Everyone and their cousin knew GM Boris Avrukh needed a lead going into the bullet portion of Death Match 25 on Sunday. When he stretched the margin to five games, most thought the distance was enough. All except his opponent, IM Yaacov Norowitz.
The park player and blitz fiend made the largest comeback in Death Match history on Sunday! Norowitz's final surge was about as last minute as it gets. Just a few hours before the U.S. lost a win in the final seconds of the World Cup, Norowitz pulled out a win by taking the final five games to clip Avrukh, 14.5-13.5.
"As soon as I stopped trying so hard. As soon as I just started to play and not care, I started playing better", said Norowitz about his comeback. "That's what I like about Bullet. There isn't a lot of time to 'out-think' yourself. You just have to play and trust your intuition."
All told, he won the bullet 8-2 after losing both of the opening sections. Norowitz didn't even win a single game in the 5+1 portion, and only took two victories in the 3+1 portion.
IM Yaacov Norowitz
Avrukh had said prior to the match that he was most worried about the bullet. He had intended to spend most of his training time practicing that time control. Avrukh said Norowtiz had a "huge advantage" in bullet.
"I have no experience with 1+1 at all," Avrukh said leading up to the match. "Since I am not good with a mouse, I prefer more time."
Here is the deciding game. With the score knotted at 13.5, Avrukh won a pawn for minimal compensation, but pressed too hard on the kingside and allowed Norowitz to waltz his a-pawn down the board. With no mating net materializing, Avrukh had to concede the game, and with it the match.
Prior to the final time control, Avrukh played in a classical style to obtain stable advantages. Take the first game of the entire match. Avrukh built up a strong center, and when it became mobile, his pieces came to life and Black's king's weaknesses proved telling.
GM Boris Avrukh
What's that rule about never resigning if you have a knight in blitz? Norowitz must have done this a thousand times in the park - making his opponent burn precious time analyzing all those horses jumping. Just when you let your guard down, the ponies strike, and Norowitz earned his first victory in the 8th overall game.
The bullet train didn't exit the station right away for Avrukh. He took a five-game lead into 1+1. After dropping the first game, he rebounded by showing that activity is worth more than pawn structure when the pace accelerates.
After this loss, it looked more bleak than ever for Norowitz. "If he's going to make a comeback in this match, it likely needed to start a few games ago", said IM Danny Rensch. "We'll see! I still give Yaacov great chances in Bullet", replied his co-host GM Simon Williams. And though Simon picked his fellow Grandmaster over the IM to start the match, Williams would end up being right that Bullet was just what Yaacov needed to get rolling.
With time running out on the match, Norowitz began the comeback by "breaking" the blitz rule that queens are better than two rooks. Usually the side with the rooks has to burn time examining forks and queen checks, but none were on the table in game 24. Norowitz finished quickly to begin his charge.
Norowitz went on to win games 25-28 to edge Avrukh.
This is the first Death Match under the new prize structure. Since Avrukh won two of the three sections, he takes $200 plus two $100 bonuses for a total of $400. Norowitz earned $500 plus the $100 for winning the bullet for a total of $600.