Amy Lee & Maurice Ashley - AkshatChandra.com

2016 Millionaire Chess – Competing on Millionaire Monday

The 3rd, and perhaps final, edition of the Millionaire Chess Open was held from October 6 -10 at Atlantic City.

I had the good fortune of being able to participate this time, after being unable to play last year in the 2nd edition of Millionaire Chess. The tournament has been organized for the last 3 years by GM Maurice Ashley and entrepreneur Amy Lee. The duo has strived to introduce an element of high-stakes into the chess world through a very novel format, in order to elevate the stature of the game, assist the players to earn prizes which were unheard of before in the chess world, and attract sponsors.  This year, the prize fund had been considerably reduced as the tournament did not achieve the requisite number of entries. Nonetheless, the prizes were still the largest for an Open Chess Tournament on US soil, and most likely the world, with the exception of the earlier two Millionaire Chess editions which had shattered all global records.

As I entered the hall, I saw the familiar purple color of the Millionaire Chess Tournament rippled across the giant hall and cascading down the playing tables.
It felt good to be back.

I managed to win my first two games against lower rated players without any problems. In round 3, I found myself paired against Polish GM Darius Swiercz, who would go on to win the tournament. He opted for the Najdorf, and I decided to play an interesting knight jump which Anand had used against Nakamura in the 2016 Sinquefield Cup.

Overall, it wasn’t a very good game from my side as I was suffering for most of the game after a few imprecisions in the opening. But Darius made some imprecise moves as well, and I was able to Draw the game.

In R4, I played a fellow youngster, GM Jeffery Xiong as Black. The game began as a quiet London, but soon evolved into a strategical battle over critical central squares. Unfortunately, I missed a key move in a variation which would have maintained equality, and ended up losing rather rapidly after that.

A frustrating loss considering the position had been fairly balanced throughout, but I only had myself to blame for not seeing the intermediate move  33…Bd7!, in the variation starting with 29…g6.

I bounced back in the next round with a solid win against Hungarian GM Denes Boros. He surprised me with the Alekhine’s Defence, and although I wasn’t aware of the theory I was able to execute a crisp strategical win.

In Round 6, it was again a game with a fellow youngster, GM Samuel Sevian. I surprised him in the opening with an offbeat variation and, thanks to some good preparation, became an hour ahead on the clock. We agreed to a draw shortly after in a more or less equal position.

It was now time for the fateful 7th round – this was the round which would decide which players advanced to “Millionaire Monday,” where these select players would compete for high stake prizes. At this stage it was not possible for me to compete for 1st overall in the tournament, but I had my eye on the prize for the rating category 2400-2549. If I won my 7th round, I would almost certainly secure a slot for this category’s prize on Millionaire Monday. But I was only able to draw against the strong and seasoned GM Alex Stripunsky. This put me at 4.5/7. What hurt the most was that, due to severe time trouble, I had missed a win. I had returned to my hotel and given up hope that I could qualify for Millionaire Monday, as there were several players in the rating threshold 2400-2549 on 5/7.

But while casually reading the Millionaire Chess regulations on the official website, I noticed the following rule:

The 3rd Millionaire Chess Open will utilize each player’s highest post-event rating1 for events rated between January 1, 2015 and August 31, 2016. This applies to any rating system. Tournaments played in September or October of 2016 will not be considered (unless deemed to be absolutely necessary by the Chief Arbiter).

Suddenly, the standings were plunged into chaos. Due to this rule, few players who had seemingly qualified for this rating category prize were deemed ineligible, as their peak FIDE ratings had been higher than 2549 during that time period. This meant that only 3 players were guaranteed their spot on Millionaire Monday.

1 spot still remained, and a tiebreak was to be held to determine who would be the 4th player.

It was going to be no walk in the park, however, as there were a total of 6 hungry and determined players vying for that 1 spot.

My heart began pumping, and I felt a rush of adrenaline course through my body. I was nervous, yet confident that I would be the one to emerge victorious.

The arbiters divided the 6 players into 2 groups of 3.  Each group would first play amongst itself, with the winner of each group then playing for the final spot.

The groupings were:

Group 1                                                                   Group 2

GM Alexander Fishbein                                  GM Mark Paragua

       IM Akshat Chandra                                      GM Eugene Perelshteyn

 IM Aman Hambleton                                   GM Pontus Carlsson


Here’s how it went down:

Game 1 - Chandra 1-0 Fishbein                    Game 1  - Carlsson 1/2 Perelshteyn

Game 2 - Hambleton 1/2 Chandra              Game 2 - Paragua 1-0 Carlsson

Game 3 - Fishbein 1/2 Hambleton              Game 3 - Perelshteyn 1-0 Paragua

 

So GM Perelshteyn and I won our groups, which meant that we would face off to decide who would secure the 4th and final spot for Millionaire Monday.

We were going to play 2 games at a 5 minute time control, no increment or delay. So time management was off the essence! In the 1st game I built up a promising position, but after some miscalculations I was completely losing. But Eugene also miscalculated, and I was able to escape with a draw.

I took a deep breath and composed myself before sitting down for the potentially decisive 2nd game. Strangely, this game ended up being rather one-sided as my opponent blundered a pawn early on, and was unable to recover. In the end, he lost on time, although the position was completely winning for me anyways.

I was ecstatic to have gone through a trial by fire and emerge victorious. But my job was only half done, as the real fireworks were set to begin the next day.

October 11, 2016 - It was Millionaire Monday time

The 4 players, in rating order, that would compete for the 2400-2549 rating categeory prize were as follows:

GM Ioan Christian Chirila - Romania

GM Barbosa Oliver - Phillipines

IM Akshat Chandra - USA

IM Awonder Liang - USA

In the 1st match, I was paired against GM Chirila. We would play 2 games at a time control of 25 minutes with a 5 second delay. I was Black in the first game, and decided to repeat the opening move which brought me victory against Eugene. But victory was not to be, as I fell into a much worse position after a big mistake on move 11. I tried to defend as tenaciously as I could, but in the end my position was just too difficult to overcome.

I was now in a must-win situation, and the fact I had the White pieces was somewhat comforting. After a ~30 minute break, we sat down and shook hands for our 2nd game. As expected, we went for a Ruy Lopez. But instead of going for the main line, I decided to play the relatively rare 8.a4, hoping to catch him off guard. This strategy worked exactly as I hoped, as he began consuming time trying to figure out the nuances and subtleties of the position. I built up a sizeable lead on the clock, which was the main factor for me in this game. But I forgot my preparation a few moves later, and made an inaccuracy which allowed him to equalize. Equality was not an option for me, considering the match situation, and so I decided to launch a speculative assault on his kingside. I knew that objectively it probably wasn’t very good, but I had to try something. Changing the nature of the game turned out to be the right decision, as GM Chirila made a serious mistake. I capitalized immediately, and managed to win an exchange. Still, things were not so easy. I had to play precisely in order to keep my advantage. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that and slowly my advantage began to dissipate. To GM Chirila’s credit, he found some nice defensive resources and managed to completely turn the tables on me.

I was eliminated from playing for 1st prize now, and had to be content with playing for 3rd. It sucked losing after going through so much to get there, but now was not the time to think about that – I had another match to play.

The 3rd place match had a happier ending for me, as I smoothly beat IM Awonder Liang in the first game.

The 2nd game was a more tricky affair, and in the end I played it safe by allowing a repetition since I only needed a draw to clinch the match and 3rd place.

And so ended my rollercoaster of an experience at the 2016 Millionaire Chess Open.

I was pretty happy to have had the chance to compete on Millionaire Monday, and even though I wasn’t able to come 1st, it was still a pretty memorable experience.

Thanks to Maurice and Amy for providing chess players from all over the world the chance to compete for high stake prizes, something which isn’t synonymous with chess.
Their vision will provide inspiration to other organizers, and help lead chess to eventually attract the sponsors it deserves.
I truly believe that the enterprising duo have successfully bent the arc of chess towards a new path.

Undoubtedly, it was a Million Dollar Show.

 

Below is a brief video clip of an interview in Atlantic City by Jennifer Shahade, Senior Digital Editor of US Chess Federation.

Since the official photographer missed taking my picture during the 7 rounds and Millionaire Monday, and private cameras were not allowed, I have no relevant pictures to upload from the tournament. Official event photos can be viewed here.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field