Until recently, Las Vegas, a major casino and a cool $1m in prizes would more normally be associated with poker rather than chess - but nowadays such a scenario is becoming more and more of a reality now, thanks mainly to the likes of the ever-enterprising events promoter GM Maurice Ashley, the brainchild behind 'Millionaire chess', the second edition of which took place recently at the Planet Hollywood resort and casino in the heart of Sin City.
Millionaire Chess Open’s launch last year drew lots of media attention. This year, the second edition upped the ante by adding a game-show razzmatazz element, ‘Millionaire Square’: In addition to cash prizes, one lucky player of the 36 who made it to ‘Millionaire Monday’ got the chance to pick from 64 envelopes — one on each square of a giant chessboard. One of those envelopes contained $1 million (which wasn’t selected).
But as the packet said for the main event, this Open tournament, which was split into several sections, had a total guaranteed prize fund of $1,000,000. Indeed, $448k of this related to the Open - though you should always read the smallprint, as it cheerily explained how 30 per cent was to be withheld from non-resident aliens due to US tax laws (Death, taxes and all that).
Among the hot favourites were the American top-seeded trio of Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, and last year’s winner Wesley So - and they all deserve credit for being early and full supporters for Ashley and his business partner Amy Lee's tournament because, after committing to play back in January, FIDE somewhat undiplomatically changed the dates of their World Rapid and Blitz Championships from June to October and thus an inevitable clash.
After the initial Swiss-styled Open and play-offs between some players who were tied, four went on to contest for the main prize on Millionaire Monday earlier this week: Americans Hikaru Nakamura and Aleks Lenderman, who were joined in the jackpot line-up by Liem Quang Le of Vietnam and China’s Yu Yangyi. They would fight it out in the rapid double round knock-outs; and if tied, followed by blitz and an Armageddon decider.
In the semifinals, Nakamura beat Yu Yangyi 2.5-1.5 after their mini-match went into overtime, as Le Quang comfortably beat Lenderman 2-0. The final proved to be a further reinforcement of Nakamura's decision not to play in Berlin (where a double-win would 'only' have earned him $80,000), as he skilfully outplayed Webster University student Le Quang in the first game, going on to claim victory by 1.5-0.5 to pick-up his winner's check for $100,000 - the biggest cash-win of his career.
And this year is also turning out to be the biggest of the US champion’s career. Nakamura’s 2015 includes wins in Gibraltar, Zurich, St. Louis and now Las Vegas, in addition to qualifying for the 2016 Candidates Tournament as runner-up in the FIDE Grand Prix.
Go check the Millionaire Chess site for full reports, video clips, photos and games by clicking here.
Hikaru Nakamura - Liem Quang Le
Millionaire Chess Final, (1)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg5 h6 5.Bxf6 Qxf6 It looks like a standard Queen's Gambit Declined position, but as Nakamura said, he 'kind of tricked' Le Quang into a position he wasn’t familiar with. 6.Qb3 c6 7.e3 Qe7 8.Nbd2 And this was Nakamura big idea: by delaying the development of his knight, he put’s it to better use on d2 rather than c3. 8...Qb4 This was the rational behind 7...Qe7 - Le Quang would dearly love to exchange queens here, as it would get him out of a big hole, because not only does he lag behind in development, also all of his pieces are going to awkwardly placed. But Nakamura is having none of it; he rightly keeps the queens on the board, as he holds a big advantage here. 9.Qc2 Nd7 10.a3 Qa5 11.Be2 dxc4 12.0-0 Be7 13.Nxc4 Qc7 14.b4 0-0 15.Rac1 Rd8 16.Qb3 a6 17.Bd3 Nf6 18.Bb1 Bd7 19.e4 Be8 20.e5 Nh7 21.Qe3 b6 22.Rfd1 a5 23.d5 Rxd5 The point being that either pawn capture is worse: 23...exd5 24.Nxb6 Ra7 25.Nxd5! and 23...cxd5 24.Nxb6 both winning material. Nakamura is in his element now, as he 'cashes in' his superior position into a $100,000 winning position. 26...Qb7 The sting in the tail was that 26...Rxd5 27.Qe4! not only threatens the knight on h7 and mate, it also picks up the rook on d5: 27...Ng5 28.Qxd5! and Black could consider resignation here. 27.Nxe7+ Qxe7 28.bxa5 The Black pieces are all disjointed and he's down two pawns - and worse, Nakamura is going to ruthlessly push his advanced a-pawn even further up the board. 28...Ra8 29.a6! (See Diagram) Taking full advantage of the tactic behind the pawn being captured, as 30.Bxh7+ wins either the knight or the rook. 29...Nf8 30.Bd3 Ne6 31.Nd4 Nakamura is giving a masterclass here on just what to do when you go material ahead in a game - always seek to exchange pieces, as this will reduce the risk of complications and - more importantly! - in the long run, you will have more material than your opponent! 31...Nxd4 32.Qxd4 Rd8 33.Qc3 c5 34.Bf1 It's a very professional clean-up job now from Nakamura - he covers all the bases by not only getting his bishop out of the way of any further attack down the d-file, but also prevents any potentially damaging back-rank checks and also covers any attacks on g2 for his king. 34...Rd5 35.Qa5 Bc6 36.a7 Ba8 37.Rb1 And with the bishop now on f1, Nakamura easily wins by bringing his rook into the game that proves decisive. 37...Kh7 38.Rb8 c4 39.Qa6 Stopping the bishop escaping to c6 and more importantly the king to g6 - Le Quang is well and truly in his death throes now. 39...Rd2 40.Rxa8 Qc5 41.Rh8+! The real reason for 39.Qa6 - now White promotes with check. And talking of checks, Nakamura was now well on his way to picking up one for $100,000! 41...Kxh8 42.a8Q+ 1-0 There’s no escaping the Grim Reaper for Le Quang: if 42…Kh7 43.Qe4+ g6 44.Qf6 Qa7 45.h4-h5 etc.