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Qualifier Open Preview Print E-mail
By Tom Braunlich   
March 25, 2008
 FKB2008logo.jpgIt's an experimental new national event! And it is shaping up to be a battle.

The "2008 Frank K. Berry U.S. Championship Qualifier Open" ( http://www.okchess.org/qualifier.htm  ) aims to select seven players for the U.S. Championship in May with a special seven-round Swiss, in Tulsa, March 28-30. It will be a hotly contested competition with at least 7 GMs, 50 masters, and players from 23 states. Here we will preview the event and the players to kick off CLO's coverage.

First, what is a "Qualifier Open?" - it's never been done this way before.

Traditionally the U.S. Championship has been an invitational round robin for only the top rated players in the country. (Click here for a website that chronicles all the championship crosstables in one place.)    Then in 2002 the AF4C took over sponsorship and greatly expanded the idea of qualification. Major tournaments like the World Open were designated Qualifier Events, and qualification spots went to eligible players with high scores. With the increased number of competitors (as many as 64), the event moved to a Swiss format.

The idea proved popular. Ambitious lower-ranked masters now had a route into the prestigious championship. But last year when AF4C withdrew sponsorship and Frank "Kim" Berry, the International Arbiter from Stillwater, stepped in to host it, the idea of qualifiers had to evolve again. With no qualifier events held last year the 2008 organizing committee decided to create a dedicated "Qualifier Open" as the new qualification route.

The Qualifier Open is essentially an extension of the championship itself. A preliminary round of additional March Madness, so to speak. The top seven eligible finishers will receive an invitation to the championship (in addition to a $1000 prize), and the top female finisher will receive a nod to the Women's Championship. Math tiebreaks will be used to determine those slots, if necessary.

The Format

Since such an event has never been tried before, we really didn't know what to expect. The original concept was to limit entry to players rated over 2200. But Jim Berry insisted it be completely "open" to all players who want a shot. Jim has a thing about openness in his chess events ... he is reticent to "rope off" the top GM boards, as is commonly done at big tournaments for example, allowing spectators to roam around freely and soak up those grandmaster vibes. The worry, however, was that a completely open event might be diluted by hundreds of low-rated players. So an entry fee structure was created that would tend to limit low-rated players (under 2000) to only those who were really serious about it, while making it easy for masters to afford.

Even so, predictions ranged from 50 to 400 players. Actually 87 players pre-registered, and since there is a $100 penalty for missing the early entry deadline we don't expect a lot of last-minute entries. Rumor has it that IM David Preuss is trying to make it, as is UTD's Bayaraa Zorigt, and perhaps some other strong contenders will add to the already impressive list below.

The Competitors - A Broad Spectrum

Here is the Advance Entries List 

The 87 players indicate a very interesting mix - leading one to predict the event will be a battle between experienced veterans and young rising stars.

Leading the list are seven veteran GMs, Perelshteyn, Kudrin, Fishbein, Goldin, Yermolinsky, Kraai, and Fedorowicz; as well as the "world's strongest IM" Ben Finegold (whose long-expected GM title remains elusive). IM Vinay Bhat really is the eighth GM participant, his title but a formality at this point. Other experienced players with reasonable ambitions for qualification include IMs Ippolito, Zilberstein, Bradford, Brooks, and Bonin. 

Worthy of special mention also are these veterans who will be adding their own kind of spice to the proceedings:

  • Viktors Pupols, the fixture of Northwest chess (and who beat Bobby Fischer in the 1955 U.S. Junior Championship) will bring his inventive style.
  • IM Walter Shipman, who first played in the U.S. Championship 60 years ago, will be at it again.
  • NM Bart Gibbons will be playing in a serious chess tournament for the first time in some 25 years.
  • FM Michael "F-Pawn" Aigner will be steamrolling in from California.
Many-time Virginia champ Steve Greanias will be here, along with famous "queen-parter" Jerry Hanken, who is writing the article for Chess Life. FM Movses Movsisyan is the top local player competing. Many well-known Life Masters will be present. On a sad note, veteran Texas master Gary Simms had to withdraw due to the tragic death of his wife last week.

Keen Teens

The veterans will not go unchallenged, however, as there are numerous young stars eager to earn a slot in the championship. Leading them will be 9th-ranked IM Josh Friedel, the current Samford Fellow, who has been very active lately in Europe. Yes, I know he is over 20 now; but he is still rapidly improving and due for a big tournament.

Then one must mention the young phenoms Salvijus Bercys, Ray Robson, Daniel Ludwig, and Daniel Naroditsky. Each of them must be eager to put a big dent in this tournament. There will be some local young stars hoping to make their mark as well: FM Darwin Yang (age 11, from Texas) and Kansan teens Maxx Coleman and Conrad Holt.


WFM Iryna Zenyuk and WFM Chouchan Airapetian lead the female contingent. Iryna scored impressively at the recent Aeroflot Open in Moscow. Frank Berry likes to say that she is Friedel's coach. Frank's favorite anecdote about Chouchan is that he was lucky enough to defeat her once many years ago at a U.S. Open. Mila Mokriak will also be seeking the $1000 women's prize, but even though she lives in Kansas she is officially from the Ukraine and thus not eligible for an invitation. Alexey Root will also be playing and at the same time posting live reports for Chess Life Online.

Class Players
In the spirit of an Open event, 17 players under 2000, some from both coasts, have bravely signed up. One might say they have no chance for qualification, and one would be right. But in addition to the competition for a $1000 U2000 prize, many of them are attracted by the chance to play in a championship-level event with so many top players and the experience that can be attained.

As Tulsan David Zelnick said, "I figure $200 is a small price to pay for a good lesson in humility."

The Venue

The location is the Tulsa Trade Winds Central, the popular site of the annual Okie Chess Festival master round robins. (http://www.geocities.com/okiechessfestival/). It has nice comfortable playing rooms and a wide selection of nearby restaurants within walking distance. It is not the same site that will be used for the Championships, which is at the Tulsa Radisson http://www.radisson.com/tulsaok_hotel across town.

Spectators are welcome.

The organizing committee for the Qualifier Open and the 2008 FKB U.S. Championships is Frank K. Berry, Jim Berry, and Tom Braunlich.