Caruana Beats Hess, Rensch Runs Down Trent In Death Matches

Caruana Beats Hess, Rensch Runs Down Trent In Death Matches

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Death Match 35 and 36 was a competitive double feature between Team and Team Fabiano Caruana as GM Fabiano Caruana took on's GM Robert Hess and Caruana's manager IM Lawrence Trent tackled IM Danny (only my mother calls me Daniel Rensch!

The result was a team split as Caruana bested Hess in a convincing fashion while Rensch pulled out a narrow victory against Trent in the bullet portion of the match.

The Death Match format has proved sufficiently popular that the format is being extended with the Grandmaster Blitz Battles series which starts this year.

Trent announced at the beginning of the Caruana vs. Hess Death Match that Caruana will be joining the series along with the previously announced competitors GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and GM Alexander Grischuk - all top ten players.

The full rules of the Death Matches are available here. The gist is that the Death Match consists of three hours of non-stop blitz and bullet. The first 1.5 hours are played at five minutes with a two-second increment (5|2). The next hour is played at 3|2 and the final half hour at 1|1.

Although the Caruana vs. Hess match was the closing match of the day, given Hess' illustrious status in the chess firmament , we shall begin there. To compensate for Caruana's rating advantage, Hess received odds of one game in each time control.

The match began impressively for Caruana who started with a win by squeezing Hess in a same-colored bishop endgame. Moving to game two, Hess was under pressure for much of the game, but defending tenaciously, Hess held the draw after 104 moves and 18 minutes of blitz play!

In game three, Hess slipped in a winning position where Caruana forced concessions in the face of his d-pawn's coming promotion. In game four, Hess dropped mate when faced with the loss of a piece.

Game five was Hess' best shot at an initial victory in the match when as Rensch pointed out in commentary, Hess could have relinquished his passed g2 pawn for a win.

After the match, Hess confessed that these two exchange-up slips (games three and five) "broke my heart!".

Despite displaying considerable defensive skills and acquiring several good positions, Hess was demonstrating a massive addiction to time trouble as he was invariably on the brink of flagging while Caruana retained many minutes on the clock.

After struggling in game seven, Hess was mated in game eight while up a piece but playing with less than a minute on the clock since move 17.

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 5|2 Score
GM Fabiano Caruana 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 6.5
GM Robert Hess 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 2.5 (including 1 game odds)

Drawing in game eight, the players moved to the 3|2 portion of the match with there seeming to be some concern as to whether Hess would manage a victory against Caruana. In fact, Trent rather optimistically wagered a beer to that effect in a side bet with Rensch.

Harsh Trent! Must you rub the salt in the wounds?!

Game three of the 3|2 made Trent eat his words as he converted a position up an exchange. Trent dutifully vowed to purchase the promised beer for Rensch at the Sinquefield Cup and's honor was avenged.

Caruana scored again in game four, but having gotten on the board, Hess played confidently and won the traditional superior Sicilian endgame as Black in game five.

Game six was probably one of the most enjoyable for Caruana to play as he was consistently better, and he eventually ripped open Hess' king with a refreshing rook sac!

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 3|2 Score
GM Fabiano Caruana 1 ½ 0 1 0 1 1 4.5
GM Robert Hess 0 ½ 1 0 1 0 0 3.5 (including 1 game odds)

Prior to the match, Hess had said that he would stake his chances on the bullet portion of the match. He believed himself to be the stronger bullet player and that assertion proved correct as after an initial draw, Hess ripped off three straight wins including the following complete reversal.

Accounting for match odds, Hess was now only two games back and pressing, but he only had ten minutes left to catch up.

Sadly, despite the momentum, it seemed that Hess was the one feeling the heat from the advancing clock.

Caruana remained calm and ripped off three straight victories. In game six, it looked for a moment as though Caruana's knight was pinned and lost, but he unpinned with devastating effect.

Caruana's bullet rebirth allowed him to close match with a final score of 14.5 to 10.5 (including the match odds), and claim $700 for a match victory and victories in both blitz portions. Hess collected $300 with $200 guaranteed and $100 for a victory in the bullet.

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1|1 Score
GM Fabiano Caruana ½ 0 0 0 1 1 1 3.5
GM Robert Hess ½ 1 1 1 0 0 0 4.5 (including 1 game odds)

Stepping back in time, the opening act — Rensch vs. Trent — featured a unique format. Both Rensch and Trent commented throughout the match. Chatting via Skype, they shared their thoughts on the position with the audience and each other with generous doses of friendly needling for each other.

Like many viewers, Caruana was torn between watching the start of Rensch vs. Trent and the playoffs between Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave in Gibraltar.

Prior to the match, Danny asserted his confidence as he has tons of experience playing and commentating blitz and bullet games for

Rensch evincing authority, confidence, and mad gainz!

Rensch even managed to draw in one of Trent's countrymen for support and earned the esteemed British title of "top bloke". Presumably, the title also confers knighthood and comes with a side of fish and chips.

Trent felt himself no underdog due to the live commentary aspect of the format. He has been commenting on tournaments for a long time in his own right, and readers may well have seen him holding forth on the incomprehensible and vast cruelties of chess at any one of numerous invitational super-tournaments.

Trent looking thoughtful in his finery.

Trent also drew inspiration from an unlikely corner as he was accompanied throughout the match by his trusty Borat soundboard. Whether Borat's voice was there as a comfort for Trent or a distraction for Rensch, it didn't seem to help as Rensch got off to a big start with two straight wins.

Game one was an exhilarating mess and, in the following position, Rensch initiated a stylish simplifying combination. Trent bemoaned the fact that his intended Rh5+! no longer worked, but in fact, it still would have!

Game two saw Trent's knight trapped in surprising fashion while in game three, Trent reversed the trend and got his first win in a rook endgame.

Rensch barely escaped Trent in a Sicilian Dragon endgame before catching Trent off guard in the following position.

Down two games now, Trent scored two convincing wins in games six and seven to level the match, and — after a !114-move! draw in game eight — move into the 3|2 portion with the score level.

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 5|2 Score
IM Danny Rensch 1 1 0 ½ 1 0 0 ½ 4
IM Lawrence Trent 0 0 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 4

The 3|2 time control initiated an incredibly streaky run in the match. First, Trent won three games to open the time control. Each was a reasonable puzzle; I challenge the readers to solve all three  I'd say five seconds a puzzle should do it.

Rensch struck back with three wins of his own to level and close the 3|2 portion of the match. The finale was a swashbuckling Sicilian Dragon battle that was immense fun for the spectators, but it left the spectating Caruana unimpressed as both players had some key game-changing misses.

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 3|2 Score
IM Danny Rensch 0 0 0 1 1 1 3
IM Lawrence Trent 1 1 1 0 0 0 3

The momentum Rensch gained through the close of the 3|1 carried into the 1|1 time control as Rensch won the first four games to create an insurmountable lead.

Trent was clearly losing the bullet thread as in games three and four, he hung his queen to close the game. Prior to that closer, Rensch landed a nice tactical blow, but allowed Trent a little room to breathe with an appealing, but second-best follow-up.

With insufficient time remaining, Trent went on a run and racked up two wins before the timer hit zero and ended the bullet portion as a four to two victory for Rensch, and, given that both blitz portions were tied, granted him a match win.

Trent actually requested and received a chance to avenge his honor with additional bullet games, and he won three games in a row to best Rensch in the extended grudge match, but both players and a third party adjudicator agreed that these games did not affect the match. They did, however, generate plenty of congenial bad blood and much discussion of a possible rematch in future!

Players 1 2 3 4 5 6 1|1 Score
IM Danny Rensch 1 1 1 1 0 0 4
IM Lawrence Trent 0 0 0 0 1 1 2

The complete seven-hour broadcast of both matches replete with commentary throughout from IMs Rensch and Trent is available on

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The complete Death Match historical archive including coverage, records, and statistics is available here.

NM Sam Copeland

I'm the VP of Chess and Community for I earned the National Master title in 2012, and in 2014, I returned to my home state of South Carolina to start Strategery: Chess and Games. In late 2014, I began working for and haven't looked back since.

You can find my personal content on Twitch , Twitter , and YouTube where I further indulge my love of chess.

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