The heavily-favored GM Georg Meier needed an extra game to squeak past the dogged played of GM Imre Balog in Saturday's Death Match 21. If you missed it, the full show can be found at http://www.twitch.tv/chess/profile/pastBroadcasts until it is uploaded to our server here on Chess.com.
Balog (FIDE 2554) won the 26th and final game of regulation, then Meier (FIDE 2636) won a complicated ending in the first game of the sudden-death bullet overtime to win 14-13. This was the first Death Match to require extra chess since edition 12 in March, 2013, when GM Marc Arnold beat GM Alexander Ipatov.
The two players earned the right to play thanks to December's open qualification.
Despite the drama, which had host IM Danny Rensch even admit that he was nervous, the players were too focused on the three-hour match to be mindful of the score. They both admitted after play was over that they were unaware that game 27 was an overtime match! Balog and Meier ignored Rensch's messages so much that they even played an superfluous 28th game that didn't count!
Meier, a college student at Webster University in St. Louis, USA, opened the match with a smooth win. It would be his last lead until the penultimate game. In round two, he had an issue with his mouse, and accidentally played a poor move. He said after the match that the error cause him aggrevation for several games afterward.
GM Georg Meier (photo: Wikipedia)
"After the first game, I thought, 'This is going to be easy,'" Meier said. "But in the second game the mouse slip got me frustrated. I realized this is going to be a fight."
His pre-match and post-match interviews showed that Balog had garnered his repect. "The way he played was very good for a blitz match," Meier said. "It was very solid. He was ready to counter and I was being inactive."
Fans of open play and swashbuckling attacks may have been turned off by this Death Match. There was only one game out of 27 that opened with 1. e4, and most games featured intricate, positional, space-gaining plans on the queenside. The flip side is that the match featured far fewer errors by the players, and many well-played games.
Frequent co-host GM Ben Finegold remarked at least a half-dozen times that this iteration was the best he had ever commentated. "That wasn't just the greatest Death Match ever, that was the greatest match ever," Finegold said.
After getting his initial opening choice shot down in game one, Balog switched to variations of the London System for almost all of his remaining turns with the white pieces. "When I played White the Catalan (in round one) was not so good for me," Balog said. "I only prepared for Black."
In game three, the strong breakthrough 18. b5! gave him the initiative.
The win put the Hungarian ahead 2-1. He ended up winning the 5+1 portion 4.5-3.5 and kept his small margin until the end of the bullet portion.
As White, Meier played a modest double-fianchetto system and barely wavered. "I think I made a big mistake - not changing my plan from my opening setup," Meier said. "This is what I usually do in blitz - not change anything." Finegold concurred; he also lives in St. Louis and said that he doesn't see Meier play exotic openings, even in offhand blitz games. Meier played 1. e4 in game 16, the first bullet game, "but that game was crazy. I thought, 'Let's go back to what I usually do.'"
According to the commentators, both players managed their time exceptionally well. Unlike most Death Matches, there were no long runs of successive victories, and only once did a player go up by three games.
Balog won the second segment (time control 3+1) also, 4-3. But game 10 showed typical Meier style - nearly 80 moves of constricting chess, and eventually the space advantage and bishop dominance got the point.
"That was one of the best games I've seen in my life!" Rensch said.
Meier went into the 45-minute 1+1 segment down two games. Both players said pre-match that they thought their best discipline would be the bullet, and indeed they proved to be some of the fastest players in Death Match history.
Meier closed the gap to one game several times, but Balog won games 19 and 20 to push his lead to three. "There was only one point where I got worried," Meier said. "That was when I was trailing in the bullet. At that point I got nervous."
He said the transition of time controls took some adjustment before he settled himself. "You change the time control but you do not change the tempo immediately. You need some sort of wakeup call. [Falling behind] was my moment."
GM Imre Balog
The comeback came quickly, as Meier won three straight games to get back to even. It was the only three-game streak by either player in the match.
After a draw in game 24, Meier outplayed his opponent in game 25. Facing a losing rook endgame in which he could only put up token resistance, Balog instead resigned right away. Meier now had his first lead (13-12) since 1-0.
At first it seemed a brilliant resignation, as there were still 30 seconds left in the match, and thus time to play one more game. "That could be the best move he's played of the match!" Rensch said. Only later did everyone find out that Balog was unaware of the match clock!
Ignorance was certainly bliss for Balog in game 26. Needing to win to extend the match, it wasn't his queenside pawn majority that won out, but instead the openness of White's king. Knights are famously annoying in one-minute chess, and this game was no exception.
Overtime in Death Matches dictates that the players alternate colors and keep playing bullet until a game is decisive. Balog's London System wasn't exactly burning, but he did get a worse game with Meier's pawns bearing down on the b- and c-files. Meier probably missed a few opportunities to break through, then he pre-moved a promotion at the wrong time.
"This is drama! You can't write this stuff," Rensch said.
The game got double-edged as Balog's center pawns became equally menacing. In the moment, it was nearly a coin-flip who would win. Meier's pawns won the race, the game, and the match.
Despite the loss, the lesser-known Balog earned the respect of his opponent and the announcers. "This Balog guy - I didn't think he was the best Balog in Hungary, but he's proving me something," Finegold said, in reference to closely-named GM Csaba Balogh.
Meier won $750 while Balog earned $250.
The win was secured, unbeknownst to both players. They immediately rematched for a game that didn't count. "I was not looking at Skype chats at all," Meier explained. When told by Rensch about the "blunder", Meier said, "That's too funny." He won the extra game anyway. Again, our full video replay can now be found at http://www.twitch.tv/chess/profile/pastBroadcasts until it is uploaded to our site!