Millionaire Chess 2: Nakamura is supreme

by Albert Silver
10/13/2015 – Millionaire Monday was all that it was cracked up to be. Not only did the top stars fight it out for a grand $100 thousand, but dozens of amateurs also fought for unheard of prizes in the tens of thousand of dollars. For many, if not all, these were life-changing matches, everything the organizers Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee had dreamed the event could be. Fantastic games and magic moments.

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When news of the quick draw in round seven came, it was controversial to say the least. The arbiters and organizers huddled and debated for over an hour and a half. Angry words were pronounced, all with understandable justification, but in the end, it was an enormous gamble. This was not a quick draw that guaranteed a spot among the final four, it was a draw that almost guaranteed a fight among ten players, two of whom are Top Ten themselves, for one single spot. David Smerdon even wrote a piece on the math of this decision, showing it to be unwise to say the least.

The grand playing hall where Millionaire Monday took place. It bears remembering that there
were semifinals and finals for each and every category prize

Maurice Ashley strolls down to check on the games, and make sure everything is up to standard

Still, if lack of fighting spirit was the feeling left by this limp effort, now only the fiercest gladiator was going to survive the ordeal, and in this respect, Hikaru Nakamura showed how tough he could be. It was not a crushing performance in which he dominated his rivals, but one in which he somehow pulled through the direst situations, and punished unrelentingly each opportunity he was given. This was the story of his qualification to the final four, and one that persisted into the semifinals.

The top semifinals

Samuel Sevian faced Holden Hernandez in the 2400-2549 semifinal. Holden went on to win,
and then defeated Marcin Tazbir in the final. Sevian took third, defeating Gil Popilski.

Of the three other finalists, Yu Yangyi was hardly the easiest pairing he could have. Playing in a mini-match of two games of 25 minutes, neither player was able to show any advantage, and both games ended in draw. This led to the first tiebreak, now a minimatch of 15 minute games, and here things nearly went very badly for the American.

After a grueling Playoff, Nakamura now faced Yu Yangyi in the semifinals

Yu Yangyi - Hikaru Nakamura (Game three)

[Event "Millionaire Chess KO 2015"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2015.10.12"] [Round "1.3"] [White "Yu, Yangyi"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C67"] [WhiteElo "2721"] [BlackElo "2816"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2015.10.12"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. Nc3 Ne8 10. Nd5 Bd6 11. Re1 c6 12. Ne3 Be7 13. c4 Bf6 14. d4 d5 15. cxd5 cxd5 16. g3 Be6 17. Bg2 Qb6 18. Nxd5 Bxd5 19. Bxd5 Bxd4 20. Be3 Bxe3 21. Rxe3 Rd8 22. Qb3 Qxb3 23. Bxb3 Nd6 24. Rd1 Nc8 25. Rc1 ({White misses the chance to forcefully penetrate the 7th and win material with} 25. Red3 $1 Rxd3 26. Rxd3 {and Black is helpless against the threat of Rd7 attacking the queenside pawns as well as f7.} b5 27. Rd7 g6 28. Rc7 {setting up Bxf7 and Rxc8.} Kg7 29. Bxf7 Rxf7 30. Rxc8 {and not only is White up a pawn, but his strong rook means he has a positional edge as well. Black would be hard-pressed to save this.}) 25... Rd7 26. Ba4 Rd4 27. Bb3 Rd7 28. Rec3 Nb6 29. Rc7 Rfd8 30. a4 Kf8 31. a5 Nd5 32. Bxd5 Rxc7 33. Rxc7 Rxd5 34. Rxb7 Rxa5 1/2-1/2

In his post-tournament interview, Nakamura readily admitted he had been dead lost, and had he actually succumbed, the chances were high that he would have been fighting for third place and not first. In game four though, he got his chance and milked it for all its worth, winning game four and making the final.

Yu Yangyi - Hikaru Nakamura (Game four)

[Event "Millionaire Chess KO 2015"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2015.10.12"] [Round "1.4"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Yu, Yangyi"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B40"] [WhiteElo "2816"] [BlackElo "2721"] [PlyCount "161"] [EventDate "2015.10.12"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 Nc6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 6. Bg2 e5 7. Nb5 d6 8. Bg5 a6 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. N5c3 f5 11. O-O Bg7 12. Nd2 O-O 13. Nc4 Nd4 14. Nd5 fxe4 15. Ncb6 Be6 16. c3 Bxd5 17. Nxd5 Nf3+ 18. Bxf3 exf3 19. Qxf3 f5 20. Rad1 Kh8 21. Rd2 e4 22. Qh5 Be5 23. Ne3 Qc8 24. Nd5 Qd8 {[#]} 25. f4 $1 {Now White gains a near decisive advantage in all lines.} exf3 ({If} 25... Bg7 26. Rfd1 { followed by Ne3 will bring White nothing but joy.}) 26. Rxf3 Qd7 27. Nb6 Qe8 28. Qxe8 Raxe8 29. Rdf2 Bg7 {The f-pawn was doomed no matter what.} (29... f4 { would merely delay the inevitable for one move.} 30. Nd5) 30. Rxf5 Rxf5 31. Rxf5 Re2 32. Rf2 Re1+ 33. Kg2 Kg8 34. Rd2 Be5 35. Nc4 Kf7 36. Nxe5+ Rxe5 37. Kf3 Rb5 38. b4 Ke6 39. Rd4 h5 40. Ke3 Rg5 41. Re4+ Kd5 42. a4 b5 43. axb5 $2 { It doesn't really change the outcome, but} (43. a5 $1 {was stronger, fixing the weakness on a6 as well as the b6 square. For example,} Rf5 44. Rf4 Re5+ 45. Kd3 Rg5 46. Rf7 {and Ra7 is deadly.}) 43... axb5 44. Rd4+ Ke6 45. Rh4 Kd5 46. Kd3 Rf5 47. Rf4 Rg5 48. c4+ Kc6 49. cxb5+ Kxb5 50. Rd4 Kc6 51. Ke3 Rf5 52. h3 Rf1 53. Rh4 Rf5 54. Rc4+ Kd5 55. Rf4 Rg5 56. Kf3 Ke6 57. Re4+ Kf6 58. g4 hxg4+ 59. hxg4 Rd5 60. Ke3 Rd1 $2 ({After} 60... Rb5 {it is not clear how White wins, though of course Black would need to play very precisely.}) 61. Rd4 $1 {Now it is over. Black cannot exchange the rooks of course, and therefore loses a second pawn.} Rb1 62. Rxd6+ Ke5 63. Rb6 Rb3+ 64. Kd2 Kd4 65. Kc2 Rg3 66. Rc6 Rxg4 67. Kb3 Kd5 68. Ra6 Rg1 69. Ka4 Kc4 70. Rc6+ Kd5 71. Rc8 Kd6 72. Ka5 Kd7 73. Rc2 Rg8 74. b5 Rb8 75. Ka6 Kd6 76. b6 Ra8+ 77. Kb7 Ra1 78. Rd2+ Ke7 79. Kb8 Rb1 80. b7 Ke6 81. Ra2 1-0

Anyone who happened to notice that he was coughing on occasion should know that he was also quite sick, hiding it well, making no excuses for himself, since excuses would be poor consolation for $50 thousand dollars, the difference between first place and second, and more so for third or fourth.

Jamie Lynn Olsen-Mills was the only woman in the finals, making the final match in the
under-1800 section, where she took second and $17 thousand. Great job and great hat!

Quang Liem Le on the other hand, was the player in form with a capital F. His play had been superb throughout the event, never in any danger, and having dominated the first seven rounds, had been able to rest up before Millionaire Monday to arrive fresh and strong.

Quang Liem Le was the one player who had never faltered throughout the event. Was he
to repeat the same success when he won the super-strong Aeroflot Open two years in a row?

To his good fortune, he also faced the least dangerous of the finalists, the ever-friendly Alex Lenderman, who was the only one not rated 2700. Of course, one could argue fairly that having made the last four, Lenderman was a proven danger, but so were his rivals, and they had a significant ratings edge to boot. While the young American's friends and fans wanted to read of heroic underdog performances, it was not to be. After losing his first game, he managed to reach a winning position in the second, but failed to capitalize, and the Vietnamese player, studying at Webster University, took the match 2-0.

It was a powerful performance by the Vietnamese, but Lenderman did get his chance in game two

Aleksandr Lenderman - Quang Liem Le (Game two)

[Event "Millionaire Chess KO 2015"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2015.10.12"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Lenderman, Aleksandr"] [Black "Le, Quang Liem"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D31"] [WhiteElo "2623"] [BlackElo "2697"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventDate "2015.10.12"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bf4 Nf6 6. e3 Bf5 7. Qb3 Nc6 8. g4 Nxg4 9. Qxd5 Qxd5 10. Nxd5 Bb4+ 11. Nxb4 Nxb4 12. Rc1 c6 13. h3 Nf6 14. a3 Nbd5 15. Be5 Nd7 16. Bd6 N7b6 17. b3 Rd8 18. Bg3 O-O 19. Ne2 Rfe8 20. Rg1 Re6 21. Kd2 Rde8 22. Be5 f6 23. Bh2 Rd8 24. Ng3 Bg6 25. h4 Ne7 26. Bh3 Re5 27. Kc3 Rb5 28. e4 Bf7 29. Rb1 Ra5 30. a4 c5 31. d5 Nbc8 32. b4 $2 {A bad mistake, not just because it misses the winner Nf5, but because it liberates Black's rook, which had been prisoner until now.} (32. Nf5 $1 Nxf5 33. Bc7 Re8 34. Bxf5 Ra6 35. Kc4 {and White's domination is crushing. the combination of passed d-pawn, bishop pair and piece activity are unstoppable.}) 32... Rxa4 33. bxc5 b6 34. Ra1 Nxd5+ 35. exd5 Rxh4 36. Bxc8 Rxc8 37. c6 (37. Rxa7 {was stronger and would keep the balance.} Rxc5+ 38. Kb2 Bxd5 {The white rook on the a-file ensure there are no mates against the white king. Instead after} 39. Re1 $1 {White would generate counter threats which might keep the game alive with chances of his own. White needs to win to stay in the match, so draws are no good.}) 37... Bxd5 38. Nf5 Rxc6+ 39. Kd2 Rxh2 40. Ne7+ Kf8 41. Nxc6 Bxc6 42. Rxa7 Rxf2+ 43. Ke3 Rg2 44. Re1 Rg5 45. Kf4 Re5 46. Rg1 g5+ 47. Kg4 Re7 48. Ra6 Re4+ 49. Kg3 Re3+ 50. Kf2 Rf3+ 51. Ke1 Rb3 52. Rg4 Kg7 53. Rc4 Bf3 54. Rc7+ Kg6 55. Kd2 h5 56. Kc2 Rb5 57. Raa7 Rc5+ 0-1

The stage was set for the grand finale everyone had been fighting for and waiting for, the match for all the marbles, the match for the opulent $100 thousand first prize. In a sense, there was a certain irony in it. While Hikaru Nakamura, the current world no. 2 player, had reached this moment after no end of grit and tribulations, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, the lower-rated Quang Liem Le had been the one sweeping past his opponents one after the other in a sparkling performance. What would the final between the two hold? Game one set the tone.

The handshake that started the final

Hikaru Nakamura - Quang Liem Le (Game one)

[Event "Millionaire Chess KO 2015"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2015.10.12"] [Round "2.1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Le, Quang Liem"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D30"] [WhiteElo "2816"] [BlackElo "2697"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2015.10.12"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Bg5 h6 5. Bxf6 Qxf6 6. Qb3 c6 7. e3 Qe7 8. Nbd2 Qb4 9. Qc2 Nd7 10. a3 Qa5 11. Be2 dxc4 12. O-O Be7 13. Nxc4 Qc7 14. b4 O-O 15. Rac1 Rd8 16. Qb3 a6 17. Bd3 Nf6 18. Bb1 Bd7 19. e4 Be8 20. e5 Nh7 21. Qe3 b6 22. Rfd1 a5 {[#]} {Under extreme pressure, Black overlooks} 23. d5 $1 Rxd5 ({ After} 23... exd5 24. Nxb6 {the same tactics as in the game would follow.}) 24. Rxd5 exd5 25. Nxb6 Rd8 {[#]} 26. Nxd5 $3 Qb7 ({The point is that after} 26... Rxd5 27. Qe4 $1 {Threatening to take on h7 with mate to follow.} Nf8 28. Qxd5 { White is up the exchange and the pawn.}) 27. Nxe7+ Qxe7 28. bxa5 Ra8 29. a6 $1 {Again the motif of the double attack protects the pawn.} Nf8 (29... Rxa6 $4 30. Bxh7+ Kxh7 31. Qd3+ {wins the rook on a6.}) 30. Bd3 Ne6 31. Nd4 Nxd4 32. Qxd4 Rd8 33. Qc3 c5 34. Bf1 Rd5 35. Qa5 Bc6 36. a7 Ba8 37. Rb1 Kh7 38. Rb8 c4 39. Qa6 Rd2 40. Rxa8 Qc5 41. Rh8+ Kxh8 42. a8=Q+ 1-0

In spite of there being no question of Hikaru's favoritism before the games started, no one had expected this massacre in game one. The commentators rightly noted that this was the Nakamura everyone had been waiting for, and it now seemed as if he had saved it for last, when he needed it the most. This also placed enormous pressure on Quang Liem Le to play for a win at all costs, since anything less would mean victory for the American.

Quang Liem Le - Hikaru Nakamura (Game two)

[Event "Millionaire Chess KO 2015"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2015.10.12"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Le, Quang Liem"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2697"] [BlackElo "2816"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2015.10.12"] 1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. Qa4+ Bd7 6. Qxc4 c5 7. O-O Bc6 8. Rd1 Nbd7 9. Qc2 Rc8 10. Nc3 b5 11. d3 a6 12. e4 Be7 13. Bf4 O-O 14. a4 Qb6 15. Qe2 Qb7 16. Nd2 Bd8 17. axb5 axb5 18. Nb3 Bb6 19. Bd6 Rfe8 20. Na5 Bxa5 21. Rxa5 b4 $1 {Suddenly White is lost.} 22. Nb1 Qb6 23. Ra1 e5 $1 {The door of the cage is shut, and the threat of Bb7 or Re6 mean the Bd6 is lost.} 24. f4 { The only move to save the piece, but...} c4+ 25. Qf2 (25. Kh1 cxd3 26. Qxd3 ( 26. Rxd3 Bb5 $1) 26... Ng4 {and Nf2 is unstoppable.}) 25... Qxf2+ 26. Kxf2 cxd3 27. Nd2 (27. Rxd3 Bxe4 28. Bxe4 Nxe4+ 29. Kf3 Nec5 $1 {with e4+ to follow.}) 27... Ng4+ 28. Kg1 Ne3 29. Rdc1 Nxg2 30. Kxg2 {White offered a draw in this dead lost position, effectively resigning the match.} 1/2-1/2

In the fight for third place, Yu Yangyi and Alex Lenderman played an extremely nervy match, in which nothing seemed to happen as expected. In game one, Lenderman was practically in zugzwang in the middlegame, yet Yu lost control so bad it was he who was facing imminent defeat, until Lenderman returned the favor and the Chinese player prevailed in the end. Yu Yangyi may regret not finding the win against Nakamura, but he did succeed in finishing third for the second consecutive year.

It wasn't only about the world's Top Ten, and players such as Rigoberto Rodriguez (left),
playing in his second tournament ever, won the under-1400 section for $24 thousand

For many, the entire thing was beyond belief. Khasen Levkin won the under-1600 section
for $30 thousand and was over the moon. The ebullient and very funny Russian ("I from Russia")
explained that he would be sending the wins to his family at home. A touching scene that is
guaranteed to put a smile on your face. See the video, the one on the Finals, and skip to 2:29:30.

The commentary of Tania Sachdev, Robert Hess, and Lawrence Trent (above), was both
entertaining and utterly democratic, giving due attention to all levels and not just the superstars

Yu Yangyi came in third for the second year in a row, defeating Alex Lenderman in their match

On the other hand, although Lenderman was no doubt disappointed at finishing fourth among the last four, he should go home with his head high, comforted by the knowledge that he did what giants such as Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Gata Kamsky were unable to do: make it to Millionaire Monday with a chance to fight for the top prize... plus the $16 thousand dollars isn't too shabby either.

Hikaru Nakamura receives his check for $100 thousand from Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee


The post-event interview with champion Hikaru Nakamura

Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee are to be congratulated for proving this unique event was not
a one-off, improving on it, and promising a third edition next year. We can hardly wait.

For those grumbling the event did not award an actual million, know that during the closing ceremony the winners were squared off in a mini gameshow, for the right to choose a number from the large 64 square chess board behind them. If the correct one was chosen, the winner would take away a genuine $1 million. Although no one won this grand lottery, to his credit, Maurice Ashley was adamant about proving that one of the numbers did indeed hide that elusive winning million. He and Amy then awarded the 'loser' with an all-expenses invitation to next year's edition of the Millionaire Chess.


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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