This could be the one of the fastest-played Death Matches in history.
Two blitz specialists qualified for the April contest - IM Marc Esserman and FM Evan Ju. They have both displayed unparalleled acumen on Chess.com's live chess, and they'll now face off for three straight hours against each other.
The match will be Saturday, April 12 at 12 p.m. Eastern (GMT -4), 9 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7) and will be broadcast live on Chess.com/tv. They'll play almost equal parts 5-minute, 3-minute and 1-minute, with the winner taking $750 and the loser $250.
Ju qualified by virtue of playing more than 75 games and having the highest blitz rating as of the end of February. Esserman's spot was clinched in the bullet category. He came on at the end of the month to finish second, and accepted as the first alternate after FM Andrey Kalinichev declined.
To read about the qualification rules for the match, read this. To see the complete schedule of qualifier months, read this (April is the next chance for Chess.com members to qualify).
IM Marc Esserman -- FIDE 2431. Chess tactician, author and avid tennis player, Esserman came out of nowhere to qualify in Chess.com's bullet category. You can see that with time running out in the qualification period, he wasn't even on the radar of potential winners. Esserman went on to play more than 300 bullet games in three days, exceeding the minimum threshold and ending with a 2679 bullet rating.
IM Marc Esserman, getting ready for tennis, basketball, or chess?
A graduate of Harvard, Esserman was also president of their chess club. He played for the Crimson club tennis team and went on to play in some professional tournaments. While in school, he also helped organize a chess exchange to China, where he defeated Women's World Champion GM Xu Yuhua.
His style is unmistakably tactical and aggressive. Esserman's knowledge and fascination with the Smith-Morra Gambit is well known. He authored a book in 2012 entitled "Mayhem in the Morra". The forward is by renowned attacker GM Larry Christiansen, who stated that he used Esserman's analysis to prepare for a U.S. Championship.
Esserman has many pretty victories in the opening, often involving simply placing a knight en prise on d5. Those will be featured in the more in-depth match preview. For now, enjoy this gem, where he chose b5 as the sacrificial square.
17. Bh7! is also a treat. The only regret is that Black did not play 21...bxc6, when Esserman has a choice between the prosaic 22. Qf7+ and 23. Rd8+, or the beautiful inverse 22. Rd8+ Qxd8 23. Qf7+ Kh8 24. Qf8+ Qxf8 25. Rxf8#.
Esserman is also very active in the United States Chess League. Prior to this season he owned the 6th-highest winning percentage in league history. He went 8/10 in 2008, helping his Boston Blitz get to the Championship Match, and he has been an All-Star three times. He was also a part of the last season's Game of the Year, although on the losing end.
FM Evan Ju -- FIDE 2283. After making his mark in the United States as a strong junior player, Ju has become more widely known for his online prowess. He plays under the name Eilyisum on Chess.com - you've probably seen him on the site as he's played nearly 34,000 games!
FM Evan Ju
He won several national scholastic titles and represented the U.S. in a trio of World Youth Championships. Ju became a master at 14, the youngest at the time in his native New Jersey. The following year, he held his state's junior and open titles at the same time.
Like Esserman, he played tennis for his college for two years. The Lafayette Leopards list him as going 1-0 in his freshman season. Also like his opponent, he has played in the USCL.
Ju maintains a blog, where he explains how he once got the highest blitz rating ever on Chess.com. He also shares a recent draw on Chess.com against GM Hikaru Nakamura. Among other things, we learn that during one of his marathon 50-100 game blitz sessions, he sometimes does 25 pushups after each loss (a luxury he won't have time for in the non-stop Death Match).
Here he takes out a GM without fear of his own king's safety.
With all of these games on Chess.com, you might guess that the two have met on the site before. You'd be right - more than 100 times. The lifetime score is amazingly close. Esserman holds a narrow +2 lead (+59 -57 =8).
Tune in to Chess.com/tv at 12 p.m. Eastern (GMT -4), 9 a.m. Pacific (GMT -7) on April 12 to see which of these speed specialists will win Death Match 23. IM Danny Resnch and GM Ben Finegold will commentate live!