‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ sang Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm in the 1956 MGM hit musical High Society. And before you all chime in with a rendition of the chorus of ‘I do’, the money has all already been picked up and probably banked by the lucky winners, after a big battle ensued in the latest edition of Maurice Ashley’s ‘Millionaire Chess 3’ extravaganza that concluded on Monday.
Millionaire Chess is the brainchild of American Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and his Canadian business partner, Amy Lee. Their plan is to have a major tournament in venues normally more accustomed to such big payouts at the gambling tables rather than over the chessboard. Last year, it was held in the Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas; and this year, Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
But the packet didn't quite live up to its name this year. With no major sponsor(s), the organisers had to make the tough decision to reduce the prize fund to just $510,000, 60% being guaranteed - a change that came after much in-house deliberation about whether or not to wait until next year to do another event. Indeed, it was hinted that if no sponsors are found, it is unlikely another Millionaire Chess will be held.
The tournament is split into several sections of varying rating strengths; with the lion’s share of the prize fund related to the top-rated Open that contained a large number of US and overseas titled-players - though there was some cheery small print explaining how any prize over $600 had to be reported to the IRS and with 30% withheld on-site from non-resident aliens due to US tax laws.
After the initial Open and playoffs between players who were tied, four made it through to ‘Millionaire Monday’, a knockout rapid mini-match final that would ultimately decide the major cash prizes. Winning through to the Open final was GM Gawain Jones (England), GM Zhou Jianchao (China), GM Dariusz Swiercz (Poland) and GM Emilio Cordova (Peru).
In the end, Jones and Swiercz went forward to contest the final. And in it, 22-year-old Swiercz, the former World Junior Champion, had ‘Lady Luck’ by his side throughout, as he went on to beat Jones 2-0 to take the top prize of $30,000.
A full list of 'Millionaire Monday' finalists and winners can be found by clicking here.
GM Gawain Jones - GM Dariusz Swiercz
Millionaire Chess KO Final, (2.1)
Sicilian Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.0-0 a6 5.Bd3 We have a pseudo-Kopec System, pioneered by the late American IM/chess coach Danny Kopec, who formulated his own home-brew in the early 1970s to avoid the labyrinth of Open Sicilians. And here, in a two-game knockout final, it's what's needed as it keeps the position as fluid as possible. 5...Ngf6 6.c3 b5 7.Bc2 Bb7 8.Qe2 e6 9.d4 Be7 10.Rd1 Qb6 11.a4 0-0 12.Bg5 Rfe8 13.Na3 cxd4 14.cxd4 Rab8 15.axb5 axb5 16.Bd3! With his pawns on d4 and e4, White holds a promising space advantage. Black also has difficulty in defending his b-pawn, and Jones hones in on this weakness. 16...Bc6 If 16...b4 17.Nc4 Qd8 18.Na5! Ba8 19.Rdc1 and White's advantage begins to reach the realms of becoming a won game. 17.Rac1 h6 18.Bf4 Black has kept his solid Sicilian formation - but White's space advantage is gradually increasing, and it leads to the win of a pawn. 18...Nf8 19.Bg3 Nh5 20.Rxc6! A simple tactic - but Black is hoping White's extra pawn isn't going to be enough to press for the win. 20...Qxc6 21.Bxb5 Rxb5 22.Nxb5 Rb8 23.Nc3 Qb6 24.Rd2 Ng6 The knights are heading to the d4 outpost, forcing White to exchange off his bishop. 25.Qd1 Qb4 26.Rc2 Nf6 27.h3 Nh5 28.Bh2 Nhf4 29.Qd2 Qb3! Black makes White's task of mobilising his extra pawn as difficult as possible. 30.Rc1 Bg5 31.Nxg5 hxg5 32.Bxf4 Nxf4 33.Rb1 Qc4 34.Rd1 Undermining the knight immediately with 34.h4! looked stronger, as Black can't play 34...Nd3 35.hxg5 Rb4 36.Qe2! and Black can't take on d4 as Rd1 will pin and win. 34...Qb3 Now it is a little too late, as Black achieves his principle aim of capturing White's only passed pawn, and this allows for good survival chances with the queens off and all the pawns on the same wing of the board. 35.h4 Qxb2 36.hxg5 Qxd2 37.Rxd2 Rb3 38.Nd1 In reality, with White's g-pawns doubled, and all the pawns on the same wing of the board, this should pan out to be a draw - but Jones has to win to stay in the match, so play squeezes on. 38...Kh7 39.Kh2 e5? Black should have continued activating his king with 39...Kg6 as 40.g3 Nd3! (Not 40...Nh5? 41.d5! and White is winning.) 41.f4 Ne1! and suddenly the knight fork(s) on f3 means White no longer has anything more to play for, other than the draw. 40.Ne3 Ne6 41.Nf5 Now it is White who emerges with the stronger knight outpost, and the game begins to swing his way. 41...Nxg5 42.Nxd6 exd4 43.Rxd4 g6 44.Rd5 Kh6 Also, Black can play 44...f6 but after 45.f3 White has an excellent chance of playing to win here. 45.Ra5 Rd3 46.e5 f6 47.Nc4 Much stronger was 47.f4! Ne6 48.Ra6! and suddenlyWhite has major threats along the sixth rank, with targets sitting like ducks on e6, f6, g6 and h6. 47...Rc3 48.Ne3 f5 49.Ra6 Kg7 The better practical shot may well have been 49...Ne4!? 50.Nxf5+ Kg5 51.Nd6 Nxf2 52.Kg1 Rc2 53.Nf7+ Kh5 54.e6 Ng4 55.g3 Rc1+ 56.Kg2 Rc2+ 57.Kf3 Rc3+ 58.Ke4 Rxg3 59.Kd4 Ne3! and when the knight gets to f5, it is not so easy for White to win, as Black can always sacrifice the knight for the passed e-pawn and a very likely draw. 50.Ra7+ Kh6 51.Nd5! The knight coming to f6 adds some nasty mating threats into the mix. 51...Rc5 52.Nf6 Rc4 Black has a difficult defence here, and best now was probably 52...Ne6 53.Re7 Rc6 54.g3 g5 and an escape route for his king, and crucially, it is also a quick route over towards White's e-pawn. White is still better here, but Black now has a solid fortress-like position that will be difficult to break. 53.Ng8+ Kh5 54.Nf6+ Kh6 55.f3 Rb4 56.Kg3 Rc4 57.Ng8+ Kh5 58.Nf6+ Kh6 59.Re7 Ra4 60.Ng8+ Kh5 61.Nf6+ Kh6 62.e6 Rd4 63.Ng8+ Kh5 64.Nf6+ Kh6 65.Ng8+ Kh5 (See Diagram) 66.Re8 With everything on the line, Jones misses the 'money move' that would have given him the upper-hand in the final. He should have played 66.Rh7+! Nxh7 67.e7 and there's no stopping the e-pawn promoting. However, this miss aside, what was played in the game was still more than enough to take the full point. 66...f4+ 67.Kf2 Rd2+ 68.Kg1?? A calamity, as it allows Swiercz to escape with an unlikely draw. The problem is, that by retreating to g1, Jones has inadvertently allowed Black a mating attacks - mating attacks that wouldn't be available had he made the correct retreat with 68.Ke1 Rxg2 69.Nf6+ Kh4 70.e7 and an easy win. 68...Kh4 69.e7 Kg3 70.Rd8?? Lady Luck is firmly by Swiercz's side now with a cruel reversal of fortunes. It's hard trying to accept that you are not still winning what has been a long-won game, but Jones had to accept that the best he has here is only a draw, with the only option, being 70.Kf1 Rxg2 71.Nf6 Rf2+ 72.Ke1 Nxf3+ 73.Kd1 Rf1+ 74.Kc2 Nd4+ 75.Kd2 Nf5 76.Nd5 Kg4 77.Rf8 Nxe7 78.Nxe7 g5 and a draw; as even in the worst-case scenario, Jones can sacrifice his knight for one of his opponent's pawns and we'll have a technically drawn rook and pawn ending. 70...Rxg2+ 71.Kf1 Nxf3 72.Rd2 Rxd2 73.e8Q Rf2# 0-1