Millionaire Chess, Jon Collins
The Millionaire Chess Tournament (http://millionairechess.com/) is over!
Over 500 participants from more than 40 countries across the world joined up in Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, to play chess for a total prize purse of $1 million. It is the highest offered in Open chess history! Of course, with a minimum of $1,000 entry it didn't come cheap, but this was all about a new, big experience.
I arrived in Las Vegas some time before the event to combine it with a holiday. Vegas is an amazing place if you've not been before. Everything is centred on the strip, where all the main attractions lie. The place is massive, most hotels are so big you will get lost inside, many featuring shopping malls, theatres, cinemas, bars, several restaurants, conference centres. Not to mention the betting attractions, particularly huge casinos and sportsbooks. Oh and of course the customary 2 or 3 Starbucks within each hotel!
The Grand Canyon is only a few hours drive away and I was lucky enough to combine this with a visit to Vegas, and I was not disappointed! LA/Hollywood are also close by and well worth visiting, and if you can stretch a bit further I've heard San Francisco is a must see.
Many hotels in Vegas are themed, so for example you have a Venetian hotel where inside you can see the delights of Italy, go for a Gondola ride, visit art galleries, Italian restaurants etc! Then Paris features the equivalent, with a huge Eiffel Tower of course! The huge fountains outside the Bellagio are impressive, and the building itself is immense. You could easily spend 3 or 4 days just visiting one hotel at at time, since many contain attractions like Volcanos, fountain displays, magical gardens and rollercoasters!
The strip can take you hour to walk down easily and getting from one hotel to another is a journey in itself, sometimes you have to cross via bridges, or it can be more convenient to use the monorail!
Vegas comes alive at night with the flashing lights on the strip, deals in bars and restaurants, and casinos touting for business. Despite it being a city of indulgence, you can easily find a more quiet corner and relax to a quiet meal or drink (particularly in the daytime). Shows are extremely popular, Cirque du Soleil being one of the most with about 10 different types. Many famous artists such as Britney Spears and Rod Stewart were also performing most nights I was there!
Pretty much anything goes in Vegas, and it's not really a family place, smoking, drinking, gambling, lack of clothing are all very commonplace! But the general vibe is fun, and everyone is just having a good time.
Downtown Vegas (Fremont street) provides a break from the main strip, is a bit cheaper and features more restaurants, bars and casinos, plus a popular zip-wire! About 10 mins drive from the strip.
Prices in general were quite affordable, although both ends of the spectrum were available depending on how lavish you wanted to be!
Planet Hollywood was the resort chosen for the tournament and of the hotels available this is one of the better ones. It featured all the mod cons of other hotels, modern and comfortable rooms and is set inside a 'miracle mile' shopping mall where you can find anything you need from food to fashion. The building itself is huge (I believe it has around 50 floors!) and the tournament was held on the 3rd floor in part of the conference centre.
The tournament itself was in general very well organised. With over 500 entrants, there was of course a large queue for registration but after all the formalities were dealt with, the opening ceremony came. Participants were treated to a buffet style breakfast, followed by a comedian 'ice-breaker', then some intro talks by the two tournament pioneers, Maurice Ashley and Amy Lee.
Then, before the chess started, there were red carpet photos with the organisers and some custom-made gifts for participants such as a bag and bracelet.
The tournament contained over 30 GMs and of course many other master-titles players. Most notable were:
GM Wesley So – 2855, GM Xiangzhi Bu – 2822, GM Quang Liem Le – 2806, GM Yangyi Yu – 2800
The American contingent was obviously well represented, with the likes of:
GM Varuzhan Akobian – 2758
GM Timur Gareyev – 2740
GM Ray Robson – 2728
GM Sam Shankland – 2725
GM Daniel Naroditsky – 2701
GM Aleksandr Lenderman – 2690
GM Alejandro Ramirez – 2673
...leading the line. Plus many of America's strongest women, such as Irina Krush and Alisa Melekhina.
Luckily I had watched the US championships a few months ago, so it was nice to recognise so many of the 'celebrity' players!
The event was really celebrated in the media, having already hit the papers across the world, in Europe, America, Asia, there was video coverage online via multiple chess websites and the Millionaire chess website itself. Constant photography and video was taking place during the event but no players were disrupted in any way. More media coverage such with video is popping up as we speak, even with the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29573719
The event was the first of its kind ever, and acts as a platform for future events. It was known to the organisers that this first instance would provide a big monetary loss, and the 550 participants was apparently well short of their target. But even though this one may have lost let's say $0.5 million, it seems the idea is for similar off-shoots to pop-up across the world, perhaps one in each continent. So the media coverage of this event will prove crucial in the success of the venture, financed by entrepreneur Amy Lee.
Now, onto the event itself....
This was a massive event and there were 6 sections based on ability. The main press focus was understandably on the Open section, with a first prize of $100,000! The format was set in such a way that for most sections, the top 4 players after 7 rounds went into a final 'Millionaire Monday' (5th day), where the top 4 players competed for the big money. As well as $100k for the Open section, most other sections boasted a top prize of $40k which is unprecedented for those of a lower standard.
Two rounds took place on most days and by the end of the 4th day if you were lucky enough to be in the top 4 you would have a shot at the big money. Those finishing below that still had a chance at a few thousand dollars.
The top seed, Wesley So, won the main event after facing the American GM Ray Robson in the final. So had been the best player throughout the tournament and was a big favourite going into the final. In a 2 match game, the first was drawn and in the second, Robson played a terrible opening and lost early into the middle game!
Most players at that point had finished and were watching in one of the many side rooms. The online commentary was shown by a live stream on a large projection screen, featuring well-known commentators including the Brit, Lawrence Trent. They certainly did their best to keep the commentary exciting and appealing to both the chess fanatic and the lay person, as part of the aim to help bring chess and this tournament to the masses.
Additionally, there were other rooms where games could be analysed afterwards or just for socialising. The security was very tight at the event, and the organisers had prided themselves on ensuring no electronic devices etc could be brought to the event, to combat cheating. Metal detectors and searches were used both before entering the hall, and at restrooms!
Here are some details of my personal progress at the event:
I was in section 3/6 (U2000), with over 110 players in my section alone. It proved a really tough tournament and I started terribly with two losses! But pulled it back going unbeaten in the last 5, with two wins and 3 draws.
Average performance overall but after a poor start, I recovered well and reached an even score of 3.5/7 which was my minimum aim. In the end I finished mid-table but played some really interesting games.
My final position was =49/114 people and here is a summary of my results:
R1: Coel Oshiro (1929) vs Jon Collins ....(LOSS)
R2: Jon Collins vs Stuart Chagrin (1860) .... (LOSS)
[terrible start!! Although Coel Oshiro proved to be one of the strongest in the section, not losing and posting 6/7 (in my opinion he was much stronger than 2000)]
R3: Collins Apiri (1833) vs Jon Collins .... (WIN)
R4: Jon Collins vs Steve Villareal (1830) ....(DRAW)
R5: Aigboje Aregbeyen (1845) vs Jon Collins ....(DRAW)
R6: Jon Collins vs Scott Zrinski (1855) ....(DRAW)
R7: James Apiri (1922) vs Jon Collins ....(WIN)
Two of the draws were in potentially winning positions so could be better but exciting games at least.
Here is the winning game from round 7 (me as black). White didn't play the best opening and black ended up a pawn up as a result. The rook endgame was tricky but white pushed too hard and ended up losing, whilst I had 2 seconds on my clock for many moves at the end and had to mate with Q+K vs K:
Round 4 (white):
A crazy game. I made an unsound 'Greek Gift' sacrifice and ended up with just a pawn for a bishop due to pressure on the h2 square. However I went all out with some sacrifices and managed to save a draw, despite actually being in a commanding position. Probably my most inaccurate game but found some interesting resources to save a half point then squander it!
ROUND 3 (win):
Finally, I (black) got to play the Knights' Tango (Mexican Defence) and it paid off! I found a nice potential mating attack with the knight in the middle game, and white didn't manoeuvre his pieces as effectively as possible to defend. I found a nice exchange sacrifice, giving away my rook for a bishop, then trapping the queen. White played the best continuation but found himself the equivalent of a few pawns down, but I had an active queen in the endgame after a few accurate moves I found a winning attack
ROUND 5 (draw):
White played a quiet unambitious system and I (black) found myself in a slightly better position in the middlegame. 15. Nd3 was a weak move by white and i pounced to push the night back and break through in the centre. After a few tactics I won a pawn and later an exchange (Rook for bishop) but black had active pieces and a strong kingside attack so I had to give the exchange back. After pushing the King to h1 I thought there may be a winning system but I couldn't find it (and actually there wasn't!). When the queens came off, in the endgame I was a pawn up but when low on time I couldn't find the winning manoeuvres and white held on. A bit frustrating but I played well in general and found most optimal moves.
Round 6 (draw):
Got lucky here as my opponent played a strong middle game but missed a win and then played a bad rook and pawn ending!
(to be entered)
After being in the US for nearly 3 weeks it's time to return to the UK but it's been the trip of a lifetime and I've enjoyed every minute! The event lived up to it's hype and proved an excellent stage to put chess on the world map.
A massive thank you to all those who donated to the charity fundraiser, and there is still plenty of time to contribute to an excellent cause. Please see my fundraiser page for Cancer Research:
Congratulations to Amy Lee and Maurice Ashley for hosting a fantastic tournament, and all the work which went on by staff and volunteers.
I think all of the participants enjoyed the experience of being at such a mammoth event, and it generated a feeling of excitement being around celebrities and being covered by the media. I think this is and will continue to be highlighted by media across the world before the broader 'Millionaire Chess' vision becomes apparent. But I think it was a success and will act as a platform for future off-shoots, no matter where they are held. I hope to see more of these tournaments springing up, perhaps one in Europe next year!?
I have to say that around 10 hours of chess per day for 4 or 5 days is a tough feat even for the most hardened of players! Maybe a week's break from chess is welcome right now. But I did enjoy it massively, and even though a $75 prize could've been $600 with an extra half point, it wasn't really about the money (unless you can finish in the top few of course!). I think everyone I spoke to really enjoyed this and look forward to another similar tournament.
Here's to the next Millionaire chess tournament!!