International Master Greg Shahade won the second chess.com Death-Match in convincing fashion, acquitting himself well in all three time controls in the new format, 5 1, 3 1, and 1 1. The USCL commissioner faced off against USCL vice-commissioner FM Arun Sharma. In pre-game interviews, FM Sharma claimed that he does more work than Shahade for the USCL and is the boss in fact if not in name. This and another clever provocation (claiming that Greg's sister was actively cheering Arun on-- a claim which he later revealed to have been a fabrication) did not rattle Shahade any more than the speedy time controls, as he produced dozens of quality games over the course of the three hour match.
A Creaky Start
Many people expected IM Shahade to dominate in the two blitz time controls of 5 minutes + 1 second increment and 3 minutes + 1 second increment, and for him to encounter some trouble in the bullet 1 minute + 1 second increment time control, as Shahade has the most practice playing blitz, and Sharma is a specialist of one minute chess.
Scarily, the match almost did not get off the ground, with the first game decided by a premove/mouseslip type issue, which everyone hated to see happen:
and the second game decided by a pretty silly knight fork:
But then the two players settled in and got down to business. Sharma struck first with a typical example of his tactical awareness:
But Greg struck back with a 3-game winning streak of his own, starting with a novelty in a sharp line that Arun must have hoped Greg would not know:
and then one of the most sensational and beautiful games of the match:
Arun showed that he was not about to be blown out though, with the following masterpiece of his own in the final 5 1 game.
and the time control switched to 3 1 with the score tied at 4.5-4.5!
The Turning Point
Shahade got the better of the opening in the first 3 games at the new time control. But in the first two, Sharma defended madly and managed to salvage crucial half points. In the third, perhaps frustrated, Shahade cracked, and Sharma was able to win the endgame, thus taking the lead for the first time since game 4. The turning point in the match was probably one of the next two games. Sharma repeated the disastrous Benoni line and pretty much donated a point to Shahade. And then came this game:
After the match, commentator IM Danny Rensch asked each of the players what they thought the turning point of the match was, and Arun referred to this game as having been a big disappointment. GM Shankland also thought that game was the turning point, so I was perhaps alone in thinking that the donated point in the Benoni was a turning point (because it was so pointless, gave up the lead, and showed that Sharma was starting to have trouble picking openings).
Shahade explained that he thought what turned the match was his overall strategy: he had played a different opening in every game in 5 1. Then he had decided which openings were giving him the easiest to play positions, and now he was hammering those openings home throughout the 3 1 and 1 1 portions of the match. He thought was consistently able to get a comfortable position out of the opening, and a 20-30 second time advantage, as Sharma hesitated, lacking confidence in the opening lines that were being repeated.
The very next game after that unfortunate flagging was probably the most bloodthirsty and exciting of the match:
And Shahade really started to break the match open here, winning five in a row to claim the 3 1 portion of the match, by a score of 6-2. In this next game, Sharma had been on the defensive from the opening all the way through. He played terrifically to finally equalize the game, but was down to 10 seconds vs. a minute, and got out-blitzed:
That was a good example of how Shahade's choice of openings giving him a comfortable game and time advantage had started to pay real dividends, even when Sharma played very well. See if you can find this move from another game, whereby Shahade claimed a large advantage:
Sharma was down 4 games going into the 1 1 portion of the match, and if he was as good at 1 minute as expected, the match would be a close one. After a draw, the second bullet game was an excellent win for Sharma-- this looks almost like a normal game, but was played in 1 minute!!!
Greg struck back, with the following tactic:
And then he started The Streak, winning an incredible nine games in a row. Bullet chess does have a tendency to have streaks, as one player gets demoralized and the other gets into the zone, and there is not much time to alter your mindset as the games go by rapid-fire. Still, winning 9 in a row is an incredible feat, of which we have to wonder: will this ever be rivaled in a future Death-Match?
I could show a lot of games from this portion of the match-- though they were played at 1 minute per side, the quality of Shahade's play here was remarkable: it was hard to see any weakness or gap in his play. But here is one important one to show. Shahade had decided (correctly, I believe) that the positions he was getting with the Gruenfeld were the best (the positions he was getting with the Nimzo were totally fine, but the Gruenfeld positions were *even better*), and so he started using it at every opportunity when Sharma played 1.d4. In desperation, Sharma eventually resorted to some English openings. See for yourself why:
With time ticking down, and his chances to pull back into the match dwindling, Sharma did resort to some new openings, but Shahade was more comfortable with these more random positions as well:
Sharma finally managed to recover, and won 2 of the last 4 games, but Shahade had won the match decisively, taking the 1 1 portion by a score of 11-4, and the overall match by a score of 21.5-10.5. He thus earned half the prize fund for winning the match, and 67% of the other half the prize fund based on games won, for winnings of $668.75. Sharma won 131.25, more than $10 per game!
We would love to get feedback from anyone who watched the event about this event, as Chess.com continues to try to push chess entertainment forward! If you would like to participate in a future match, you can try to raise your blitz or bullet rating by April 14th to qualify for the 4th Death Match, or if you are an IM or GM, contact me about your interest. Upcoming Death-Matches include:
March 31: Hess vs. Shankland
April 28: #1 Rated Blitz Player v. #1 Rated Bullet Player
May 20: Kacheishvili v. Sammour-Hasbun