American Open co-winners IM David Pruess and GM Melikset Khachiyan. Photo Cathy Rogers
GM Ian Rogers
It seems like a lifetime has passed since I last competed in the American Open. Back in 1982, I was an ambitious young IM who knew that to win any weekend tournament on the West Coast you had to overcome Igor Ivanov, Kamran Shirazi or, if you were unlucky, both.
Igor has gone to the great weekend tournament circuit in the sky, Shirazi lives in France and I am now a veteran GM who is so unused to playing in the US that I have fallen into the European mindset which regards bringing a set and clock to each game as strange.
Returning to play in LA after 24 years, it appeared that not too much had changed. Randy Hough was still a very efficient and affable arbiter, Jerry Hanken's booming voice was still making official announcements at the start of the rounds, and 350 people assembled at an airport hotel to battle over the chessboard on the Thanksgiving long weekend. (In fact the hotel – the LAX Renaissance, which was being used for the American Open for the third straight year - was exceptional.)
However it soon became clear that the 2006 American Open was a more sophisticated animal than the 1982 version.For a start, players who did not wish to play on Thanksgiving Thursday could choose a three day schedule for the tournament, playing four one hour games on the first day. This idea is unique to the US and has the slightly unnerving effect of seeing the strength of the tournament apparently double when round five begins and the two events merge. Side events – lectures, videos of Kasparov and extra tournaments – were well-organized and popular.
More than 100 of the participants came primarily for the scholastic tournament, with big names such as Larry D Evans turning up solely as coaches for various students. How many of these scholastic players go on to compete in the main event in later years will be the key to the health of the American Open of the future.
The top two seeds, Eugene Perelshteyn and Alex Yermolinsky, were the only two players to reach the halfway mark of the tournament with 3.5/4 – Yermolinsky playing the regular schedule while Perelshteyn emerged from the stronger group that played four games on the Friday.
The showdown between the two players in the fifth round looked to be the decisive game of the tournament, with Perelshteyn exploiting some indecisive play by Yermo.
Opening: Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Qd2 Be7 8.0-0-0 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 0-0 10.f3 a6 11.h4 b5 12.Kb1 Bb7 13.Qd2 Rc8 14.Bd3 Qc7 15.Ne2 Rfd8 16.Nd4 Qb6?!
This move has been played before, and with success, but it looks untrustworthy to me. A typical alternative plan for Black would be
16...e5!? 17.Nf5 d5 when the knight on f5 looks great but hasn't got much support.
17.Be3 Qc7 18.g4! e5 19.Nf5 Rd7
By now Yermo had probably realised that matters were not proceeding as hoped, since now 19...d5 loses to 20.Bb6!.
20.Bg5! Bd8 21.Bxf6! Bxf6 22.g5 Be7 23.h5 d5
Finally achieving the desired central break but by now White has gained so much time on the kingside that his attack plays itself.
24.g6! Bf6 25.gxh7+ Kh8 26.Qg2 dxe4 27.fxe4 Qd8
The queen must race back to defend g7 because more natural plans such as …Kxh7 and …Rg8 could walk into ideas such as Qg6+!.
28.Rhg1 Qf8 29.Rdf1 Rcd8 30.Nh6! Rd6 31.Ng4 Bc8 32.Nxf6 Rxf6 33.Rxf6 gxf6
The rest of the game is easy for Perelshteyn, who can happily repeat moves and wait until he reaches the time control at move 40 before executing the winning plan.
34.Qf3 Qe7 35.Qg3 Qf8
Forced since White threatens 36.Rh7+!.
36.Qf2 Qe7 37.h6 Kxh7 38.Rg7+ Kh8 39.Qg1 Qf8 40.Rg2 Kh7 41.Rg7+ Kh8 42.a3 Be6 43.Qf2 Qe7 44.Qg3 Qf8 45.b3 Rb8 46.Kb2 Rc8 47.Bf1!
Finally, with his king 100% safe, Perelshteyn gets ready to exchange off the light squared bishops, leaving Black helpless against a White queen invasion on f5 (or g6 if Black allows …Bxe6.)
47…b4 48.axb4 Rb8 49.Bh3! 1-0
Even after another draw in the seventh round, IM David Pruess, current Samford Scholar and eventual co-winner had managed to join the top seed in the lead. Pruess considers the following the best game of his tournament:
The final round pairings saw the two players on 5.5 points, Perelshteyn and Pruess, paired down a score group – but not to the top two players on the score, Yermolinsky and Rogers, who battled each other to a standstill - and out of contention for first prize – on board three.
Pruess was the first to finish, drawing a remarkable game against IM Dimitry Zilberstein where Pruess decided to develop his king on d2 early in the game – not so usual in an 1.e4 e5 opening. Zilberstein failed to react sharply enough and when queens came off the board White's king had found a safe home on c3 and Pruess had the half point in his pocket.
Perelshteyn thus knew that he needed only to beat LA's newest Grandmaster, Melikset Khachiyan, with White to win the tournament outright. However Khachiyan rose to the occasion, sacrificing the exchange early for great positional compensation. When all seemed lost, Perelshteyn began defending like a lion and eventually the players neared the sudden-death second time control with the game balancing between a win for Khachiyan and a draw for Perelshteyn.
With a large crowd watching the last game of the tournament to finish, Khachiyan found a way to promote his central pawns and join Pruess in the tie for first.
Opening: Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.Be3 Nbd7 9.Qd2 h5 10.a4!? Be7 11.a5
This is not considered dangerous for Black but after 11.Be2 Nb6 is annoying.
11...0-0 12.Be2 b5 13.0-0 Rc8 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.exd5 Bf5 16.Rac1 Rc4!!?
A magnificent idea, made only slightly less magnificent by the fact that White has the effective reply 17.f4!, leaving the capture on c4 until a more convenient moment.
However Perelshteyn, understandably, decides to grab the exchange and try to hang on.
17.Bxc4?! bxc4 18.Na1 Qc7 19.Qc3
19.b4 is more natural but after 19…Nf6 the White d pawn is very weak.
19...Nf6 20.Rfd1 Rc8 21.Qb4 Rb8 22.Bb6 Nd7! 23.b3 c3! 24.Qe4! Qxb6+!
Diamond cut diamond. The resulting endgame turns out to be very good for Black.
25.axb6 Bxe4 26.fxe4 Nc5 27.b4
Keeping the e pawn with 27.Re1 is only temporary after 27…Rxb6, threatening 28…Rb4, when the knight may never emerge alive.
27...Nxe4 28.Nb3 Rxb6 29.Ra1 Rxb4 30.Rxa6 Bg5 31.Rc6 Rb5 32.Rd3 f5 33.g3 Kf7 34.Kg2 Ke8 35.Rc7 Bd8 36.Rc4 Kd7 37.Rd1 Bg5 38.Rd3 g6 39.Kg1 Bd8 40.Kg2 Bb6 41.Ra4 Bd8
Around here Khachiyan starts to lose the thread of the game. He knows he should be winning but cannot find a smooth way to continue. In fact after 41...Nf6! 42.Rxc3 Nxd5 43.Rd3 Ne3+ Black should be cruising, but Khachiyan can't bear to give up his c3 pawn.
42.h3 Bg5 43.Ra7+ Ke8 44.Rc7 Kd8 45.Rc4 h4?! 46.gxh4 Bxh4 47.Rxe4!
The fightback begins!
47…fxe4 48.Rxc3 Bg5 49.Rc4 e3 50.Rg4 Bf4 51.Rxg6 Rxd5 52.Kf3 Ke7 53.Rg2 Rb5 54.Nd4 Rc5 55.Rg4?
Played quickly – Perelshteyn was already running short of time – but the obvious 55.Ne2! Bh6 56.Rg6 Bf8 57.Kxe3 Rxc2 would leave any win for Black very much up in the air.
55...Kf6 56.Ne2 Rc4 57.h4
57.Rg8! was the last chance.
57...d5 58.c3 Kf5 59.Rg8 e4+ 60.Kg2 Be5! 61.Rd8 Rc5 62.h5 Kg5 63.Re8 Bxc3! 64.Ng3
Unfortunately for White, 64.Nxc3 Rxc3 65.Re5+ Kh6 66.Rxd5 loses immediately to 66...Rc1! when the e pawn queens.
64...Bg7 65.Re6 Rc2+ 66.Kh3 Bf6 67.h6 e2! 68.Nxe4+ dxe4 69.Rxe4 Kxh6 0-1
To conclude, two more games: Yermolinsky's brilliant win from the first round and the amazing last round swindle which cost IM Tim Taylor a tie for third place.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Qc2 d6 6.Bd2 0-0 7.a3 Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Qe7 9.0-0-0 e5 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.e3 a5 12.h3 Re8 13.g4 Nd7! 14.Nd2 Nc5 15.Ne4 Nb4!! 16.axb4 axb4 17.Bg2
The real test of Black's sacrifice lay in 17.Bxb4! Ra1+ 18.Kd2 Nxe4+ 19.Ke2 Qxb4 20.Rxa1 Rd8 when 21.Rd1 Rxd1 22.Kxd1 Bd7! leaves Black with a raging attack but 21.Ra4!! might just hang on.
17...Ra1+ 18.Kd2 b3 19.Rxa1 bxc2 20.Kxc2 Nxe4 21.Bxe4 Be6 22.b3 b6 23.Rhd1 Qh4 24.Rd2 Qxh3 25.Rh1 Qxg4 26.f3 Qg5 27.Bc6 Rb8 28.f4 exf4 29.Rdh2 Bg4 0-1
Los Angeles American Open
Black's brilliant attack looks as if it is about to crash through on h2 but Joel Banawa finds an amazing, if somewhat desperate, defence.
30.Rxe4!! Rxe4 31.b6!!
Of course 31.Nxe4 Rxh2 would be hopeless but now 31...Rxh2 can be met by 32.Qxe4!.
31...axb6 32.axb6 Qxd5?
Apparently overlooking that White's next move was possible.
32...Be5 33.Nxe4 Rxh2 34.Qa4! would leave Black with nothing better than a draw after 34...Rh1+ 35.Kg2 Rh2+ 36.Kg1 but there was still a win to be had after 32...Ref4!! 33.b7 Rf8 34.gxh4 Qg4+ 35.Kh1 Qh3! 36.Qe2 Be5! when Black wins a piece and the game.
Oops! Too late Black realised that 33...Qxd6 allows 34.Qb3+ and so Black must return all his material with interest.
33...Re8 34.Nxe8 Qxb7 35.gxh4 Qe7 36.Qb3+ Kf8 37.Qf3+ Kxe8 38.Rb1 Qxh4 39.Rb8+...
and Black's king perished a few moves later.
Final American Open Standings
Look for an article by Jerry Hanken with more thoughts and games fromthe American Open in the February, 2007 issue of Chess Life Magazine.