Millionaire Chess, the open tournament that tried to defy the rules most chess opens stand by, has closed its gates, possibly for the last time, on October 10. It was a bittersweet moment, entertained by Maurice Ashley’s tireless entrepreneurial spirit and stage persona. He talked about his dream, his partner in crime Amy Lee, as well as his almost never-ending organizational struggles. He was visibly shaken, concerned, but also full of hope and optimism that he will find the support to extend this great tradition that Millionaire Chess has become.
My name is Cristian Chirila, I am the winner of the U2550 section and I would like to take you, the reader, through the last stand of my millionaire journey. Here we go!
My focus in 2016 has been almost exclusively on developing as a coach. As a result of this shift, my play has lacked consistency. Despite the fact that I have studied chess in a much more analytical and organized form, my play was missing the depth necessary to perform at the highest levels. I was not able to match my previous year’s results and win at least one important event, not until Millionaire Chess came along!
After a summer full of chess camps and private students, I decided to take a short vacation in my home country Romania. While there, a good friend of mine contacted me and asked me to help him during the Olympiad. I accepted and immediately started working on his repertoire. The theoretical disagreement between the two of us couldn’t be more obvious, I am a 1.d4 player – he is almost solely a 1.e4 player. I had to get out of my comfort zone, dig into lines that I have not studied in at least half a decade, and try to battle seasoned theoreticians on their home ground. I also worked on practical positions and finding the right plan, I believe this type of training to be the best when trying to dust off your chess. This was my technical preparation.
I find myself to be truly motivated only when I am surrounded by professional players, fortunately there’s no shortage of those in the Olympiad. The atmosphere, the important games my friends and peers were playing, and a burning desire to get that playing adrenaline back pushed me to return to the US and get back to work in preparation for Millionaire Chess. This was my mental preparation.
GMs Maurice Ashley and Cristian Chirila
My physical preparation has always been one of the aspects of my life that I take great pride in. Lifting weights and playing basketball throughout college have been some of my favorite extracurricular activities. After graduating I tried to find a hobby that will challenge me on a one vs one basis (similar to chess) and I quickly found Mixed Martial Arts.
GM Cristian Chirila (right) training
I immediately fell in love with it and for the past two years I have been practicing tirelessly. There is quite a paralyzing fear when entering a cage in which the man opposing you wants to slap your head off your shoulders, facing those fears have helped me greatly with my chess and I would encourage any youngster that wishes to challenge himself to embrace an individual, contact sport. Just be warry that too many punches to the head might not necessarily compliment the enhanced tactical senses needed for peak chess performance.
1st Stage Rounds 1-7
One of the key ingredients of this tournament is its format. All the sections will play the first 7 rounds in a swiss format, after which the top four contenders from each section will advance into Millionaire Monday, the playoff stage which every player dreams of reaching at the beginning of the tournament.
Carolina Blanco, seasoned Millionaire participant, Photo David Llada
GM Adhiban was one of the tournament’s favorites, unfortunately he didn’t pace himself and finished below par, Photo David Llada
I started off quite poorly, drawing against a much lower opponent (who managed to score his first IM norm) after failing to convert a solid advantage in the middle game. I managed to keep my composure and realized that my objective assessment of the game and my practical choice to offer a draw in a worse position with less time on the clock was an important signal that my form for the tournament might not be as bad as I thought. Rounds two and three were quite easy as I steam rolled through my opponents without much effort.
The first real test came in round 4 as I was facing one of the tournament’s favorites, GM Iturrizaga.
GM Iturrizaga, Photo David Llada
With little time to prepare, he surprised me as soon as move 5. Once again my danger sense worked well as I chose a sideline which leveled the playground in terms of opening preparation. The whole game I felt as I was playing poker, we both threw pawn storms at each other and hoped for the best! Let’s see how that went:
Round 5 was a fairly easy affair as my opponent didn’t understand certain opening nuances and quickly got lost through the Grunfeld maze.
GM Chirila, Photo David Llada
Round 6 came quickly, and with it my first and only loss of the tournament. I played white against GM Gawain Jones, an ultra-dynamic Brit that loves to play the sharp positions that ensue in the KID or the Sicilian Dragon. With only a few minutes to prepare, I spotted one of his games in the database in which his preparation was not optimal. I decided, with minimal hope in my heart, to repeat and see whether he improved on his opening fiasco. Without even flinching he played the correct improvement and immediately equalized. After a tame affair in the middlegame & endgame, Jones managed to complicate matters and push for an advantage. Despite the fact that I was under pressure, I didn’t lose my head and found some important defensive resources to push the game into a forced repetition…and that is when the unthinkable happened! My objective senses completely failed me, and with only a minute left on the clock I decided to get out of repetition and try to play for a win. Jones beautifully handed me the hanging rope, and I took it wholeheartedly. Needless to say I flagged a few moves later in a completely equal position.
56.a3! would immediately draw as it forces black to give perpetual with Rd4-e4. Instead I played 56.Rxg4 and flagged soon after
A heartbreaking affair, but the truth is I wasn’t all that mad about it. I quickly realized that despite my loss, with a win in the last round I would still make the tiebreak for Millionaire Monday. I was in a favorable position and I had to fight for it!
The tables turned the next day and I managed to win against GM Mitkov after he decided to push for a win in a complicated variation, instead of obtaining a minimal advantage with low chances for success. I made it to Millionaire Monday!
Stage II Tiebreaks
I want to share with you my biggest surprise of the event, the fact that Jeffery Xiong didn’t make Millionaire Monday!
World Junior Champ Xiong, Photo David Llada
After completely outplaying his seasoned opponent in round 7 (last before the split), GM Emilio Cordova, he allowed the slippery Peruvian to escape with an unlikely draw.
The disappointment surely played into his games later that night while he was competing for a spot in Millionaire Monday, and after a series of inconceivable blunders he failed to secure a spot in the last four of the Open section. Here is an example of a very unlikely blunder by GM Xiong
Jeffery played 20…Be4?? gifting White a full rook
Jeffery has a long career ahead of him and I doubt that this small setback will slow him down one bit. A major factor that’s playing in my bold prediction is his insane obsession with chess. A love for the game that one only sees among the greatest. One particular situation that impressed and motivated me was when the players were waiting for the tiebreak pairings to be finalized and the games to start. While most of the players were chatting away their anxiousness with friends and supporters, Jeffery was sitting alone at a board in the corner of the playing hall simulating a game situation. He was playing against himself, and you could see the ardor with which he was trying to defeat himself! Whether he was replaying the games of Petrosian, playing a game, or simply just trying to remember his preparation before the match, the sight of him sitting alone in the corner of the room and replaying random games will stick with me for a long time. Truly impressive!
I qualified directly to Millionaire Monday alongside GM Barbosa and the young talent IM Awonder. My roommate Aman Hambleton, had to attempt to qualify through the tiebreaks but failed short after drawing both his games and allowing IM Akshat Chandra to emerge victorious. Here are his impressions of the tournament
Overall, I would say that I’m very pleased with my performance this tournament. I certainly did not expect to finish so strongly after beginning the tournament with a forfeit win (which greatly reduced my norm-chances), and starting with 1/3. From this moment on, I did not lose a game until the end of the tournament and I finished the last 3 games with 2.5/3 against strong GMs. I think that maintaining my composure after 2 losses in a row near the start of the event was definitely the defining moment. I often start tournaments very slowly and usually I play worse and worse after consecutive losses. I was very conscious not to let that happen again- IM Aman Hambleton. Chessbrah
Stage III Millionaire Monday
Back to work on Monday morning, it was this moment that I have been waiting for the past three years when competing in this tournament. I was calm and ready for war, and my first dance partner was going to be the young winner of the previous night’s tiebreak playoff, IM Akshat Chandra. I took an important decision before the game to try and avoid a theoretical battle at all costs, since I believed that the opening is the one stage of the game in which he might outscore me, especially with little to no time for preparation. My strategy worked and I got a winning position quite quickly playing the white side of a reversed Grunfeld. Despite a shaky conversion, I managed to score and place my opponent in a must win situation.
The second game saw me overcome the most difficult challenge I faced that day. Let’s give it a look!
Barbosa took care of business in his match against Awonder, and just like that we were set to clash for the top honors at 5 PM that evening. Given that the morning strategy worked, I decided to adopt a similar approach and went for an “aggressive” Reti inspired by a game of Kramnik vs Adhiban from the Olympiad. Once again my opponent changed a few nuances in his opening approach and I was on my own. My opponent quickly grabbed a poisonous pawn and soon found himself in a position he couldn’t remediate. The second game was a nerve wracking one after I fell under very dangerous prep in an anti Grunfeld line. Despite the fact that I thought for a moment my position is lost at move 10, my resilient side once against kicked in and allowed me to escape unscathed.
Cristian Chirila, Photo David Llada
In the open section my good friend Dariusz Swiercz took care of business in style and defeated Gawain Jones in a tense match.
Here is what his coach, Alejandro Ramirez, had to say about it:
“I must say I feel incredibly proud to have Dariusz as a student at Saint Louis University. Even when I met him months ago as I was trying to recruit him for the program, it was clear that Dariusz, or Daro as he goes by to make it easier for us to pronounce his name, is a serious and very responsible student and chess player. His talent, strength and dedication made him an obvious choice for the Saint Louis University team. It might have come as a surprise to some that Daro won the tournament, but I had a good feeling going into the event for him; he had just come back from the Olympiad and was motivated to recover some of the ground he lost in that event. Personally Daro and I train together in individual sessions at Saint Louis University as well as group trainings with the rest of the team, however since he has only been here only recently, it is hard to say that I had any real impact more than moral support and paying for his meals at Bill’s. I look forward to many of his future victories, as I’m sure he will soon take the U.S. Chess scene by storm. “
GM Alejandro Ramirez. SLU Coach
GM Ramirez, Photo David Llada
I believe that whenever a player is in good shape he needs to realize it immediately and take full advantage of it during that tournament. The three signals that I always see in myself when I’m in good shape are: Objectivity, Resilience, Recovery.
Look for your good form signals if you want your next tournament to be as successful as mine was.
I want to end this journey by thanking Maurice Ashely and Amy Lee for their continuous support for chess in the United States, and for raising the bar for organizers, sponsors, and players. I hope that despite the concerning rumors, this tradition will continue and the Millionaire Chess family will reunite in October 2017 in an undisclosed, exotic location!