Millionaire Chess, GM Draws

by admin on October 12, 2015

It’s Millionaire Monday! The second Millionaire Chess tournament was held in Las Vegas this weekend, and the playoffs will be held today. I’m very excited to see that a couple of my Facebook friends are having sensational tournaments.

Mike Zaloznyy is playing in the Open section, and in spite of having a FIDE rating under 2200 (his USCF is 2277) he is more than holding his own. He has a 4-3 score with a win in round 7 against an International Master. Unfortunately, he did not make it to the Millionaire Monday playoff because there were four players in the under-2400 group with scores of 4½ or higher. However, he is still playing because the Open section (unlike the other sections) has a round 8 and round 9 for people who don’t make it to the playoff. He still has a shot at the fifth-place prize (for under-2400 players) of $4000.

Also, in the Under-2200 section, Ted Castro of the NorCal House of Chess has been tearing it up, making the playoff with a 6-1 score. So he is guaranteed an $8000 prize (!) and has a chance to win $38,000! Can you imagine that? It’s like a full year’s salary for one chess tournament.

Good skill to both Mike and Ted!

Now it wouldn’t be Millionaire Chess if there wasn’t some controversy. The big controversy yesterday was in the Open section, where Luke McShane and Hikaru Nakamura played a 9-move draw with a threefold repetition:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Ng4 7. Bc1 Nf6 8. Be3 Ng4 9. Bc1 Nf6 ½-½

The tournament organizer, Maurice Ashley, is a staunch opponent of grandmaster draws. He made all the players sign an agreement before the tournament saying that there would be no draws in under 30 moves. But the agreement has a huge loophole in it. It acknowledges that there are times in chess when the best move for each player is to repeat the position, and forcing one of the players to deviate would put them at a competitive disadvantage. If that is the case in the arbiter’s opinion, the result can stand.

However, that’s clearly not the case here. White has lots of other options besides 6. Be3. Black has other options besides 6. … Ng4. The players said in their interviews, “But I didn’t have time to prepare anything else.” (McShane) “But McShane won a nice game earlier in the tournament against 6. … e5.” (Nakamura) “But I was so tired.” (Both of them.)

They’re all excuses. But in the end, the result stood. Ashley consulted with FIDE arbiters and concluded that because there was no evidence of collusion, the players could not be forfeited.

In Ashley’s interview, you could tell he was really mad. He called GM draws a “scourge on chess,” a “travesty,” etc. He said that chess could never be a televised sport if the players don’t actually play the games they were supposed to, and he compared it to two football teams agreeing to a draw after the first quarter of the Super Bowl. Advertisers, sponsors, fans would be up in arms. He pledged to keep working with FIDE to find a solution.

I know this is an old debate, but does anybody have any new and creative ideas to avoid GM draws? My idea would be to have the players simply start over, with whatever time they have already used deducted from their clocks, but with colors reversed. The player with Black now plays White. Possibly, as an extra wrinkle to keep them from repeating the previous game, we could say that neither player is allowed to play a move in the first 10 moves that creates a position that appeared in their first game.

Another question I’d be curious about: How many of my readers have ever played a GM draw? I’ll admit that I did once. It was the Roosevelt Open in Ohio, 1993 I think. I was tied for first going into the last round, and I was paired against the other player who was tied for first. We agreed to a draw in 7 moves. It wasn’t pre-arranged, but we played an opening line that I knew nothing about and I didn’t want to have to learn in such an important game. Before that game I was always in the camp of people who thought GM draws were dishonorable. After that game I realized how great the temptation is, and ever since then I have been much quieter about it. You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been in that position.

Anyway, that was yesterday and this is today. There are big checks to be handed out, and it should be exciting. The prizes in the open section are $100,000 for first, $50,000 for second, $25,000 for third and $16,000 for fourth.

In the open section, the playoffs will be between Alex Lenderman, Le Quang Liem, Yu Yangyi, and Hikaru Nakamura. Yes, Nakamura snuck into the fourth spot by winning a nine-man playoff. If you want to watch the action, click over to The semifinals start at 11:00 am (45 minutes from now as I’m writing this.)

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman Parparov October 12, 2015 at 9:57 am

I played a few short draws in my life, most of them against my RL friends, and a couple in team competitions on weekend when both teams were either out of contention or secured a berth. One of the draws against a friend was sort of ‘prearranged’ when we both saw a sequence leading to a perpetual.


Paul B. October 12, 2015 at 10:24 am

Dana, can you tell us where the prize money comes from?


admin October 12, 2015 at 11:32 am

The tournament has a sponsor, Amy Lee, who is described on the website as a self-made millionaire who retired at age 38. Also, the tournament has an exorbitant entry fee, a minimum of $1000 for early entries. But it is very clear, if you work out the math, that the entry fees don’t cover the prize fund, let alone the other expenses that must exist for an event of this size. The tournament is not self-sustaining yet, and it is completely dependent on how long Amy Lee is willing to take a financial bath in order to support chess. If the tournament could get covered on TV, now, that’s another story.


Jim Ratliff October 12, 2015 at 8:21 pm

Dana, you’re repeating the same apocryphal interpretation of the contract that Ashley (and his paid commenters) keep repeating: “He made all the players sign an agreement before the tournament saying that there would be no draws in under 30 moves.”

That is NOT true. The rules for MC2 say: “No game in the Open Section of the Millionaire Chess Open may be AGREED DRAWN BY THE TWO PLAYERS prior to Black having completed his/her 30th move.” (All-caps emphasis added.)
A draw by repetition is NOT a draw by agreement. It doesn’t require an agreement. It is a particular player’s RIGHT under FIDE laws (§9.2) [“The game is drawn, upon a correct claim by a player having the move, when the same position for at least the third time (not necessarily by a repetition of moves)”] to CLAIM a draw if the move s/he is about to make results in a three-fold repetition. The MC2 rules are SILENT on draws by repetition; they are not forbidden by MC2 rules. Thus, unlike the spin you’ve been hearing, there is no conflict between MC2 rules and FIDE rules in this regard.

There’s no “loophole.” There are five mechanisms by which a game can be drawn (stalemate, 50-move rule, insufficient mating material, 3-fold repetition, and by agreement). The contract they all signed limited only one of those five.


Todd Bryant October 13, 2015 at 7:05 am

I have never played a short draw. In my entire chess career, I think I have rarely ever offered draws. Recently, Jay Bonin offered me draws in unbalanced middlegames on two separate occasions. I declined both draws, and went on to lose both times. Thug Life.


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