Finegold Wins Ugliest Death Match In History

| 140 | Chess Event Coverage

Ever want to feel better about your chess ability? Just re-watch yesterday's broadcast of the GM Ben Finegold-GM Simon Williams Death Match.

If the endgame technique of the "Ginger GM" was a blimp, Finegold set it alight numerous times. Or rather, Williams practiced self-immolation as Finegold won the day 15.5-10.5.


This little player may have been better competition for GM Ben Finegold.

IM Danny Rensch, ostensibly the moderator for the player-commentators, could barely stay awake for the match. "Oh the humanity" turned into "Oh why did we resume the Death Match series?"

For staffers, who had to follow the stream to ensure technical smoothness, falling asleep sadly wasn't an option.

Fans could turn away, but employees requested hazard pay at day's end.

The first Death Match in more than a year came together thanks to a Finegold rant during a recent lecture, and Williams's internet response. In the initial salvo, Finegold pretended to not remember the Ginger GM's name, but insisted he was about 1900.

"I was mistaken when I thought he was about 1800-1900 Elo," Finegold said afterward. "I recently looked at his British grade and did the's actually 1700 Elo! I apologize to the 1800s in the world I clearly insulted."

Williams landed his commentary shots, too.

"What else are you good at? You’re good at divorces…” Williams began, then trailed off when trying to think of a second item to add to the list.


GM Simon Williams turned even redder after some of his moves during the match. | Photo: Klein.

An old joke goes you don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your friend. During yesterday's match, Finegold didn't have to be great, he just had to be less inept.

Both players called the day challenging. They had to comment and trash-talk for three hours while playing and listening to the other player's banter. Williams further handicapped himself thanks to Henry Weston, purveyor of fine ciders

"I wanted to even the playing field," Williams said of the consumption.

"Many super-GMs were watching Simon's handling of the London System, and were thinking .25 at least," Finegold wrote. "Unfortunately, they were guessing his blood alcohol level."

Williams did not care for his play, and that mood even carried over into the next day.

Only due to contractual obligations with our most dedicated readers, we will present some games below. Those looking for the kind of model efforts that are often included in reports, turn away now. You already got three hours of GM Magnus Carlsen the day before.

The opening three games all featured exchange sacrifices, or were they blunders disguised as something more?


Finegold seemed intent on winning all the awards of the day. After being challenged by Rensch, he pounced on his chance to drop the first "f-bomb" in the commentary, then he told the first sodomy joke, and he even beat Williams at his own game, delivering the first h2-h4 advance in the opening game, which he won.

In game two, Williams sought to correct the record. After all, "Harry the h-pawn" has become eponymous because of his efforts.

"I did a dossier on you. It says you don’t play good moves," Finegold said. So far that pre-match analysis looked spot on.

Now up 2-0, Finegold was gunning for much more. Following the previous day's 20.5-5.5 rout, the Atlanta resident wanted to make Norway jealous.

"I want to make Magnus look like a baby. I don’t think he won by enough."

Williams scoffed at the outlandish goal and reminded Finegold of his own mantra: "Trying is the first step to failure."


The Briton also noted that Finegold began the match with a sub-2300 blitz rating. "I can understand now why you only got your [GM] title at such an old age."

The Ginger GM then put his chess pieces where his mouth was by offering an exchange himself to win game three.

Finegold won game four and demolished Williams's cherished Dutch a game later for a 4-1 lead.

Williams would need to turn to his aggressive pre-match training to get back in the fight. Unfortunately, perhaps he forgot that he modeled his preparation after a movie about an American hero.

Williams continued to drunkenly reach for his rook pawns early, but in game six, it worked. He began with a 2. a3 Sicilian, which despite having a few books written about it, doesn't seem to have found consensus on a name. Perhaps the "Cider Attack"?

Then, as would be expected, he lunged with Harry, and broke through.

Game seven showed that Williams just wasn't going to have his day. After seemingly winning a piece with 15...g4, White found a strong response that he had not been planning originally.

If that game was a soft reminder to Williams that he didn't bring his best stuff, then the next game was a bottle to the head. After playing one his favorites, the "Hillbilly Attack," the Englishman ended up two pawns in the endgame. This would become the first of several endings that he failed to win despite being up multiple pawns.

In a way, professional chess players are just overgrown schoolchildren, but after these 87 moves we learned nothing.

When the opening 90 minutes mercifully ended, Finegold had eaten most of his Thai food lunch and also enjoyed a 7.0-3.0 lead. The Ginger GM had as many points as bathroom breaks.

Williams opened the three-minute segment by blundering, then blew yet another favorable ending in game 12. Three connected passed pawns aren't what they used to be.

"Simon’s doing a great job of proving he’s not using a computer," Finegold said.

After this botch, Williams had a moment of clarity. He decided that if he didn't pick things up, he'd increase his self-medication.

Indeed, his inner-turned-outer monologue worked. After the self-chastising, Williams picked off three games in a row to get within two points of the senior non-statesman.

In game 13 Williams began to sober up with his play.

Williams then won the next two, but that's as close as he'd get. His Belgrade Gambit was Balkanized in game 16 to end the run. Then, another moment of chagrin: he missed an easy one-move near-mate in game 17, but at least this one didn't cost him the point. Finegold played a similar howler in the theoretical ending.

Fans were getting antsy in the chat, throwing figurative tomatoes at the much-hyped match. They wanted more taste, less filling. Bob Odenkirk summed it up best:

If you're still reading this report, you're probably on your second six-pack, so we'll keep it brief.

While Williams did win the three-minute 4.5-3.5, Finegold generally got the upper hand in most games of the bullet. The American flagged in the first game but came back to win a couplet and seal the match.

The server apparently couldn't take the disgusting play and temporarily belched in game 23, a game that Rensch adjudicated as a draw.

In the final game, the two apparently decided to have an homage to a famous U.S. championship game. They played the "Shirazi Gamnbit, Deferred." Why deferred? Well, Shirazi lost in five moves in the 1984 U.S. Championship, but Williams elongated the game to six moves.

Williams's masochistic final effort:

And Shirazi's mirror-image self-destruction:

Good news for Williams -- he won a little more than 40 percent of his games on this day. Shirazi? Well, in 1984 his win percentage couldn't even get to 3 percent.

Thanks to some generous private contributions, Finegold takes home $2,500 for his win, a Death Match record purse. Williams won $1,000, which is surely also a record sum for blowing a double-digit number of +10 positions.

There's another $300 on the line, to be decided by fans. Who was the best trash-talker? Vote in the survey here and bask in the knowledge that you've just help contribute to further debauchery of grandmasters.

Lastly, the winner got to decide where to donate $250 to charity. Despite Finegold asking whether he could have it donated to his own chess center, more altruistic heads prevailed (read: wife intervention). He switched and directed his pledge to North Fulton Community Charities. A spokesperson for the local organization asked that the money not come with chess lessons from Finegold since they have a "safe place" designation for their children.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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