FM Evan Ju pulled away in the bullet portion of Death Match 23 on Tuesday, April 22, beating IM Marc Esserman 18-12. The match was the adjournment from the original matchup on April 12, which was postponed with the score even at 1.5-1.5.
In the three FM vs. IM Death Match contests, FMs have now won two out of three (FM Robby Adamson was the other winner in Death Match 8).
Ju lost the opening segment narrowly, 3.5-2.5. The Black pieces dominated the five-minute portion, winning 4.5 of the first 5. Our earlier report showed that game one (played April 12) may have been the best of the entire match.
FM Evan Ju
A summary of the match could almost be deduced from game four alone. Ju insisted on playing the French (in fact he played it every game as Black!), and the two reached nearly the same endgame position about 10 times. Esserman offered a pawn to charge up the board with his king and dominated the dark squares. The essential question, which was asked in a multitude of games, was "Could White break through?"
Amazingly White's king charged all the way to b7 and got mated back on his starting square, e1! Commentators IM Danny Rensch and GM Ben Finegold were flummoxed by Ju's willingness to enter this exact endgame in nearly ever turn as Black.
"He's a creature of habit, to his own detriment," Rensch said during the broadcast. "It seems silly to repeat that same line," Finegold said after Esserman converted the same ending in round 6.
Afterward, Ju explained that the opening was by design.
"I prepared for it," Ju said. "The engine says it's equal. I was just planning on playing it once or twice. I really fits my match strategy. It gets the queens off the board and Marc is a very attacking player.
"I'm surprised he kept playing it. Bf4 is not supposed to be good."
When he lined up with Black, Esserman didn't Xerox his moves like Ju did, but it was nearly always a Siclian - either an Accelerated Dragon or a Poisoned Pawn Najdorf.
IM Marc Esserman
The first "run" of the match came immediately in the three-minute segment. Ju rattled off 4.5/5 at the outset. Esserman finally stopped the bleeding by converting that same French ending. He actually achieved rook+bishop vs. rook in game 12, a theoretical draw that is notoriously difficult to hold. Ju lost on time whle attempting to reach 50 moves.
Esserman couldn't make it two in a row, as he inexplicably abandoned his Sicilian in round 13 for one of the few times in the match. The profligate Philidor maneuver 3...Qe7 offered little in shock value as Ju calmly developed, dominated the d-file, and found the crushing tactic 17. Nxe5!
Esserman won the next game and after a draw in round 15, Ju took a two-point lead (8.5-6.5) into the bullet.
The two are not strangers to long series of one-minute games. Last October, they played an informal 31-game bullet series on Chess.com, and in January, a 20-game affair. Ju won both narrowly.
Esserman won the opening two games to tie the score. As would be his trademark, he chose celerity over accuracy. In round 17, he won on time with 34 seconds on his clock, a relative eternity of remaining time in bullet chess (all games in Death Matches do have one-second increments). The initial game was capped with a clever mate, and showed why Ju was reluctant to allow Esserman to keep his queen!
Ju then won 3.5 of the next 4 and never relinquished his lead. A pair of wins by Esserman in rounds 22 and 23 weren't enough, as the FM then won five in a row. An instantaneous-moving Esserman lost one game with almost one full minute remaining on his clock.
Without enough time remaining to make a comeback, Esserman was either frustrated or being funny in the final two games. He opened with king marches to the center, and actually won the final game with 1...e6 and 2...Ke7?!
"It was a really tough match," Ju said. "I'm surprised I did as well in the bullet. I think he kind of fell apart." Ju won the bullet 9.5-5.5.
Fans did not get to see any Smith-Morra Gambits, which are Esserman's specialty. Ju said he wasn't being coy by stating prior to the match he prepared a line against it. He told Rensch his plan was to decline the offering with 3...d3, but he ended up never going down that road.
Ju won $750 while Esserman took $250.
So what does one do after playing a three-hour Death Match? Most past players report going to bed, but not for these two - they got right back in the saddle. Esserman played 133 more bullet games before this report was filed in the early morning after the match, 18 of which were against Ju. Some Death Matches never end.