Nyzhnyk Stays On Rails In Death Match 'Train Wreck'

Nyzhnyk Stays On Rails In Death Match 'Train Wreck'

| 5 | Chess Event Coverage

Both Ukrainians and internationals had .500 records in the first 32 Death Matches. GM Illya Nyzhnyk tipped both scales Saturday in Death Match 33 as he cruised past GM Mackenzie Molner 17.5-8.5.

Ukrainian-federation players are now 2-1 lifetime (Nyzhnyk joined GM Yaroslav Zherebukh in the winnner's circle; Zherebukh represented his home country when he won the 14th edition). International players also now enjoy a plus score versus Americans, 7-6 (all stats are as of the time of competition; it gets tricky with Zherebukh, Caruana, and So all becoming American players after their Death Matches!).

Nyzhnyk said going into the match that he had the most confidence in the short time control, while Molner feared exactly the same. "Bullet has worked very well for me lately," Nyzhnyk said.

GM Illya Nyzhnyk stopped the three-match streak of the older player winning in Death Matches.

The prognostications lined up but both proved to be wrong. The 1+1 time control Molner proved to be the only time control Molner remained competitive (as he explained afterward, the reduced time paradoxically didn't allow him to sink into time trouble!).

Molner's 4-4 tie in the final 30-minute segment prevented Nyzhnyk from becoming the first player since the restructuring of prizes to sweep all three disciplines, which are each worth $100 plus the winner's prize of $500. Nyzhnyk thus won $750, while Molner took $250 (both GMs Meier and Nakamura also won $750 this year). Still, Molner can take some solace in closing strong against a man they call "The Brain".

GM Mackenzie Molner tried a host of different openings, but it was his middlegame play that let him down.

The opening game portended the rest of the match. Molner's Modern Tarrasch versus the French gave him a promising position. The zwischenzug 16. Nf3! caused Nyzhnyk to sink into a one-minute time deficit, and his kingside pawns became doubled to boot.

Molner didn't take the commentators advice to go all out on the kingside, and after 22. Rd4, the initiative ended, allowing Black's bishops to score the match's first point.

Molner again had good chances in game two, but inverted the winning moves. See if you can spot how Black gets a favorable, and likely winning, endgame:

So instead of being down 0-2, Nyzhnyk opened up with 1.5/2 and then won again in game three with the first of two queen sacrifices in the 5+2 segment. Molner didn't find the best defense as Black bore down on the first rank.

It wasn't just the tactical perspicacity that commentator GM Irina Krush lauded. "The positional decisions [Nyzhnyk] is making with little time are high quality," she said. "He's playing so well, you can barely tell he's playing blitz."

Perhaps shocked by the opening trio of games, Molner went on to lose two of the next three to fall into a deep 4.5-1.5 hole. Molner admitted after the match that his "focus started to dwindle after the results started going down South."

Molner was seeing red right from the beginning.

Commentator IM Danny Rensch agreed with Molner's decision to repeatedly play his pet Blumenfeld Gambit, and it did get Molner his first win. Then the losses began piling up again, causing Rensch to wonder if this would be the most lopsided result in Death Match history (it was not, GM Wesley So bested GM Ray Robson by 14 games in Death Match 7).

Game seven featured Nyzhnyk's second queen sac, which was of a wholly different sort than his first. Commentary immediately alluded to Nezhmetdinov-Chernikov, 1962. Here's the brilliant (and valid!) idea that Nyzhnyk found in only seconds:

Nyzhnyk then closed out the opening 90 minutes with a clever seventh-rank invasion while his king hid behind one of Molner's pawns.

The Webster University chess team member picked right up where he left off in the 3+2 block. An opening-round draw was followed with four consecutive wins. During the streak, Rensch observed, "[Molner's] just not playing the best chess of his career today...We're witnessing a train wreck."

Nyzhnyk's run was capped with some misfortune for the American, or was it just precise defensive play? In game 13, you can never be sure:

"Mac is his own worst enemy," Rensch said following the loss. "There's just no justification for how he's playing right now." The scoreboard now read 11-2 in favor of Nyzhnyk.

Molner picked up game 14, his first win in about 90 minutes, then looked to climb back into things with another point the next round. The typical pawn sac on e6 successfully loosened up Black's light squares, which is the main design of the move of course.

Nyzhnyk officially closed the door at the end of the 3+2 segment. He won game 16 after Molner's correct exchange sac couldn't be converted with his dwindling time.

"That's why Nyzhnyk is doing well," Krush said. "Even in this hopeless position, he creates just enough problems." Rensch called the game a "microcosm of the whole match."

In our preview article, Nyzhnyk called himself a "pretty bad player when it comes to fast time controls." Most of the readers of this report would gladly change abilities with him!

The 7-3 segment win produced a 13.5-4.5 lead for Nyzhnyk. The two only played eight bullet games, so Molner was effectively eliminated before 1+1 even began, which was a pity since he played much better than the rest of the match.

After dropping two more games to open the segment, Molner rattled of four in a row, including this nice mating net in game 24.

"He's proving to be a better bullet player than he would have expected of himself," Rensch said.

Nyzhnyk won a final pair of games to create a "push" in bullet and a $50 segment bonus for them both. A quick check of his game history revealed that Nyzhnyk had some pretty good training for the bullet. He practiced 1+1 with teammate and former World Blitz Champion GM Le Quang Liem two days before the Death Match (Nyzhnyk went +2=1-8).

Molner remained in good spirits following the three-hour match. "He just completely outplayed me in the first two time controls, I know it," Molner said. "I was worried about the bullet. Why couldn't we just play that the whole time?" He said the "cure" for the result is to go play in another chess tournament.

If he got to choose, Molner's next big tournament would be another crack at the U.S. Championship.

Nyzhnyk wasn't thrilled with his play either. Bailing himself out of a few bad positions did not please him. 

"I was just blundering everything," Nyzhnyk said. "Mac just let me go in a couple of games. I'm not satisfied with how I played in the second hour."

Although it's not official, Rensch said that there is a "90 percent" chance of GM Hikaru Nakamura playing in the next Death Match (his second). Nakamura won in January, 2015 against GM Wesley So. Rensch said a "top-15 player" would be Nakamura's opponent and the match will likely take place in December.

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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