Dlugy Is Blitz King In Death Match 32

Dlugy Is Blitz King In Death Match 32

| 14 | Chess Event Coverage

The final game of Death Match 32 decided everything, but in the end GM Maxim Dlugy held off IM Yaacov Norowitz and his perceived advantage in bullet chess late Saturday night. Dlugy won both the first and final segments to take the title 12.5-10.5 and become the oldest Death Match champion ever.

Pundits said Dlugy needed several games as a buffer before the one-minute portion, but he only managed to take with him a single-point lead. Despite the narrow margin, he played three up and three down before a 22nd and final game, where he was under no pressure and went on to win for a two-game final margin.

Besides being one year away from qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open, Dlugy faced another handicap: an eye problem that just surfaced the day of the match and which created a blotch in his vision. His remedy was his wife, who knew how to resize the live board and give Dlugy a bigger palette for his craft!

GM Maxim Dlugy and his Death Match prize, a puppy (kidding -- he won $700)! Image courtesy

The opening of the series was quite bumpy for Norowitz. He spent 20 seconds in game one before responding to 1. d4. In the pre-match interview, his grandmother was looking on, and Norowitz said she used to drive him to tournaments so he wanted to allow her to make the first move.

The delay seemed to have a reasonable familial explanation, but eventually it became apparent that Norowitz had connection issues. He disconnected and lost game one (a later resumption of the game still resulted in a loss). Then his inability to get back online for several minutes cost him another game by forfeit.

The second-round forfeit resembled Bobby Fischer's start to his world championship, but unlike Fischer, Norowitz also lost the next game and thus fell 3-0 down early. In the game (which was officially game two) he got an isolated queen pawn for the second straight game. As is often the case, when the pawn was allowed to advance, the tactics followed.

In defeat, but in good company. IM Yaacov Norowitz joined an impressive group of players who won their first Death Match but lost their second (GMs Wesley So, Dmitry Andreikin and Sam Shankland). GM Georg Meier remains the only two-time champion.

The recapture 15. Bxd5 caused Dlugy to labor to find a defense to all the hanging pieces and discovered attacks. Eventually Dlugy decided to ditch his queen, and after winning an exchange he also liquidated all the queenside pawns.

Norowitz still pressed with his remaining kingside pawns, but Black found the brilliant defense 56...Rxd4!, which eliminates the f-pawn too. GM Hikaru Nakamura chatted in the broadcast that Black's fortress should hold, but Norowitz played 57. f6 in a desperate attempt to continue the game, only to tragically flag himself (no disconnect this time, he admitted that he just forgot the clock).

In game three, the first of many Slav Defenses, Norowitz had another brief unplanned hiatus, but this turned out to be his final connection issue of the match. Not only did he reconnect quickly, he also got back in the match by making five consecutive captures and earned his first point.

Game four showcased another dominant theme of the match: bishop versus knight in the endgame. This time the bishop won out, thanks to a late back-rank tactic. While White's rook had trouble getting back to stop Black's b-pawn, his king was just inside the square of the pawn.

"What else is chess but knight versus bishop?" Norowitz said. "It's a discussion. That's what chess is -- a discussion."

Norowitz then won again to draw completely even at three games apiece, and the match got interesting again.

Dlugy reversed his fortunes in the Catalan, and stopped the bleeding by taking game seven. In a change of pace, the endgame had no bishops, but the knights were hopping everywhere. Dlugy's horses helped drag his c-pawn home:

Dlugy then entered a two bishops versus two knights position in game eight. Norowitz declined a draw offer, going on to lose (this would happen again several more times later in the match). 

Norowitz could have closed the gap in the final five-minute game, but after a long pause didn't see the winning tactic deep in the endgame. See if you can spot what he missed:

The players moved into the three-minute portion with the grandmaster ahead 5.5-3.5. Small leads are perhaps more important than ever in current Death Matches, since recent changes increased the increment for the first two segments from one second to two seconds, and the bullet portion was reduced from 45 minutes to 30 minutes. As a result, the usual number of total games in the three-hour affair has gone from more than 30 to the low 20s.

Norowitz halved the gap in the opening game, then Dlugy doubled it again in game 10. He switched to a Dragon setup as Black for the second time in a row. This time it was Dlugy who eschewed the draw (33...Qh5+ would have led to a repetition). Instead he gambled that his time advantage and pressure would spell doom for his opponent, and he was right. 35...e4! continued the assault, with 36...Nf3! coming next.

Every single game of the 22 contests opened 1. d4, and in game 11 Norowitz fell back on an old standby, the Budapest Defense. He equalized and earned a draw.

In the following game, one of the few original setups occurred, in which Dlugy essentially played a Pirc by transposition. Yet another bishop versus knight endgame resulted, with the knight getting the better of the bishop. Black's 41st move is still a draw according to the engines, but a dancing knight is hard to deal with in blitz (as can be seen by the previous forks in this report).

See if you can spot the "simplest" route to equality for Black, that also contains a trap:

Another Budapest and another draw followed, but this one was an unlucky game 13 as Norowitz missed a big opportunity. He entered a technically winning K+P ending, but the proper method eluded him. The exact ending is covered in many endgame books; in my collection it's page 18 of "Practical Chess Endings" by Paul Keres.

See how sharp your endgame skills are (without the clock ticking down!):

Then followed one more win each, meaning Norowitz won the three-minute 4-3 and went into his best time control only needing to make up one game.

Prior to the start, commentator GM Irina Krush predicted Norowitz would win the match and overcome several games in the one-minute, so the lead seemed to be too small for Dlugy. Earlier in June, Norowitz and Dlugy played an informal bullet series on, with the IM winning 6-2. This time the increment would help the 49-year-old grandmaster.

"To be totally honest, I hate increment," Norowtiz said after the match. "I don't have any experience. Maybe if I had experience, I'd still hate it." He actually has a little background with it -- one year ago he made the biggest comeback in Death Match history, all in the 1+1 time control.

"This one-second increment makes a lot of difference," Dlugy said. He had just played in a blitz tournament the night before at the Marshall Chess Club and joked that he preferred live blitz since he can "engineer some psychological warfare." Judge for yourself how adept he is at that!

Dlugy came off the line faster, literally. He gained a 20-second time advantage but the two repeated two different positions twice (after Black's 39th and 40th moves). Amazingly, neither player claimed a draw, and Norowitz played on with an alternate move. The spirited decision turned out to be too optimistic, as Black's queen and knight tandem carved up the white king.

"Yaacov is not a draw guy," Rensch said. "We've clearly seen him lose a game or two by not taking the draw."

Norowitz bounced back by winning the only opposite-colored bishop ending and the only queen-and-pawn ending of the match. They were all square after 18 games. After the match, Norowitz said he could feel the tension building as the time wound down.

"It's almost like every game is the match," he said. 

Dlugy took the next two before Norowitz won the penultimate game. Despite losing, Dlugy was proud of the defense 20. Qd5+, which is the only way to avoid immediate catastrophe and which neither commentator saw. The result was yet another bishop versus knight "discussion," which Norowitz "argued" better.

Game 22 began with three minutes remaining on the match clock, so any game lasting longer than that would be the final in regulation. If Norowitz won, he'd force overtime, which had not occurred since Death Match 21. Instead, he got no pressure, and was ground down in a bishop ending where he had no chances to complicate.

Dlugy thus won the segment 4-3 and the match 12.5-10.5. By virtue of winning two segments, he won $500 plus two $100 bonuses for a total of $700. Norowitz won $200 plus one $100 bonus for $300.

"Dlugy played exceptionally in the bullet portion," Rensch said. 

Despite the loss, Norowitz liked his effort: "I played better this match than last match [vs. GM Boris Avrukh]. I'm happier about this one."

Norowitz never misses a chance to say how much he just likes playing a lot of chess. Even while this report was being written, he was back at it, playing a long bullet series with another titled player.

Dlugy said all the d4-d5 setups and lack of opening originality is normal in a blitz match. He alluded to a series with GM Anatoly Karpov where they played 30 games in the same opening before Karpov finally played something new.

"I'm used to slight refinements in a blitz match," Dlugy said. "It's normal...[Today] I learned a lot [about the Slav]."

And what about the lost king-and-pawn ending that might have changed the result of the match?

"Oh my God! What a save that was!" he said.

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