Millionaire Tournament Results

by admin on October 14, 2014

So So wasn’t so-so! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

I tried to look up the winner of the Millionaire Open in Las Vegas this morning, and it wasn’t as easy as I expected to find out who won. When I went to, usually my first source, there was nothing about the playoffs. Next I went to the tournament page itself — but that page is a navigational disaster. There was no apparent way to find out who won the tournament!

Finally I had to resort to Google, which took me to Susan Polgar’s blog, which took me to the Chess24 website, which had an excellent article on the dramatic playoffs. The bottom line is that Wesley So, the Phillippine grandmaster who was the #1 seed in the tournament, beat Ray Robson. It was a lifetime achievement for both of them. So earns $100,000, the largest payday ever for a chess player in an open tournament. Robson wins $50,000, which is unbelievable, especially when you see how he earned it.

According to the Chess24 article, the final 25-minute game in the match was decided by So’s opening preparation. He and Robson know each other very well from Webster University (where Susan Polgar teaches) and they have played speed chess many times. So surely knows something about Robson’s openings. Smart guy, to have something saved up for Robson even though no one could have guessed that they would one day play with $100,000 on the line! So’s novelty on move 9 confused Robson enough that he simply hung a pawn on move 13, and then it was basically over.


Except with Robson it’s never over. In the last round of the “regular” tournament, he was absolutely crushed against Hungarian GM Daniel Berczes, two pawns down and with his position collapsing. But somehow he complicated it enough to confuse Berczes and actually managed to come back and win.

Then in the semifinal of the playoffs, same deal. Against Yangyi Yu Robson was again in a completely lost position. This was in fact the only game I watched, and I stopped watching around move 30 because it was so obvious that Yu was going to win. But Yu missed an easy-as-pie combination that would have gotten to a winning endgame, and instead let the game get complicated, and once again, somehow or other, Robson came out on top!

Once can be luck. Twice is not luck. Twice means that Robson is young, doesn’t get discouraged, and has nerves of steel. Still, by all rights Robson should have been playing for fifth place and $8000. Instead, thanks to those two incredible saves he made it to the championship match, with $50,000 guaranteed and a chance at $100,000.

But then he ran into his college friend So and was already a pawn down after 13 moves. Robson tried once again to complicate things, but the third time wasn’t the charm. So wasn’t having any of it, and cut Robson down with a pretty exchange sacrifice that left no doubt of the winner.

The third-place match, between Yu and Jianchao Zhou, went all the way to the Armageddon game before Yu won.

It’ll be interesting to see whether any of the players who went to Las Vegas for the Millionaire Tournament will stick around for another week and play in the Reno tournament next week. The stakes are much lower, “just” $2000 for first, but chess is chess. If you’re coming all the way from China, like Yu and Zhou, or from one of the other 45 countries who sent chess players to the Las Vegas tournament, why not stick around another week and play some more chess?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob Radford October 15, 2014 at 6:39 am

I just looked at the Yu-Robson game, and wow that must have been exciting to watch. The boy needs to take his 50K and get out of Vegas. He has more than a little of the gambler in him!


admin October 15, 2014 at 7:58 am

I’m sure that was the kind of game that Maurice Ashley dreamed about when he made up this tournament format. What an amazing finish, with both sides sacrificing material and threatening mates all over the place, and I’m sure that neither player had a lot of time left.

I am seriously kicking myself for clicking away from the broadcast just before the madness began. Around move 30 Yu had so many ways to win, and because I was rooting for Robson I just couldn’t stand to watch any more. Then on move 32 Yu misses the elementary winning combination, and the position becomes absolutely berserk.


Howard Goldowsky October 15, 2014 at 9:12 am

Pretty poor promotion when even chess players can’t find news about the “big” tournament. I had the same problem. Perhaps Ashley tried. Perhaps chess publicity is hopeless…. I doubt there will be a 2nd annual Millionaire Open. Perhaps Ashley’s batteries will be recharged again in 2024 (2004 HB Global, fail; 2014, MC, fail). Ashley and Lee seem to have the enthusiasm. But maybe next time they should try something different. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…. What were we thinking?


Matt Hayes October 15, 2014 at 1:25 pm

The problem was the entry fee. A lot of players can’t afford $1K. The tournament needs a big sponsor who is prepared to pay out $1 million (actually, much more than that when you take into account the A/V setup, hotel costs, free breakfast for the players etc.) and is doing it mostly for the advertising. There was no realistic way Amy Lee was ever going to make her money back on this thing because the entry fee was just too prohibitive for too many players. Make the entry fee low, keep the prizes high, and the tournament stands a chance of attracting huge numbers of players. The only way to do that is with a big sponsor who understands this is a marketing coup for them and they won’t make their money back, at least not from the tournament itself.


Howard Goldowsky October 16, 2014 at 4:23 am

Agreed. Chess has been trying to find a good sponsor for decades. Kasparov came close with Intel, but then blew it. Mig had it right when he said that chess is the #1 metaphor for “intelligence” when it comes to mainstream commercials. Why can’t actual chess players and organizers ride this metaphor and get a big sponsor? It makes no sense, unless the organizers are just not trying in the correct manner. Is Kirsan’s antics to blame? I think not, because finding a sponsor in the U.S., for a domestic tournament “tour,” is a lot different than dealing with Kirsan. A few million would go a long way. Put the prize fund at just $100k but lower the entry fee to close to zero, and you’ll see players enter in droves. The large numbers will create a positive feedback cycle that will attract more sponsors. Howard


ChessCurious October 18, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Found it amusing to hear tournament´s official broadcast commit the same error, that is “the players in the final played for 100k”, but I guess it´s understandable since even mathematician can fall for it. They were naturally playing “just” for 50k, which was perhaps ironically, the prize for the second place finish!


ChessCurious October 18, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Well, after reading more carefully.. “Instead, thanks to those two incredible saves he made it to the championship match, with $50,000 guaranteed and a chance at $100,000.”


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