This article is powered by Chess.com
A group of intelligent, motivated college kids from the same campus travel to Vegas and attempt to win six figures. No, it's not the plot to "21", it's the early reality of the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open.
Last year's winner, GM Wesley So, took out his Webster University teammate (and roommate!) GM Ray Robson in the finals. After the second day this year, two of the four perfect scores are again Webster chess team members.
Webster Gorloks GM Le Quang Liem and GM Vasif Durarbayli took the team limo to Planet Hollywood and promptly rattled off four points from four games. Durarbayli's round four win was a magnificent rook-and-pawn ending over So, spoiling the defending champion's birthday (So left the team last year).
The others on 4-0 are GM Yu Yangyi, also a finalist last year, and new Canadian GM Evgeny Bareev, who was a world youth champion a decade before the other three were born!
Rounds three and four took place Friday, and the game receiving the most attention from the morning round lasted one move -- 1. Nf3. GM Gata Kamsky was seen running down the entrance hallway at around 11:30 a.m. local time. He passed through the security protocol and arrived at this board at 11:32 a.m., 32 minutes past the start time and two minutes past the 30-minute default window.
Arbiters convened and agreed that Kamsky forfeited his game with GM Artur Jakubiec, but would be allowed to continue the tournament.
"I saw Grandmaster Kamsky running into the room," said IA Aris Marghetis. "He did his best to make it there on time. He was quite gracious about it." IA Franc Guadalupe confirmed that the forfeit was the only decision. Rumors as to the reason for the late arrival have not been confirmed by Chess.com.
Kamsky recovered to win round four and sits on 3.0/4.
The unlikely seatmates in round four: both GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Gata Kamsky played from outside the velvet ropes.
To the games that actually took place, neither of the top two seeds could get past their round three opponents. GM Hikaru Nakamura repeated moves with GM Gil Popilski while GM Fabiano Caruana suffered his second draw in a row against IM Priyadharshan Kannappan.
To the anguish of his manager IM Lawrence Trent, also a commentator at Millionaire Chess, Caruana's long endgame effort finally ran out of ideas.
"He's been struggling to get any kind of momentum, any kind of rhythm going this tournament," Trent said of his charge. As the queen-and-bishop endgame unfolded, he feared correctly that the win wasn't there: "It would be a huge blow to him not to win with the White pieces."
"Pri-Diddy", the underdog's chess-rap portmanteau, is also a product of St. Louis college chess! The Lindenwood University player told Chess.com that he couldn't win with his extra piece despite Caruana's clock dwindling under one minute. Computer analysis shows that White is holding with best play anyway in the final position.
Moving on the evening round four, several sparkling endgame ideas highlighted the round.
So looked to be cruising; after the time control all the heavies remained but a protected passed pawn on f6 looked to tip the scales in his favor. Black answered by advancing his own passed pawn, when So missed a complicated rook invasion.
Fast-forwarding to the rook endame, Durarbayli had eviscerated the strong pawn chain and worked his way up the board. One final mistake by White allowed a study-like finish.
An even more incredible endgame idea was used to hold the unlikely balance. IM Yang Kaiqi used some pawn tai chi to trick GM Gregory Kaidanov in a king-and-pawn ending:
GM Gregory Kaidanov has won just about every notable open event in the U.S. Although a full-time coach, he believes in remaining active to better relate to his students' tournament experiences.
Another late-arriving player just made the window in round four. GM Conrad Holt, who had been fined for multiple late arrivals at a previous U.S. Championship, arrived 25 minutes late. He made the cutoff by five minutes, but found himself in time pressure later as you might expect.
Uh-oh. Another forfeit on the top boards? Ten minutes after the photo was taken, Holt arrived.
Le Quang Liem calmly waited for Holt's arrival, then played the role of judge and jailer against Holt's queen. First he "judged" Qh7+ wasn't overly dangerous, then he put her in jail with an exchange sacrifice. She never got parol as Black sentenced her to life in prison.
Yu Yangyi had little trouble handling GM Isan Reynoldo Ortiz Suarez while Bareev slowly took all of past Chess.com Title Tuesday Champion IM Kacper Drozdowski's pawns. Popilski almost had his second big game in a row, but he spoiled a better position with successive inaccuracies against GM Luke McShane, who remained only a half-point of the pace (3.5/4).
Jakubiec held his own against Robson; their draw also put them both in the second score group. Nakamura also lurks at 3.5/4 as he recovered by putting the world's youngest GM in an awful bind.
It's hard to say which Black piece is more helpless in the final position. Even Nakamura's stepfather, FM Sunil Weeremantry, smiled as he watched the monitors at the game's climax:
"It feels weird," Nakamura told Chess.com about playing another large American open event, which was an every weekend occurrence in his rise to the world's elite. "I'm so used to playing so many closed tournaments with a lot of the same people...It's nostalgic to play people I played in the 2000s."
He said it's hard not to lose rating points (his and Caruana's draws cost four points a pop). "We're playing a lot of openings we wouldn't normally play."
Las Vegas is a city built on unexpected fortune and luck, and that's just what happened in the game between GM Alejandro Ramirez and IM Maximilian Meinhardt. The roulette ball was just about to land on white, and at the last minute it bounced into black.
Let's not forget that at the end of tournament one player with get a one in 64 chance to win a full million dollars. Meinhardt's given name even ends "milian" -- perhaps a homophonic reference to his destiny?
There's still three more games until the four qualifiers for Millionaire Monday are selected. According to Nakamura, he thinks 6.0/7 will surely get in, while 5.5/7 will require tiebreaks to qualify. The inaugural event showed those exact numbers.
In round five, Bareev takes white against Yu Yangyi while Le Quang Liem gets white against Durarbayli.
2015 Millionaire Chess Open| Standings After Round Four (Top 20)
|1||6||GM||Le Quang Liem||VIE||2697||4,0||9,0||5,0||9,00|
|7||9||GM||Mcshane Luke J||ENG||2674||3,5||9,0||5,0||7,75|
|15||23||GM||Ortiz Suarez Isan Reynaldo||CUB||2577||3,0||9,5||4,5||6,00|
|18||36||GM||Troff Kayden W||USA||2528||3,0||9,0||4,0||6,00|