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Four Lead the Saint Louis Open Print E-mail
By Mike Wilmering   
April 11, 2010
US Champion Hikaru Nakamura at the Saint Louis Open, Photo Betsy Dynako
SAINT LOUIS, APRIL 10, 2010 -- Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has been playing an exceptional brand of chess over the past year. Since winning the 2009 U.S. Championship, his stellar performance tournament after tournament has vaulted him into the international spotlight and cemented his place as the player to beat in the United States.

But the heavy favorite coming into this year’s Bill Wright Saint Louis Open ran into a round-three roadblock. WIM Iryna Zenyuk provided stiff opposition against Nakamura’s Leningrad Dutch to hold on to a draw in a hectic finish.

WIM Iryna Zenyuk, Photo Betsy Dynako
Zenyuk played one of the main lines and pressed slowly for an advantage against the heavy favorite. It was a strategic positional game that ended with two queens on the board for Zenyuk. As the pieces started flying off the board and the seconds ticked away, Nakamura managed to hold the draw as Zenyuk attempted to simultaneously ward off the ticking clock and the top player in the country.

Now, IM Krush and GMs Gurevich, Hess and Ramirez all share the first-place lead with a score of 3/3, respectively. GMs Finegold, Friedel, Amanov and WIM Melekhina all took a round-three bye, which left them tied with Nakamura for second place.

GM Robert Hess, Photo Betsy Dynako
IM Brooks, WIM Abrahamyan, Zenyuk, Daniel Gurevich, Jim Voelker and Christopher Prather all have 2.5/3 as well for a share of second.

This year’s Saint Louis Open, which features $5,700 in prize money and takes place April 10-11, benefited greatly from Nakamura’s presence with almost double the standard registration numbers of year’s past. Tournament director Thomas Rehmeier said the 136-player field is “hands down” the strongest in the history of the Saint Louis Open.

“Outside of the U.S. Championships, this is probably the strongest tournament in Missouri, period,” Rehmeier said.

The presence of the 2009 U.S. Champion drew not only a record turnout, but also a number of titled players. The field included seven GMs, two IMs and three WIMs, along with a large contingent of other strong players who traveled from across the country. All told, 17 different states are represented in the open and U1800 reserve sections.

The open field saw few upsets in the first round. GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Robert Hess, Ben Finegold, Alejandro Ramirez, Josh Friedel and Dmitry Gurevich all won, as did IMs Irina Krush and Michael Brooks.

WIMs Alisa Melekhina and Iryna Zenyuk both won as well, but Christopher Prather (1898) managed to knick WIM Tatev Abrahamyan for a draw in round one.

Daniel Dugovic (1884) of Illinois delivered the only major upset in round one by waffle-stomping National Master Ron Luther (2216).

IM Brooks consolidated his position to achieve a clear victory in a rook-and-queen vs. rook-and-queen endgame against Nolan Hendrickson (1907).

GM Ben Finegold’s slow positional squeeze proved too much for Nathaniel Criss (1940), his first-round opponent.

After round two, the usual suspects were still leading the pack.

USCF Executive Director Bill Hall, Photo Betsy Dynako
GM Nakamura defeated USCF Executive Director Bill Hall and GM Hess took home the win on board two against 2009 U.S. Women's Championship competitor, Yun Fan.

Although Nakamura managed to make relatively quick work of his first two opponents, he said he felt the tournament was organized well, and thought it might offer him an opportunity to fine-tune his game. He attributed the influx of highly rated players to the work the CCSCSL has been doing as an organization to promote chess on a local, national and international scale.

“I think that what Rex [Sinquefield, CCSCSL founder] is doing with the club definitely has earned a reputation,” Nakamura said. “It’s great for the chess scene. What’s happening here is very good; it’s better than just about anywhere else in the country.”

Jennifer Skidmore (1954) traveled from Michigan to play in the open section. Of the 83 players registered in the open, 45 of them traveled from a state other than Missouri to take part. Skidmore was the lucky recipient of a round-one pairing against Nakamura.
Jennifer Skidmore, Photo Betsy Dynako

“That’s why I came here today, not necessarily to play Hikaru, but because I’m very excited to play in a strong tournament,” she said. “The fact that this is just $60, I may have come anyhow just because it’s a neat opportunity to be at this venue. It’s gorgeous! I’m terribly jealous.”

Fan agreed.

“This is a great club,” she said. “A lot of the top players like it, so I’m not surprised that a lot of titled players came.”

Yun Fan, Photo Betsy Dynako
Fan recently brought students from the under-14 and under-12 Chinese Youth National team on a visit the CCSCSL.

“I brought them here because I played for the Women’s Championship, and I liked the club so much that I told the coach: ‘You have to come. This is the best club in America.’”

She said she welcomed the strong field.

"Playing against top players can inspire you to play more seriously and put more effort [into your game]," Fan said. “Because you have nothing to lose.”

In other round two action, IM Brooks drew local Expert Kevin Dale Johnson, but no major upsets marked the rest of the round as all of the titled players finished with their expected result.

A few young players emerged from round two with the opportunity to make a name for themselves in a field fraught with chess giants. After two rounds Sean Vibbert (2110) of Indiana, Daniel Gurevich (2136) of Atlanta and the CCSCSL's own Kevin Cao (2166) were all vying for a top spot and a chance to play top competition in the later rounds.

Sean pulled off a nice victory over Randy Gimenez (1800) and got slated to face IM Krush in round three. Daniel handled Dugovic in round two and took a half-point bye in round three. Kevin defeated Daniel Parmet (1959), which earned him a shot at GM Ramirez.

After a good fight in round three, Sean was unable to hold off Krush, the former U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, and Kevin fell to Ramirez. Although the competition was stiff for these rising stars, the opportunity to square off against players of that caliber afforded the youngsters a valuable experience.

Round four should prove pivotal as Dmitry Gurevich (white) faces Hess (black) on board one. It's Krush vs. Ramirez on board two, and Nakamura vs. Abrahamyan on board three, Melekhina vs. Finegold on board four, Friedel vs. Zenyuk on board five and young Daniel Gurevich takes on Amanov in round four.

This year's Saint Louis Open was named in honor of Bill Wright, a long-time tournament organizer and CCSCSL benefactor who helped orchestrate the Saint Louis Open each year. Although Wright was unable to organize this year's tournament because of health concerns, the legacy of the groundwork he helped lay has been pivotal in making the tournament that shares his namesake a success.

The prize structure is as follows:


•               Overall: 1st - $1,000, 2nd - $650, 3rd - $400

•               Under 2300: 1st - $500, 2nd - $250

•               Under 2000: 1st - $300, 2nd - $200

Reserve (U1800)

•               1st - $500, 2nd - $350, 3rd - $200

•               Class C: 1st - $300, 2nd - $150

•               Class D: 1st - $300, 2nd - $150

•               Under 1200 & Unated: 1st - $300, 2nd - $150

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