At the age of 17, GM Boris Avrukh moved from Kazakhstan to Israel. Next month, he will move thousands of miles again, this time to the U.S. IM Yaacov Norowitz's big move? New York to New Jersey. Despite the oceans of difference, the two will contest Death Match 25 on Sunday, June 22.
The chess world can make the real world small like that.
This is the first Death Match under the new prize distribution. The winner will receive $500, the loser $200, and the victor of each of the three time controls (5+1, 3+1, 1+1) gets a $100 addition. Since the overall winner must mathematically win at least one section, he will win between $600 and $800.
Avrukh is far more international, having won the World Under 12 Championship and playing for the Israeli National Team many times. Norowitz only recently has gone overseas to compete, though his record suggests he should do it more often. He won IM norms in the first two foreign events he played (Reykjavik and Bahamas), and scored more points than he needed for all three norms.
GM Boris Avrukh
Making the title was not his goal. "I just decided to do some traveling and enjoy life at the same time," Norowitz said. "Although it's not an easy task since all of the events run through Shabbos and Kosher food is bring your own or starve."
His counterpart is far more traveled, and as such has a wider array of chess anecdotes.
Avrukh came to Israel after being recruited to the Beersheba Chess Club. The city of 200,000 has been on some lists as having the most GMs per capita of any city in the world. "We couldn't miss the chance," Avrukh said of the chance to add his name to their roster.
His favorite experience? Easy - Elista, Russia in 1998, when he was only 20.
"It's a very simple choice - my very first Olympiad," Avrukh said. "It's not only a personal achievement...we shouldn't underestimate team achievement." Avrukh earned a gold medal as a reserve player and Israel tied for third but lost the bronze on tiebreaks (GM Boris Gelfand was not yet on the team).
When Gelfand joined the team, the team did this:
He also remembered the host facility and its expeditious last-minute preparation. The Elista, Russia playing hall (also known as the Chess Palace) was "maybe 30 percent ready," according to Avrukh. "It was very shocking and we expected a very big delay...We met one of Kirsan's (Ilyumzhinov) helpers who promised that the building would be ready in 48 hours and in three days the Olympiad will start. They managed to do this on time!"
Avrukh chose this as his career highlight despite his World Youth Championship, where he beat Peter Leko and Giovanni Vescovi in the same day.
Despite taking out the Hungarian number one and former Brazilian top GM, as well as competing in five other Olympiads, he chose this game from much later in his career as his favorite.
Given their histories the contest may seem like a mismatch, but when it comes to blitz chess, Norowitz may rightly claim more experience. Until his recent FIDE title, he was known for many years as a park player. He also qualified first in Chess.com's bullet and blitz ratings in April; Avrukh finished second.
"Recently I started playing on Chess.com and I enjoyed it very much," Avrukh said. "Of course when I was younger I played quite a lot, but I never was especially good in online play. Not like in live blitz, where my first rating was 2681!"
Avrukh's lofty over-the-board blitz rating wasn't enough to have him consider himself a favorite. "This kind of blitz is just about experience, and Yaacov has huge [amounts]. I see him as a clear favorite." He is especially worried about the 1+1 portion. He said he would practice this the most.
IM Yaacov Norowitz
Norowitz doesn't want to be pigeonholed as simply a player for one time control. He doesn't identify as a blitz specialist.
"I enjoy playing blitz so I played blitz. I play for myself not for the title. I am not interested in what people think I am good at or not."
If the definition of "good" is beating a 2600+ convincingly en route to capturing an IM norm, then Norowitz is indeed good.
Another thing Norowitz doesn't seem to care for - lots of study. "I don't prepare for blitz...I just play. If I'm in a good mood, I win. If I am not in a great mood, I lose. It's just that simple. Chess is an emotional game for me. The most I ever prepared for was during U.S. Championships last year for about 15 minutes. This is not school, I just have fun!
"Some people sadly take it way too seriously. Chess should be fun. It's an art form and you need to enjoy and appreciate it like you would a fine wine!"
He's also the first Death Match participant to say that he will likely listen to music during the match. "It would be nice to bring some of that music to my norm games!"
IM Yaacov Norowitz at the 2013 U.S. Championship
Will he join Avrukh in the ranks of grandmaster one day? "I am not playing chess because there is some sort of goal to get the GM title," he said. "It would be nice but it's irrelevant to me."
He teaches a lot now and still takes lessons with GM Roman Dzindzichashvili.
The two competitors met about 10 years ago in Israel, but they will be a lot more intimate after the three hours of non-stop blitz this Sunday. Make sure you tune in to Chess.com/TV at at 12 noon p.m. Eastern (GMT -6), 9 a.m. Pacific (GMT -9). Live commentary will be provided by IM Danny Rensch and GM Simon Williams!