Saturday, January 3

Recap of North American Open

The annual North American Open attracted 583 chess enthusiasts to Bally's Casino (above photo taken by official webmaster Chris Bird) at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. Between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, the city bustles with tourists, gamblers and revelers--plus a few wood pushers amongst the crowds. The winter weather offered a perfect excuse to spend long hours at the chess board (especially for those under the legal gambling age of 21). Everything, from the tournament hall to hotel rooms to restaurants, is conveniently located under one roof. In fact, you can walk from Bally's to France--or at least to the adjacent Paris Casino.

About 40 Northern California players and their parents took the 1 hour flight or drove for 8-10 hours. Fortunately, gas prices are quite reasonable now! Those who arrived in the evening on Christmas Day battled heavy traffic and even an ice storm, but the rest of the week was sunny and cold, but dry. Nine of my students showed up for their final chess competition of 2008.

The tournament began rather auspiciously. Nobody could have predicted that IM David Pruess and FM Daniel Naroditsky would each start 0-2 against substantially weaker opponents, yet as a testiment to their fighting spirit, they both recovered to finish above 50%. Somehow, all five of my students in the U2100 section lost in round 1, but one still ended up tied for third. Even I struggled with draws against two low experts, perhaps a consequence of a bout with the stomach flu.

Fortunately, the final results were far more encouraging. Below are some notable scores from local players. Please click on the link for the USCF ratings report.
  • IM Sam Shankland, 5.0 in Open (top U2500, see photo above)
  • IM David Pruess, 4.5 in Open
  • FM Daniel Naroditsky, 4.0 in Open
  • NM Steven Zierk, 4.0 in Open (broke 2300 USCF)
  • NM Michael Aigner, 4.0 in Open
  • NM Rohan Agarwal, 3.5 in Open (broke 2200 USCF)
  • Yian Liou, 5.5 in U2100 (tied for 3rd place)
  • Karim Seada, 5.5 in U2100 (tied for 3rd place)
  • Michael Da-Cruz, 6.0 in U1900 (tied for 2nd place)
  • Mukund Chillakanti, 5.5 in U1900 (tied for 5th place)
  • Samuel Sevian, 4.5 in U1900
  • Roland Zhu, 4.5 in U1900 (+137 rating points up to 1760)
  • Seid Seidov, 7.0 in U1700 (clear 1st place)
  • Rahul Desirazu, 5.5 in U1700
  • Merak Arriola, 6.0 in U1300 (tied for 2nd place)
  • Jeffrey Zhang, 5.5 in U1300 (tied for 5th place)
  • Rohan Kapre, 5.5 in U1000 (tied for 3rd place)
Five local juniors had an especially memorable tournament and deserve special recognition. Two won significant money and the other three all achieved rating milestones.
  • IM Sam Shankland tied for 7th place overall and earned top U2500 with 5.0/7. After a disappointing draw in round 1, he caught fire and beat his major rival IM Robert Hess with black and then drew GM Jaan Ehlvest. At least there's still room for improvement: Sam got schooled by GM Zviad Izoria in the penultimate round.
  • NM Steven Zierk (see photo at right) impressed with 4.0 against 7 FIDE titled players with an average rating of 2408 USCF. His highlights included a solid draw against GM Varuzhan Akobian, ranked #5 in the USA, and a crushing win against IM Emory Tate. Steven also can still improve: he lost quickly to IM Shankland in the final round.
  • Please join me in congratulating California's newest master, NM Rohan Agarwal! He had quite a memorable tournament, defeating IM Emory Tate and drawing with GM Anatoly Lein on his way to a 2335 performance. Rohan's style and opening repertoire always generate many exciting tactical slugfests.
  • Young expert Yian Liou no doubt has his eyes on the master title after he tied for third place in the U2100 section with a 2219 performance. He got a much needed kick in the rear end by losing round 1, but after five straight wins, he was on board 1 in the final round (a draw with section winner Jared Tan).
  • Las Vegas was my first opportunity to watch new student Roland Zhu (see photo at right) play. Suffice it to say that he left quite an impression, far exceeding my expectations by scoring 4.0/7 while playing up in the U1900 section. As a reward, his rating jumped from 1623 to 1760!
The winner of the Open section was--no, not me!--Grandmaster Giorgi Kacheishvili with 6.0 out of 7. He took control in the fourth round and never relinquished the lead, picking up three wins and two draws against fellow Grandmasters. Five GMs tied for second: Zviad Izoria, Melik Khachiyan, Alexander Shabalov, Julio Becerra and Jaan Ehlvest. Check out the interesting tournament blog by USCL's Blogger of the Year Chris Bird for further details and a few key positions from the top boards.

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