Laznicka Pulls Away at the World Open
By Jonathan Hilton   
July 4, 2010
After five rounds, the surprise leader of the 2010 World Open is GM Viktor Laznicka from the Czech Republic. The 22-year-old grandmaster, who has been playing the 5-day schedule, pulled a half point ahead of the pack in Round 4 by defeating Alexander Shabalov with the black pieces. He then defeated a battle-weary GM Alex Lenderman (who, after having held a six-hour draw against GM Gata Kamsky the previous round, was playing his second Black for the day) in fine style to consolidate his lead.

Although Kamsky still leads the field in terms of the average number of spectators packed around his board per game, Laznicka’s bold play against Shabalov drew quite a crowd. His exchange sacrifice with 30...Rxe5, cracking open the a1-h8 diagonal to get to Shabalov’s king, was exciting enough to get some of the players telling their friends about the game. But it was his subtle rook lift 32...Rh6! that drew the biggest reaction – though, admittedly, the difference between the spectators staring blankly at a deep move and actually pondering it is sometimes difficult to discern.

All is not woeful for Shabalov this World Open though. He did rebound from this defeat with a win over reigning US Champion Gata Kamsky.

In the game against Lenderman, Laznicka’s move 10.c5 set Black considerable problems in the opening. Just when the second player seemed to be hanging on, White sacrificed the exchange for play against Black’s king. These exchange sacrifices may soon be the hallmark of Laznicka’s play.

After the first five rounds, the other big story of the tournament is indisputably the performance of IM Salvijus Bercys. After a slow start, drawing against 2101-rated Richard Tuhrim of New York, the 20-year-old tore through the field to regain a spot at the top table. He defeated GMs Nick DeFirmian and GM Robert Hess in Rounds 3 and 4, respectively. His creative yet accurate play against Hess commands respect. With 37...Kh6!, the only move to win, Black shut White’s king out of the game.

Bercys consolidated his tournament performance with a quick draw in Round 5 against the Turkmen GM Mesgen Amanov, who, for his own part, has also played admirably. Although his win in Round 4 over GM Ray Robson didn’t draw a large crowd, the few observers who did watch the game were glued to the board, particularly after White’s incredible 21.0-0!, sacrificing the rook on c1. When Robson snapped off the rook on c1 and promoted to a queen, Amanov sank into a deep think, letting the spectators enjoy the spectacle of there being three queens on the board at one time.

I caught up with Amanov after his win over Robson and asked him about chess in his home country of Turkmenistan. He’s been living in the U.S. for three years now, working as a chess coach, and his comment was that “there are so many tournaments here in the U.S.” Back in Turkmenistan, there weren’t as many tournaments and the competition wasn’t as stiff. He was one of the elite players in his home country; now, he is just one of the three dozen GMs to enter this year’s World Open!

Heading into Round 6, it remains to be seen who will try to take down Laznicka to open the top slot back up to the other competitors, who will trail by a full point. There are still four rounds to go, so nothing is decided yet and there is still plenty of action to come. The next two days will be full of triumphs and heartbreaks for the contestants, so be sure to stay tuned to for updates.

See Jonathan's earlier report before the merge and on arriving in Valley Forge . Also see the first installment of US Chess Scoops and look for more next week.