Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2014 arrow June arrow Mitkov, Robson & Friedel Top Chicago Open
Mitkov, Robson & Friedel Top Chicago Open Print E-mail
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
May 28, 2013
Chicago – GM Nikola Mitkov did two things that you might not expect for a player who had the home court advantage at the Chicago Open (May 23-27).

The first thing he did was get a hotel room, unlike last year.

 “It helps to feel more like a real tournament,” Mitkov explained of his decision to get a room at the tournament site, even though he lives in Chicago.

“When you stay at home with kids and family, somehow you cannot be 100 percent into chess,” Mitkov said.

And even though he didn’t have to deal with the weariness of travel, Mitkov still took two half-point byes during Rounds 3 and 4 of the nine-round, five-day open section of the tournament. He even timed his byes so that he could “relax” and catch the last game of the European Champions League.

“That’s a big risk,” Mitkov conceded of taking the two byes. But playing and winning nine rounds would have proven similarly difficult, he said.

GM Ray Robson, Photo Betsy Dynako
Mitkov’s decisions paid off in a major way. Mitkov (2484) split first place in the open section along with GMs Ray Robson (2620), of Missouri, and Joshua E. Friedel (2485), of Wisconsin.

All three GMs emerged undefeated in the tournament, which drew close to 700 competitors, including 21 GMs, nine IMs and more than a dozen FMs.

The share of first prize was worst $5833.34, with Robson taking an extra $200 for having the best tiebreak score of the three. IM Edward Porper came away with the top Under 2500 prize and also earned a GM norm.

Mitkov said his “critical” games included his Round 5 game against GM Wesley So, of Webster University, and his Round 7 game against GM Conrad Holt, of the University of Texas at Dallas.

As in each of his final five rounds, both of the top collegiate players were higher rated opponents, but they were the only ones to draw with Mitkov.



“Wesley is not easy to play against because they are preparing more than me now,” Mitkov said of So and his colleagues – including GM Robson -- at the championship-winning Webster University.

“I’m teaching here in Chicago so I don’t have so much time to prepare for myself,” Mitkov said.

Asked if he agreed with a statement by 2012 US Chess Champion GM Hikara Nakamura that American chess suffers because strong players spend too much time teaching weaker players, Mitkov said, “Yes, you don’t have difficult enough problems to solve and you’re showing easier stuff and you don’t practice like it’s a real game,” Mitkov said. “It’s hard to keep focus for a long time.”

Although Mitkov managed to emerge victorious in a field of young and active players despite all the time he spends teaching, he said it wasn’t easy.

GM Robson said one of his toughest games was his first-round game against FM Shivkumar Shivaji, of California. He said it was one of several in which he was “objectively worse or losing” and ultimately drew. (Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Shivaji lost the game.) 

“Obviously I’m much higher rated so I’m supposed to be stronger,” Robson said of his game against Shivaji. “I’m supposed to have some chance to come back even if I’m lost.”

GM Varuzhan Akobian, Photo Betsy Dynako
Robson said one of his most exciting games was his Round 6 game against GM Varuzhan Akobian.

“I’m not sure what the objective evaluation was, but at some point he started to play very interesting moves,” Robson said of Akobian. “He played f5 instead of f6, which surprised me. And later he played h6, followed by g5. This created a lot of tension on the king side, and he completely surprised me with Ne7. I completely overlooked that. But his pieces weren’t coordinated. I was able to come out with a winning advantage.”


Robson, 18, and a sophomore at Webster University, thanked his fellow Webster teammates, GM Wesley So and GM Fidel Corrales, who both competed in the Chicago open, with helping him to sharpen his game. GM So is also Robson’s roommate, “so I guess I can thank my roommate,” he said.

Robson said the victory was made sweeter by the fact that he wasn’t the clear favorite.

GM Josh Friedel, Photo Betsy Dynako
Robson and Friedel both clinched first place by agreeing to an early draw in the final round, which they both entered with the lead of 6.5 points.

“At the end, in theory it looks nice to play but by the end people are tired,” Friedel said. “If you can draw and clinch first, it’s usually pretty nice.”

Friedel, who teaches chess in Brookfield, Wis., counted his Round 4 game against Akobian as one of the frustrating.

“I was pretty much winning but I missed a key chance,” Friedel said. “Instead of playing Qf4, I could have played h4 and it turns out I’m basically winning after this.

“I looked at it with a computer,” Friedel explained of his post-game analysis. “I often don’t like to do that after a game because it tends to depress.”

He said it was drawn by agreement because Friedel had a healthy pawn structure versus doubled up pawns.


Friedel counted his Round 8 game against GM Aleksander Lenderman as one of the more exciting because Friedel had gotten low on time and made errors.

“So it was kind of a scramble but I think he tried to win and ended up trying maybe a bit too hard and I was able to win,” Friedel said.

“He played quietly,” Friedel said. “I tried to keep the game lively by fianchettoing rather than playing d5, c5 and getting a drier position.”


See full standings of the Chicago Open here and enjoy a photo gallery by Betsy Dynako below.
IM Edward Porper

WGM Anna Sharevich

Eric Rosen

Jeffery Xiong

GM Fidel Corrales

GM Mesgen Amanov

IM Irina Krush

Kesav Viswanadha

IM Kayden Troff

WIM Viktorija Ni

Willy Grandberry Jr.