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Like the flag he represents, Vietnamese GM Le Quang Liem is the lone star above the rest of the respected field at the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open. His five straight wins followed by a sixth-round draw with GM Hikaru Nakamura place him in the best position to qualify for Millionaire Monday.
A win in round seven today would guarantee him one of the four seats at the final table tomorrow. The remainder of the field, which includes several world elites, have all crapped out once or twice, with some already going bust.
The official chase group on 5.0/6 includes Nakamura and other expected parties -- GMs Evgeny Bareev, Ray Robson, Luke McShane, Wesley So, and Yu Yangyi. The two less expected names in the group are GMs Aleks Lenderman and Axel Rombaldoni.
Further back a host of players on 4.5/6 will surely need a win and a decent amount of help just to make a playoff for Millionaire Monday. For a point of comparison, in last year's inaugural event two players were seated directly through with 6.0/7, while four others played for the final two seats in a rapid playoff (the format of a possible playoff varies depending on the number of tied players).
This group includes GM Fabiano Caruana, who continues to run cold after another draw in round five, and GM Gata Kamsky, who has recovered with 2.5/3 after his day-two forfeit loss for arriving late.
The "American Swiss" is often two rounds per day, and this tournament is no different, so a lot of relevant action took place Saturday.
Yesterday we reported how well the scholarship players of Webster University were faring. It turned out it took one of their own to derail the other. Le Quang Liem ended the great run of GM Vasif Durarbayli, his teammate, in round five.
You'd think that all the pieces leaving the board would hinder the chances for the holder of the isolated queen pawn, but in fact Webster's top player had seen more: the control of the c-file and dominance of the final minor piece were more salient positional trumps.
"We have training every week," Le Quang Liem told Chess.com about why his team was doing so well. He said his coaches, GM Susan Polgar and Paul Truong, have team and individual training sessions regularly. He added that the tournament's rounds are so closely stacked together, that they don't have much time to prepare each other (and surely wouldn't of course for a Gorlok vs. Gorlok matchup).
Kamsky won his second game in a row using his old friend, the London System. Despite the win, a prettier finish was missed:
Also recovering with conviction in round five was defending champion So (he went from winning to losing to Durarbayli in round four). After beating Utah native GM Kayden Troff at the 2015 U.S. Championship, he demolished him here in Las Vegas.
GM Kayden Troff (left) got a lesson yesterday from defending champion GM Wesley So. (Photo: David Llada).
Two players used the French to win crucial games as Black against lower-rated competition -- Nakamura and Lenderman. The top American's McCutcheon Defense got a wry smile from his stepfather, but it worked like a charm against another one of the those college kids (GM Andrey Stukopin plays chess for the University of Texas at Brownsville).
White abandoned his center for an itchy pawn on h5, but Nakamura never needed to scratch it:
GM Hikaru Nakamura didn't need to read Cyrillic, but he did "speak" French fluently in round five.
Lenderman also won by overrunning the center, but the highlight was when his queen checked White's king 14 times in 15 moves! The man who has "Milian" in his name could not keep his symbiosis with the tournament name.
IM Maximilian Meinhardt was carrying the mantle for the non-GMs, but the IMs are officially eliminated from Millionaire Monday. (Photo: David Llada.)
In case you're wondering, Lenderman wasn't even within shouting distance of any records. The oft-cited mark for most consecutive checks, including by record-keeper Tim Krabbe, is an astounding 74!
McShane won a long game with an instructive breakthrough as the final move:
In the evening round, Le Quang Liem drew with the top-rated player as Black, a perfectly acceptable result when the only goal is to qualify for the final four. Nakamura correctly evaluated his attack as not worth more than his pawn deficit, and he took the chance to repeat the position.
Nakamura couldn't use his turn with White against Le Quang Liem; he will likely be playing for a win today as Black against GM Luke McShane.
In perhaps the game of the tournament, GM Ray Robson played a scintillating attack against an Icelandic IM. After a double exchange sac, the lava flowed too close to White's king. It's as though someone made a "prop bet" for Robson to deliver mate before move 30.
GM Ray Robson (left), not paying any attention to IM Gudmundur Kjartansson's wayward knight on a8.
The game featured a knight en prise for eight moves that was never captured, an early promotion, and Robson being completely winning despite an eight-point deficit by move 20.
Chess.com just announced sponsorship of a best game prize (with the winner getting entry paid to the Millionaire Chess Open 3), and $1,000 can go a long way for a college student. Yes, Robson is yet another Webster Gorlok.
In other action, Durarbayli never was in trouble and drew Caruana. The Azeri handled his murderous schedule with aplomb -- he went 1.5/3 against So, Le Quang Liem, Caruana in rounds 4-6.
Last year GM David Berczes had a harvest of pieces for the queen but lost to Robson and his ticket to Millionaire Monday in a winning position. Yesterday, he had a similar bounty for the lady, but the king chase was much more successful:
So used nearly the exact same final combo as earlier in the day to win (rook, knight and pawn in the final position). Most other games important for the tables ended drawn, but Yu Yangyi-McShane was a delight. Like Berczes, the Englishman played without his queen, but he couldn't find the exact right solution for his tincture.
"Last year I didn't play very well," Le Quang Liem said. "I learned from my mistakes."
When asked by Chess.com what impulse purchase he would make upon winning $100,000, he didn't think very long: "I'd take my team out for dinner."
All four seats to the Millionaire Monday finale will be chosen today. Round seven is at 11 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7) with possible playoffs to follow. You can watch the live commentary at www.chess.com/TV or at the official Millionaire Chess site.
Millionaire Chess Open 2 | Standings After Round 6
|1||6||GM||Le Quang Liem||VIE||2697||5,5||23,5||16,5||21,00|
|3||9||GM||Mcshane Luke J||ENG||2674||5,0||23,0||16,5||18,50|
|14||12||GM||Shankland Samuel L||USA||2656||4,5||20,0||13,5||16,50|
|20||25||GM||Kaidanov Gregory S||USA||2561||4,5||18,0||12,0||12,50|