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Gareev & Molner Top American Open Print E-mail
By Randy Hough   
December 10, 2013
GMs Molner and Gareev
The 49th Annual American Open (the first tournament to become both an American Classic and Heritage event) drew an improved turnout of 263 players to the Doubletree in Orange, California over Thanksgiving weekend. With five GMs (another two canceled shortly prior), five IMs, and a WGM, the tournament lived up to its reputation as a strong one...and proved, as it has for many years, that a schedule that allows the option of playing on Thanksgiving day works.

Two of the GMs, both 25 (a relative victory for youth), Timur Gareev and Mackenzie Molner, topped the 44-player Open section with 6½ points of 8.

Blindfold wizard Gareev, who won the trophy on tiebreaks, now lives in San Diego. He started out 4-0 in the three-day schedule (Game/1), and it was there that he played his favorite games. In the second round, he took down fellow GM Enrico Sevillano.

In Round 3, his victim was the strong IM Andranik Matikozyan, in which he gave high marks to the move ...18.b4.

Another win against GM Jaan Ehlvest (making his first American Open appearance), and Timur led the field by a half point over Molner, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, and IM Larry Remlinger. A draw with Molner and a win over Abrahamyan brought him to the point where quick draws against GM Melik Khachiyan and IM John Bryant assured a first place tie.

Molner, just recently awarded his GM title, lives in Arizona. He played the traditional four-day schedule, with moral support from his wife Amanda Mateer, who didn't play (though she helped out with the Scholastic). His best game came in Round 3, when he tied up IM Philip Wang's French Defense (the unusual 7.Bb5 is best answered by 7...Be7 followed up by castling).

Mac's other key wins included a six-hour marathon against Remlinger in Round 6 and a shorter one against Daniel Mousseri in the finale. (The 14-year-old Mousseri, though rated only 2230, upset three FMs and drew with Remlinger to reach Board Two in Round 8. He gained 52 rating points.)

Ehlvest and Bryant tied for third, 6-2. Jaan had a key win over IM Philip Wang in the sixth round and moved into his position by outplaying Remlinger in the finale. He equalizes as Black in a Leningrad Dutch and slowly outplayed Larry. Houdini suggests 18.f3 and 20.Nf2 as improvements, and the pawn sac 26.g4 is simply too ambitious. Black defends his king and then consolidates with the extra pawn. White's last move appears to be a hallucination, but the position is lost anyway.

Remlinger did show that a 72-year-old can still play the game, though, tying for Under 2450 honors at 5-3. (Akopyan, San Diego junior Varun Krishnan, and Northern Californian Hayk Manvelyan joined in the tie.) Larry set up a nice mating net against the 16-year-old Arizona master Bryan Hu in the third round:

Larry also showed fortitude in Round 5, surviving a worse position against Abrahamyan to reach a drawn ending. (Despite the natural inclination to reinforce a pinned piece, 27...Rxc5 seems to be a substantial improvement for Black.)

Abrahamyan had her big moment in the third round, downing perennial (four clear wins and three ties) American Open champ Khachiyan. 

He had an edge out of the Giuoco Pianissimo (a favorite of many of Southern California's top players), and 24...Nxf3+ 25.Qxf3 Nb4 would have kept Black well on top. Then it's equal. Melik rejected the tempting 26...exd3 27.Nxf7 Kxf7 28. Bxd3 Rxd3 29.Qg6+ Kf8 30.f6 Qe5+ 31.Kg1 Rd7 when Black defends.

Later, 39.Bxb7 would have retained a small edge for White, the natural 39.Bxe4 allowed a knight fork trick that appeared to put Black back on top...except for the amusingly trapped rook on g6. A few moves later, the "horizon effect" finally wears off and the computer acknowledges White's superiority.  Returning the Exchange simply left White with a won pawn ending.

Tatev Abrahamyan

Tatev was ultimately clear fifth at 5½ after drawing with IM Philip Wang in the last round. And Philip had his best game in the fifth round; he annotates:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e6 4.Bb5 Nd4 5.0-0 a6 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Be2 Qc7 8.d4

Through a bizarre move order, we've reached a Taimanov Sicilian.
8...cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nf6 10.Kh1 b5 11.a3 Bb7 12.Nb3 Rd8?
Too optimistic 12...Be7 was more solid.
13.f4 d5 14.e5 Ne4 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Qe1 Be7 17.Be3 0-0 18.Qf2!

I missed this move and White's next. Now I'm clearly worse.
18...Rd5 19.Rac1! Rc8 20.c4 bxc4 21.Bxc4 Rd7 22.Rc3

22.f5! is winning but the lines after 22...Qxe5 are very complicated
22...g6 23.Rfc1 Qd8 24.Qe2

Black has survived and now begins to equalize.
24...Na5 25.Nxa5 Qxa5 26.b4 Qd8 27.f5?


Starting complications unfavorable for White.
27...exf5 28.e6 Rd6 29.Bc5 Rxc5!

A strong sacrifice giving Black a powerful attack. White faces a difficult defense in time pressure.
30.exf7+ Kg7 31.bxc5 Rd2 32.Qf1 Bxc5 33.Be2 Bd6 34.Qe1?


34.Bxa6 was the last chance.

Now Black is winning. The game ends attractively.
35.Rb1 Bd5 36.f8Q+ Kxf8 37.Bf1 e3! 38.Qxe3 Bxg2+ 39.Kg1 Bxh2+

Followed by Bxf1+I regretted missing 39...Bf3+ 40.Qxg5 Bxh2 mate, but my move was good enough.

Many-time champ Khachiyan withdrew after drawing with Gareev in Round 7. This was simply not his year, and he didn't feel well. He did give a well-received lecture, as did Gareev and the always popular IM Jeremy Silman.

Though not finishing at the top, some teenaged masters besides Mousseri made their presence felt. In the first round WFM Simone Liao upset IM Jack Peters, who also yielded a draw to Arizonan Tony Yim in Round 5.  Yusheng Xia almost had a drawn opposite bishops against Gareev in the first round of the G/1. In the nature of such a time control, the critical moves that brought the GM the win are lost to posterity.

Nicky Korba
As usual, the section winners were a varied bunch. Nicky Korba, 16, of nearby Manhattan Beach took the Under 2200 section by a full point, earning his first Master rating. Nicky, who has been playing in tournaments for only three years, won the Junior Grand Prix in 2011. Under 2000 saw a three-way tie: Dmitry Cherkasky,38,of Venice, California; Hans Niemann, 10, from the Bay Area; and Hao Lu, a middle-aged recent Chinese immigrant. The latter two earned their first Expert rating.

Ruben Burciaga of nearby Whittier took Under 1800 honors (by a full point) for the third time in four years (one was a tie). This is his last tournament as a Class B rating, as his prize earned him an 1800 floor. Three players tied in Under 1600: Martin Leung, 27, a video game pianist and student of USC coach Jack Peters; Shashetha "Bobby" Ruwanpura, 19, from the San Fernando Valley; and nine-year old Gabriel Eidelman of Santa Monica. In Under 1400, Vincent Maggio, 38, a personal trainer and performance nutrition specialist who has been playing for only a year, tied with Brian Morris, a Northern California tournament organizer.

The mixed doubles concept was used for the first time in a Southern California-organized tournament, paying out $700. Korba and Agata Bykovtsev, both playing in Under 2200, took top honors with a combined 11½ points. Close behind were WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and young Kirk Ghazarian (Under 1600) with 11, and Maggio and Serafina Show (Under 1600), at 10½. Of the 22 females in the tournament, three somehow didn't make it onto a team - better publicity needed! (And players who want to withdraw might consider the effect on their partner!) Medals in addition to prize money for the top three in each section was another innovation.

Some interesting games in the class sections never see the light of day, so we offer an imperfect but fascinating contest between two youngsters in Under 2200. White stands better through most of the game in a typical King's Indian, but Daniel Lin's attacking persistence finally prevails. Among the possible improvements for White were 28.Ke1 (time to get out of Dodge!), 31.Nc3 (equal), and after a minor error by Black (33...Nxg2 improves), 35.Rxg2 hxg2 36.gxh5 would have restored a small edge for White. 36.Nac2 and 37.Bg3 were the last chances; after the queen trade White's king dies in a crossfire.

Side events included the 46 player Blitz, with Gareev's 10-0 score lapping the field by two points. Twelve-year old Aaron Chang, an A player, tied for third, ahead of seven masters. The Blitz always brings out some veterans who no longer have the time (or stamina?) for the main event. The Action event, with a somewhat disappointing 15 participants, was won by FM Mark Duckworth.

The Scholastic championship drew a total of 309. Winners included Joaquin Perkins (Varsity K-12), Bowen Liu (Varsity K-6), Rianne Ke (Varsity K-3), Harry Song (K-12 Under 1200), Tejas Ramunjam (K-9 Under 1000), Alton Qian (K-6 Under 800), Aaron Chizhik (K-6 Under 600), Alex Frank Wang (K-3 Under 600), and Ming Lu (K-1). Whew, no ties! And a plethora of trophies were awarded.

We commented last year on the physical setup,
with the Scholastic taking up the ballroom for the last two days. Alas, the situation didn't improve this year; the main tournament players spent those critical rounds even further away from "control central" and the pairing computer, in several rooms on the second floor of the hotel, with insufficient supervision. Several embarrassing pairing errors occurred because of poor communication.

As for the good news, most players were satisfied and grateful to Chess Palace and the Ong family for organizing the event and creating a festive atmosphere with the lectures and raffles. The main event paid out $26,700 in place and class prizes. And, the realization that the tournament has outgrown the Doubletree has sunk in, and a search is already underway for a hotel that can comfortably accommodate both the American Open and its scholastic offshoot. We hope to see an even bigger turnout at the gala 50th anniversary in 2014!

See the rating report on MSA.