Tuesday, April 1

Final Impressions of US Championship Qualifier

I am back home in California after spending five days in Tulsa for the strongest and biggest open chess tournament ever in Oklahoma. The field of the US Championship Qualifier included over 20 GMs and IMs among 60 masters and 104 players total. For a thorough and informative report, check out the column written by Tom Braunlich for Chess Life Online. Here are the final standings at the top, with the seven qualifiers in bold, plus all 10 Northern California players.
  • 1st - 5th at 5.5 GM Jesse Kraai, GM Julio Becerra, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Dean Ippolito and GM John Fedorowicz
  • 6th - 14th at 5.0 GM Alex Ivanov, GM Sergey Kudrin, FM Daniel Ludwig, GM Eugene Perelshteyn, NM Sam Shankland (see photo at left), IM David Pruess, IM Joe Bradford, IM Michael Brooks and FM Todd Andrews
  • 4.5 IM Vinay Bhat (16th), NM Michael Aigner (26th), FM Daniel Naroditsky (27th)
  • 4.0 IM Walter Shipman (36th)
  • 3.5 IM Dmitry Zilberstein (51st)
  • 3.0 IM Josh Friedel (61st, withdrew after six rounds)
  • 2.5 Dana Mackenzie (77th), Alan Kobernat (84th)

NM Sam Shankland and FM Danya Naroditsky represented CalChess quite well. The "Shankinator" swindled his chess teacher IM Friedel in round 5 and then drew GM Ivanov and GM Kudrin back-to-back on the final day. Danya followed up a spectacular result in Reno by scoring two draws on Sunday with IM Brooks and IM Lugo. The other qualifier from the Bay Area, IM David Pruess (photo from Chessville at right) had a respectable performance but didn't defeat any notable opponents.

My own tournament went quite well, after a major hiccup in the first round against an 1877 rated high school player from Oklahoma. From the second round onwards, I faced three 2400s and three experts, scoring 3-0 against the experts and scratching out two draws against the senior masters. Here are my results from each round. You may view my games using the links to the online viewer from Chess Publisher or download the PGN file.

  1. Drew with Devin Hughes (1877) as black in the English opening after I fell into an opening trap, lost the exchange, but managed to escape into a drawn endgame.
  2. Defeated WIM Alexey Root (2006) as white in an endgame out of the French defense where I had a small advantage throughout.
  3. Drew with IM Dmitry Zilberstein (2457) as black after equalizing easily in the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian.
  4. Defeated Glenn Bady (2186) as white in the 2... e6 line of the closed Sicilian by converting an opening advantage into an endgame up two pawns.
  5. Lost to IM Salvijus Bercys (2474) as black in the mainline Leningrad Dutch when I unsoundly opened up the locked center with 12... e5.
  6. Drew with IM-elect Ray Robson (2426) as white in the 7.f4 line of the closed Sicilian after winning a pawn in the opening but exercising poor endgame technique.
  7. Defeated Courtney Jamison (2073) as black in the Alapin Sicilian by exploiting weaknesses in my opponent's pawn structure.

The most memorable day in this tournament for me was the last one. At least I woke up early, unlike Saturday when I overslept and arrived late for the morning round. My opponent on Sunday morning was the superstar junior Ray Robson, who at merely 13 years of age has completed all of the requirements for the International Master title. Several astute readers pointed out that Robson is still officially a FM until FIDE approves his title application, so technically speaking he is not yet IM Robson but rather IM-elect.

Regardless of his title, I expected a fierce battle from the America's top rated player age 16 and under. The closed Sicilian opening went very well for me, perhaps an indication of a weakness in my opponent's feared opening repertoire. By move 12, I felt that I had a tangible advantage and then, on move 17, I won the d5 pawn. I managed to avoid trading into a drawn endgame with the tactical shot 22.d4, which seeks to destroy the pawn shield in front of the black king. Robson defended resourcefully down a pawn with the major pieces on the board, but nonetheless I forced a winning rook endgame by move 50. Unfortunately, I failed to win, in part due to the accurate defense by my young opponent. My mistakes included 33.b4 (a5 was more aggressive), 51.Rc4 (Ke3 was correct) and 55.Re5 (better was f5). I will fully annotate this game for this blog in the near future.

This result left me with only 3.5 out of 6 heading into the final round. I was officially out of the hunt for a qualifying spot, but still hoped to finish the tournament on a high note and gain valuable rating points. As it turned out, my teenage opponent, Courtney Jamison from Texas, was in the running for the Women's qualifying spot, thereby greatly raising the stakes for my game. She essayed the same line of the Alapin Sicilian that Southern California IM Enrico Sevillano plays. I didn't play too well, but except for one brief moment, I was never in any danger either. In the end, Jamison created too many pawn weaknesses and I picked off one, then another and pretty soon thereafter she allowed checkmate.

I finished with 4.5 points for a solid 2359 USCF / 2399 FIDE performance rating. Most importantly, I gained 16 FIDE rating points, reversing some of my losses over the past year. I gained confidence in my play against stronger opponents and, if Ray Robson ever becomes a world class player, then I can say that I had him on the ropes in Oklahoma.

To close my summary, I would like to point out that the biggest story of the weekend was the success of young players, both from Northern California and around the country. In my tournament preview on Thursday, I had predicted that the 90+30 time control would benefit the kids, and I was right on the mark. Two teenagers, FM Daniel Ludwig from Florida and our own NM Sam Shankland, qualified for the US Championship. Two more, Robson and World U12 Champion FM Daniel Naroditsky, finished a half point behind at 4.5. Another talented kid, 11 year old FM Darwin Yang, ended up at 4.0 points. There is no doubt that these young players will compete in many future US Championships.

Many thanks to US Championship organizer Frank Berry for donating his own money to support the top level of chess in America! Frank is both a successful businessperson and a true fan of the royal game. Thanks also to his brother Jim Berry and Oklahoma expert Tom Braunlich for making the players comfortable and ensuring a well run tournament.


Chess Manitoba said...

Michael, Great reports !

Dad said...

Thanks for the great reporting!
Congrats also on improving your FIDE rating!