2015 Millionaire Chess Open (Las Vegas, NV)

After the inaugural Millionaire Chess Open (MCO) was met with a rousing organizational success, many of the skeptics were silenced and supporters encouraged. However, there was always the question of whether this tournament would become a fixture on the American chess landscape.

Amy Lee

There is a wave of excitement building as 600 players have descended onto Las Vegas to vie for $1,000,000 prize fund. With approximately 50 GMs from more than 50 different countries, the second edition of the tournament hopes to capture the attention of sponsors and supporters in the midst of the current resurgence in chess. There are a number of reasons to be positive about future developments given the number of innovative ideas being spawn by co-organizers GM Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee.

The tournament is headlined by top-ten players Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, the field features a star-studded cadre of international players. The class sections will also be hotly-contested and their games will be more prominently featured in the broadcast. The tournament will follow the innovative format of the first edition with the culmination being the “Millionaire Monday” showdown. According to the official website:

The first seven rounds will be a qualifying round to determine who plays the finals on Millionaire Monday. Four finalists will move on to play two knock-out rounds to determine who wins the top prize. The last two rounds of the Open section will also be played on Millionaire Monday to determine who wins 5th place and under, as well as to give players a chance to acquire norms.

Millionaire Chess commentators!
GM Robert Hess, IM Tania Sachdev and IM Lawrence Trent

An All-Star team is calling the action live from Las Vegas with GM Robert Hess, IM Lawrence Trent and IM Tania Sachdev comprising the team. GM Maurice Ashley will be giving spot commentary, but will serve mostly as the floor general. David Llada will be the official photographer.

Official Site: https://millionairechess.com/
Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/
hashtag: #MC2
Twitter: @highstakeschess

THE LOOK OF MILLIONAIRE CHESS

Maurice Ashley’s smile is a bit brighter! 🙂 Adia Onyango, Stacey Moore, Maurice Ashley, Amy Lee, Alisa Melekhina

The World Champions return to look over the proceedings and…

…the women champions will also look on.

* * *

WISHING ALL THE VERY BEST!

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

21 Comments

  1. Millionaire Chess Open (Day #1 – Opening)

    The Millionaire Open kicked off with an incredible buzz as players milled about in anticipation for the start of the Millionaire Chess Open. Players from near and far… as close as Las Vegas and as far way as Asia/Africa/Pacific came to participate in the event of the year. Although there were some last minute cancellations, the stars were shining bright on the red carpet.

    Registration moved expeditiously… with some bottlenecks.

    If anyone can describe the scene at Planet Hollywood, it would be deemed “electric”. The morning breakfast was a very nice addition to American tournaments and GM Maurice Ashley could be seen making his rounds to greet everyone. Players mingled freely as if at a reunion and there was great cheer.

    MC VIP Adia Onyango greets Amy Lee. 🙂

    Zimbabwe is represented… Farai Mandizha and his wife Resphina

    Daaim Shabazz, Kassa Korley, Malaku Lorne, Rodney Thomas

    Ashley welcomed everyone to the event and thanked them for there participation. He talked about the vision of Millionaire Chess and the goal to make chess suitable for public consumption and to attract the likes of ESPN and other sports affiliates. Some of the rules were explained and the security measures were emphasized to ensure there would be absolute compliance.

    Maurice Ashley at opening breakfast.
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    Ashley did say that the Millionaire Chess #3 would not return to Las Vegas, but would move to the east coast without revealing the location. He then made way for Amy Lee who brought greetings and gave praise to her partner and all the staff who worked hard to make the event happen. Looking resplendent in her shimmering evening gown, she warmly welcomed the audience and reiterated her vision for MC.

    Amy humbly distributed the success of the MC franchise to her staff, but stated that her mission was to see chess get the glory it deserves. While many may appreciate Amy Lee’s vision, what may not be appreciated is her hard work. Here is a woman from Canada of Chinese descent who has invested in chess with the idea that chess can someday gain the attention that other similar sports are receiving, we can only give kudos to her. Ashley came back and requested another round of applause and then officially opened the tournament. Next was the epic red carpet photo shoots a wonderful touch to the Millionaire Chess experience.

    * * *

    ROUND ONE

    The first round got underway with announcements, acknowledgements and the singing of the national anthem. The round started a bit behind schedule due to the announcements and pairing issues. One of the problems was the sudden withdrawal of players and subsequent forfeits. There was also the issue of the official website which experienced outages. After the problems were resolved, the worldwide legion of millions tuned in.

    The first round had a few upsets. FM Vignesh Panchanathan upended GM Varuzhan Akobian and there were a number of upset draws as well. There were several draws where the rating difference was more than 250 points. There are a number of young players hunting for norms and they are circling the water like sharks!

    Replay of Round #1

    ROUND TWO

    There were more rumblings in the second round as FM Li Ruifeng trotted out the Evans Gambit against GM Fabiano Caruana. There are different philosophies on how to play against a stronger player and in general playing a sharp game is one approach. It worked like a charm. Actually, if the position was reversed and Caruana had white, he would have certainly played on. Drawing with a top ten player is a huge boost nevertheless. There were still more “draw upsets” in round two as well but IM Farai Mandizha of Zimbabwe did one better by beating GM Kayden Troff. However, most players took care of business. Hikaru Nakamura leads a horde of players on 2/2.

    FM Daniel Gurevich vs. GM Hikaru Nakamura, 0-1

    Replay of Round #2

  2. Millionaire Chess Open (Day #2)

    Day two of the Millionaire Chess started with the arrival of the four-day schedule. There was also an opening breakfast where Maurice and Amy addressed the audience. One can clearly see that the MC organization is trying some innovative ideas. One of the newest is the RFID data entry method. There are tablets situation throughout the venue and upon completion of one’s game, you simply have to have your bracelet scanned and you can indicate your result. Long gone is the method of marking your score on a chart.

    My 4th round opponent Randas Burns scans his RFID bracelet issued at registration…

    …chooses the correct result of our game.
    The data is immediate saved to the player profile. Nice!

    It’s my turn! Worked like a charm!!

    ROUND THREE

    Perhaps the headline of the day would have been GM Hikaru Nakamura being held by University of Texas-Dallas GM Gil Popilski. The hard fought game went the minimum 30 moves until a draw was offered… Sofia Rules in effect. In fact, the Israeli had been slightly better earlier.

    Raven Sturt is causing a bit of a stir after scoring a win over GM Zbignew Pakleza in the second round and then holding GM Gregory Kaidanov in the third round. Still lots of favorites at the top by with GM Fabiano Caruana being nicked again by IM K. Priyadharshan of India, the winner of the MC New York qualifier. It’s interesting that since returning the U.S., Caruana is re-acclimating himself, results have not been as he would have hoped but he seems happy.

    Finally a big stir was created when GM Gata Kamsky forfeited after coming to his board at 11:32am. Players get 30 minutes after the round starts to appear at the board. There were rumors that Kamsky had gotten into a car accident. Nevertheless, he appeared fine in the fourth round and got back into his winning ways. Some players grumbled about the change of times when that is usually reserved for the last day of the tournament.

    While other games were in progress, Kamsky’s loss is prominently displayed.

    * * *

    Replay of Round #3


    ROUND FOUR

    Most of the favorites were flexing their muscles in this round, but leader Wesley So lost a heartbreaker. So had a decisive advantage when disaster struck. So faced Vasif Durarbayli’s hedgehog and uncorked a scintillating attack after 12.e5! Bxg2 13.exf6 Ba8 14.Bg5 Ne5? 15.Nxe6! fxe6 16.Rxe5! when black is completely busted. So kept coming with ferocity but black was able to conjure up counterplay and take advantage of the exposed white king. Black held off the onslaught and when the smoke cleared, black had a winning ending. With So going down, the pack of leaders tightened with four players still unscathed.

    Yu was on the attack against Suarez and sits on 4/4. He is trying to redeem the crushing loss from last year.

    On board two, Yu Yangyi went on the attack against Cuba’s Isan Suarez. In a Najdorf turned Schevenigen, Yu shocked Suarez with 16.Bf6! and left the bishop enprise for five moves. To stave off the attack it costed Suarez two pawns and when he finally got the queens off, he was simply in a technically losing position even when Yu gave back a pawn to free his pieces. Yu is trying to rebound from a devastating loss to Ray Robson in last year’s Millionaire Monday semi-final bout. He is among the four with perfect 4/4.

    Replay of Round #4

    Official Site: https://millionairechess.com/
    Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/
    hashtag: #MC2
    Twitter: @highstakeschess

  3. Millionaire Chess Open (Day #3)

    Le Quang Liem won his fifth game in a row leading after the tournament!

    Yu Yangyi (China) vs. Evgeny Bareev (Canada) amounted to a draw.

    Fabiano Caruana is still in the hunt with another win.

    Tension was extremely high!
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    * * *

    Replay of Round #5

    Le Quang Liem took sole possession of the lead in today action while drawing with Hikaru Hikaru Nakamura. Le stands on 5½/6 while Nakamura, Yu Yangyi, Luke McShane, Evgeny Bareev and Aleksandr Lenderman follow with 5/6.

    Replay of Round #6


    Official Site: https://millionairechess.com/
    Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/
    hashtag: #MC2
    Twitter: @highstakeschess

  4. I know. I have been doing it for years and I “reckon” it probably costs two points on the leaderboard and you donate some valuable rating points!

    1. I’ve probably given close to a 100 ELO in the past six months. The way the scheduling is, it makes it nearly impossible to cover larger events and playing. I’ve done it since this site’s inception, but of course knowing the drawbacks. I will begin to focus more on “chess writing” as opposed to “chess journalism”. Covering stories of how chess has affected the human element is more intriguing than who won Tata Steel… although both have their relative importance in the wheel of time.

  5. Miscellaneous Photos from MC2 in Las Vegas

    Adia Onyango

    Amy Lee playing blitz!

    Malaku Lorne, Mario Marshall, Kassa Korley and Daaim Shabazz
    at Abyssian Ethiopian restaurant.

    Excellent!

    Maurice Ashley, Adia Onyango, Daaim Shabazz

    Scenes from Vegas!!

  6. Millionaire Chess Open (Day #4)

    Controversy grips final round!

    It all started off normally and then…

    …a three-fold occurrence happens at move nine!
    Luke McShane sits pondering the situation…

    …while Hikaru Nakamura paces the floor waiting on the ruling.

    What would a tournament be without a good controversy? Well… the Millionaire Chess Open had a few including a touch-move incident, but the one that caught headlines was during the McShane-Nakamura game. The game went 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Ng4 7. Bc1 Nf6 8.Be3 Ng4 9. Bc1. Immediately, arbiters stepped in to invoke the tournament rule which reads,

    NO EARLY DRAW RULE

    The No Early Draw Rule implemented in the Open section of the Millionaire Chess Open is based on a simple concept: fans wish to see real chess games. We, the organizers, believe that the true spirit of chess competition is well served when this principle is adhered to. Anything else makes a travesty of our wonderful game, and completely disrespects the viewing public. With those considerations in mind, we require that players sign off on the following rules in order to play in this event. Our promise is that these dictums will be applied in a fair and consistent manner, with the stamp of the leadership of Millionaire Chess as well as the many decades of experience of our tournament directing staff.

    The organizers understand that there are situations that occur in which a draw has to be agreed to before move 30. These situations are rare but they do occur, and if we determine that a serious effort was made in playing the game, we do have the authority to allow a draw. We will not be forcing a player to walk into checkmate or lose a pawn to avoid a draw. However understand that these situations are very rare, and should not occur often.
    The penalties for breaking the following rules may be:

    • Forfeiture of game
    • Offending player will be ineligible to win a prize
    • Players may be banned from playing in future events

    Nakamura was overheard saying, “What Maurice said was completely wrong.” What did he mean? According to FIDE,

    9.2: The game is drawn, upon a correct claim by a player having the move, when the same position for at least the third time (not necessarily by a repetition of moves):

    is about to appear, if he first writes his move, which cannot be changed, on his scoresheet and declares to the arbiter his intention to make this move, or has just appeared, and the player claiming the draw has the move.

    The incident turned into a 97-minute wait with calls put into FIDE arbiters around the world. The conclusion? Both players were within their right to the three-fold occurrence. Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    As it turns out, frantic calls and tense moments resulted in the draw being upheld as FM Sunil Weeramantry could be seen lobbying for his stepson. There was also threats that Nakamura would forfeit his remaining games. There were even calls being put into lawyers. Ashley initially tried to convince the players to play the game, but Nakamura later commented on a similar situation against GM Boris Gelfand where he lost after agreeing to play on. Amy Lee could be seen with a somewhat befuddled look on her face. It had been yet another setback. Nevertheless, not all agreed. GM David Smerdon wrote and op/ed piece titled, “Nakamura and McShane’s big mistake” therein stated,

    Finally, as it turned out, almost the maximum number of players on 4.5 points who could get to a tie-break with 5.5 points did so, while really made Hikaru’s and Luke’s decision look silly – but they couldn’t have known that when they took the draw. So I relaxed this assumption a bit so that a normal number (five out of eight potentials) reached the ‘tie-break score’ of 5.5.

    What he is referring to is the fact that nine players had to battle in the tiebreaks to make one spot! In fact, both players could have been eliminated had Wesley So and/or Evgeny Bareev won their games. Of course both drew creating the ten-player juggernaut (GM Gil Popilski declined his invitation since as a sub-2550 player he was automatically seeded into Millionaire Monday). It was a tortuous path, but Nakamura had cited feeling unwell and McShane had played two grueling games in the two games a day format.

    Referring to what he describing as being a “stain on our game,” Ashley stated he would take the case up with FIDE on a possible rule change. The idea that a nine-move result has to be explained to sponsors or the audience is somewhat of a conundrum. While the result is perfectly within the laws of chess (FIDE rules supercedes MC’s), it presents a situation that organizers have tried to address.

    The McShane-Nakamura Controversy

    TIEBREAKER

    So all of the sections would have a tiebreaker to determine who would make it to “Millionaire Monday”. Le Quang Liem, Aleksandr Lenderman and Yu Yangyi were already through. There were some hiccups with the pairings as the format was in question. It would be two round robins of five and four players which means that one player has an advantage of playing one less game. As it were, the group of four had to play a tiebreak after Nakamura and Kamsky both tied at the end of the three games. Sunil Weeramantry thought it should have been a nine-player round robin.

    Some familiar faces watching the action.

    Wesley So was focused on defending his crown and went through.

    Nakamura-Kamsky played a thrilling game only to meet again for the tiebreaker. Kamsky saved a position in the round robin a piece down and was tied with Nakamura 2.5/3. However, he was unable to solve Nakamura in the second tiebreak. Nakamura would have to earn the $100,000 the hard way. Samuel Sevian and Holden Hernandez battle it out in the under-2550 playoff.

    Nakamura and Kamsky played another playoff after tying the round robin with 2.5/3… Bareev losing all of his games and Sergei Azarov winning the one against Bareev. Nakamura won the two-game mini-match to advance to the finals. In the other round robin, Wesley So went through with 3.5/4. He would play Nakamura to determine the final qualifier for Millionaire Monday. Would So have a chance to defend his title?

    GROUP ONE

    GROUP TWO

    The format was that the two players would play a three-game match. Why three? No one seems to know, but after two tame draws Nakamura asserted his will with a deft piece sack paralyzing So’s forces. So tried sacrificing a rook but he was still being mated on the h-file. Nakamura is through and the defending champion would then go to finish two rounds in the open schedule.

    TIEBREAK FINAL

    * * *

    Replay of Round #7

    Official Site: https://millionairechess.com/
    Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/
    hashtag: #MC2
    Twitter: @highstakeschess

  7. Millionaire Chess Open (Millionaire Monday!)

    A stunning venue for Millionaire Monday…
    …designed by Eric Lee, award-winning designer… and Amy Lee’s brother!

    FM Sunil Weeramantry and NM Kris Littlejohn have an interest in a particular player. Having eliminated Wesley So on his own, Hikaru Nakamura was the favorite going into Millionaire Monday. Dominique Myers (right) also looks on. Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    The stage was set… literally. The beautiful room for Millionaire Monday with its purple accented wowed all who stepped inside the room. Designed by Eric Lee, it was a fitting environment for what has become a truly unique experience. with World Champions looking on, the stage was set for players from each of the five sections to engage in “Millionaire Monday”.

    While most of the attention was on the top section, Millionaire Open has been innovative in also providing coverage to the lower sections. This is winning move sense these players have supported the chess foundation for many years without such attention. Robert Hess covered the play-by-play of the lower sections with just as much gusto as the top section. So much excitement was built, that fans chimed in.

    The top section would be there the attention would lie for fans around the world. The four participants were Hikaru Nakamura, Yu Yangyi, Le Quang Liem and Aleksandr Lenderman. It would first be Nakamura-Yu and Le-Lenderman.The winners of these two matches would then move onto the final. In Nakamura-Yu, Nakamura essayed the Berlin Defense in the first game and drew comfortably. Yu held easily in a Sicilian Rossolimo before getting his chance in game three.

    Not Nakamura, but Ted Castro (1941) had the tournament of his life scoring 6/7 in under-2200 and ended the tournament adding a whopping 132 rating points.

    In another Berlin Defense, Nakamura ended up falling behind. White missed a chance to invade the 7th rank with 25.Red3! Rxd3 26.Rxd3. After missing a golden opportunity, the game was quickly drawn. Nakamura admitted that he stood worse, but held going into his white game.

    In this game, the American champion turned up the heat with a devastating 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3!? A bit of tongue in cheek here, but Nakamura turned a positional opening into a weapon when black went into a type of Sveshnikov. The black structure was weakened and Nakamura exploited with ruthless efficiency and convert the ending.

    In Le-Lenderman, the Vietnamese player jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a smooth win out of a Nimzo-Indian. In the second game, Lenderman tried to mix things up with 8.g4!? getting a central majority. It almost worked as white built up tremendous pressure. In a critical moment, white missed the decisive 32.Nf5! After that, black mopped up the central pawns and the material deficit was too much for Lenderman and he resigned.

    While the Open tournament was still happening…

    … and others were playing bughouse…

    …a crowd assembled for the finale.

    So the stage was set for the final with Nakamura meeting Le for the overall $100,000 prize. They would adjourn and at 17:00hrs begin the epic battle of four games. Le has been in the best form thus far, but Nakamura remains battle tough and got here by the most tortuous path. They would start out with the two 25+5 games and then 15+5 followed by blitz and then Armageddon.

    Tie-Break Playoff

    Semi Finals

    * * *

    The highly-anticipated final match for $100,000 kicked off with the Webster University contingent hoping to repeat the success of last year when both Wesley So and Ray Robson made it to the finals. The Nakamura fan base is rather large so the lines had been drawn in the sand. Le Quang Liem asked what he would do if he won the $100,000 and he modestly said he would take his teammates and coaches out to dinner.

    Nakamura uncorked 26.Nxd5! for a decisive edge. The tactical motif along the b1-h7 diagonal was also good after 29.a6!

    In the first game, Nakamura got a strong position after 19.e4 and black never quite equalized. There were some nice tactical resources stemming from a battery on the b1-h7 diagonal. So after 26.Nxd5! white was completely winning. Again on 29.a6 the pawn is immune due to 27.Qd3! Nakamura simply ushered the a-pawn home and collected the point. The American star only needed a draw to close the deal on the $100,000.

    In the second game, Le had his chances. He seemed to have a grip on the queenside and his white bishop was ensconced on d6, but time was not his friend. Nakamura stated that after 23…e5! he felt relieved. In fact, in the final position black had solved his problems and was slightly better. However a draw was agreed and Nakamura was declared the winner of the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open!

    Finals

    OPEN

    Under-2550

    Closing Ceremony

    Nakamura receives $100,000 check!

    Proud parents: Carol and Sunil Weeramantry

    Ashley presenting Nakamura the MC champion’s trophy
    by Purling London.

    Nakamura was very gracious in his praise for Maurice and Amy.
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    Official Site: https://millionairechess.com/
    Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/
    hashtag: #MC2
    Twitter: @highstakeschess

  8. Drum Interviews @ Millionaire Chess Open #2

    The second Millionaire Chess Open is in the record books and it was even more eventful than the first. Accented by a marquee lineup of players, the tournament lived up to its billing as the brightest stars shone in the end. While Hikaru Nakamura won in the end, there were other stars who had followers that spanned the globe. The Chess Drum was able to catch up with several of the international qualifiers and also a couple of chess VIPs.

    FM Harold Wanyama (Uganda)

    FM Harold Wanyama (Uganda) – The winner of the Kenyan MC qualifier discussed his tournament and what he appearance at the MC tournament means to Ugandans. This interview was conducted after round three after his game with Alexander Kalikshteyn. He discusses the rise of players in Uganda and the impact of Arthur Ssegwanyi’s performance against Anish Giri in Baku, Azerbaijan. He also gives the securing of sponsorship as an important factor in improving the standard around the continent. The lack of sponsorship may result of talented juniors not focusing on chess seriously. Overall, Wanyama had a great experience and will certainly share his experience with the rest of the community back home. 15:03 minutes

    Malaku Lorne, Mario Marshall, Kassa Korley (Las Vegas, Nevada) – This was a group interview during lunch at Abyssinian Ethiopian restaurant. It was on the occasion of Lorne’s birthday. While were was no birthday songs sung, each of the three players talked about their respective experiences in Vegas. Excellent conversation! 🙂 18:13 minutes

    Malaku Lorne, Mario Marshall, Kassa Korley and Daaim Shabazz.

    Ashik Uzzaman (Fremont, California) – From Bangladesh by origin and software engineer by training, Uzzman is probably the most ardent supporters of the Millionaire Chess franchise. He has been an active supporter through his videos and through his various posts in response to MC “haters”.

    Ashik Uzzaman with son, Ahyan.

    Uzzaman, whose son is also competing, mentioned some of the things he thought makes the MC idea so unique such as the “Millionaire Square” game show. He also spoke at length about sponsorship potential of MC. Uzzaman works in Silicon Valley and believes that there is great potential to marry chess with the empires of the technology catalysts. There was an agreement on the fact that a complementary team of volunteers to help take the load off of the principle founders. It is obvious that there are a lot of talented people in chess who are at the highest level of their professions.

    Lastly, there were kudos given to the “confessions booth” which he visited several times and his son Ahyan visited each round! 30:25 minutes

    IM Providence Oatlhotse (Botswana) – Now a veteran of Botswana chess, Oatlhotse recounted his experiences at Millionaire Chess including his games (drawing with Lenderman and Garcia) and his meeting of old acquaintances such as Zimbabwe’s Farai Mandizha. He also discussed the Botswana chess scene which he states struggles for support. He weighs in on ideas to groom talent in Africa. He also makes a point that Africa should have more qualifiers in the World Cup and that the continent is capable of hosting an Olympiad. Interesting! 16:18 minutes

    IM Providence Oatlhotse (Botswana)

    Orrin Hudson (Atlanta, Georgia) – A man with an endless supply of catch phrases, idioms and allegories, Hudson has taught 40,000 children with the ultimate goal of reaching 1,000,000. Hudson talked about his successful 5/7 score and some of his recent projects including his pending cover story on the December issue of Chess Life. “Brains before Bullets” is a new slogan emblazoned on t-shirts that he sold at the tournament. He invoked the words of notables such as Bill Gates, his teacher James Edge and Abraham Lincoln’s mother who told him to “be someone”. 10:59 minutes

    Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum) and Orrin Hudson (Besomeone, Inc.)

    IM Bunmi Olape (Nigeria) – Olape is a veteran of several Olympiad tournaments and now a veteran of Millionaire Chess. having won the Nigeria qualifier, he joined a large contingent of Nigerians who made the long trip to compete for the green and white. Olape’s parents and sister actually reside in Colorado and while he visited them prior to returning to Nigeria, this was his first time to the U.S. He shared his experience of the tournament and Las Vegas, Millionaire Chess and his personal goals. 12:46 minutes

    Pan-Africanism at work! FM Harold Wanyama (Uganda), IM Providence Oatlhotse (Botswana) and IM Bunmi Olape (Nigeria) playing blitz while Dominique Myers (USA) and Malaku Lorne (Jamaica) look on. Oatlhotse is playing IM Kassa Korley (Denmark/USA) and Olape is playing Mario Marshall (Jamaica/USA).

    Millionaire Chess commentators!
    GM Robert Hess, IM Tania Sachdev and IM Lawrence Trent
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    IM Lawrence Trent (England) – One of the main commentators calling the action and known for his sardonic wit and raw humour, Trent gave his overview of the MC tournament which he called it “great fun”. He talked about what makes Millionaire Chess different from others. It is the idea that chess is accessible to all levels and even the rank players can win prizes that literally change lives. He talk about the possibility of sponsorship and how the tournament could become a marketable. Trent also talked about his managing Fabiano Caruana. 7:22 minutes

    CONTACT: MILLIONAIRE CHESS

    email address: contact@millionairechess.com
    official website: https://millionairechess.com/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/HighStakesChess
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millionairechess
    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/MillionaireChess
    Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/advancedphoto/sets/

  9. Reflections of 2015 Millionaire Chess Open

    Nearly three weeks after the Millionaire Chess Open ended, there has been suspense when and where the third edition will be. Amy Lee revealed in her recent reflections piece and the challenges faced by the MC franchise. In addition, she sent out a survey looking at the feasibility of a third addition. One of the recent developments that came out of the reflections piece is the pursuit of sponsorship.

    Maurice Ashley at opening breakfast.
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz
    (unless otherwise stated).

    Most will understand that the tournament in its current form is not sustainable, but what the MC organization has built is something that will set the tone for major tournaments in the U.S. The second edition has a few changes… both additions and subtractions. The most obvious addition was the “Millionaire Chess Square” $1,000,000 prize. There was also a restructuring of the prize fund and changing of the time control. On the fun side a pool party and video contest! Event photographer David Llada took some nice photos of the pool party.

    The tournament maintained its sophisticated decorum from last year with the gallantry of purple around the tournament site. The breakfast was an opportunity to network and socialize prior to the tournament and Maurice Ashley was in his element. To the surprise of many, Fabiano Caruana was freely mingling with the rest of the players. It is always good to see familiar faces at tournaments, but most notably the international players. Many were in the U.S. for the first time and their first impression was Las Vegas.

    There was the red carpet photos which were again a smash hit. Everyone came dressed with their own definition of “swagger” and some had creative poses. There was even a “lion attack” pose. In addition, there were more women and they were making quite an impression! Perhaps Millionaire Chess Open has started a welcome trend.

    Was there a beauty pageant happening at MC2? No… these are chess players!
    Photo by David Llada.

    Bobby Fischer is favorite my player in history. Someone told me he knew of The Chess Drum. Somehow my other favorite player Judit Polgar deserves a place on this Wall of Fame. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Now the tournament would begin with all the stars shining… Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So leading the charging with sharks like Yu Yangyi contesting. Wang Hao withdrew due to visas issues. In fact, there were players who withdrew to partake in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships.

    The Millionaire Chess Open Begins!!
    CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).




    The first round got off to a cracking start after announcements and national anthem. Immediately there were upsets, a theme common in high stakes tournaments. FM Vignesh Panchanathan upset GM Varuzhan Akobian. It was a bad omen for Akobian who had prior to the round complained that the pairings were incorrect and he was seeded one place lower.

    Unfortunately, there were some snafus in the pairings that did not take into consideration the withdrawals. The first round was challenging as several players were not paired and the website crashed. This was a inauspicious start for MC. After some feverish phone calls the website was restored and the broadcast thereafter was relatively stable.

    Fabiano Caruana had a challenging start as FM Li Ruifeng trotted out the Evans Gambit and got a better position before accepting a draw. Sharks were circling and blood was in the water.

    GM Evgeny Najer got nicked by IM Kassa Korley for 1/2 point.
    Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    While I was playing again this year, I was not able to catch the action on the top boards. It is indeed a difficult task to play and cover the event. This feat has cost me about 100 ELO points in the past year. In the first round, I played Sidi Boyin from Mauritania and missed several one-move wins in time pressure, then blundered into a lost ending. Sheesh.

    In the last round, I let another winning position slip away, but at least it was interesting. However, the lesson is… do not play and cover tournaments. Another player Eduardo Franco told me this at the Southern Open in Florida after I missed a simple win against him at the Chicago Open. “Focus. No pictures,” he said. He’s right and here is proof.

    Nevertheless, if one isn’t contending for Millionaire Monday, it may as well be fun. It appears that the elevation of the class players to the VIP section was a success. These players were able to mingle along with the professionals and may even have their games covered on the broadcast. There were jokes that GM Robert Hess made some of these players appear to be Grandmasters with the superlatives he was throwing at their games. Yet it was refreshing to see some of the games of the lower-rated section.

    The tournament was still a success despite some of the problems that occurred and here are my personal reflections.

    My five best memories were…

      Harold Wanyama in action.
      Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    1. …playing a blitz session with FM Harold Wanyama. The Ugandan is one of the African players who appears frequently on The Chess Drum. To get to play him was quite a treat. We played an interesting set of blitz and the games were of decent quality (with a variety of openings). He won most of them. Some games I simply flagged. He was surprised and said, “You’re quite strong.” Well… not the force I used to be in blitz, but I started getting my form the more games we played. It is always funny to me when people assume I am not a tournament competitor, but merely a journalist who likes chess. 🙂 I suppose I need to share my games more… or stop being a journalist during tournaments (see comments and game above). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the opportunity to play Harold and he was quite the gentleman. We even had an nice interview. 15:03 minutes See you in Baku!

    2. …seeing the Pan-African blitz battles! For nearly 15 years, I have covered chess in the African Diaspora and have met a number of the current players either through my visits to Africa or at the Olympiad tournaments I have covered. It is always interesting when players of the African Diaspora interact with each other. On occasion, they mingle and meet at Olympiad tournament, but Black players of North America typically do not have the opportunity to meet African and/or Caribbean players since many do not travel to North America to compete and players from America do not travel to Africa and Caribbean to play. It is generally a sense of intrigue and there are several blitz battles. IM Providence Oatlhotse 16:18 minutes was battling IM Kassa Korley and a spirited match. Nigerians are generally in the rotation as well. Mario Marshall of Jamaica was battling IM Bunmi Olape 12:46 minutes of Nigeria. Great fun!

    3. Pan-Africanism at work! FM Harold Wanyama (Uganda), IM Providence Oatlhotse (Botswana) and IM Bunmi Olape (Nigeria) playing blitz while Dominique Myers (USA) and Malaku Lorne (Jamaica) look on. Oatlhotse is playing IM Kassa Korley (Denmark/USA) and Olape is playing Mario Marshall (Jamaica/USA).

    4. …the confession booth. One of the year’s best innovations came to MC2. This was a big hit as dozens of players visited the booth over the five days. There were all types of creative and fun expressions, but some were simply reflections on their game in progress. I visited in rounds five and seven. Ahyan Uzzaman visited each day! There was a fun confession by Maurice Ashley and the other commentators. Unfurled at the Sinquefield Cup earlier this year where Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the confessional king. This will certainly be a mainstay in future competitions.

    5. …spending time with IM Kassa Korley. Kassa’s question to attend the MC2 was known to Jones Murphy who then relayed to me that we should make an effort to ensure he played. Kassa had graduated from Duke University and is charting the course for his next move in life. We figured out several options, but eventually we took advantage of the option to sign up another player and getting a free room. MC made this option possible. That basically meant that the money that I would have used to pay for my hotel for five days at Planet Hollywood would go toward Kassa’s entry fee… plus he’d be my roommate. Two problems solved. Both Jones and I collaborated to get the deal done and Kassa was ecstatic and grateful. Kassa is a talented player and worth the sacrifice to see him realize his talent. He is plain-spoken, very practical and a real as they come. It was a joy spending those days with him and we got to eat Ethiopian food as I promised! He particularly enjoyed meeting Malaku Lorne of Jamaica.

      IM Kassa Korley (right) playing his friend FM Raven Sturt bullet chess. National Master Tyrell Harriott looks on. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    6. …playing chess with Amy Lee! I met Amy for the first time last year at MC1 and since then we have become good friends. She is such an amazing person and we are blessed to have her involved with our sport.

      While I was milling about in the lobby I stopped by the MC sales table and Amy excited said, “Let’s play. Let’s play.” Apparently she was challenging everyone. There was a catch you had to give 5:1. After the first disastrous game with me playing 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, Amy began to catch on. She flagged me when I had mate in one and let out a laugh, “I survived!!!” Then she changed and we went to queen-odds. It was raucous and the onlookers loved it.

      In my view, Amy playing blitz was one of my highlights of the event!
      Very entertaining!

      Everyone was helping Amy… a queen up!! So a new rule was implemented that no one could help until after two minutes of her time expired. This brought some colorful exchanges, but mostly Amy was had so many advantages… since she’s so pretty, ambitious and helping our sport, everyone wanted to help her. 🙂 Amy would sometimes make an illegal move and hit the clock and you’d lose several seconds. Hooting and hollering would follow. It was so funny to see Amy gesticulate humorously over what move to make. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time playing blitz!

      Amy left her king in check and I snapped it off! She grabbed my hand trying to get her king back. So funny! Had a blast playing Amy in chess!

      Amy also challenged Maurice…

      …and got a kick out of trying to flag us!
      Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

    Photo memories from Millionaire Chess Open
    CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.
    All photos by Daaim Shabazz.







    While I will not give a letter grade on this event, there were plenty of comments pertaining to the tournament that deserved mention. I congratulated Amy on a job well done, but the perfectionist in her felt that

    The five areas of focus are…

    1. Tournament Management… A lot of effort went into making MC2 into a world-class event. Perhaps there was not the same amount of publicity, but it yielded an increase of approximately 40-50 players. The idea of 50 GMs from 50 countries had a nice ring although some of the players withdrew for various reasons. Nevertheless, the organization was credible on the front end.

      Ashley was proactive in dealing with first round issues.

      Everything went smoothly until it was time to make the first pairing. Apparently, an old spreadsheet was used to make the pairing. This included players who had withdrawn and excluded players who had registered on the later deadlines. What occurred was a nightmare. Many players were simply not paired. Others complained that the pairings were not correct. Finally, the first round showed a number of forfeits awarded to titled players. This means those seeking norms would be affected. This problem would come back to haunt the MC team.

      While the onus was on the MC organization to ensure a smooth tournament, some of the criticisms was unwarranted and unfair. Particularly as it pertained to people shouting at staff and at Amy Lee, the woman who made this tournament possible and is investing her own money. Yes…. that Amy Lee. I asked her who was this person who shouted at her, but she didn’t know who it was.

      Amy was in tears and ended up seeking medical attention due to a bleeding ulcer from the stress. How dare we? Is this how we treat our supporters? This was my worst moment of the tournament and personally had to reassure her. It nearly swore her off of any more MC tournaments. Amy describes the impact on her in her own reflections piece.

      The McShane-Nakamura controversy resulted in feverish calls
      around the globe to various arbiters.

      Apart from the tournament snafus with pairings, lateness of some rounds and the confusing tiebreak format, the tournament ran well in other areas. The security was smooth. In fact, I had been bypassing the screening with my press pass, but was stopped when it was discovered that I had both a press and player pass. This meant I would have to be checked. It was a good catch and I was not upset at all. The security guard spoke to Maurice Ashley and my “double status” was verified.

      I loved this innovation…
      …RFID input of your game through the wristband.

      When they got it to work, it’s easy as 1-2-3.

      I believe that given the obstacles, the tournament did as much as it could do in real-time and handled problems best they could. Was it always the most convenient to players? Of course not. Was it disappointing to see so many forfeits? Of course. However, putting on such an event will take a stronger team to avoid some of these issues. The load has to be taken off of Maurice and Amy and there need to be someone managing the operation.

    2. Tournament Decorum… This has to get an A-. The classy appearance of the lobby and the decorations of the tournament hall were clearly winners. Missing were decorations for the last two rounds of the Open Section, but the Millionaire Monday room was absolutely stunning.

      The lobby was wide and made a great place for socializing… and blitz!

      FM Mike Klein of chess.com was doing double duty.

      Nice eh?

      While the water servers were not part of the decorum, they added to the class of the event. It was certainly quite a symbol of customer service. Purple chosen as a brand for Millionaire Chess could not have been a better color. It exudes class, royalty and sets a positive tone. The world champion banners were again a nice addition and Amy’s suggestion of including the women’s champions was a stroke of genius.

    3. Fun Factor… There was an opening pool party which seemed to be quite a success… except the pool was not available. However, the photos seem to convey that everyone enjoyed the opportunity to unwind before the event. Blitz battles were all over the place! The breakfast was again a good touch. MC added another breakfast for the second schedule.

      Swagger on red carpet.
      Photo by David Llada.

      The red carpet was a hit once again. David Llada took fantastic shots and every seem to enjoy immortalizing the moment. There was some photos that attracted more attention than others, most notably this photo! The confessional booth was also a great addition as many players had a lot of fun saying hello to their family and friend, talking about their games and sometimes just acting silly. Great stuff!

      The best-dressed contest is an interesting but in my view still a bit flawed. It seems inconceivable that water girls roaming around focusing on serving water can judge all players when everyone is sitting. Of course, it is not a formal contest, but there is money on the line. It is a great idea going with the “millionaire” theme, but needs tweaking. Perhaps it would be good to post photos of the people who won each day!

      The “Millionaire Square” game show was great fun. However, the game had its snags such as players repeatedly missing the questions. The question were not difficult, but the answers were required in 10 seconds. I was able to score many of them, but of course had no pressure on me.

      Millionaire Chess Square Gameshow
      CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.
      All photos by Daaim Shabazz (unless otherwise stated).



      The game show winner P.P. Prachura got a chance to pick one square from 64 to win $1,000,000. After some thought and urging from audience, he picked c4 (after his favorite English Opening). He got a all-expense paid trip to MC3. What was the answer? It was… b1!

      Photo by Mike Klein.

    4. Tournament regulations and prizes… Many people were not happy with the quickened time controls in the class section. For me, I was in time trouble in almost each round, but I am also out of form. There were several people asking about the necessity of going from 40/120 to 40/90. Huge difference.

      The prizes were not 50-deep as MC1, but they were more lucrative in the open section (total of 30 prizes)… 20 prizes in 2200, 2000, 1800 and 28 for under-1600. One will have to look at the numbers to see if that prize structure will provide enough incentive given the expenses. However, there were many special prizes added.

      Lastly, It is not certain why the time of the round changed from the first day to the next. This is usually reserved for the last day. Nevertheless, times of the rounds were posted in the agenda. While it is up to the players to know the schedule, there were a couple of high-profile forfeits. Gata Kamsky was such victim and Vita Kryvoruchko was another.

      As for regulations, the no draw before move 30, fell on its face in round seven during the McShane-Nakamura battle. Both players repeated move three times and played a total of nine moves. It created quite a stir and caused the arbiters to scramble for the FIDE Handbook. After nearly two hours (97 minutes) of deliberation and consultation with FIDE International Arbiters, the draw was upheld.

      Some suggested a disincentive of draws by reduction of prizes for any game lasting under the 30-move limit. Not sure how practical that would be. It was quite a risk for Nakamura to agree to a draw and it almost cost him a shot at $100,000. GM David Smerdon wrote an essay on this, but not everyone is in agreement. It was a calculated risk and Nakamura guessed right. So what can be done about the draws?

    5. Media Coverage… The broadcasts were the highlights of the event. Despite of the outages of the website early on, there was coverage of top boards of all five sections on the main broadcasts. Fans were typically satisfied with the video camerawork, but there were a few jokes about Robert Hess’s superlatives and Lawrence Trent’s puns.

      Stacey Moore was of David Llada’s favorite subjects.

      One of the problems with the media schedule is that on Millionaire Monday there was no coverage of the Open section which featured Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Luke McShane and Gata Kamsky. I visited the room several times and it appeared to be a regular tournament without the MC panache.

      MC’s tournament website coverage needed work since daily reports fell behind. In my experience in covering tournaments, this is the first thing that is overlooked by the organizing body. Unfortunately, very few websites gave the tournament the coverage it deserved. I took and posted lots of photos each round, but my reports ran late since I was competing in the tournament and finishing games late. Mike Klein of chess.com ran daily reports for most of the rounds.

      David Llada was photographer par excellence; however, he had his favorite subjects. Some of his subjects were photographed rather frequently. Not that I blame him, but he took a lot of pictures of Stacey Moore (who performs in Las Vegas) and Mehrnaz Salem, who is reigning Miss Asia and Miss Iran. There was even a tweet put out to find out Moore’s name.

    Synopsis… Neither Amy nor Maurice were 100% pleased with their performance. However, the tournament was largely a success. They did not announce the next one, but it will not return to Vegas. The Planet Hollywood venue was a good start and helped to set the tone for an exclusive event. There are still the naysayers, but certainly MC is creating new ideas.

    The original home of Millionaire Chess!
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    I enjoyed the event overall, but did not appreciate the rancor aimed at Amy. She is making quite an investment and she chose chess. So whenever you talk to Amy, please show some respect! This woman has a pure heart and has even won over the worst of “haters”. It remains to be seen what will become of MC, or whether there will be a tournament. I believe the brand is strong, but help is needed!

    GM Maurice Ashley with Adia Onyango and yours truly.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Those criticizing Maurice and somehow believe he is doing all of this unpaid hard work for self-promotion knows nothing about his career. For more than ten years, he has had a vision to take chess to the next level. For forty years, he has been involved in practically every aspect of chess… except as a politician. Now he has built a chess company. Should he benefit from his hard work and the ultimate success of MC? Of course. Should he continue to do this for free? Of course not.

    Suggestions… I would suggest bringing back the phone app, at a minimum. The cell phone is how everyone is accessing information these days and it would put MC firmly at the cutting edge of tournaments. It would make getting pairings so much easier. The app from MC1 was such a wonderful productivity tool. Bill Goichberg is using the text message option for his tournaments.

    The massage option was a great value, but was not available due to low demand at MC1. I could’ve used this! Maybe we should have the massage chairs closer to where the player traffic is. Demand would soar. There were grumblings about the faster time control. There is quite a difference between 40/120 and 40/90. If it is 40/90 next year, I may play in Open section where you get 40/120 and nine rounds of chess! Look out! 🙂

    Of course small aesthetic touches like the water service and the purple runners on the tables are lovely. The new venue will have its own set of challenges, but the structure is already intact. The MC company has already disseminated a questionnaire and are surveying various price points and locations for the next tournament. In my view, resorting back to a $500,000 tournament won’t do.

    MC supporter Jones Murphy has suggested an online option (at selected locations) that would allow players to compete without having to shoulder heavy travel and hotel expenses. This would certainly be an incentive, but there would be a number of logistical and technical issues to consider. There are certainly a number of options, but what is paramount is the pursuit of sponsorship.

    The chess community should heap effusive praise onto Amy and Maurice for their effort. While not perfect, there were great takeaways from the event and certainly lessons learned. GM Maurice Ashley continues to be a lead innovator in chess and is not afraid to try new ideas. This means MC3 will be stronger… if it should happen.

    It will only happen if there is a grassroots support. No longer can you watch from the sidelines and expect chess to have its day in the spotlight. The current investment model is unsustainable and if another model is not found, we can go back to playing in weekend tournaments where the total prize fund may be $2,000. Let’s ride the wave of this chess renaissance. Let’s make MC3 happen!

    THANKS AMY FOR SUPPORTING CHESS!
    * * *

    CONTACT: MILLIONAIRE CHESS

    email address: contact@millionairechess.com
    official website: https://millionairechess.com/

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/HighStakesChess
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millionairechess
    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/MillionaireChess

    Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/

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