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Hot Chess in Phoenix: US Open Begins Print E-mail
By Mike Klein, Chess.com, reporting for US Chess   
August 2, 2015
As the calendar turned to August, the 116th U.S. Open opened Saturday night in Phoenix, Arizona with one "burning" question - will the temperature exceed the edition? It's going to be close, but so far, the mercury looks to stall a few degrees short.

Talking about the weather is about as trite as arguing over 1. e4 or 1. d4, but for those that flew in from milder climates, the panting asides and the salt-stained shirts have already become commonplace. Chief TD Al Losoff, fresh off purchasing a Fitbit on Amazon Prime Day, had his wristwatch-cum-cardiologist inform him he'd walked 15,000 steps, and that was at the beginning of round one (the sprawling Arizona Biltmore has some rooms a half-mile from the on-site conference center).

Those with very long memories or adept search-engine skills may wish to point out that the first three incarnations of the U.S. Open took place in Excelsior, Minnesota. The cooling breezes of Lake Minnetonka will have the temperature struggle to hit 70 there later this week.

This edition of the marquee US Chess open tournament comes will all kinds of new features, the first of which came earlier in this sentence. The "USCF" is now "US Chess" (as explained on these pages a few days ago) and comes with a rebranded web site and logo.


But tradition reigns even in this dry air. The famed Denker Tournament of High School Champions enters began 30 years ago and according to Dewain Barber, 10 future grandmasters have competed over that time. At least one former champion, FM Robby Adamson (1988), strolled the tournament hall last night. The Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions enters its fifth year and the National Girls Invitational Tournament will celebrate its third anniversary.

The host Arizona Biltmore is historic enough for its own Wikipedia page, yet is still 30 years newer than the event it is hosting. A placard inside the guest rooms displays the registration log of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who honeymooned here in March, 1952. The room rate was $85 for them ($765 in today's dollars!), making the $99/night current U.S. Open rate quite reasonable.

The main event features around 450 pre-registrations so far and looks to gain some luster this year. Six grandmasters have signed up, with many avowing that the automatic ticket to the U.S. Championship is their goal (one player from the U.S federation will qualify). With the field in St. Louis being reduced to 12 players the last several years, qualifying by rating is no longer a viable option for many GMs.


Consider: GM Alejandro Ramirez, who lost the US Championship title in a playoff in 2013, was the last one in on rating in 2014 and didn't qualify at all in 2015 despite being nearly 2600 FIDE. He's here in Phoenix and confirmed the U.S. Championship was the reason.

GM Alejandro Ramirez

In April, GM Alex Shabalov was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. After the ceremony, I asked the four-time American champion if he's played in his last U.S. Championship. "No," he replied. What was his best chance of qualifying again? Without a moment's hesitation he said, "The U.S. Open of course!"

The one-section, all-play-all tournament necessarily created few upsets in round one, as most games featured more than 600 points difference between the two opponents. For the lower-rated players, this can be a thrill. Local 11-year-old Mason Miller had the good fortune (or is it bad luck?) to play up 900 points against Ramirez, who gave the youngster a lesson on closed position maneuvering.

Most of the GMs will play the abbreviated six- or four-day schedule (you can still register for either one here). This left a trio of FMs to hold down the other top boards. FMs Seth Homa and Kostya Kavutskiy had little trouble winning, but FM Pedram Atoufi was nicked for a draw via Alabaman Kenneth Sloan's repetition.

Arizona resident WFM Liulia Cardona, a native of Cuba, made a pressed sandwich out of her opponent's king. The game wasn't long enough to be called the "Spanish Torture" by traditional Lopez standards, but since it's her native tongue, perhaps it's appropriate anyway. It likely felt that way to Black.

The biggest upset came from nine-year-old Kirk Ghazarian (1729). The pint-sized boy not only gets to call the U.S. Virgin Islands his home, he also beat his first-ever master in the opening round. Doesn't that make you want to give him the "When I was young I had to walk uphill to school, both ways" speech?

Ghazarian is a budding chess historian too. He studies all of Garry Kasparov's "My Great Predecessors" series. He said among his favorite players are Akiba Rubinstein and Louis Paulsen. Here he is showing the final position from his win:


In the six-round Denker Tournament, top player matchups occur right from the outset. One-third of the field is a master or better, meaning there are nearly as many masters as in the main event's traditional schedule. Top-seeded Andrew Tang is an IM and would have been on board two in the regular U.S. Open (many of these players will play in the six- or four-day schedule once their invitational concludes).

Tang, the high school champion of those milder climates of Minnesota, struggled to get past Expert Yogi Saputra of Oregon. The Beaver State Champion looked to eschew a repetition and go for glory.

Saputra, Yogi- Tang, Andrew


Re7+ 45.Kf8 Rd7 46.Kg8

46.Ke8 looks to force a draw, as Black is not better. The same might be said of White though!
46...Rd8+ 47.Kh7 Bxd5


48.Rd4 This seems like a winning move, but is it? 48...Ke6? ( 48...Bxe4!! 49.Rxd8 g5+ is an amazing refutation. White's king, which has done a merry-go-round around the f7-pawn, is too far out of play to help stop the forward f-pawn. 50.Kh6 ( 50.Kg8 gxf4 51.Rf8 f3! 52.Rxf7+ Ke5 with Bf5 coming) 50...gxf4 51.Kh5 f3 52.Rd2 Kf5 53.a4 Kf4 54.a5 Ke3 and Black wins. 
49.Bxd5+ Rxd5 50.Rxd5 Kxd5 51.Kg7 Ke4 {51...Kc4 is no better after 52.a4! forcing the king to give chase right away} (52.Kxf7? Kd3 53.a4 Kc2 54.a5 Kxb2 55.a6 Kc3 56.a7 b2 57.a8=Q b1=Q  s far from easily winning) 52...Kb4 53.Kxf7 Kxa4 54.Kxg6) 52.a4 Kxf4 53.a5 and White is faster. 
48...Rxd5 49.Ra6
Mistakenly helping the Black king come forward. The simplest road to maintain equality was 49.Rb4 Rd3 50.a4 g5 and the game is still level.
49...Kf5 50.Kg7 Kxf4 51.Kxf7 Rd2 52.Rxg6 Rxb2

The poor placement of White's king makes this winning for Black.
53.Ke6 Rd2 54.Rg1 Ke4 55.Rg3 Rd3 56.Rg4 Ke3 57.a4 Kd2 58.Rb4 Kc2


At the Denker opening ceremony, emcee Steve Shutt recognized five states who have sent a representative every year since the tournament's inception in 1985: New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
The Barber Tournament, which features the K-8 Champions from across the country, is headlined by John Michael Burke. Thanks to a high FIDE K-factor in his rating, Burke has had some silly rating gains recently. He rose 280 points on the strength of three events this summer, propelling his Elo to 2538(!) and making him the top Under-14 player in the world and the youngest player in the top 30 juniors list. He may well be the highest-rated player in the world who is not even an FM!

Of course his 2448 USCF rating shows that he is quite strong. During this torrid two-month stretch, he beat two GMs, five IMs and one WGM. The meteoric (or is is cometlike?) rise may be over - according to FIDE's Handbook, rule 8.56 says his K-factor will reduce from 40 to 10 once his published rating exceeds 2400.

All the top players got by with wins in the first round, with two exceptions. Conrad Lee (1715) of Montana drew World Youth Bronze Medalist Rayan Taghizadeh (2245) of Northern California and Kevin Li (1760) of Wisconsin beat Marcus Miyasaka (2245) of New York.

Not even in a hint of drama for the girls, who are led by WFM Jennifer Yu (2293). No wins or draws were carded by lower seeds in the opening round of the National Girls Invitational Championship. In fact, no draws took place at all!
Jean Hoffman making the first move at the National Girls Invitational

For more on the three invitational events, you can visit their respective web sites: The Denker Tournament, The Barber Tournament and the National Girls Invitational Championship. There's also a special award returning for the second year: whichever trio of state representatives has the best combined score wins additional prizes.

To keep track of the U.S. Open's pairings and results, visit this page. Registration for the expedited schedules and info on round times, US Chess meetings, and side events, is available here.

Live games will be broadcast via Monroi; the direct link to games is here.