event and just simply not turn up. It was then discovered that the list made to use the pairings included all of the original entries, including those who had already withdrawn from the event. This led to frustration amongst many of the players and the staff, making it a rather stressful start to the tournament.

However, the online spectators were happy to see that the top three seeds were not affected by this situation and they were able to see the top three US players finish off their opponents rather easily. Most of the pairings went according to seed, but there was one big upset of the round where GM Akobian got outplayed by Vignesh Panchanathan – a young boy from India.

By the time 7pm came for the second round, many players were already exhausted. The Europeans were not used to playing 2 rounds a day and many Americans were suffering minor jet lag. However, there were still many players who managed to pick up a full point without even playing a game. Problems with the pairings, again, allowed a few players to walk away after just 30 minutes.

Probably the most dramatic news about the round was when Fabiano Caruana started to look a bit shaky against young America talent, Ruifeng Li, when he failed to cope with the Evans Gambit. Commentator Lawrence Trent, who also happens to be Fabiano’s manager was not feeling very good whilst watching the end of that game and started to get rather nervous. Luckily for Fabiano, so did young Li, so he decided to repeat the position and walk away with a draw against the world number six.

Tania Sachdev and Lawrence Trent are among the official live commentators. Trent was
understandably quite nervous when he saw Fabiano Caruana close to losing in an Evans Gambit.

Li Ruifeng - Fabiano Caruana

[Event "Millionaire Chess Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2015.10.09"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Li, Ruifeng"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C52"] [BlackElo "2808"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:22:05"] [BlackClock "0:05:12"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4 d6 7. Qb3 Qd7 8. dxe5 Bb6 9. Nbd2 dxe5 10. Bb5 f6 11. Nc4 Nge7 12. O-O Qe6 13. Qa4 Bd7 14. Nxb6 cxb6 15. Ba3 Na5 16. Rfd1 Bxb5 17. Qxb5+ Kf7 18. Rd7 Rhe8 19. Rad1 Nc4 20. Qb3 Rab8 21. h3 a6 22. R1d3 b5 23. Rc7 g6 24. Bb4 Rbc8 {The question is whether this is really any better than the variation in the note (without the self-mate).} ({ Black realizes that} 24... a5 {just loses a pawn to} 25. Bxa5 {since} Nxa5 $4 { would actually get Black mated!} 26. Nxe5+ fxe5 27. Rf3+ Kg7 28. Qxe6 {etc.}) 25. Rxb7 Rb8 {Not trusting himself, and perhaps in a bit of awe, 14-year-old Li Ruifeng repeats the position where the world no. 6 is with his back against the wall.} 26. Rc7 ({Instead he could have played} 26. Rbd7 $1 h5 27. R3d5 { and built on his complete domination of the board. A missed opportunity for the junior, and a big sigh of relief by Caruana and his fans.}) 26... Rbc8 27. Rb7 Rb8 28. Rc7 1/2-1/2

After surviving the first day, the players turned up fresh for the third round. However, some players were fresher than others as they still had not played a single game of chess, but made it to 2.0/2. Once again, the excitement was amongst the top players the top players with Nakamura dropping half a point against Israeli GM Popilski, who is part of the University of Texas, Dallas chess team.

It was a sign of the surprises in an open such as this, and GM Popilski,
well over 200 Elo lower than world no.2 Nakamura, achieved a draw

Meanwhile, Wesley So was cruising to a perfect 3.0/3. Fabiano was already half a point behind and only just made the live boards. He was up against Priyadarshan Kannappan who was one of the players who won his spot in the Millionaire Open. Fabiano looked like he was doing rather well at one point and had plenty of ways to try and win, but somehow Priyadarshan got the upper hand and Fabiano suddenly found himself a piece down. The game went right down to the wire and Priyadarshan couldn’t find a way to clinch the full point, settling for a repetition.

The fourth round of the tournament was probably the most exciting so far. Wesley So looked like he was going to finish his opponent off before the live commentary even started. He was up against GM Durarbayli from Webster University, Wesley’s old school. However, things started to take a drastic turn and last year’s champion found himself in a drawn rook and pawn ending. Somehow Wesley still came out of that game with a loss.

Vasif Durarbayli found himself dead lost in the opening, but somehow
managed to fight back with such resilience that his opponent Wesley So
lost the thread in frustration and lost!

Wesley So - Vasif Durarbayli

[Event "Millionaire Chess Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2015.10.10"] [Round "4.1"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Durarbayli, Vasif"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A05"] [WhiteElo "2773"] [BlackElo "2618"] [PlyCount "136"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:00:05"] [BlackClock "0:02:08"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O d6 7. Re1 Nbd7 8. e4 Rc8 9. b3 a6 10. d4 cxd4 11. Nxd4 g6 $2 {This non-theoretical move meets a nasty punishment} 12. e5 $1 Bxg2 13. exf6 Ba8 {The bishop is forced to retreat. } 14. Bg5 $1 Ne5 {[#]} 15. Nxe6 $1 {Wesley So is on fire, and finds all the right moves over the board.} fxe6 16. Rxe5 $1 Qd7 (16... dxe5 {The point of Bg5 is now clear.} 17. f7+ Kxf7 18. Bxd8) 17. Re3 Kf7 18. Qg4 h6 {[#]} 19. Nd5 $3 {Again the young American shows his ability.} Re8 {It must be noted that until now, Black has been at the mercy of White after his disastrous 11...g6 and has had no better options than those played in the game.} ({The pawn is pinned and if} 19... hxg5 20. Nxb6 {will lead to disaster for Black.}) 20. Bh4 h5 21. Qh3 Bh6 22. f4 b5 {It is also to Black's credit that instead of collapsing under the pressure, he has found the only moves to keep the fight going.} 23. Rae1 Qa7 24. Kf1 {Finally an imprecision, but not a big one.} (24. g4 $1 {was stronger after} hxg4 25. Qxg4 bxc4 26. Ne7 {and Black must give up the exchange to protect g6.} Rxe7 27. fxe7 e5 28. Bg5 Bxg5 29. Qxg5 {and Black's resistance cannot last for much longer.}) 24... e5 {Black's very first move in which he threatens some counterplay.} 25. Re4 bxc4 26. bxc4 Bxd5 27. cxd5 Qb7 28. Bg5 Bxg5 29. fxg5 Kf8 30. Qg2 Rh7 31. Rc4 $2 {Whether wilting under the endless resistance by Black, or simply a blunder due to time, White begins to lose the thread of the game, and then completely loses control.} ({ After} 31. R4e2 $1 {followed by Qe4, attacking f7 and controlling b1 and c2, the game might have ended differently.}) 31... Qb5 32. Qe2 Qxd5 33. Kg1 Rd7 34. Rd1 Qb5 35. Qc2 Qb6+ 36. Kg2 Qb7+ 37. Kg1 Qb6+ 38. Qf2 ({White understandably does not want to repeat, but trading queens was a massive blunder. He needed to be more patient, and instead play} 38. Kf1 $1 Kf7 (38... Qe3 39. Kg2 e4 ( 39... Qxg5 40. Rf1) 40. h4) 39. Rc6 Qb4) 38... Qb5 {Objectively, trading was best, but perhaps Black sensed that frustration was setting in White.} 39. Rdc1 e4 40. Qf4 Qb6+ 41. Kf1 Re5 42. Kg2 e3 43. Rb4 Qd8 44. Rbc4 Qb6 45. Rc6 Qb5 46. Qf3 e2 47. Rc8+ Kf7 48. Re1 Rxg5 49. Rxe2 Re5 50. Rxe5 dxe5 51. Kh3 Qd5 52. Qxd5+ Rxd5 53. Rc7+ Kxf6 54. Rc6+ Kf5 55. Rxa6 Rd2 56. a4 Ra2 57. a5 e4 58. Ra8 e3 59. Re8 e2 60. a6 g5 61. g4+ Kf4 62. Rf8+ Ke3 63. Re8+ Kf2 64. gxh5 Ra4 65. Rf8+ Ke3 66. Re8+ Kf3 67. Rf8+ Rf4 68. Rxf4+ Kxf4 0-1

Another shocking result occurred in the Ramirez-Meinhardt game. The German IM was having a great tournament so far with a draw against GM Shimanov and a win against GM Macieja. However, Alejandro Ramirez looked comfortable and enjoying a clear advantage throughout the game but had a complicated opposite-coloured bishop ending. With this new time control of a five-second delay instead of the usual 30-second increment, anything was possible and somehow Alejandro hung what was essentially a mate in two. (Ed: the five-second delay works this way: after the clock is pressed, the opponent's time does not start for five seconds. This is not an increment, and does not accumulate each move.) It seems it is really Meinhardt’s year, although a GM norm is not possible now due to the forfeit in the first round.

This ending was just far too much for Ramirez and sadly he withdrew
from the competition.

On the other hand, Gata Kamsky was not deterred from his default in round
three and was back looking strong in round four in which he scored a clean win.

The race to qualify

by Albert Silver

After four rounds, only four players still stood with perfect scores: Quang Liem Le, Yu Yangyi, Evgeny Bareev, and heroic defender Vasif Durarbayli. Right behind them was a pack of players at 3.5/4, including Hikaru Nakamura, Ray Robson, and Luke McShane. Even though the tournament would play out for a full nine rounds, this is not your usual tournament.

There is a break-off point at round seven, in which the top four players will qualify for Millionaire Monday, playing in a knockout phase with semifinals, and finals, for the big money. This cutoff point was not only for the Open, with its $100 thousand first prize, but also all the other sections, all with life-changing top prizes of their own.

What is life-changing? Consider that in the Open section alone there would actually be three different semifinals: the top section, then there is the 2400-2549 section with a 1st prize of $40 thousand, the Under 2400 with a 1st prize of $38 thousand.

However, it does not end there. No indeed! Each and every section had top prizes in the tens of thousands of dollars! If you won the under-1600 tournament, first prize was a cool 30 grand, and second was only 16 thousand. Even the under-1200 first prize was a whopping 20 thousand dollars!

You can imagine that with the stories of cheating that have abounded, the fears are great. Security is no less severe, correctly so, and of the standard that casinos in Las Vegas are pros at. No spectator can enter with a phone or electronic device of any kind, and metal detectors are passed over each and every participant.

By round six, it was clear there was going to be a mad fight for the qualifying spots. Quang Liem Le was the only player with 5.5/6, conceding a draw only to Hikaru Nakamura, while no fewer than eight players led by Nakamura, McShane, So, and Yu Yangyi stood at 5.0/6.

Quang Liem Le had the cleanest event, leading throughout to qualify

Ray Robson was one of those contenders, and throughout the event seemed to have a guardian angel watching over him. This isn't to say he benefitted from a moment of good fortune, rather it seemed that was the entire tale. In almost all his games he left the opening either worse, much worse, or dead lost. In his game against GM Alex Fishbein none of the commentators gave Ray a prayer of a chance, yet somehow the tide turned and Ray walked away with the full point. Finally, in round six, he had an opening all to his liking, and demolished his opponent in a spectacular attack.

Enjoying a guardian angel, Ray Robson

Gudmundur Kjartansson - Ray Robson

[Event "Millionaire Chess Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2015.10.11"] [Round "6.7"] [White "Kjartansson, Gudmundur"] [Black "Robson, Ray"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D92"] [WhiteElo "2474"] [BlackElo "2680"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:00:26"] [BlackClock "0:04:59"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. Rc1 Be6 7. Ng5 c5 8. dxc5 d4 9. Nb5 Nc6 10. Nc7 Bf5 11. Nxa8 e5 12. Bd2 {It is already cleaar this position is screaming disaster for White. The king is in the center, there is no chance it will caslte anytime soon while all of Black's pieces are developed. Let the good times roll!} Qe7 (12... e4 13. Qb3 Qe7 14. e3 d3 15. Nh3 Rxa8 16. Nf4 Rd8 17. h3 Ne5 18. Nd5 Qd7 19. Qb5 Nxd5 20. Qxd7 Rxd7 21. cxd5 Rxd5 22. g4 Nf3+ 23. Kd1 Bxb2 24. gxf5 Nxd2 25. Kxd2 Bxc1+ 26. Kxc1 Rxc5+ 27. Kb1 gxf5 28. f3 f4 29. exf4 d2 30. Be2 e3 31. Kb2 Kg7 32. Rg1+ Kf6 33. h4 h6 34. Bd3 b5 35. a3 a5 36. Rh1 b4 37. axb4 axb4 38. Ra1 Rc3 39. Be2 Kf5 40. h5 Kxf4 41. Rg1 f5 42. Kb1 Rc1+ 43. Rxc1 dxc1=Q+ 44. Kxc1 Kg3 45. Kd1 Kf2 46. f4 b3 {0-1 (46) Socko,B (2629)-Negi,P (2661) Leiden 2012}) 13. b4 e4 14. g3 h6 15. Nh3 {[#]} e3 $1 {This blow is already decisive.} 16. fxe3 Rd8 $1 {Not to be underestimated, it is essential to play this. The immediate threat is now ... dxe3 pinning the bishop.} ({Taking back with} 16... dxe3 {would be a serious mistake since all of a sudden Black's attack has stopped in its tracks.} 17. Bc3 Rd8 18. Qb3 {and the position is no longer clear.}) 17. e4 (17. exd4 { offers no relief.} Nxd4 {now threatening Nf3+ and Nxd2.} 18. Rc3 Bc2 19. Qc1 ( 19. Rxc2 Nf3+ 20. Kf2 Nxd2 21. Rxd2 Ng4+ 22. Kg1 Qe3+ 23. Kg2 Rxd2) 19... Ne4) 17... Nxe4 18. Nf4 Nc3 19. Nd5 {[#]} Rxd5 $1 20. Bxc3 (20. cxd5 Nxb4 21. Bxc3 dxc3 {and White is lost.}) 20... dxc3 21. cxd5 Nxb4 22. Kf2 Qe4 23. e3 Qxh1 24. Qf3 Qxh2+ 25. Qg2 Qxg2+ 26. Kxg2 Nxa2 27. Re1 c2 28. Bc4 Be4+ 29. Kf2 c1=Q 30. Rxc1 Nxc1 31. d6 Nd3+ 32. Bxd3 Bxd3 33. Nc7 Bf5 0-1

However, Robson's luck ended one round too early, and in the final decisive round, the one for all the marbles, he was unrecognizable and lost to Alexander Lenderman, making Lenderman one of the guaranteed qualifiers.

Also guaranteed of his spot was Quang Liem Le, who drew fairly quickly against Wesley So. By fairly quickly, we are talking about the stipulated minimum 30 moves required before a draw can be agreed upon. This takes us to the largest controversy of the key seventh round: the game between Hikaru Nakamura and Luke McShane.

Luke McShane - Hikaru Nakamura

[Event "Millionaire Chess Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2015.10.11"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Mcshane, Luke J"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2674"] [BlackElo "2814"] [PlyCount "17"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "1:55:19"] [BlackClock "1:54:55"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Ng4 7. Bc1 Nf6 8. Be3 Ng4 9. Bc1 1/2-1/2

Indeed by move seven they were repeating moves, and by move nine they were shaking hands. This did not go down well with the arbiters and organizers. In fact, this led to a very lengthy debate on whether it would even be allowed, a heated discussion that lasted over one and a half hours! In the end, it was conceded with the utmost reluctance, with both players claiming any deviation would lead to a worse position, which neither was willing to allow. Mind you, this did not ensure a spot in the qualifying group, but rather a spot in the playoff, though it almost bit them in the behind. In fact, David Smerdon wrote a small article on the math behind the decision and why it was a mistake.

Organizer Maurice Ashley was furious at the breach of the rules in both spirit and letter

Maurice Ashley...stylin' !

The third and final person to guarantee a spot in the final four was Yu Yangyi, who survived
the storm stirred up by Alex Rombaldani, and prevailed.

The line of players ready to fight it off in the playoff was growing, but nothing was decided yet. There was one game left where a decisive result would have closed the group of four, and left the rest out in the cold. The game between Sam Shankland and Evgeny Bareev.

Sam Shankland survived the seventh round by some miracle

Evgeny Bareev - Sam Shankland

[Event "Millionaire Chess Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2015.10.11"] [Round "7.5"] [White "Bareev, Evgeny"] [Black "Shankland, Samuel L"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A04"] [WhiteElo "2669"] [BlackElo "2656"] [PlyCount "112"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:10:58"] [BlackClock "0:16:12"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 Nc6 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. O-O e5 5. e4 Be7 6. Nc3 d6 7. d3 O-O 8. a3 b6 9. Rb1 Nd4 10. Nd2 Bg4 11. f3 Be6 12. Nc4 Qd7 13. f4 exf4 14. gxf4 Rad8 15. Ne3 g6 16. f5 gxf5 17. exf5 Nxf5 18. Nxf5 Bxf5 19. Bg5 Rfe8 {[#]} 20. Qd2 (20. Qf3 $1 {would simply have won the game, and curiously it had appeared White had played for this move. Somehow, a moment of blindness let it pass unseen.} Bg4 21. Qf2 {and now the knight is stuck since} Nh5 22. Qxf7+ Kh8 23. Bc6 Qxc6 24. Bxe7 Rc8 25. Bf6+ Nxf6 26. Qxf6+ Kg8 27. Qg5+ Kh8 28. Rf7 {and the combined threats of Qg7 mate or Qf6+ are unstoppable.}) 20... h6 21. Bxh6 Bg6 22. Bg5 Nh7 23. Bxe7 Qxe7 24. Rf2 Qg5 25. Qxg5 Nxg5 26. Nd5 Kg7 27. Rbf1 Re5 28. Nf4 Rh8 29. c3 Re3 30. Rd2 Ne6 31. d4 cxd4 32. cxd4 Rh4 33. Nxe6+ Rxe6 34. Rc1 Be4 35. Bxe4 Rexe4 36. d5 Rd4 37. Rcd1 Rxd2 38. Rxd2 Rh5 39. Kg2 Re5 40. Kf3 f5 41. h4 Kf6 42. Rd1 a5 43. Rd2 b5 44. Rd1 Re4 45. Rh1 Rd4 46. h5 Kg7 47. Rg1+ Kh7 48. Rg5 Rxd5 49. Kf4 Rd2 50. Rxf5 Rxb2 51. Rd5 Rb3 52. a4 bxa4 53. Rxa5 a3 54. Ke4 Kh6 55. Kd5 Rd3+ 56. Kc4 Rh3 1/2-1/2

Evgeny Bareev, who recently established himself in Canada, never got
over his missed chance

Admiring each others's chess tattoos

One of the numerous beautiful participants

Elvis lives!

The Playoff

The playoff was a wild affair. With three qualified and ten (not a typo) tied to fight over the one spot left, it promised to be a tense grueling affair. And consider who those ten lucky souls were: Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Luke McShane, Evgeny Bareev, Gata Kamsky, Sergei Azarov, Aleksandr Shimanov, Gregory Kaidanov, and Gil Popilski (the player who drew Nakamura early on).

Veteran GM and coach Gregory Kaidanov was the oldest qualifier for the playoff after he beat...

...19-year-old Ilya Nyzhnyk in the seventh round.

How does one decide on the last spot? The players were divided into two groups, one of five and one of four. Why four? Popilski found himself with the enviable choice of playing for as one of ten in the main group or, as chance would have it, one of the top spots in the 2400-2549 group (he is rated 2529 FIDE). Deciding that a one in four chance to win $40 thousand was better than a one in ten chance of only making the last four, he made his choice.

In group one, it was Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana, Luke McShane, Aleksandr Shimanov, and Gregory Kaidanov, while group two was Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Sergei Azarov, and Evgeny Bareev. Each group would play a round robin of games in 15 minutes (no increment), and the winner of the group would then play the winner of the other group in a best of three games of 15 minutes.

Group one saw Fabiano Caruana quickly crumble and the group was soon decided by Wesley So and Aleksandr Shimanov. As they both tied, they were forced to a playoff between them in five-minute blitz games which So won.

Luke McShane and Wesley So fighting in their group

Group two was dominated by Hikaru Nakamura, who nearly whitewashed his field, except for a single blot on his record when he somehow let Kamsky escape from dead lost position with a draw. Evgeny Bareev was clearly not himself, most likely distraught at his missed win over Shankland still, and lost in less than 15 moves against Nakamura, and little more resistance against Kamsky. This left the two multiple US Champions to fight for their group in a minimatch of blitz games, and there was little to be said, Nakamura was simply in another league in this time control.

When it came down to speed chess, Nakamura was in a league of his own

The final match was to be the best of three 15-minute games between Wesley So and Nakamura, and it seemed as if So was going to get the better of it as he emerged from the opening with a much better position, however, possibly due to nerves, the position lost some of its luster and he agreed to a draw much to the astonishment of the commentators. Game two was a repeat performance, and it was hard to understand why he was allowing Nakamura off with a draw so easily, but game three showed that he could not count on the same kindness, and when his position became unpleasant, the world no. 2 showed no mercy and took the game and the match.

It was a grueling playoff, but Hikaru Nakamura fought off all the other contenders to win the spot

The semifinals

The semifinals to be played on Millionaire Monday will face Yu Yangyi against Hikaru Nakamura, and Le Quang Liem against Alex Lenderman.

All photos by David Llada, official photographer of Millionaire Chess 2015


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