The Gateway Arch
All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated)

I have been to St. Louis, Missouri many times. In fact, while I was a child, my parents would drive to East St. Louis, Illinois where their parents grew up. It was on this trip that we rode on Route 66 and saw the “Arch” as the indication that we were close to my maternal great-grandmother’s house on 17th and Broadway. We called her “Big Momma.”

E. St. Louis is a small, impoverished town across the bridge from St. Louis once known for factories, traditions from the deep south (turpentine and sugar), talented musicians and athletes. It survived a race riot in July 1917 during which my great-aunt stated that her uncle came in the house with “boots full of blood.”

Nevertheless, I used to enjoy my time at relatives’ homes in the lively town. Those were great times, but things changed. Major business enterprises fled and the economic stability collapsed. Abandoned factories proliferate the desolate landscape leaving only their ravaged shells and pollution from hazardous materials. Asthma and other respiratory problems devastated the town including my mother’s side of the family. Destitution grips the town to this day.

Abandoned factory right next to where my “Big Momma’s” house once stood on 17th and Broadway in E. St. Louis. I used to look out the window at the factory and would hear the whistle blow four times a day. The company made cardboard boxes. Photo from

In most recent years, trips to St. Louis has been to cover a number of events including the first three Sinquefield Cups and a couple of U.S. Championships. Chess has been a double reason to visit the area. Before I write any further about St. Louis, let me say a few things about the New York trip.

I drove two hours from Tallahassee, Florida to Jacksonville, Florida to get a flight to New York to attend the World Chess Championship. I planned my flight so that I was traveling on the rest days of the match. I have always enjoyed New York and once spent a summer there working at Time-Warner for Sport Illustrated magazine.

Queensborough Bridge

Does anyone know the name of this building?

Club Quarters Hotel in Wall Street district

During the match, I stayed in Club Quarters Wall Street which was within walking distance of the Fulton Market. I was unable to secure my press credentials for Game #9, but took pictures of the venue, did an interview with IM Kassa Korley and went back to the room to watch the match. Game #9 was drawn. The next day, I headed to the venue with ticket in hand. I met Alex Velasquez who put me in touch with Andrew Murray-Watson and my media credentials were cleared for Game #10.

There was intense excitement in the venue as it was as many had spent the holiday at the match chomping on sandwiches and potato chips while taking in the action. It would be an epic day as it would be Carlsen’s only win during the classical games. I enjoyed being in the media room as you can see the enthusiasm in the room with journalists banging away on their keyboards. Leontxo Garcia was hunched over and an obvious contingent of Norwegian and Russian journalists were in the room.

Journalists from around the world were covering the match.

Peter Doggers of was shuttling between the press room and the commentary booth providing viewers with unique insights. Mike Klein briefed me on the press room and Grandmaster turned-journalists like Cristian Chirila and Alejandro Ramirez were representing U.S. Chess and ChessBase. I had a chat with Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam of New in Chess and Lennart Ootes who has done work with chess24 among other organizations. Good company!

World Chess Championship (New York)
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

I met Zambian Grandmaster Amon Simutowe who is working in New York and we went for a quick drink at a fast food joint, one of the few places open on the holiday. As we analyzed the position on our phones, it was clear that Carlsen was poised to win. I told Amon I had to get back to see the press conference in case the game finished in the next few moves. I got back to the venue just as the press conference was about to start.

As I was coming up the escalator, I heard a loud cheers, raucous applause and scrambled to get my camera ready. My battery was dead. I hurried to the press room to get my spare battery. When I knifed through the crowd to get near the press section, I saw a relieved Carlsen beaming and in a great mood. However, after the press conference, he bolted toward the exit. Tomorrow would be a rest day.

Press conference after Carlsen’s win in the 10th game of the match.

After spending a few days in New York for the World Chess Championship, I headed to LaGuardia Airport to attend my great aunt’s 102nd birthday party in “Saint Louie.” Weeks prior to the visit I told Paul Truong, that I was planning a trip to St. Louis and perhaps wanted to pay Webster University a visit. I also wanted to check on Justus Williams and Josh Colas who are both freshman at Webster. Shawn Swindell is a sophomore there. I had extended an invitation to take all three to dinner. Justus and Josh were playing in the Thanksgiving Open at the St. Louis Chess Club. Shawn eagerly responded, but given the unpredictability of the round ending, he opted for basketball.

So I contacted Paul and drove by Webster University for a visit. It was a rather cool and brisk night. The campus was rather quiet, but I did notice a line of protestors holding various signs voicing discontent. I learned that these protestors were reacting to the election results of two weeks earlier. Paul came out to greet me and gave me the history of the library that had been vacated. I wondered why until he revealed that it is the SPICE Headquarters. A new state-of-the-art library had been built across campus.

SPICE Mission

  • To be the premier center for chess education, research, technology, and outreach in the nation
  • To be a leader in promoting chess as a vehicle for enriching the education of children
  • To be a leader in promoting women’s chess
  • To recruit outstanding undergraduate and graduate students to Webster University
  • To bring national and international recognition to Webster University
  • To support and promote competitive chess at the college level
  • To support the nation’s most elite chess program

The SPICE building is situated on the first floor of the old library and as one walks in there is a large, spacious room that is normally used for tournaments. He then showed me the SPICE training room. Susan Polgar was in her office meeting with Ray Robson. It was a very nice facility that included numerous shelves of classic works indexed by subject. There was even a lounge in the back of the facility.

I went into Susan’s office where she had just completed her session with Ray. She had been tweeting regularly during the match and the Webster students were keenly following the proceedings in New York. I got a glimpse of her commendations that were arranged on the walls. Susan has always been a gracious host and serves as a mentor to the players as well as a trainer. Given all of the awards on the wall, it is evident that many appreciate her service.

Webster University’s SPICE (St. Louis)
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

As I went out in the playing area with Paul, Susan served some hot tea, a welcoming beverage on a blustery, chilly night in Webster Groves. I had a long conversation with Paul about a number of topics including some of his personal history as a scholastic player, his personal challenges and the funny story about how he became endeared to the basketball players at City College of New York.

We discussed Webster and the formula of success, the challenges of the program and of course the future of chess in the U.S. I also inquired about the relationship between Webster and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, also called the St. Louis Chess Club. Paul is a person big on ideas and it was clear that he plays a big role in the success of Webster. Susan sat for a brief moment, but had to prepare to leave for her pending trip to Europe where she was being honored in Austria.

After my visit to Webster, I went to the famed Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis to observe the Thanksgiving Open in progress. There were several of the other Webster players participating, but of course my eyes set on Josh and then Justus, both of whom were gripped in tough games. I also noticed Fidel Corrales, Akshat Chandra, Ashwin Jayaram and Doug Eckert.

Chess Club & Scholastic Center of St. Louis
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

After the round, I took Josh and Justus to a Lebanese restaurant that I frequent every time I visit the club. Justus teased me about my “baba ghanouj” which incidentally is some of the best I’ve ever had. It was good seeing them and the point was just to see how they were doing. They seem to be enjoying their experiences, but the adjustment is not always easy. After we finished dinner, I took them back to their dorm and said my goodbyes. I remember them playing a match when they were 11 years old Candidate Masters. It was good to see them as young men.

Dining with Justus Williams and Josh Colas at Taste of Lebanon restaurant (331 N. Euclid Aveunue, St. Louis), right around the corner from CCSCSL. The “baba ghanouj” is excellent!

After a night’s rest, I get ready to attend my paternal great-aunt’s birthday party in E. St. Louis, Illinois. From my hotel, it’s only about 10 minutes across the bridge and her house is near I-64 on 13th street. I got there with my birthday card and a check for $102.00, a tradition started by my grandfather (her brother) who lived to be 96. I am told that their paternal grandfather lived to be over 100. I bought her 100 roses a couple years ago, but it would be hard to top that this time. My cousin Carole answered the door and my great-aunt was sitting in the front room in her wheelchair. She had to be reminded of who I was, but it’s OK. Her short-term memory is weak, but when encouraged to speak about a particular time in life, she’ll rattle off dates, places and names that would challenge any chess player. I suppose she needed a keen mind to keep up with her 12 children!

Mattie Francis Malone … 102 years old!!
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

I spent several hours with my great-aunt and cousins. I even recorded her berating her 73-year old son Paul who had grown a beard that she didn’t approve of. Even at 102, she said, “I’m 102 and you have more gray hair than me!” We could only laugh. It is interesting the treasure trove of stories even as her memory is failing her. Her oldest daughter was trying to get her to recall stories of her mother Lydia Fair Bolden, a task master. One story I remember from my great-aunt was her mother’s disapproval of a shorter boy who took a liking to her. As she came into the house, her mother was shaking her head and said, “Don’t go with no boy where you can eat off the top of his head.”

Happy Birthday Aunt Mattie!

After I said my goodbyes to my great-aunt and my cousins, I got back on I-64 back across the bridge and stopped by the St. Louis Chess Club one more time. Unfortunately for me, Yasser was not there this evening. I had intended on interviewing him about the World Championship match and what he thought would transpire. Nevertheless, I caught a quick glimpse of the tournament games, acknowledged Justus and Josh, picked up food from the Lebanese restaurant (again) and went back to my hotel to work on my World Championship report. Another draw in Game #11. Fortunately for me, there was another rest day on my travel day. Yep… I saw a few moves ahead. On Sunday, I arrived in the sunny Jacksonville and prepared for my two-hour drive to Tallahassee. Back to the world. Until next time…

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Carlsen beats Karjakin 9-7 to defend crown!

Carlsen hoists champion's trophy.

Carlsen hoists champion’s trophy.
Photo by chess24

After beating Karjakin in Game #10, Magnus Carlsen said that he was able to “break” Sergey Karjakin. It was a pivotal moment of the match as the champion decided that with new life, he would head for the tiebreaks. “The idea was to make Sergey prepare hard for the twelfth game, while I was already looking at the rapid tiebreak.”

Would Karjakin dethrone Carlsen? Tiebreaks could be a tricky affair. Both players limped into the the tiebreaks bloodied, bruised and exhausted. So what happened? The tiebreak turned out to be a brutal flogging of Karjakin and ended with a picturesque mate for the ages. With his lucky NBA socks on, Carlsen finished the deciding game with a flourish. GM Yasser Seirawan probably would have exclaimed something about “gold coins” being thrown on the board.

Carlsen eased into the tiebreaks after an uninspiring Game #12. A minor controversy erupted as disgruntled fans and commentators scoffed at the 35-minute game. This strategy worked like a charm and Carlsen was clearly dominant during the tiebreaks. Karjakin admitted after the match that he wasn’t able to use his preparation, a major failure for his team. This was the subject of several tweets…

It is certainly true that Carlsen seemed better prepared despite the pre-match concerns about the Russian colossus. So… lets rewind and look at the four tiebreak games. A quick synopsis shows that Karjakin was not ready to switch gears and it is doubtful that the match preparation included this transition. Karjakin admitted this difficulty.

Tiebreak: Game #1 (Karjakin-Carlsen, 1/2)

This game was a “feeling out” game of sorts. In a short match you don’t want to do anything to drastic in the first. It is a way for each player to adapt to the new situation. This game while it had its moments of tension, had little in the way of tangible imbalances. Karjakin was very unambitious throughout the match and in his first white game got no advantage. The game started slow and after rapid-fire exchanges, the game petered out to a draw.

Notes by GM David Navara (ChessBase)

Not much in the discussion here. However, the next game would feature one of the most sensational defensive efforts in modern chess history. The ending will be included in instructional endings for many years to come. It was after this game that many thought would give Karjakin the motivation he needed to push for more with the white in Game #3. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Karjakin’s defence was only made necessary after getting a losing position.

Tiebreak: Game #2 (Carlsen-Karjakin, 1/2)

In this game, a Italian Game broke out. It occurred in Game #5 with Carlsen’s bughouse-like 14.Bxf7+ drawing early praise. Actually he was fortunate not to lose if Karjakin had played 43…Rh8! The Russian opted for 43…Bd5 and Carlsen was able to find counterplay after returning the pawn. This game took a different path. The champion built up pressure and then 23…cxb5 changed the game after 24.Qxe4! Qxc1 25.Qxd5. Two bishops versus a rook. Carlsen slowly tightened the noose after the queens were swapped. The ending was epic!

Notes by GM David Navara (ChessBase)

Wow! There was so many superlatives on Karjakin’s defensive effort. Adding to his title of “Minister of Defense” were a few gems.

Finally… a more visual depiction of Karjakin’s defense.

Karjakin's Defense

It turns out that Carlsen missed several winning continuations, but of course he is not playing a computer with a seven-piece Tablebase. Thus, he was able to survive by sacrificing one pawn, another pawn, his rook and then a third pawn. Exhilarating game! With Carlsen not being able to win, many feared he was be upset and press too hard to win the next game. The championship was riding on the next two games and Karjakin would have white in Game #3.

Tiebreak: Game #3 (Karjakin-Carlsen, 0-1)

Karjakin had shown nothing with white, won his only game with black in Game #8 and was near winning with black in Game #5. In this game, there was another Ruy Lopez (seen 11/16 times in the match). Karjakin had nothing and Carlsen seized the initiative with a kingside attack and nice shot with 30…e4! Black seized control only a few moves thereafter.

White could’ve saved the game with some care. Some beautiful lines are given by Navara.

Notes by GM David Navara (ChessBase)

Karjakin’s defense let him down with the final blunder of 38.Rxc7?? effectively ending the match… or not? Carlsen was visibly excited and gave a Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods fist pump after Karjakin resigned. Russia’s Minister of Defense looked demoralized, but had one more bullet left. What would he trot out? Not a Berlin of course. It is amazing that 1.e4 make a comeback with 1.d4 only appearing three times. So…

Tiebreak: Game #4 (Carlsen-Karjakin, 1-0)

… a Sicilian it was!!

Finally, we are going to get hand-to-hand combat and not fighting from a distance as is often the case in a Ruy Lopez. However, there was an interesting Tweet that said if Sicilian was good enough to play for a win, then why not use it earlier? Good question. It shows that Karjakin was given a match strategy and he followed it to a tee. That is, until he fell behind.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
~Mike Tyson

Tyson said it best! Perhaps, Carlsen’s win caused a desperate act and the Sicilian was as good a weapon as any… better than most. The game went into a Maroczy Bind setup with black not getting the typical Najdorf or solid hedgehog. He got a hybrid setup which didn’t work well in the end. GM Maurice Ashley didn’t like 19…h5 but it seemed to be black’s best practical decision… and a move often seen to loosen white’s e4-f3-g2 cover. However, black’s pieces were simply not positioned to take advantage of white’s fearless 29.gxh4 move. White’s king was exposed, but white had too many resources. In fact, the 50.Qh6+!! parting shot was one for the ages (Note: GM Judit Polgar announced before Rc8+). To end the game with such a move is like making a game winning shot in the final game to win a championship.


Notes by GM David Navara (ChessBase)


So Magnus Carlsen has twice defended his title, but rivals are salivating at a chance at wresting the crown from what seems like a vulnerable champion. Navara’s notion that the “Norwegian’s throne isn’t unshakable” is correct. It demonstrated Carlsen’s character… more like Achilles than Thor in this match. There is a chink in the armour, but of course difficult to pierce. This may be motivation for the 26-year old “Mozart of Chess.”

This match was closer than many thought. We will see what happens in two years time. Many changes could occur and new faces can emerge in that time. For the time being, Carlsen will be the champion and he will not duck competition. It is with a sense of satisfaction that he won a closely contested match and it will do him good in future matches. For now it appears that Carlsen got the best present on his 26th birthday. Double congratulations!

Final Press Conference

Video by agadmator (YouTube Channel)

Video by GM Daniel King.

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Game 12: WTF?

With tension in the air at the Fulton Market Building, both Carlsen and Karjakin were preparing for a pivotal game in the match. It was, in effect, a “sudden death” match. Many anticipated an epic battle, but were shocked at the outcome. The game lasted less than an hour.

Jonathan Tisdall had a sardonic remark about today’s game…

How about this meme after the half-hour game…

…and the budding debate about competitive spirit? Nigel Short said if today’s game was a dessert, he’d send it back to the chef.

Alas! There was certainly a disappointed legion of fans including some professional players. Robert van Kampen, who did commentary for, was disgusted.

Should the players be obligated to play exciting chess for the benefit of fans and sponsors? Technically, no. However, it brings into question the format and whether there are more appealing ways to decide on a champion. As it were, the champion will be decided with a faster time control, probably in the rapids. The question may be, “Why not have faster time controls in the first place?” The counter argument may be that such ideas do not result in the highest quality of chess.

Maurice Ashley has well-known opinions about quick draws. Photo by Maurice Ashley

Maurice Ashley has well-known opinions about quick draws.
Photo by Maurice Ashley

GM Maurice Ashley told The Chess Drum of his frustration with the current system and believe that a faster format is not only desirable, but inevitable. He opines that such long-play matches fail because there are only two players and long lulls between action whereas in a FIDE knockout, you have as many as 128 players starting. Thus, it is viewer-friendly. It doesn’t fix the problem since you still end up with two players. However, it presents a suspenseful build-up. Another question would be whether chess should have a “World Champion.” Tennis doesn’t have one and nor does golf.

Ashley posed the question, “Which sport gets more boring as you reach the end?” Of course he was getting at the drawing “out” that chess players can opt for if they do not want to play to the end. It’s an argument he has made since 2003 when he suggested there be no draw offers at all. This does not prevent the three-fold repetition draw, but it dramatically reduces quick, anti-competitive draws and encourages fighting chess. IM Greg Shahade has similar views about formats here and here.

Caruana speaks on Carlsen's white game. Photo by World Chess

Caruana feels Carlsen should have pressed more with his white game.
Photo by World Chess.

In defense of Carlsen and Karjakin, the last game featured a number of errors brought on by tremendous tension and perhaps a bit of fatigue (Carlsen mentioned this after Game #10). Both played a high-quality Game #11. In fact, it may be where all the energy was expended. Many are complaining about the Sunday rest day, but it appears that despite the rest days, the players are not in shape to handle the constant tension.

So… they took the day off to save fuel. This is the result.

Game Broadcast (Game #12)

Video by chess24

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Game 11: Another fighting draw! Carlsen-Karjakin will go the distance.

Another Ruy Lopez.... the theoretical theme of the match!

Another Ruy Lopez…. the theoretical theme of the match!

This match has had its share of twists and turns and the penultimate round was no different. A Ruy Lopez repeated from Game #2, the game took on a type of classical feel with all the pawns on the board. The first pawn was exchanged on move 19, but notice the huddled mess of pawns engaging in hand-to-hand combat after 18…c3!? and 23…Qxe6. Magnus Carlsen almost ushered in a black pawn to the end zone, but Sergey Karjakin had defensive resources to stave off the impending queen.

GM Wesley So called the action for ChessBase.

Press Conference (Game #11)

Video by ChessBase

Video by Daniel King.

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Game 10: We have a match!!
Carlsen gets the equalizer after Karjakin breaks!

Anticipation was high before the 10th game of the World Chess Championship. There were many questions being asked before today’s game. What would be the strategy for Magnus Carlsen? What opening would he play? Would he be under pressure to win with white? For Sergey Karjakin, would he try for a close-out? Would he be under pressure to hold the slim match lead? Sam Shankland was prescient.

Carlsen has lots to be thankful for on America’s so-called Thanksgiving Day. The game started with yet another Ruy Lopez, but this time it was an anti-Berlin system with 4.d3. Perhaps Carlsen simply wanted to play chess and get a game he could settle into. This time it was Karjakin who played black’s Bc5 motif. There were mixed views on whether Carlsen chose the right opening for a win, but the game got tense very quickly.

The pressure was ratcheting up and it showed in the number of errors traded. Karjakin played an unassuming 18…Be6. Instead of keeping the tension, Carlsen played 19.Bxe6? giving Karjakin and easy draw for the taking after 19…fxe6. Naturally, black would be content after 20.Nd2 (20.Kg2?? Ngf4+) Nxf2+ 21.Kg2 Nh4+ drawing, but something happened. Battling early zeitnot, Karjakin quickly played 20…d5 (which still draws) 21.Qh5 Ng5? (21…Nxf2+ again draws)

Kaja Marie Snare asked Maurice Ashley about the number of errors present in the game and he borrowed and adage stating, “when you’re 95% there, you’re only halfway.” Karjakin may be feeling the weight of pressure as he climbs the proverbial mountain. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Judit Polgar were aghast at the sequence of events. “What just happened?” said Nepo. Well, 26…h5 happened and the Russian slowly lost the thread. Carlsen had also missed 26…Raf8!

Rules. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Maurice Ashley giving an assessment of the position.
Photo from World Chess broadcast.

Fast forwarding to 40.b4 will show just how much progress Carlsen had made. Zambian GM Amon Simutowe had come to the match but was turned away when he could not pay at the door. “There were five people wanting to pay and they were turned away.” Nevertheless, he told The Chess Drum that Carlsen was going to win. However, Karjakin was holding steady until 56…Rhh7? 57.b5! Black’s spine at e6 would be broken and Carlsen was relentless after that simplifying into a won rook ending.

Carlsen graciously submitted to interviews today given the change in fortune. The world champion’s smile beamed brightly as his fans cheered loudly as he entered. “It’s a huge relief obviously. I haven’t won in ten games and that’s something basically that’s not happened to me before.” Perhaps and it may well be one of the most important wins of his career.

The players are reaching a point of exhaustion although not quite the 48-game match of Karpov-Kasparov, but the quality of the game makes it rather obvious. On cue, the players have a rest day before resuming play on Saturday. Hold on to your hats! This will be an epic finish regardless of what happens in Game 11.

Press Conference (Game #10)

Video by ChessBase

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

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Game 9: Carlsen at the brink… holds for another day

“The King’s Choice: A Chess Drama”

In Norway, five million people have been staying up late at night following the championship match featuring their native son Magnus Carlsen and Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. A couple of days ago Norweigans reacted with shock after Karjakin broke into the lead and Carlsen avoided media storming out of the press conference. It was a dark day in Norway.

However, there would be four games left for Carlsen to right the ship. First matters first. Carlsen was excoriated by chess journalist for his actions. Even in Norway there was a shock concerning his behavior and reaction was swift. Tarjei Svensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he understood the frustration, “but to leave the press conference, that’s not good.” He called Carlsen’s behaviour “unacceptable.”

A dejected Carlsen ponders moments before storming out of the press conference. Photo by Albert Silver.

A dejected Carlsen ponders moments before storming out of the press conference. Photo by Albert Silver.

While his manager Espen Agdestein said to NRK was even more revealing…

“Magnus knows that he is obligated to take part in the press conferences, so in this case, it was his temper that took the upper hand,” Agdestein told NRK around an hour after Carlsen’s dramatic exit and when he and Carlsen had arrived back at their hotel. “Magnus is just so determined to win, and like most, he despairs when he feels he has underperformed,” Agdestein added. “It is so limitlessly irritating that everything else becomes secondary.” He noted that Carlsen was preoccupied with the fame itself on the ride back to the hotel, not his poor performance at the press conference as well.

Not a good omen and many proverbs and fables point to lessons when one chooses fame over humility. There was a big question on what would happen if Carlsen was rankled and we have seen the result. What happened was unfortunate and hopefully Carlsen has apologized, but his faces a 10% fine of his winnings in violation of the contractual agreement to attend each press conference.

After the rest day, Carlsen and Karjakin had a fresh start. They would enter game nine in a pivotal battle, but the question would be the approach each would take. Would Karjakin shepherd his one-point lead or will he try to increase the distance, almost certainly clinching the match? Would Carlsen try to strike back or would he load up for the white game on America’s Thanksgiving holiday? We would soon find out.

In the ninth game, another Ruy Lopez with black opting for the Arkhangelsk or “Arch Angel” variation with 6…Bc5 We were in for a fight. In this game black sacrificed a pawn for a better structure and active pieces. However, a pawn is a pawn and white has the bishop pair. The game was heating up with 18…c5!? and Fabiano Caruana described it this way…

Years ago, as Rustam Kasimdzhanov was frying some plantains, he explained to me that this move was the best chance for Black to equalize. After we analyzed it, he tried it against Nakamura in the 2014 Tromso olympiad. Carlsen and his team also must have felt this was the best way for Black to approach the position.

Wow… fried plantains… secret ingredient to inspiring strong play. Indeed, black had adequate play, but the game turned and it was Karjakin who looked to be controlling affairs with his bishop pair. There were tactical landmine featuring several sacrifices on the f7-square. There was even a nice variation involving a queen sacrifice. On 31…Nb4, there would have followed the snappy 32.Qxg6+ hxg6 33.Bf6 mating. Karjakin demonstrated this line to the delight of the audience.

However, on Karjakin missed another chance after 33.Qc2 when 33.Ba4 Qf5! is parried by 34.Qf1! which met the approval of both players. Karjakin smiled, “Brilliant move!” Nevertheless, 34…Rb1! was in the air. The game reached a fever pitch as Karjakin uncorked 39.Bxf7+ evoking roars from the crowd.


However, Carlsen pointed out that 39.Qb3! was even stronger than the text move. The final sequence ending in 41… Nf5 (41… Be5? 42.Bc3 Qd6 when beautiful is 43.Qf4!!) 42.Bc3+ Kf8 43.Bxa1 Nxh4+ 44.Qxh4 Qxd5 appeared to be drawn. Karjakin played on for 30 more moves before a draw was agreed.

Press Conference (Game #9)

Video by ChessBase

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Video by Daniel King.

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Game 8: Karjakin shocks Carlsen… goes up +1!

The Trump analogies will start flying again if Sergey Karjakin wins the ongoing championship match. Karjakin stormed to victory today in a tense, yet error-filled game. Magnus Carlsen pressed with white in an unbalanced position, had an edge, misjudged the position and later blundered. Karjakin got confident and also blundered. Carlsen had a draw, went for more and fell to a deflection and mating attack. It was a game of twists and turns. Absolutely thrilling. It appears that only now, viewers believe that Karjakin is a worthy opponent.

It’s much better to play well than to play White.
~Sergey Karjakin

Everyone was anticipating a decisive result after seven consecutive draws. Carlsen had white and would certainly seize opportunities, but it appears he pressed too hard in attempting a decisive result. Well… there was a decisive result, but not the one he wanted! The World Champion was visibly shaken after the loss and stormed out of the press conference after Karjakin was slightly delayed in joining. The reaction was shocking to many, but those who have paid attention to Carlsen when he loses will understand that he sometimes becomes rattled. He is fortunate that there is a rest day so he can collect himself.

After Carlsen’s unorthodox Zukertort Opening, he got the fight he wanted, but Karjakin was up to the challenge and bolted forward with 18…Ng4! However, the Russian dawdled when it came time to press forward. Fabiano Caruana annotating for ChessBase mentioned 19…Qg5! instead of the tepid 19…Bc6. We fast forward into the middlegame after Carlsen essayed 24.bxc4. It’s an interesting choice and show that the champion is still looking for imbalances in the position when there was an inherent risk to do so. Caruana stated,

This move reminds me of Magnus’ play in the fifth game of the match. The position is equal, but he refuses to accept the fact and starts playing risky, anti-positional moves to try to keep the game going. Why does he need to play this way? The match is equal and there’s no need to overpress for a win. In this game his stubborn refusal to accept a draw finally backfired.

Carlsen persistence seemed to pay off as Nxe6+ was a shocker.

Nevertheless, Carlsen had control of the d-file, but Karjakin was hunkering down with two powerful black stallions. In fact, the knights would play a critical role in deciding the game… even until the last moves. With an unbalanced but roughly equal position, Carlsen started to take unprovoked risks. In a fit of time pressure, he banged out 35.c5? which basically loses, but has some poison. However, with both players short of time, the position demanded more attention than time would allow, so Karjakin played 35…Rxd8 (35…bxc5?? loses to 36.Qd6 targeting f7) 36.Nxd8 Nxc5 39.Qxe6 Qd3? 40.Nxe6+! (diagram) Wow. Did Karjakin blow this?

Final Position

For some reason Carlsen kept trying to find ways to scare up a win. After black’s powerful 48…Nd3! many (myself included) felt that donating a pawn with 49.e5 had to be played to keep lines open for the bishop. After 50…Ne5, black shut the door on all white counterplay and ended the game with a picturesque mate after Carlsen’s 52.Qe6?? with 52…a2! On 53.Qxa2 Ng4+ 54.Kh3 Qg1 when Carlsen has to donate his queen to avert mate. Shock reverberated around the chess world, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

Carlsen storming off from the press conference earned him a warning and potential US$60,000 fine. He was upset because the press conference started late, but the what actually occurred was that he nixed post-game interview and went directly to the press conference. Thus, he came to the press conference early while Karjakin was still conducting interviews with Russian press. This was the same pattern as previous rounds. Here is video from the press conference.

Video by World Chess.

FIDE released the following statement:

Magnus Carlsen failed to attend the Round 8 post game press conference. FIDE regulations state that every player must attend the post game press conference, otherwise he will be penalised by a deduction of 10% of his prize money.

Following the conclusion of the Round 8 game, Karjakin appeared in the Mixed Zone to give brief interviews with the three official media partners to the Championship.

The procedure for players granting interviews in the Mixed Zone was agreed with the players and their management teams at the Technical Meeting prior to the start of the Championship. Both players have granted brief interviews with the three media partners in each of the preceding 7 rounds and several times one player was waiting on the stage until the other one finished his obligations.

After round 8, Magnus Carlsen arrived at the Mixed Zone one minute later than Sergey Karjakin and declined to give any interview. He was then offered to wait for a while in the Mixed Zone or on the press conference stage and Magnus decided to wait on the stage. The World Champion decided to leave the Stage 95 seconds later, even though he was informed by the FIDE Press Officer, Anastasiya Karlovich, that Karjakin was about to come to the press conference. The FIDE Press Officer tried to persuade him and his manager to come back to the press conference room, but Magnus Carlsen declined to do so.

FIDE official statement

A story at this website mentioned Carlsen’s psychological readiness after falling behind may be a deciding factor. He had never been behind in a match and has been able to make up for slow starts with winning steaks. However, matches are far different. The game tomorrow will be very important to see how Carlsen reacts to being behind. Will he try to even the score immediately with only four games left? Will he load up for his white game on Thursday? Extremely tense moments ahead!

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Video by Daniel King.

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Game 7: Draw… Fischer’s ghost stirring

Today was another short game, but the players granted a longer press conference. Some of the questions asked have been rather off-putting, but today packed room enjoyed a bit of levity and good cheer from the players. Perhaps this is an effort to stay loose for what will be an unbearably intense “five-round match.” The tension is mounting and it is likened to a spring tightening. The result today could not avoid the increasing number of jokes about draws in chess.

Video by ChessBase.

An even match increases Karjakin’s chances with each draw, but the fact that Carlsen continues to win theoretical battles must bode well for the champion. However, he missed an opportunity. The game began with 1.d4 as Fischer’s ghost rustled in Iceland. A change to 1.d4 occurred in Game 9 of Anand-Carlsen when Anand was behind two points. Fortunes did not change and the Indian legend lost his title that he had held for five years. Karjakin also changed but under much different circumstances.

It appears that the Russian team has not out-prepared the champion in the first six games and was seeking a change, but this game would be no different. In fact, Karjakin admitted to not knowing the theory very well, but decided to opt for a rather innocuous line against the Chebanenko Slav. In fact, Swedish Grandmaster Tiger Hillarp-Persson annotated this game for ChessBase and delved into the minutiae of the opening with the conclusion that white got nothing from the opening. Then a bit of drama unfolded.

Carlsen bolted forward with 14…Nb4! and Karjakin countered with 15.Bf3! showing that he was unafraid of the pending complications. Carlsen calmly castled here when commentators suggested the energetic 15…f5!

As is common in chess, one misses an opportunity and the other seizes… 16.Ba3! At this point, white was trying to ensure he didn’t yield to black’s pressure. Actually it was Carlsen who had a moment of inattention on 16…Rc8? when Karjakin banged out 17.Nf6+! winning a pawn. However, this series of exchanges gave white little chances of winning after 22…b4 and after ten more moves, a draw was agreed. Teimour Radjabov weighed in on the “subplot”… Carlsen was playing reverse psychology.

Maybe not, but Carlsen is happy to draw this game and no doubt likes his chances with three white games out of the next five. Both players seem to be in cheerful moods. However, the tension is certainly building and everyone around the world is waiting patiently for the first win… a win that could conceivably decide the match.

Perhaps some of the most interesting parts of the match are the guests on the show. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gave us the long awaited answer to a question every chess player wants to know… how many possible chess games exist? Easy… 102500! That is impressive when considering that the number of atoms in the universe are 1080. Tyson mentioned that after the last atom is counted then the only thing left to count is events! Interesting. Marking time. However… however… we are only playing one of the 960 positions of chess, so what must the number be then, Dr. Tyson???

Video by ChessBase.

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Video by Daniel King.

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Game 6: Calm draw before pending storm

While outsiders may look at the score of the ongoing championship match, they would say that it seems to lack action because no one is scoring wins. If one could, for one moment, think of this match like a 12-round boxing bout where each boxer is judged on points scored by punching accuracy. Sometimes these rounds are even, but most times there is a winner of the round. Unfortunately, there are no cumulative points for getting an advantage in a drawn game of chess. One can say that there have been knockdowns and standing eight-counts. Yet after six rounds, the bout is even.

Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali, 1971

So while Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin have both had their chances in different rounds there is no way for the public to understand how hard fought these matches are. Be that as it may, the previous five rounds were so brutally fought it is hard to fathom that the two players would go “full bore” in every single round. However, Carlsen went into the game with an idea of catching Karjakin off guard.

Carlsen’s 11.Nd4!? entered murky waters.

In yet another Ruy Lopez (fourth in a row), Karjakin eschewed the regular Marshall Gambit lines, played 8.h3 and waited for Carlsen to show his hand. It only took a few moves. After 8…Bb7 9.d3 d5!? the game went down speculative lines with 10. exd5 Nxd5 11.Nxe5 Nd4!? This was a good try to test Karjakin’s preparation. Robert Hess mentioned that he helped Alexander Onischuk prepare this Nd4 line against Karjakin in the 2010 Olympiad. Karjakin won and conducted an extensive analysis on the game.

Karjakin-Onischuk with 11…Nd4!?
(2010 Chess Olympiad, Khanty-Mansiysk)
Notes by GM Sergey Karjakin

After losing to Karjakin, Onischuk improved in a game against Alexander Motylev a year later and drew comfortably. Perhaps Carlsen had an improvement. Karjakin trusted the champ’s preparation and played 12.Nc3 instead of 12.Bd2. The game went into dangerous waters with the tricky 15…f6 and 16…f5 thrusts. After 17.Neg5, the lines were forcing. After 17…Bxg5 18.Nxg5 h6 19.Ne6 Qd5! white was forced to essay 20.f3 Rfe8 21.Re5! In the ensuing trades the game simmered down to a draw.

So what does this mean? We go into another rest day with the scored tied 3-3 (six draws). Both players are happy with their positions, but are fans suffering from draw fatigue? Perhaps, but the tension had been high and even calling today’s game a “damp squib” would be too harsh. There was theoretical content. However, if you are selling this match to sponsors it will be difficult to ascribe to the spate of draws as acceptable results. If one looked at this as a boxing match, there have been lots of flurries and we can still get a knockout in the end.

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Video by Daniel King.

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Game 5: Another draw, but momentum to Karjakin!

Is Carlsen becoming unraveled?
Photo by Peter Doggers (

Magnus Carlsen started a social media trend #Trumpowsky with his first round 1.d4 Bg5 2.Bg5. When asked if the opening had to do with the election victory of Donald Trump, he said, “A little bit.” Well… the next day was “National Pizza Day,” but the Ruy Lopez appeared on the board. Sergey Karjakin could’ve played the Italian Game to keep with the theme, but of course the joke had already been taken too far. Today Carlsen played the Italian Game, or “Giuoco Piano” as a way to avoid the Berlin Defense. This has been a recent approach at the top level to venture into positions similar to a classical Ruy Lopez without having to face the stout Berlin. This game had its moments and there was some levity about the romantic opening.

Almost on cue, Carlsen uncorked the bughouse-like 14.Bxf7+ to avoid 14.Nxe4 d5 which equalizes immediately. However, after 14…Rxf7 15.Nxe4 d5 white’s position looked a bit artificial, but on 16.Nc5 h6 Carlsen played 17.Ra3! A nice ROVER maneuver that got the approval of GM Samuel Shankland. The idea is fairly obvious… swing the rook over and exert pressure on the e-file. That’s not what happened. It appears that Carlsen went awry after 17…Bf5 18.Ne5 Nxe5 19.dxe5 Qh4! Black’s pawn structure stood solid while white’s pawns were a hot mess. In fact, Karjakin was playing for the initiative.

If we are saying that Carlsen has outplayed Karjakin, yet is disappointed, it may wear on him more than Karjakin having to defend bad positions and holding. The Russians seems to be upbeat at the press conference while Carlsen sulks. Today it was the possibility of losing. “I was lucky not lose,” he stated. The key point came when Karjakin marched his king to the safety of the closed queenside and then banged out 42…d4 to open a crucial diagonal after 43.Qxd4 Bd5. GM Robert Hess suggested

“43…Rh8 needs to be examined at length. White’s queen was drawn off the second rank, which means he’s unable completely unable to get his rook to h2 once the major pieces form a battery. Reading engine evaluations often are misleading in such positions. While there is no question that Karjakin is the only one with winning chances and an edge for him comes as no surprise, even a reasonably high evaluation can fail to take the prospects of an opposite-colored bishop endgame into account. Even two pawns down, many such endgames are drawn, so there must always be context given to a number.”

Carlsen immediately counter-sacrificed a pawn to untangle his pieces and gained enough play to neutralize the position. At the press conference, Karjakin was in an upbeat mood in contrast to an agitated Carlsen who did not play his best chess today. The effect of this is a subject of discussion. After bungling two superior positions, Carlsen came close to losing today and seems to be losing his composure. With two whites in a row, Karjakin can really apply pressure with a win before the rest day. If Karjakin wins, it will be interesting to see how Carlsen responds.

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Press Conference (Game Five)

Video by ChessBase

Analyses of Game Five

Video by GM Daniel King

Full Broadcast of Game Five

Video by

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Game 4: Karjakin: Minister of Defense!

Superlatives were bandied about to describe Sergey Karjakin’s defensive prowess after holding Magnus Carlsen in a 94-move bout. Peter Doggers of quipped that Vladimir Putin should hire him as “Minister of Defense” after which Karjakin said (with a wry smile) he’d be honored. Certainly Karjakin was glad to have escaped yet another unpleasant outing and didn’t mind all the cliches in social media… overused yet again.

Many felt that this result may have helped Karjakin’s confidence since he has scored two moral victories, but Carlsen said without a tinge of doubt that he would rather be on the offensive than having to defend such positions. Certainly, the world champion has to be happy with the positions he has been getting and is showing his superiority in technical positions. Zambian GM Amon Simutowe opined,

I am beginning to think Karjakin might pose Carlsen some real challenges in this match. While Carlsen has controlled the games in the first four matches, I am not sure it’s a good sign if a player of Carlsen’s caliber fails to convert at least two games in which he has an advantage into a win. On the other hand, if the trend of Carlsen dominating the games continues, he should win the match.

For the third game in a row, there was a Ruy Lopez, this time an anti-Marshall system with 8.h3. This is an attempt to side step the uber-complicated sequences after 8.c3 d5!? 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 Bd6 12.Re1 Qh4. Karjakin has extensive experience with this theory.

Images of the epic Game Four (different angles)

Carlsen ponders move after Karjakin's 15.Qf3

Carlsen ponders move after Karjakin’s 15.Qf3

Carlsen ponders move after Karjakin's 15.Qf3

Carlsen ponders move after Karjakin's 15.Qf3

Carlsen ponders move after Karjakin's 17...Nc4

Carlsen takes a nap on the couch before Karjakin’s fateful 18th move.

Indeed the Russian was comfortable and appeared to have his bearing well into the complicated jigsaw of pieces typical of the Ruy Lopez middlegames. Then, the moment came… 18.Bxh6? Karjakin had been goaded into a gluttonous blunder which was curtly refuted with 18…Qc6!

Zoiks! The response on social media exploded. Now black simply threatens 19…gxh6 and 19…Nxe4. They say mistakes happen in bunches and Karjakin interpolated the move 19.Bxc4?! which ceded the b3- and d3-squares. The alternative 19.Bc1 was needed.

After 19…bxc4 20.Be3 Nxe4 black’s pieces got a huge dose of oxygen and Karjakin was on the brink of a dashing defeat. He had to get a grip on his position … and fast! One of the most admirable qualities of the challenger is to have the nerves of steel when under pressure. He opted to swap queens, but after 25.Ng4 Rb5 26.f3 the laser bishops were poised to slice his knight duo to shreds.

Karjakin started to venture into time pressure where one more slip could mean an immediate loss. He decided to temporarily jettison a pawn to activate his knight. After the 40th move, it was clear that white was going to suffer and Carlsen was the type who would play 100 moves. Tension continued to mount and after white’s 45.Nd1 black played 45…f4?

Carlsen thought his was winning easily, but 45…Be6! was the killer. “I don’t believe white can save this position,” said Karjakin in the press conference. This turned out to the the last chance for Carlsen and after another 40 moves, Karjakin held the fortress. Drats! Carlsen foiled again.

Postgame Press Conference

Video by World Chess

So… going into a rest day Russia has to be feeling good and Karjakin more confident. With each draw, Karjakin is going to increase his chances of a match upset. For Carlsen, he must be disappointed to have missed these opportunities. When Anand missed his big chance after Carlsen’s 26.Kd2?? (losing two pawns to 26…Nxe5!). Anand was visibly shaken and went down 12 moves later.

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Analyses of Game Four

Video by GM Daniel King

Video by IM Kassa Korley

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Game 3: Battle Royale!

Video by World Chess (Facebook).

After two rather humdrum affairs in Carlsen-Karjakin match, the third round of the World Championship match had about as many twists and turns as … you guessed it … a roller coaster. While the cliche was a bit overused in social media, it was certain an appropriate analogy after many had groaned after the game ventured into the Berlin Defense.

Carlsen’s 10.Re2!? drew many a furrowed brow amongst commentators and spectators. The world champion quipped that it was really a “fingerfehler” and he moved the rook back to e1 on the next move. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

With the Berlin’s reputation of being nearly impregnable, Carlsen deviated from 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 (avoiding volumes of theory) with 5.Re1. Carlsen then played what appeared to be a novelty in 10.Re2!? when in fact the move has been played a couple of times. The idea, pioneered by GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, is to trade rooks on the e2-square after …Re8 and or double rooks with Rae1.

Fast forward. While the game appeared to be drawish, dynamic play ensued. There was even GM Denes Boros‘ suggestion of 17.g4!? which evoked a smile from Carlsen. “It’s very nice!” said Carlsen. After a lull in action and the shuffling of pieces the game started to heat up. White played 25.f4! setting up a nice structure that became apparent after 30.Rg1.

GM Yasser Seirawan stated that 30…Bh6! was needed to keep white at bay. With pressure mounting, Karjakin cracked after 31…c5? Carlsen played energetically…

…and after 32.Rg8! Kf7 33.Rg2. Black’s pawns have also been compromised and after 33…cxd4 34.Nxf5 white was playing for two results instead of one.

In the next ten moves, Karjakin was reduced to defense… and defend he did! However, there was a blunder with 61…Bg5?? which after 62.Rd4! Rd3+ 63.Kg4 gives white winning chances again. In order to stave off a slow death after 67.Re6, Karjakin donated his bishop and went to liquidate all the pawns after 67…Rxh3.

Ceremonial first move by Woody Harrelson. Photo by AGON Limited (from official broadcast)

Sergey Karjakin discussing crucial moment before 67.Re6.
Photo by AGON Limited (from official broadcast)

His tenacious defense paid off as Carlsen play 72.Rb7?? (72.Rf7+!) throwing away the win. The game ended with black’s h-pawn getting menacingly close to the queening square and trumping white’s extra piece. They repeated moves and sued for peace. A gut-wrenching, heart-pumping affair!

In the end, Carlsen was very disappointed that he didn’t earn the full point, but Karjakin found many resources and his energy held up. Both GMs Teymour Rajabov and Ruslan Ponomariov had a debate on whether a draw was better for Karjakin or Carlsen.

It goes without saying that Karjakin is relieved to have escaped with a half-point. Carlsen, on the other hand, is most likely frustrated with what he discovered after checking the game. Will Karjakin apply pressure to the disappointed champion? Absolutely!

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Video by Daniel King.

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WCC signposts outside of Fulton Market. Photo by Albert Silver

WCC signposts outside of Fulton Market.
Photo by Albert Silver

The match continued today with a regularity that only chess players would recognized. The initial pre-tournament excitement has worn off only to be replaced by the excitement of the twists and turns of the match. What would it be today? Sergey Karjakin was playing white, but we knew the game wouldn’t go 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5… one time is enough for one championship match.

As the game progressed out of the opening, Susan Polgar mentioned that today was “National Pizza Day” so maybe they should play a Sicilian. It turns out the game went 1.e4 e5 so no Sicilian, but after 2.Nf3 Nc6 they could’ve still played an Italian Game with 3.Bc4. So much for the sideline jokes… 3.Bb5 was played. Tension was thick and throngs of spectators showed up. While enthusiasm was high, fans seemed to be unable to get an optimal view.

Chess enthusiast and promoter Adia Onyango was on site. Photo by Adia Onyango

Chess enthusiast and promoter Adia Onyango was in high spirits.
Photo by Adia Onyango.

What occurred in the game was the Ruy Lopez, but after 3…a6 there would be no Berlin! Carlsen had played the solid defense regularly in the two matches against Viswanathan Anand (eight times) and thwarted any initiative by white. Was this merely a psychological ploy? One of the guests on the telecast was Bobby Fischer biographer Frank Brady who noted the similarities between the 1972 and the Carlsen-Karjakin. He recounted a number of stories including Fischer’s quip, “I don’t believe in psychology. I only believe in good moves.” Hopefully we will see good moves during the match.

A key moment appeared in the game when white played 6.d3 eschewing possibilities of mainlines in the Marshall Gambit, Breyer, Zaitsev, and Chigorin. Then later Karjakin released the tension with 18.dxe5. Many felt that this move was an unspoken draw offer. They ventured into a “queenless middlegame” but by move 25, Karjakin had applied pressure with 25.Ra6. After 25…Rc8 26.b4 Re6?! Ruslan Ponomariov had this to say, “With 26… c5, Carlsen could have posed more practical problems 27. Nxb5 cxb4 28. Nd6 Re6 29. Nxc8 Rxa6 gives White something to think about.” After 27.Rb1 c5 the game petered out to a draw on move 33. The plot thickens!

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

As far as the venue, it was a successful, but the there is still the issue of how to manage the spectators. There was the aforementioned crowds, but also the lack of space for the press area. Dennis McGrath of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, “Chess fans from far and wide flooded into the sold-out World Chess Championship match in New York City Saturday and they were surprised — and many were furious — at how little they actually saw of the two grandmasters competing for the title.” (article) ChessBase journalist Albert Silver gave an account of his experience.

Unfortunately, the media room was so packed that not only was I unable find a seat at a table, but there was not even room on the floor. This caused no small amount of consternation, since although there was certainly WiFi in other areas of the venue such as the Café, there are no electric plugs to power a laptop. So where did I work? From the production room with makeup! Needless to say, I was not allowed and was directed to the media area, but I explained my quandary and appealed to them. “look at how small I am! I take up no space!” — laughter and I was made a small room at the makeup table. My warmest thanks to the production team for being such a sport about it.

There are two spectator areas: one for normal visitors, and the other for the VIPs. They both share a space with glass panes that offer views to either side of the playing area. The space for the ‘common’ spectators is a dark black room, standing room only, with a cordon separating the viewers from the glass panes. The panes are also darkened, no doubt in such a way as to not have the players distracted by the spectators, but the side effect is also a seriously reduced visibility making it seem as if one were viewing it with strong sunglasses. As there is also a healthy distance between the panes and the playing table, it is not unfair to say it is much less than idea, especially with no chairs of any kind. (article)

Rest day before Game Three on Monday. Carlsen was asked what he planned to do for the rest day and he mentioned that it was a bit early for rest and that he really wanted to play tomorrow. Karjakin on the other hand, preferred the rest day. It is probably more beneficial for the Russian as he continues to acclimatize to the atmosphere. However, it is quite strange that on the weekend there is a rest day for the players.

We can assess this with a “?” or maybe a “!” Good move because it will give the AGON organizers a chance to recover. To pay $75 for a ticket and not be able to watch the action in a theater is a major shortcoming in a city that is more than equipped to handle this. It is most likely that these organizational mistakes will be cleaned up, but it would’ve been good to capitalize on the weekend for ticket revenue.

Video by Daniel King.

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Game One of the World Chess Championship got underway in New York at the Fulton Market Building in the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. The atmosphere was vibrant and drinks were flowing in the VIP section, but many of the fans complained about the ticket prices ($75 for general admission) and the viewing conditions for spectators. Those who paid for the online package experienced problems in the beginning, but they were rectified within an hour. There were those who complained about the commentary, but Judit Polgar did a creditable job with a few interesting guests such as Harvard economist GM Ken Rogoff and Peter Doggers of

Ceremonial first move by Woody Harrelson. Photo by AGON Limited (from official broadcast)

Ceremonial first move by Woody Harrelson.
Photo by AGON Limited (from official broadcast)

The first round started with the ceremonial move by actor Woody Harrelson, who played 1.d4 for Carlsen. Chess fans knew there was going to be a connection made between the recent U.S. Presidential election and the World Championship match. That notion was reinforced when during Magnus Carlsen continued after 1… Nf6 with 2.Bg5! known as the Trompowsky Attack. The viewers peppered Twitter and chats with a barrage of puns. “Trumpowksy” was one of the more popular barbs.

You had some journalists trash-talking over who came up with it first. Not that serious guys. Besides Mike Klein tweeted about “Trumpowsky” a year ago. When asked about whether Trump had anything to do with his opening choice, Carlsen replied, “A little bit.” It unclear what he meant. Henrik Carlsen didn’t rule out the opening being a joke, but it would be highly improbable that the World Champion would go to such extreme for a joke. Nevertheless, everyone had fun with the analogy. Sergey Karjaking would only agree that the opening of Game Two would be different!

World Chess Championship (Game 1)

Photo by AGON Limited (from official broadcast)

World Chess Championship (Game 1) also had the action after winning
a court case to relay the moves live.
Photo by

Carslen thought he would get a “playable” but nothing spetacular. He wanted to find a position that he could not lose, but could win. This game had an imbalance in the position with a very slight advantage for white. Carlsen was critical of his 27.f4 after which Black equalized. One brought up an instructive ending with colors reversed.

In the end, there was hardly anything there in the end and Karjakin earned a comfortable draw. The press conference yielded no insight to what the future of the match will hold. Karjakin refused to give any chess insight on his approach. Odd-makers give him little chance when in actuality, the longer the match goes tied, the better his chances become.

Notes by GM Amon Simutowe (The Chess Drum); PDF download

Video by Daniel King.

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In the lead up to the 2016 World Chess Championship there are any predictions being made. Both and ChessBase pundits give almost no chance to challenger Sergey Karjakin against Magnus Carlsen. This wasn’t enough for former FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov to say,

I think Carlsen is the stronger player and a clear favorite in this match. But fortune often smiles on Karjakin. At any rate, after the Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections nothing can surprise me.

So we have one who is giving Karjakin a remote chance. Personally, I am giving Sergey Karjakin a near 50-50 chance here. Why? Matches are very different. Too many predictions are based on ratings, Carlsen +3 score, a particular game and the fact that Carlsen is objectively stronger. However, as you see in many sports the post-season is entirely different. History is full of upsets and we have just seen one of the biggest competitive upsets in history when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the U.S. Presidency. Is the Trump analogy appropriate? How did Trump defeat 16 seasoned politicians? How did he beat an 30-year seasoned politician who was the odds-on favorite according to all the polls?

There is no serious way to compare Karjakin to Trump’s divisive tactics, but the Russian also overcame serious odds to win the Candidates. How did Karjakin defeat a number of undisputed world championship contenders in the Candidates? In the final analysis, Karjakin was the most consistent in his play, his was emotionally steady and his preparation was outstanding.

In this match, Karjakin only has to focus on one opponent and will be better prepared than in a tournament of multiple players. However, the biggest factor for me is that Karjakin is very steady emotionally… almost Sphinx-like. Not quite Gata Kamsky, but certainly less expressive than Carlsen. The World Champion has to avoid distractions of New York where he has many ties. If Karjakin breaks ahead it will put Carlsen under pressure he has never seen and he could go down another game in the short match. Carlsen is visibly rankled when he loses.

Karjakin has nothing to lose and will be very relaxed with the full weight of the Russian colossus. Carlsen has every right to be concerned about external forces becoming involved as Russia has sought to reclaim the world championship for the past decade without success. So who wins? Carlsen is the odds-on favorite, but in a short match, Karjakin has much better chance to win than the polls state! Whomever wins first has the obvious psychological advantage. If it is Karjakin who wins early, I would give him a 50-50 chance to win. Carlsen must avoid tiebreaks.

~Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

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2016 World Chess Championship
Manhattan, New York, USA (November 11th-30th)

Official Site:

Carlsen retains title!

Dear Chess Fans!

On the heels of the stunning campaign victory by President-Elect Donald J. Trump, the World Chess Championships (#worldchess2016) will be officially opened by FIDE and AGON. New York has been the scene of a raucous campaign and hopefully Americans will look for a nice diversion to take their minds off of such a contentious and bitter debate. It is interesting to note that this match starts with bitter feelings between the players. Perhaps WCC will need a controversy to get any media attention.

AGON CEO Ilya Merenzon will certainly be looking for any opportunity to gain traction in the media space, but there have already been complaints about the website. The biggest media coup has been a countdown on the Huffington Post. However, AGON has attracted heavyweight backers such as BMW and Four Seasons Hotels. In addition, chess24 has announced that they will carry the games live in contravention to AGON filing for an injunction. Nevertheless, the audience stands to be in the tens of millions.

The matchup between Carlsen and Karjakin will not have the drawing power but there is a war of opposites: the dashing Norwegian bachelor from the West versus the rather ordinary family man from the east. These characteristics come front and center in their styles and Carlsen tends to take more risks without any predictable patterns of play while Karjakin is very steady, surgical and emotionally unflappable. Carlsen has never faced a deficit and it will be interesting to see how he reacts when falling behind. He has a tendency to become emotionally unhinged when he loses.

Since Carlsen has ascended to the #1 player he won his first world championship beating Anand in 2013 and then in a return match (after Anand surprisingly qualified) defended his crown in 2014.

Sergey Karjakin left his native Ukraine for Russian in quest of better training and opportunities to challenge for the world championship. In March of this year, he surprisingly bested a strong field of competitors earning the right to challenge Carlsen. None of the odd-makers are picking Karjakin (#9 in the world) to win the crown and only a 21-31% chance of victory. The chess pundits have also be decidedly one-sided without even one choosing Karjakin to have a chance.

Sergey Karjakin receiving the baton from Viswanathan Anand.
Photo by Amrita Mokal.

Magnus Carlsen

After Trump’s improbable victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, perhaps there is something brewing in New York. Clinton supporters relaxed and assumed victory just as the Carlsen supporters are doing the same. Can Karjakin catch Carlsen napping? Of course, Carlsen may have learned a lesson from the U.S. Presidential campaign. Stay tuned!

The 12-game format will begin tomorrow on the 11th and include a total of seven rest days with the tie-breaks on 30th (if needed) and the closing on the next day. There will be ample coverage from many sites with the official site offering extended functionality of analysis and live commentary done in many languages. Judit Polgar has signed on to do commentary as well as a number of guest Grandmasters.

Thus, thousands have signed up for full access to online coverage. The online options start at US$15. Tickets to view that action live range from US$75-US$1200 with the entire premium package going for US$3,000. The match will take place at the Fulton Market Building – Seaport District, NYC (11 Fulton Street, New York, NY 10038). There will be limited seating with capacity for 300 guests.

The opening ceremony will be Thursday, November 10th and the first game of the 12-game match will be the following day beginning with the closing of the match on November 30th. The games begin at 14:00EST or 20:00 CET.Follow the action!

Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum

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GM Pontus Carlsson

GM Pontus Carlsson returned to Czech Republic from the U.S. after competing in the Millionaire Open. He stated in an interview that he wanted to support Maurice Ashley vision for chess advancement and had very interesting suggestions. It is unclear if he has the same ideas for the Czech tournaments, but he must certainly enjoy winning them.

Carlsson entered the Pankrác Cup as the 4th seed behind GM Peter Michalík amongst a spattering of titled players. While the Swedish-Colombian national does more coaching, he plays occasionally and is still capable of his signature attacking style. Carlsson got off to a nice start with a snappy win over Miroslav Šmíd which ended in a nice combo.

After scoring wins in his first three matches, Carlsson faced Michalík with the Black pieces and trotted out his beloved pet Dragon. When Michalík spurned a draw by repetition, he was soon routed.

Carlsson about to unleash Dragon against GM Peter Michalík.
Photo courtesy of

With this main competition out of the way Carlsson drew his last three games including the penultimate round in which he had chances in a 4+3 rook ending (same side), but it was drawn after 83 moves. In the last round, Carlsson mentioned that he was much better against FM Svatopluk Svoboda and stated, “When he offered draw, I would not have taken it if it was not for the fact that it gave me clear 1st.” Nevertheless, it was a deserving win for Carlsson as he ended on an undefeated 5.5/7.

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Pontus Carlsson (Facebook):

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Right in the midst of a contentious Presidential election, the American populace has been fixated on the candidacy of Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton. It has been such a bitter election, that most other news stories have taken a back seat. This week in New York, the World Chess Championship will begin in Manhattan and the American public has hardly noticed. After Tuesday’s election, we will be hearing the post-election analysis complete with chess puns and analogies. Will the championship get lost in election aftermath?

Well… maybe America should focus on the real chess match. While the chess match between the incumbent Magnus Carlsen (25-year old Norwegian) and challenger Sergey Karjakin (26-year old Russian) is not likely to have the drama of name-calling and fist-fights, there are already minor controversies brewing. Carlsen recently expressed a fear of Russian hackers who he feels may compromise his match plans the way the Russians have affected the Presidential campaign with alleged hacking of Clinton’s e-mail. Will this be another “spygate” as we have seen in other matches?

Unlikely, but what is the angle for this match? How will it be marketed? Thus, far marketing themes have run a bit thin. There is neither Fabiano Caruana nor Hikaru Nakamura (two New York bred chess players) to give the match a powerful subplot. Of course New York was chosen prior to the Candidates qualifier and AGON’s CEO Ilya Merenzon stated that the site was chosen without regard to nationality of players. Thus, competing are the two child prodigies who have very different personas. It will be interesting see how AGON will appeal to the mass media outlets in New York.

The Carlsen-Karjakin match will have its own battle for the media attention.
Photos by AGON Limted.

AGON, the organizing body, has sole rights to package the match to the public and hope to make the broadcast a pay-per-view bonanza. The media rights have come with some legal issues resulting in a case concerning the Candidates Tournament hosted by AGON. Instead of trying to control the action from their own site, AGON has offered a widget as part of an affiliate program so international websites can carry the games.

This feature will only provide the game moves, the times on the clocks and an analysis engine. For those who pay the online package, AGON promises a state-of-the-art production. Its website will include a live video stream with multiple camera angles, 360-degree Virtual Reality, and live commentary. However, the media machine will have to be ramped up with all the political noise of the American mass media.

Judit Polgar has signed on to do commentary as well as a number of guest Grandmasters. Thus, thousands have signed up for full access to online coverage. The online options start at US$15. Tickets to view that action live range from US$75-US$1200 with the entire premium package going for US$3,000. The match will take place at the Fulton Market Building – Seaport District, NYC (11 Fulton Street, New York, NY 10038). There will be limited seating with capacity for 300 guests.

The opening ceremony will be Thursday, November 10th and the first game of the 12-game match will be the following day beginning with the closing of the match on November 30th. The games begin at 14:00EST or 20:00 CET.

Official Site:
Match Regulations:

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U.S. Chess Life (October 2016)

FM William Morrison has traveled a long rode. From the streets of Brooklyn through the “Black Bear” legend to the battle grounds of War Memorial Plaza in Maryland, the player known as the “Exterminator” has made a mark with his powerful play. Yet he has also inspired with his mannerable and humble persona. At the 2016 World Open, he scored 6.5/9, an IM norm, his 3rd of record.

After the tournament, he told The Chess Drum that he had earned the IM title. However, he was still trying to verify his norms and recount his rating history. His IM title application is being filed. It has been a long journey for Morrison who helped GM Maurice Ashley in his own journey to Grandmaster. Morrison mentioned that he is striving to reach the same lofty goal in the next couple of years.

Josh Colas playing the legendary William “The Exterminator” Morrison at 2011 World Open. Both recently annotated games for the October 2016 Chess Life magazine for the 2016 World Open. Both earned IM norms. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

In the last round of the World Open, he faced seven-time U.S. Women’s Champion GM Irina Krush in a must-win for the norm. He told The Chess Drum that he had been working on the c3 Sicilian and had come up with some home-cooking. In the following game (which was published in October 2016 issue of Chess Life), he annotated his norm clinching win for a World Open feature by Jamaal Abdul-Alim.

Analyzing the win over seven-time women's champion GM Irina Krush.

Analyzing the win over seven-time women’s champion GM Irina Krush.

The game came to an abrupt ending after 29.Nf5! exf5.
The Exterminator was pleasantly surprised!
Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

Interview with FM William Morrison (5:58 minutes)

FM Josh Colas has been making progress since he days as a promising scholastic player. Now a freshman at Webster with one GM norm and one IM norm, he desires to earn his GM title before he graduates. He will certainly have ample opportunities. In the game featured below, he toppled GM Gergely Antal after being in a totally losing position.

Webster University’s New York “Dream Team” FM Justus Williams, Shawn Swindell, FM Josh Colas at 2016 World Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Interview with FM Josh Colas (9:04 minutes)

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GM Maurice Ashley on the red carpet.
Photo by David Llada

The last few weeks have been a bit melancholy for Millionaire Chess fans. In an interview with The Chess Drum, GM Maurice Ashley reflected on the tournament, the challenges and the triumphs. The tournament encouraged a vigorous debate and introduced a number of innovations that will hopefully become a standard in future tournaments.

While the tournament did not draw the numbers anticipated the tournament was enjoyed by those who participated and will be discussed for years to come. As one of the MC VIP members and as the journalist who has written dozens of articles about MC, I wanted to give my reflections of the third edition (won by GM Dariusz Swiercz).

After the second edition ended, there was a long period of uncertainty whether there would be an MC3. Then there was an announcement made that there would be an MC3 and March 1st would reveal a scaled-down model. That model would be one in which the prize fund would be $510,000, 60% of which is guaranteed. The press release added

With the drop in prize fund, there will naturally be a drop in entry fee. The new price of participation will be $549, with an Early Bird special of $499. With the discounted rate and the return to prizes down to 50 places(!), MC is confident of bringing in many more new players, a development that would bode well for raising the stakes once again in future events. While it’s hard to tell the perfect prize to entry fee ratio that will both attract the largest group of players as well as be enticing to future sponsors, MC is committed to maintaining a high quality event for all our clients, both past and future.

So, what happened? In the final analysis, MC3 did not meet its projections. When I interviewed Ashley last week, he was at a loss to explain the lack of support given the lower entry fees. “I don’t have an answer,” was his response. The final number was 400+ starting at $499 entry fee. The previous two MC tournaments drew 550+ starting at $1000.00 entry fee. Yes… MC3 drew less in a part of the country that is accessible by car from perhaps the most populous chess areas in the country. Despite checking the MC site and seeing 400 entries, I got excited as MC co-founder Amy Lee sent me photos showing Maurice setting up the playing venue.

Setting up for the big event!
Photo by Amy Lee

I started my morning on October 5th finishing the last bit of packing. I went to the university to teach three classes, returned home to scoop up my luggage and got to the airport for my 6:42pm flight. As I waited in the airport for my first leg to Atlantic City, I got a horrible text photo from Amy at 6:12pm with no message:

I almost dropped my phone. When I asked what happened, Amy said,

Hospital for 3 hrs now. Ultrasound came back. It’s gallstones. Can’t get out today… I feel so sad :(


OK… not a good way to start the trip. At 7:57pm, I received a text message from Rodney Thomas about Amy. Word had spread quickly. “Amy is amazing. Blood stream full of morphine, and she is still fully engaged. lol” I was not familiar with the gallstone procedure, but I felt she would recover. However, I had a feeling the MC tournament would not be the same without her presence at the opening ceremony.

A couple of years back, Amy asked me about some possible venues for future events. Maurice and Amy decided on Atlantic City. I was willing to try it out despite the fact that I detest casinos. I landed into Philadelphia at 11:17pm and took an hour-long limousine ride to New Jersey. The driver was courteous and had all types of snacks in the back. We made a pit stop at a convenience store and I got a couple of 50.7 ounce bottles of Fiji water for my room. There is no way I was paying $4.00 for 16-ounce bottle of water. Planet Hollywood in Vegas had such premium water in the rooms. I’m sure it tastes exactly the same.

Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
(Click for larger view)

Even though I had a Diamond Club Card to Harrah’s I got in the regular line but it went fast. I checked in got to my room and was pleasantly surprised. There wasn’t much of a view, but the room was nice and didn’t have to pay for Internet as a Diamond member. As a journalist, this is a necessary evil sometimes. At the recent Florida State Championship, I was dropping $12.99 a day for Internet.

On the next day, I had posted a brief on MC3 at 8:09am along with a photo of the setup team at 8:24am. I was late, but I got something up. There was the opening breakfast which was down the hall from the red carpet booth David Llada had set up. One of the redeeming qualities of the MC tournament is everyone’s desire to look nice. In what chess tournament have you attended where there was the case? It was pleasant to see everyone dressing up and showing respect for chess. There were some very creative expressions.

WIM Carolina Blanco of Venezuela … and she’s an orthodontist!

Nice photo of Satvik Reddy and his mother Madhavi Reddy who traveled from Jacksonville, Florida to be at MC3! Fellow Jax resident Anthony Coleman told The Chess Drum, “Satvik is a very talented up and coming player from the Jacksonville area.” Thanks for the tip!

Having fun yet?

Great photo of the lovely couple!

Great photo of the lovely couple!

Courtney “Mr. Big Stuff” Barnes
Red carpet photos were taken by David Llada.

So Thursday morning, people were gathering and the mood was feastive. I saw two African qualifiers FM Daniel Anwuli (Nigeria) and IM Daniel Jere (Zambia), both of whom I interviewed (Anwuli and Jere). I proceeded to register and someone tapped me on the shoulder… GM Pontus Carlsson of Sweden! I hadn’t seen him since the Istanbul Olympiad in 2012. We joked about his jet lag while waiting to be registered. The breakfast was in full swing and it was in a more sociable buffet style with standing tables. It was easier for players to mingle and get into a positive mood instead of the sit-down setup from the two previous MC tournaments.

The Opening, Day One
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.
All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

Ashley opened the tournament graciously thanking all the attendees for coming and supporting Millionaire Chess events. I actually missed the opening comments and national anthem because the security couldn’t figure out if I should be able to double as a player and a journalist. What I also missed was Amy’s cherry presence, but Maurice was patrolling the hall like a military general.

There was only one upset in the first round with FM Rico Salimbagat taking down GM Alejandro Ramirez. Filipino power! GMs Christian Chirila and Magesh Panchanathan were held by FM Lim Zhou Ren and Sanjay Ghatti, respectively. The second round also went mostly by seedings. Regardless, MC3 was on full blast!

During tournaments, it’s easy to forget what the outdoors looks like. In fact, that is the way they design casinos. However, I needed to smell the flowers… literally. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Between rounds I decided to take a taxi over to the adjoining town called Ventnor in search of a vegan restaurant called “Greens and Grains.” I found it on my Happy Cow app and it said OPEN. When I got there, they were closed for the season!! So the taxi driver headed back to Atlantic City while I checked my app for another location. I found a Lisa’s Pizza that had some tempting items on the menu. The taxi driver circled back and dropped me off. I ordered the best edamame falafel sandwich ever.

Edamame falafel sandwich with spicy red curry sauce, pickled shallots
and red cabbage from Lisa’s on 5210 Atlantic Avenue, Ventnor, NJ (menu).

Maybe it was worth the trip. Ventnor is a rather upscale town as you can see by some of the houses. On the way back, the taxi driver told many houses had to be lifted several feet due to the threat of flooding. There is a booming industry in “house-lifting” by the seaboard. Really nice to get out of the casino.

Photos from Ventor, New Jersey
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.
All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

Personally, I got 50% in the tournament while taking photos and conducting interviews. I tried an experiment and played 1.Nf3 in each white game. In the last round, I wanted to play another English or Catalan, but I couldn’t resist facing the Sicilian against a long-time Filipino master, Oscar Tan. He was the 4th Filipino I had faced in the tournament. Here is the game which was somewhat satisfying despite some errors.

While I didn’t get a chance to compete in Millionaire Monday, I did get to play some interesting games including one against Jones Murphy. The tournament overall was exciting and I was able to conduct ten interviews and another with Ashley a week after the event. My subjects all gave their reflections. Here are my my personal reflections.

My five best memories were…

  1. …having coffee with Amy Lee before I left. We truly missed the presence of Amy Lee at MC3. Her energy and infectious smile literally added power to the event. After her emergency surgery, she stayed in her room the entire time. I had only seen her in a wheelchair after being released. After the tournament ended, I texted her and she requested coffee the next morning. We meet and she was walking much slower than normal. She gets coffee and I predictably get an orange juice. Seeing her in pain was not a good sight, but treating her to coffee was the least I could do. This 30-minute visit was the highlight of my event and Amy could never know how much she has done for chess. Thank you Amy!

    Me with Amy days after her surgery.

  2. …hanging out with GM Pontus Carlsson. If you’ve never met Pontus, you are missing a good conversation and a laugh. I had communicated with him for years before meeting him at Dresden Olympiad in 2008. I last met him at the Istanbul Olympiad in 2012. Of historical important was his meeting Maurice Ashley for the first time. The trip was not cheap, but he wanted to support Maurice in his project. The Swedish national actually spends a lot of time in the Czech Republic these days.

    He embarked on his first trip to the U.S. and complained about the New York airport. He’s not the first! Suffering from jet lag, he was self-deprecating about how badly he played, but it was good enough to make it to the playoff (under-2550) to qualify for Millionaire Monday. I interviewed him at around 3:00am and he made some interesting suggestions for future events. What do we need to make chess watchable? What is the answer to this immortal question? Heart rate monitors! You have to hear this to get the context. 16:54 minutes

  3. …battling with the Filipinos. I traveled to the Philippines in January on a faculty tour, but was unable to find the chess club. I suppose I made up for it at MC3 and should brush up on my Tagalog. I played four Filipinos with an even score {Mario Rebano (2132), 1/2; Ramon Manon-Og (2181), 0; Florentino Inumerable (2090), 1/2; Oscar Tan (2157), 1}. Another Filipino player Ernesto Malazeret (whom I lost to at MC2) said, “You beat my friend (Oscar)!” Every time he would tease me. He said I would not get revenge on him in this tournament! Maybe next time, my friend. :-) There is something very endearing about the spirit of Filipino players and they are great fighters! Right Manny?

    Philippines Philippines Philippines

    FM Rico Salimbagat, GM Mark Paragua,
    GM Oliver Barbosa and Expert Mario Rebano
    Photo by David LLada

  5. …analyzing with Adia Onyango. There are some chess players whose passion you can feel immediately. Adia is one of those players. She is a very active organizer in the New York area and a staunch supporter of the Millionaire Chess events. This past summer she eclipsed 2000 USCF rating after dedicating herself to a dietary and exercise regiment. At the tournament, she wanted me to guess the best move in a position from her game featuring an Arabian mating pattern. Enjoyed this session!

    Adia Onyango analyzes.

  6. …playoff matches!

    While Millionaire Monday was the marquee event, I enjoyed the playoff matches even more. Perhaps it was because most of the players had not started leaving Atlantic City yet and the hall was packed. The spectators were watching games at all levels the tension was as thick as pea soup. Take a look!

  7. Photo from MC Playoffs!
    CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

    There were other highlights of the event in my eyes, but the tournament was the best of the three in terms of organization. There were some pairing issues, but they were minimal compared to the debacle at MC2. Overall, there was a festive spirit although not at the level of MC1. MC1 has the most exciting environment, MC2 had the best media coverage and MC3 had the best organization. How would I rate some of the following areas?

The five areas of focus are…

  1. Tournament Management… Maurice and Amy worked hard to make this tournament a success. One can sense that there was not the same excitement leading up to the event and there was little media buzz. There was also not much discussion in social media as there was in the first two. The idea of a scaled-down event had the effect of brand erosion… no longer a millionaire event, the prize fund was nearly halved and there was no MC Square game show. However, Harrah’s was a great host and provided more exclusivity in terms of the tournament. Players did not have to run through smoke-filled casinos to navigate the complex.

    Who is this smiling gentleman? It’s Bruce Tendai Mubayiwa who came all the way from South Africa to help organize and publicize the event. Bruce served as the event planner, was courteous and seemed to be enjoying himself while serving the players. The security checkpoint was again well-managed as players had become accustomed to the procedure. The phone check was also very efficient. Amy had done a wonderful job in setting the apparatus in motion.

    In her absence, the tournament ran smoothly and there were none of the obvious hiccups that occurred in previous edition. Repairings occurred a couple of times and were rectified swiftly. There was the case of Courtney Barnes who was mistakenly put in the under-2000 section while having reached 2000+ in past year. He scored 6/7, but when the error was discovered, he was put in the under-2200 playoff. A controversy ensued, but it was handled to the satisfaction of all.

  2. Tournament Decorum… The playing hall was more spacious and had a European feel. There was ample room between tables and each player had a table and elbow room. The hall did not have the coziness or aesthetic appeal as the previous two editions, but it was player-friendly venue. The World Champion banner remain a nice touch and I glanced at Anatoly Karpov’s banner a number of times. He was the first player I studied with great depth.

    The common area was wide…

    … and made a great place for socializing!

    Viewing room for top games. IM Yaacov Norowitz on right.

    The color purple certainly exudes class, royalty and sets a positive tone. The world champion banners were again a signature look, but the Millionaire Monday room did not have the touch of designer Eric Lee this time. There were some noticeable cutbacks in order to cut back on expenditures.

  3. Fun Factor… No pool party. No comedians. No massage chairs. No bughouse/pizza party. No fun, right? Wrong! Many of the fringe benefits were gone, but the tournament still had an enjoyable atmosphere, centering exclusively on chess. Missing was the Confession Booth and the webcast, a $100,000 expenditure. I was standing behind a young player who asked “Where is the Confession Booth?” Of course it had become a big hit at the Sinquefield Cup and was featured at MC2.

    Even Maurice Ashley found time for a battle of blitz.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    The Bopalas from Montreal, Canada.
    Photo by David Llada.

    CM Wachania Wachira (Kenya), IM Daniel Jere (Zambia), Daaim Shabazz (USA), IM Oladapo Adu (Nigeria), IM Farai Mandizha (Zimbabwe). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    The red carpet is definitely a fun attraction giving players a chance to express their personality and immortalize the event with friends and loved ones. The best-dressed contest was again fun, but it appeared that players did not need an incentive to dress nicely. It was refreshing to see so many players looking smart in their suits, dresses and fine wear. I never won a prize in the three events, but there were some interesting winners like the gentleman who wore what appeared to be a Maharajah-inspired outfit in the first round!

  4. Tournament regulations and prizes… Customers spoke and the company listened. The time control for MC3 went back to 40/2, SD/30 and it appeared to make players a bit happier. In my MC2 experience, I was in time pressure every single round and ended on a miserable -2. The prize fund was not 50-deep as in MC1, but they were still generous enough for a high percentage of winners. The Open section had 50 prizes (with prizes for U2550 and U2400), the U2200, U2000, U1800 had 40, the U1600 had 50 (with prizes for U1400 and U1200). There was also $6,000 in special prizes including mixed doubles, best dressed and women’s prizes in each section. There was also a brand new “Redemption Jackpot” which allowed players to sign up and have only the last three rounds count. One will have to look at the numbers to see if that prize structure provided enough incentive.

  5. Media Coverage… David Llada has quickly developed a reputation as the world’s top chess photographer. His photos capture so many different expressions and the photo he took of me (below) won plaudits in social media circles.

    MC’s social media was run by Lennart Ootes and carried the games live, but there were no daily reports on the action. In my experience in covering tournaments, it is extremely difficult to have the level of quality coverage without dedicated media … or attending media organizations. For some reason, major websites and organizations skipped out on MC3, a big disappointment. Perhaps, the Isle of Man tournament got most of the attention as many MC2 players were competing there. I was able to post a couple of reports, but when you are also competing in the tournament, it’s an untenable task.

Synopsis… Neither Amy nor Maurice were pleased with the turnout and were at a loss for why there was such a shortfall in entries.

Four hundred players from all over the world flew in to compete. The number of participants was well short of the projections and expectations, which was a big disappointment for the organizing team. The low attendance may have been due to various reasons, the chief of which possibly being the lack of a 100% guaranteed prize fund. Given the enormous risk after 2 years of significant losses, the decision to lower the prize fund may have been logical from a business standpoint. However, despite the dramatic reduction of the entry fee, far less players participated than in previous years.

There was a $300,000 guaranteed prize fund for started as a $499 entry fee. In the end, there was a high percentage of winners. I scored 50% in the under-2200 and won a prize! For the tournament to be on the eastern seaboard and not draw the crowd from New York, Philadelphia, DC and the rest of the east coast is puzzling. While one may think that a lower turnout showed lack of interest, it may be that chess players are attracted to the idea of a high stakes tournament and were disappointed at the reduction of the prize fund. Even at $300,000 prize fund, it is much higher than many tournaments held in the U.S.

Maurice and Amy embarked on an ambitious mission to change the face of chess and awarded $2,306,000 in three tournaments. Despite this effort, there are some who wanted MC to fail. One high profile tournament director (initials TJ) posted that he hoped it was the last one. That attitude does nothing to aid chess and we are not improving the chess culture in the U.S. by wishing failure on a chess event.

IMs Akshat Chanda and Awonder Liang battle!
MC3 provided another venue for talented youth to shine…

… and for players like FM Alisa Melekhina to earn norms.
She supported all three tournaments…

… as did foreign players like GM Zhou Jianchao of China.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz

In my interview with Maurice, he compared the enthusiasm of chess in U.S. with that of Europe and he stated that it was like night and day. The chess community in the U.S. is experiencing a boom, but there is no culture being built. Future tournaments will be able to take the best from their three MC editions and create a something much better than what we are used to.

In their wrap-up of the third edition of Millionaire Chess, they offered,

“Certain things could have been improved at the tournament, and at each event we tried to build on the successes and lessons from the previous one,” said Ms. Lee. “With MC3 we were working towards the best Millionaire Chess Open yet but unfortunately this did not happen in terms of number of participants. We are not able to make any kind of commitment regarding MC4 at this time unless we can secure a corporate sponsor. We are very grateful to all the players, fans and everyone else who supported Millionaire Chess since its inception.”

Amy Lee and Maurice Ashley present a triumphant
Wesley So with the winner’s check in MC1.
Photo by Paul Truong

MC2 was won by GM Hikaru Nakamura.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

GM Dariusz Swiercz won MC3 and
receives winner’s check (US$30,000) from Ashley.
Photo by David Llada

* * *


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Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship

There is a heavyweight blitz battle taking place in a couple of hours at between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and blitz phenom Hikaru Nakamura. Yes… it’s a big deal. This serves as a warm-up match before Carlsen’s title defense against Sergey Karjakin and the champion could not have asked for a better tune-up. This match will break all types of records for viewership and can be watched in a number of different venues. Grandmaster Robert Hess and International Danny Rensch will be giving live commentary.

The following viewing options will be available at 10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday (1 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. GMT, 6 p.m. London, 7 p.m. Oslo):

  • official broadcast with GM Robert Hess and IM Daniel Rensch (English) — watch here to see the ChessTV chat.
  • official broadcast with GM Hess and IM Rensch (English) — watch here to see the Twitch chat.
  • Russian broadcast.
  • French broadcast.
  • Portuguese broadcast.

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Orrin Hudson attended the premiers for “Queen of Katwe” in Chicago and Hollywood and told The Chess Drum that he felt the movie company was onto something. He was able to have a one-on-one with Lupita Nyong’o during a workshop in Los Angeles, California. Disney brought Hudson on to conduct the class with Nyong’o and movie characters Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi.

Orrin Hudson with Lupita Nyong'o

Hudson arbitrating game between student and
Academy award winner Lupita Nyong’o.

Orrin Hudson with Lupita Nyong'o

Orrin Hudson with Lupita Nyong'o

Group shot after workshop at Challengers Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles, California. The event was sponsored by Disney, the producer of “Queen of Katwe”.

“Queen of Katwe” was released to the public on September 30th and has been accepted with rave reviews. The story is a refreshing look at how chess played an integral role in shaping the life of an impoverished 10-year old girl, Phiona Mutesi. It is the subject of many heart-wrenching stories dealing with how hope triumphs over hopelessness.

“I teach children how to have a game plan. Chess teaches delayed gratification, it teaches you not to do the first thing that pops in your head, its usually a trap. Chess is about using what you have to get what you want.”

~Orrin Hudson

Hudson was recently on the Tom Joyner Morning Show to talk about his experiences in teaching over 50,000 students lessons such as “Think it out, don’t shoot it out!” and “Push pawns, not drugs!” He has been pushing this message from his base in Atlanta, Georgia since 2001.

Orrin Hudson on the Tom Joyner Morning Show

The radio show is the nation’s #1 syndicated urban morning show, broadcast in 105 markets, reaching more than eight million people, primarily targeting Black America. “Appearing on The Tom Joyner Morning Show was one of the most rewarding interviews in my career,” said Hudson. “Tom Joyner is an all-time legend in radio broadcasting, so be able to talk to him about my background, Be Someone, and goals is something I will never forget.” The five-minute segment discussed his background and his vision on using chess as a metaphor to make better decisions. Also discussed “Queen of Katwe” and some of his current initiatives including his quest to teach one million students.

You can listen to the segment at

Be Someone, Inc.
Orrin Checkmate Hudson
Speaker, Master Strategist & Motivator
949 Stephenson Road
Stone Mountain, GA 30087

Telephone: 770-465-6445

“Responsibility, consequences for every action,
think, think, and think some more.”


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GM Maurice Ashley

GM Maurice Ashley was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame back in April and thus a culmination to the decades of service rendered to the worldwide chess community. Known to the world primarily as a commentator, Ashley had dabbled in the organization realm by successfully hosting the HB Global in 2005, but in 2013 he actually formed a company with Canadian businesswoman Amy Lee, called Millionaire Chess.

This ambitious vision was to hold chess events that would set a high bar while also lifting the profile of chess to attract sponsorship. While building a powerful brand with a regal color and recognizable logo, Ashley and Lee held three wonderful events (2014, 2015, 2016) and captured the imagination of many with high stakes chess. However, there was reticence to support the tournaments even after the third tournament dropped its entry fee to $499 for a prize fund that had a high payout. Nevertheless, the tournament experienced the best ratings in terms of overall organization.

Daaim Shabazz and Maurice Ashley before the opening round.

“El General” Ashley looks on during opening of the round.

Maurice Ashley with opening remarks of round four. He informed us that Amy Lee had successful surgery. All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).

Before the third tournament, Ashley made a statement on Facebook that it may be the last MC tournament for the foreseeable future. A week after the tournament, The Chess Drum was granted an exclusive interview in which Ashley was asked about his recent activities, but most importantly, the future of Millionaire Chess. Two audio clips follow:

Part 1:
Grand Chess Tour, African Tour, Queen of Katwe, Baku Olympiad
30:06 minutes

Part 2:
MC3, MC3 in retrospect, Future of MC
23:18 minutes

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Photo by Billy Johnson.

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah-s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


email address:


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Drum Interviews @ Millionaire Chess Open #3

One of the most gratifying assignments in covering chess events are the interviews of various personalities. The Millionaire Chess Open attracts players from around the world and the diversity was apparent in all sections. In the under-2200, there were a number of interesting personalities and one of them was pleased to grant his first interview!

Naphtali Smith
Photo by David Llada

Naphtali Smith (Columbus, Ohio, USA) – Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Naphtali was inspired by his cousin Billy Turner and began a serious push to improve his play. Entering the under-2200 with a rating of 2188, Naphtali ended with 4.5/7 with still a handful of points to make National Master. During the tournament, he was amused at his friends’ reactions to his photo at the board with his trademark… the well-kept beard! James Harden should be on alert! The personable young man plans to get involved with coaching at some point in the near future and make his contribution to the development of chess in Ohio. 8:13 minutes


Prince Eric Junior Guipi Bopala
Photo by David Llada

Prince Eric Junior Guipi Bopala (Montreal, Canada) – This 9-year old has five names, but one mission… to be a Grandmaster. The Canadian junior has won a number of national honors and started playing chess at age two!! He has been a mainstay in American tournaments having played in the World Open just a few months back. In this tournament, he scored 5/7 in the under-1800 section. His father, an immigrant from the Central African Republic has been the driving force in his son’s chess career and was able to share his thoughts in this joint interview. Enjoy! 11:44 minutes

GM Pontus Carlsson (Sweden) – The Chess Drum audience will know Carlsson quite well as he has been the subject of numerous articles at the website. The Colombian-born Swedish national took his first trip to the U.S. and wanted to support the Millionaire Chess initiative. While he was critical of his play, he offers suggestions of parallel tournaments. He relished the moments with Maurice Ashley and there were a number of iconic photos taken of two of the five the Black GMs in the world. Carlsson now splits his time between Sweden and the Czech Republic. 16:54 minutes

GMs Pontus Carlsson and Maurice Ashley… double exclam!!
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Wachania Wachira (Kenya) – Wachira was one of the African qualifiers from the MC Satellite tournament in Kenya. The field was tough for him as he struggled to gain his bearings under the weight of strong players. Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the U.S. and said that it was not what he expected. “It is too developed,” he asserted with a smile. It is with a bit of irony that in such a developed country, chess is not getting the attention it rightly deserves. 10:11 minutes

Pan-African Unity! CM Wachania Wachira (Kenya), IM Daniel Jere (Zambia), Daaim Shabazz (USA), IM Oladapo Adu (Nigeria), IM Farai Mandizha (Zimbabwe). Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Cristian Chirila (Romania) – Chirila came to the U.S. six years ago to pursue his education at the University of Texas at Dallas. After being part of the successful teams at UTD, he moved to California where he would become a chess professional. In this interview, an obviously elated under-2550 winner described his experience at MC3 (he has attended all three), but remains skeptical at the model. Notwithstanding, this was his most successful tournament to date. 7:00 minutes

GM Cristian Chirila (right) receiving his prize from GM Maurice Ashley.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

FM Daniel Anwuli (Nigeria) – This talented 19-year old earned his FM title two years ago and became the nation’s highest-rated player at age 18. He recently represented Nigeria at the Baku Olympiad and has sights to further his studies and pursue the GM title. In this interview, he reflects on the tournament and how his slow start didn’t dampen his spirit. He scored 4.5 in the last five rounds to make Millionaire Monday. 14:13 minutes

FM Daniel Anwuli upsetting GM Conrad Holt.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

IM Daniel Jere (Zambia) – This Zambia came to MC3 after winning the qualifier in South Africa. His maiden visit to the U.S., he seemed enjoy the interaction with strong players and got a creditable 4/9 drawing GM Zhou Jianchou and 2500-rated IM Andrey Gorovets. Jere had taken a hiatus in chess and has since moved to South Africa where there are more opportunities. 14:02 minutes

IM Daniel Jere (right) blitzing between rounds.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Githinji Hinga (Kenya) – Having served as President of the Kenyan Chess Federation, Hinga was interested in seeing the Millionaire Chess Open closeup. He had helped to host two qualifying events and wanted to lend support. While he did not participate in the events, he was able to provide moral support to qualifier Wachania Wachira and witness the excitement firsthand. 11:57 minutes

Githinji Hinga visited MC3 from Kenya.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Emilio Cordova (Peru) – Having been a part of the 10th place Peruvian team in Baku, Cordova came to Millionaire Chess at the urging of a friend. While he admits that the cost is prohibitive, he was able to take 4th place overall. Surprisingly he mentions that there is not much support for chess, but the Olympiad result certainly brought honor to the country. Likewise, Cordova represented Peru well in Atlantic City. 6:59 minutes

GM Emilio Cordova versus Chinese GM Zhou Jianchou
during Millionaire Monday. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

GM Samuel Sevian (USA) – Born in New York, Sevian has been a sensation for a long time. He became an Expert at age 8, a National Master at age 9 and an International Master at 12 and 10 months. He broke a national record by becoming an International Grandmaster at 13 years, 10 months and 27 days. Since then he has played in two U.S. Championships and has begun to make his presence felt in international circles. In this joint interview with his mother Armine, he talks about his evolution as a chess player. Hopefully we will see good things from this raw talent. 9:49 minutes

GM Samuel Sevian and mother Armine chatting with
GM Pontus Carlsson of Sweden. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

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Maurice Ashley presents winner’s check
(US$30,000) to GM Dariusz Swiercz.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

With the Isle of Man is full swing and American Olympians such as Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So playing, Sam Shankland and a number of junior stars were left to defend home turf. It was an unfortunate conflict of schedule and perhaps the Millionaire Chess Open would have shined brighter in its third edition. The prize offerings were certainly more generous than what was offered at Isle of Man tournament which attracted the lion’s share of the elite players.

While there has been talk of the entry fee for MC tournaments and there is certainly an argument for lower entry fee. The first two editions drew 550 entrants at $1000, but the this edition only drew 400 at $549. It was rather counter-intuitive that players did not support the event since one of the issues was the higher entry. Apart from the actual entry fee, one must also consider the depth and width of the prize offerings for the MC tournaments and chances to win. There were 50 prizes in the Open section for US$129,900 alone at only 60% of original prize fund! Let’s look at the breakdown vs. Isle of Man.

Isle of Man (Open Section)

1st: £12,000 ($14,630.58); 2nd: £6,000 ($7,315.28); 3rd: £4,000 ($4,876.86); 4th: £3,500 ($4,267.25); 5th: £3,000 ($3,657.65); 6th: £2,500 ($3,048.03); 7th: £2,000 ($2438.43); 8th: £1,500 ($1828.82); 9th: £1,250 ($1,524.02); 10th: £1,000 ($1,219.21) (full prize list)

For MC3 (Open section)

1st: $30,000; 2nd: $15,000; 3rd $8,400; 4th: $5,400.00; 5th: $3,600.00; 6th: $2,400.00; 7th: $1,200.00; 8th $900.00; 9th to 20th – each $600; 21st to 40th – each $360 (full prize list)

The prize structure for MC tournaments are generally higher and much deeper than most open tournaments giving more people a chance to win. In fact, the total prize fund ended on $306,000 and would have reached $500,000 if meeting the requisite number of registrants. Apparently, several players had prior commitment to Isle of Man, since MC3 was announced only in February.

There was the issue of travel and expenses for foreign players. For the MC tournaments, there are no conditions given, but for U.S. players it should be an advantage. There is also the format of two rounds per day at the MC. It is a brutal format, but it also reduces the player expenditure with fewer days. Ironically, the MC tournaments have had a healthy number of foreign players and attracting about 50 federations at MC2. This year the winnings were dominated by foreign players. So, the debate continues.

While players in the Open Section were still battling…

… Millionaire Monday was the main event!

Taking the Millionaire Monday festivities with Bob Ali,
long-time organizer in New York.

GM Oliver Barbosa battling GM Cristian Chirila in under-2550 final.

Crowd watches the tense, see-saw battle of Swiercz-Jones.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz

At MC2, there was no favorite, but Adhiban Baskaran topped the scale at 2689 and Sam Shankland was second at 2679. However, an unheralded Dariusz Swiercz of Poland waded through the torturous path and claimed the $30,000 first prize. The first-year St. Louis University student happily took honors after defeating GMs Emilio Cordova (Peru) and Gwain Jones (England). The final with Jones was a nail biter.

The Millionaire Monday is an exciting format in which the qualifiers (top four players of each section) get to play in an accelerated format for a larger prize fund. If you did not qualify for Millionaire Monday, you will simply continue on in the Open and play two more rounds. The format is very interesting, but the major difference was the lack of commentary and the live broadcasts that rachet up the excitement and the viewer appeal. The “Confession Booth” was also missing. Nevertheless, was carrying the games lives and the viewership was active. David Llada was capturing the images with his usual mastery. So while MC3 did not have the panache of the first two, it was well-done. The conditions were optimal and there is still the idea that the tournament is something special.

Maurice Ashley opens the closing ceremonies with warm gratitude and complimentary words of his MC partner, Amy Lee. Amy had emergency surgery during the tournament and could not attend the closing. Her presence was sorely missed.

Players texting their family and friends about their winnings.

Players appears to be grateful and there were several rounds of applause.

Since 60% of players won money, most of the people at the closing ceremonies had to stick around to collect… including myself!

David Llada doing what he does best!

19-year old FM Daniel Anwuli, the future of Nigerian chess.

Winner of Millionaire Chess Open, GM Darius Swiercz (Poland)

The 2016 Millionaire Chess Open

Thursday, October 6th through Monday, October 11th 2016
Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, New Jersey


email address:


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