GM Irina Krush won the final five games of Death Match 26 Saturday to clip GM Nadezhda Kosintseva 14-13.
The four-game deficit overcome by Krush was the second largest in Death Match history, only eclipsed by the previous Death Match.
The second all-female Death Match went nowhere in the first hours. Both the 5+1 and 3+1 sections ended tied.
In the final bullet portion, Krush won the opening game but then lost four in a row. After a draw in game 21, Kosintseva won again to make the lead four games with a little more than 10 minutes remaining. That's when Krush "won out" by taking all of the final five games to win.
"I was so far behind, I thought the match was over," Krush said. "The last part of the match was a huge surprise for me...how it happened I have no idea."
GM Irina Krush before playing and winning her third straight U.S. Women's Championship in May, 2014.
Her lack of experience in one-minute chess and the inherent unpredictability of the time control both proved decisive.
"I haven't made myself known as a blitz specialist," she said before the match. "I think bullet is really random, unless you play someone who has played a lot of bullet. It sounds like something guys would do. I don't know any women who play bullet."
Game five demonstrated many patterns that recurred during the match.
Though the game ended in an unfortunate mouse slip (partially due to Krush's minimal time), all of the match's recurring patterns were present: Kosintseva's reliance on the Nimzo-Indian, her better time management, her willingness to accept an isolated queen pawn, and Krush's preference for the bishop pair.
Astonishingly, Krush played with the bishop pair in about two-thirds of the 27 games.
"Before the match, I thought it was easier to play in blitz with the knight, not the bishop," Kosintseva said, reflecting the popular notion that knights can be very tricky with minimal time.
"I do like to get the bishop pair," Krush said. "It's rare you'll see me on the other side of that piece balance."
After the opening segment ended tied 3.5-3.5, Krush faced a nagging lag issue with her computer's connection. The problem only added to her time deficits.
She explained before the match that she was playing from the Catskill Mountains, about 100 miles up the Hudson River from her home in Brooklyn, NY. She said she was there training for the Olympiad.
"When time dwindles, [Krush] gets nervous," commentator GM Robert Hess said. "That could come back to bite her."
The connectivity issues likely contributed to Krush flagging in the final game of the 3+1 blitz.
The final position is a theoretical draw. If White brings the king to g4 and bishop to e6, there is time to take the g-pawn and not let either rook pawn promote. While laboring to figure this out, Krush's time expired, thus tying the second segment 4-4.
The ladies entered the bullet portion of the match with everything on the line. After Krush went down four but then won game 23, commentator IM Danny Rensch said, "It's totally doable," about a comeback.
The closing streak began with a cute checkmate trap in the endgame.
After Krush won twice more, Rensch added, "Irina's showing some resilience. The pace of the match has changed. The last few games Irina has got in her wheelhouse."
She won again in game 26 to even the match. With time remaining for one more game, another Nimzo remained. Krush got a Carlsbad pawn structure where only she coud probe a weakness, and eventually a trick on the pinned c-pawn allowed her to crash through.
The match win for Krush came despite her lack of preparation. She did not play much blitz on Chess.com before the match, whereas Kosintseva's account was full of games in the last few days. Instead, Krush focused on nourishment.
"I prepared -- I got a banana and a Luna Bar!" Krush said.
She likely needed it. Both women claimed that fatigue played a big part in the match.
"I'm tired and I could not concentrate," Kosintseva said afterward. "It was bad...I tried to play quite positionally but it was necessary for me to calculate a lot. That's why I had no energy at the end. I'd like to repeat the match, just not today!"
Kosintseva with husband GM Leonid Kritz and six-month-old daughter Sophia. Kritz, a past Death Match player, babysat during the match.
The exhaustion may have been exacerbated by the new addition to Kosintseva's family. Although her daughter slept as Kosintseva entered the chess club, husband GM Leonid Kritz reported that teeth are on the way.
"It's grueling," was Krush's sentiment. "I got really tired after one hour. The pressure was off at the end [when I was losing]. That's when I started to feel OK -- when the match was 'over.'"
"It was a very close match. That was good for the fans, for those that stuck around!"
The winner of a Death Match now gets $500, plus a $100 bonus for each of the three segments won. (The loser takes $200 plus the same bonus.)
Because the first two segements were tied, each player earned a $50 bonus for those. Thus, Krush's check is $700 and Kosintseva's $300.