German GM Daniel Fridman won all three segments to Saturday's Death Match 20 and cruised to a 19-10 romp over American GM Yury Shulman. Fridman played much faster over the three hours and at one point went 10 games in a row without a defeat en route to winning the $750 prize. Shulman won $250 in the loss.
The margin of defeat was the largest since GM Alexander Fier's 10-point margin in Death Match 13. The separation mostly came in the 3+1 portion, where Shulman didn't win any one of the eight games and Fridman picked up five points on his lead.
You can play through all of the games here.
The opening games of the match, played at 5+1, did a lot to preview the afternoon of chess. Shulman got better positions, but spent far too much time acheiving them, and often could not convert. He got a big space advtange in game one against the Snake Benoni, and in game two he could have had two rooks against a lone knight in the endgame. Shulman lost on time in both games to go down 2-0. After the match, Fridman said he had played more than 1,000 online games in the Snake Benoni.
GM Daniel Fridman, Death Match 20 winner
The American righted the ship in round three, getting another space advantage against the Benoni and making sure it wasn't a "two-headed Snake." Already up in material, 33. Ne6! was a cruncher.
(You may want to ignore the particularly low blitz rating of Shulman's - he lost quite a few points in training for the Death Match with GM Sam Shankland, which can happen to a lot of top grandmasters! Shulman joked that his main coach was his son, Gabriel.)
Shulman almost lost game four on time as well, but found an inventive perpetual to save the half point. Shulman won round five to get back to even (2.5-2.5) and then in round six Fridman salvaged a draw from the "worst pawn structure ever" according to commentator GM Ben Finegold.
Round seven was Fridman's finest of the opening time control. He ditched the Snake but slithered all around White's backward d-pawn. Shulman's center eventually collapsed, and this time Fridman finished in style with the small combination 35...Bc4!
Fittingly, Shulman's clock expired before he responded, meaning he lost three of the opening seven games on time, and nearly lost another. "He's a perfectionist; that's his style," said commentator IM Danny Rensch. "You can't get down in time every game and expect good things to happen."
Fridman's 4-3 lead swelled in the 3+1 segment, as he won 6.5 of the 8 games without a loss. Many more endgames were reached than in the match's first phase, but Fridman was up to the challenge.
The finest technique was displayed in round nine, when after playing against another backward d-pawn, Fridman played the clever rook juke Re8-a8-c8, giving him the choice of endgames. He correctly entered the bishop ending, which is much easier to win than the rook endgame. 58...g4 was obvious but pleasing and typified the problem for White - his kingside pawns never got off the vulnerable light squares.
Shulman's best chance to grab a win in the 3-minute block was game 12. See if you can find the funny tactic that won a pawn on move 14.
Later, Shulman transferred the queen to the opposite wing and won the other rook pawn, but she was nearly ensnared and he had to allow a repetition. Fridman then won the final two games of the segment to take a 10.5-4.5 lead into the bullet.
The largest-ever Death Match deficit overcome in bullet was four games, and Shulman looked like he would seriously challenge that history. He switched to 1. e4 and faced mostly Caro-Kanns. The margin was halved early after Shulman won the opening three games of 1+1 (his only winning streak of the afternoon). The first of the three wins came mostly at the hands of Fridman, who did not transition well as he flagged after a 30-second think on move 19!
The German then remembered that it was one-minute chess, and managed to get in 77 moves the next game, but still lost. He capitulated only after nearly finding a draw in the rare two queens versus one queen pawnless endgame, one of the few that GM John Nunn didn't write about!
The comeback ended when Shulman, already much worse, lost on time in game 19. Fridman went 4.5/5 in games 19-23 to essentially close the door.
He let his hair down in game 26. After playing solidly for small advtantages for the fist 2.5 hours, Fridman opened with 1. c3, the Saragossa Opening (fellow German Siegbert Tarrasch once won a Saragossa theme tournament in Mannheim). Fridman basically played a Black system as White, and the focus shifted to the h-file for a crushing attack, initiated with the "automatic bullet move" Rxh5.
Finegold noted after the match that it was the first he remembered free of mate in one blunders. Outside of one oversight by Shulman late in game 25, he and Rensch praised the players for not making any large mistakes.
Shulman said that in "1+1 I couldn't see anything." He admitted that he had "no idea" that he won the first three bullet games (the Death Match is played without the players getting any breaks, hence the name). "Daniel used the clock much better," Shulman said. "One second increment is not enough for me."
GM Yury Shulman
He was asked why he didn't switch to a more aggressive system against the Caro-Kann in the bullet. Shulman responded that there isn't even enough time between games to conjur a new plan. "For spectators it's wonderful," Shulman said of the non-stop gaming. "For players you could give some sort of a break to make our lives easier!"
Fridman's bullet strategy was simple but effective. "I try not to blunder terribly and look for some small tactic," he said.
Rensch noted that Shulman was better dressed, even in defeat. "But that doesn't count for points, right?" said Shulman.
It was evening in Europe when the match finished for Fridman. His celebration plans? "Now I can relax - with blitz for another three hours. Then I'll go to sleep."
The German contingent will look to make it two in a row at Chess.com's next Death Match, which will be Saturday, February 15 at 12 p.m. Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific. GM Georg Meier of Germany and GM Imre Balog of Hungary qualified based on their performance on Chess.com in December, 2013. Tune in to Chess.com/tv then for live coverage of Death Match 21.