Death Match 16 - Battle of the Americas
Start with two grandmasters. Add some Argentinian and Brazilian blood. Throw in some more from Connecticut, Armenia and Lebanon. What do you get? The most multicultural Chess.com Death Match ever! Death Match 16 will feature the Americas-hopping GM Robert Hungaski with the current Brazilian Champion GM Krikor Sevag Mekhitarian. Note the change of date for the match - it will now be Saturday, July 20 at 1 p.m. Eastern 10 a.m. Pacific.
Hungaski is an American who had an Argentinian mother and so grew up partly in South America, and is now back in the United States. Mekhitarian has always lived in Brazil, but only his mother was born there. His grandparents are Armenian and his father was born in Lebanon. The two grandmasters have known each other since childhood but surprisingly have never played a rated game, or even a casual one!
"I usually speak to him in Portuguese and he usually answers me in Spanish," Hungaski said. "But I suspect the trash-talking will be in English. His English is as good as any American's."
Mekhitarian could actually choose between English, Spanish, Portuguese or Armenian, although the latter would probably not have any effect against Hungaski. He said English is the best trash-talking language anyway. "Spanish is supposed to be used for jokes or funny expressions, and Portuguese is kind of neutral." Mekhitarian already had some English phrases in mind when picking his lingua franca for the match. "How cooler than 'I'm gonna kick your skinny white ass' could it get?"
There was definitely a spanking in this game, not the Brazilian's favorite but he did confess to enjoying the beauty of the finish. If you are not impressed by the usual-looking knight sacrifice on f5, or the follow-up bishop sac, the grandmaster begs for your attention a few moves later with the unbelievable 22. Kf1!! How often do you sacrifice your queen with a quiet move?
Neither this game nor his national championship is Mekhitarian's favorite moment in chess (nor his recent win by a full point at the Varna Open in Bulgaria). That would be his seconding of world number two GM Levon Aronian in the last two Sao Paulo legs of the Grand Slam Masters Finals. Hey, if you are going to be a chess player, you could do a lot worse than being an Armenian-speaking grandmaster.
The Death Match is a fickle contest, where staying focused after a string of wins or losses can be difficult. Doubts, fears or overconfidence can creep in without a player having any chance to refocus after a game (there are no breaks and almost every Death Match has seen a player run off four or five wins in a row). Who will have the edge in the mental game?
Hungaski's double-degree was in Philosophy (like his favorite writer, GM Jonathan Rowson) and Political Science. So he may able to either rationalize the results, or if he prefers his political training, he can filibuster his opponent's trash-talking (there's no kissing babies in the Death Match, thankfully). His current career path has him studying to be a paramedic but that seems less useful since the chance of a fisticuffs in Internet chess is somewhat slim.
Mekhitarian has shown an ability to be both hot and cold in the same event. Thanks to some high-profile players dropping out, this year he was the number-one seed in the Brazilian Championship, a 12-player round-robin. He began 0.5/2, then promptly won seven straight and iced the tournament with some late draws. He admitted to being somewhat superstitious (no word on which player balked at playing the match on the original date - July 13). "I want to play with the same pen over and over," he said, although competitors clearly do not have to notate the blitz or bullet games. "But eventually I'd just think it's stupid and let it go."
Mekhitarian does have an obscure online blitz skill that impressed Hungaski in the past, but won't be relevant in the Death Match. "I was at his home in Sao Paulo some six or seven years ago," Hungaski explained. "I got to see him play bullet on ICC without a mouse, making moves on the keyboard. I was very impressed with the lightning speed he could do it, probably faster than if he had a mouse. I don't think this is possible at chess.com so that makes me feel more confident." No word on whether Mekhitarian also has a lucky mouse.
Mekhitarian is similarly impressed by Hungaski. "He has a secret identity as a crime-fighting superhero," Mekhitarian said. Well, it is true that first-responders are fairly well revered in New York City.
Of all the GMs in the world who may respond to your urgent medical needs, Hungaski may be the best. Besides his training as a paramedic, he clearly will never give up, as this exhaustive battle shows.
Both players said they feel more comfortable in the 5/1 segment. Mekhitarian will have to re-engage that bullet prowess from his youth - he has played so much classical chess lately (84 games just in the first half of 2013, while he expects to play almost 200) that he may want to think about playing some warmup games at faster time controls before the event (he remained coy about his exact preparation). He said his goal is to make 2600, which will require even more focus and dedication. "Since I am Brazilian, I am forced to play soccer once in a while."
Make sure you mark your calendars for July 20th, and be online on Chess.com/TV to check out IM Danny Rensch and GM Ben Finegold's coverage of the match.