Fier Tactics - Kritz Blitzed at Death Match 13!
A combination of large time advantages and numerous blunders by his opponent propelled Grandmaster Alexandr Fier to a 21.5-11.5 trounce of Grandmaster Leonid Kritz in Chess.com's Death Match 13, held on April 21. Fier takes home $750 for his win while Kritz gets $250 in defeat.
After two overtime matches in the most recent incarnations, the Brazilian’s margin of victory was the fourth largest in the event’s history. The 33 games were the second most played. Only the first Death Match between IMs Rensch and Pruess had more games, with 55.
GM Alexandr Fier
Monthly Death Matches are three-hours of non-stop online blitz action, with roughly the first third devoted to five minute blitz, the second part to three-minute chess, and the final portion to one-minute bullet chess. All three stages offer a one-second increment but the games start one after another with no interregnum to gather thoughts or even to use the restroom.
The match began as a close affair, with Kritz getting numerous opening and middlegame advantages. Fier, however, played quickly and confidently throughout, and often held or even won much worse positions while Kritz’s time ticked down perilously.
GM Leonid Kritz
Kritz’s over-the-board activity has fallen sharply in recent years. After attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on a chess scholarship and playing as many as 50 games in a rating period, he has not played a tournament game in more than a year (Fier has played more than 130 in that same span). Kritz explained that he is teaching more than playing while he attempts to earn an advanced degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
The opening game of the match portended much of the afternoon. Fier got nothing special against Kritz’s …a6 Slav, as the German grandmaster stifled white’s bishops and netted an extra pawn.
After 40…f4, commentators IM Danny Rensch and GM Ben Finegold seemed satisfied that Kritz’s win was imminent, but Fier found the clever resource 41. R1h4. In order to save the rook on f8 from a skewer, black allowed white enough counterplay to hold the balance. But as the pawn liquidation began, Kritz’s lack of time produced the instantaneous blunder 50…Rxa3?, after which white’s c-pawn cannot be stopped. 50…Kd6 would have been a straightforward draw.
The rook lift would become a recurring theme in the match, with five of the first ten games having a rook taking the elevator instead of the sidewalk.
The openings of the Death Match were the usual mix of theoretical and offbeat, but Fier relied heavily on the so-called O’Kelly Sicilian with 2…a6.
The late Belgian GM Albéric O'Kelly de Galway
Fier played it with his first use of the black pieces, then trotted it out about a half-dozen more times. “The thing about the O’Kelly is that if you aren’t prepared for it, five minutes is not enough time to refute it,” Finegold said. Fier did not want to start 0-2 and wisely took the perpetual in round two. The winning attempt 34. Rxb6+? fails to 34…Bxb6 35. Bxb6 Rb8! 36. Kd4 Rxb6 37. c5+ Kc7 38. cxb6+ Kxb6 and black’s outside passed pawn decides.
After two more draws, Kritz struck for the first time. Ironically this was one of the few five-minute games in which the commentators thought he was worse out of the opening. Fier’s light-squared outposts were too numerous to count, so Kritz threw all his kingside pawns down the board. Finegold commented that in blitz, “the attacker has the advantage.” Still, Kritz showed that nothing would come easily, as he held out for a while before Kritz formed a mating net.
After the match ended, Kritz highlighted game six as the turning point in the match. After 18. Qxg7 the commentators did not hold Fier’s position in high regard, but only two moves later the recurrence of the rook lift, 19…Rh6!, sealed white’s fate. Fier’s rook essentially took two moves to move like a knight, then took care of business with an elementary but still pleasing tactic. “I miscalculated many things,” Kritz said after the match.
Game nine also produced the first of several simple blunders by Kritz. The humorous mouse-slip (or was it?) 1. c3?! followed by 2. c4 produced yet another O’Kelly Sicilian, this time with colors reversed. Kritz engineered the better rook, bishop and king but inexplicably played 40…Kxe2, after which he lost his rook and resigned immediately. Instead 40…Rxe2 wins, while white’s possibility of 40. Rg3+ could have been parried by 40…Kf2, which retains the win for black.
“That was some ugly business,” Rensch said. The win proved crucial as the five-minute section ended in a 6-4 advantage to Fier instead of a 5-5 tie.
The start of the three-minute period made the players more freewheeling in their opening choices, as they began with a King’s Gambit and then a Sicilian Wing Gambit. Following that, the 13th game was so atypical that the encyclopedic Finegold said, “I don’t know what this is; this is just weird.”
Despite the unorthodoxy, Fier quickly expanded his lead, going +4-0=2 in the first six games, including a position where he was so ahead on the clock that he played for the win while down the exchange. Even a 15-minute respite from the server crashing could not change Kritz’s fortunes. Kritz only won one game in the three-minute section as Fier won the stage 5.5-2.5 and led by five games going into the bullet.
Most assumed that the celerity of the younger and more active Fier would rule the day, especially since Kritz admitted before the match that this stage was his concern “mostly due to a problem with my mouse!” But after splitting the first four games, Kritz went on his only mini-run of the match, winning twice more and drawing one to close within three games. “I was quite worried,” Fier said. “It (his lead) was not so big of an advantage that I couldn't lose it.”
Kritz turned the tables on Fier in game 23, getting the worse position but throwing up enough chaff to make the win elusive. While he won on a late blunder, Kritz could have won in style with the swallow’s tale mate 53…Qg8+ and 54…Qg6#.
That was as close as he would get, as Fier then rattled off seven straight, including some one-move blunders, to put the match out of reach. Often the same strategy recurred – Kritz would get a small or even winning advantage, only to have his time run too low for conversion. Game 31 was typical. Kritz was better throughout, and would likely have won after Rensch’s suggested 38…Rd8. Instead after a “counterpromotion” Fier survived the passed pawn and used time advantage to outplay his opponent.
“I was kind of tired,” Fier said, adding that he understood why both players missed a few obvious moves. “It was easy to blunder.”
"As it turned out, Kritz had nothing to fear but Fier himself", said Ben Finegold in summary of the match...
Despite what ended as a landslide victory in favor of Fier, both players said they would happily play another Death Match, and that they looked at this fast paced, exciting format as something for the future of chess!
Our next Death Match 14 will be Sunday May 19 at 1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific between two Texas Tech Knight Raiders – GMs Elshan Moradiabadi and Yaroslav Zherebukh. You can look for IM Danny Rensch to bring you the action on Chess.com/TV!