Chills and Thrills in Agoura Hills
By Jerry Hanken   
January 22, 2007
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GM Melikset Khachiyan, co-winner of the Western Class with GM Alex Yermolinsky. Photo Lola Nunn

by Jerry Hanken

Al Gore is right about global-warming! What else could account for Southern California temperatures dropping below freezing, when in New York, Philadelphia, and Tennessee, residents enjoyed balmy breezes? Southern-Californians chessplayers were too likely to take their computers and chess software under the covers, rather than go out and face the Great Unknown of chilling temperatures and 'Black Ice'.

This may be one reason, among some others, that the Western Class Championships over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend was so sparsely attended. The Agoura Hills Renaissance Hotel, only 20 miles north of the Los Angeles city border, is an excellent venue that offers a reasonable chess-rate. The tournament is accessible from the huge San Fernando Valley, and only 45-minutes from Los Angeles.

This year, the CCA offered a $20,000 guaranteed prize fund, with a reasonable entry fee of about $100. One would think that at least 300 chessplayers would sign up for such a high-class class tournament. Unfortunately, less than 200 played, and even with the re-entries, that turn-out was quite disappointing.


$900 at nine years old! Michael Brown won the U1400 section.

There were 7 sections, including an unusual 1100-1399 section, with the last section being for both unrated and Under-1100 players. What makes this class-tournament unique is that players are not allowed to 'play up' more than one section. An impressive victory was from Michael Brown in the Under 1400 section, whose coach Takashi Iwamoto played in the master section. This fourth grader is 4’1” and 60 pounds of terrifying chessplayer!


IM Alan Stein plays blitz with GM Varuzhan Akobian, who did not play in the tournament. Photo Lola Nunn

The Master class section began with only 26 players. The winners were two Armenian-American guys from the city of Glendale, where the largest Armenian-American population in the United States is centered. It is on the Southern tip of that afore-mentioned San Fernando Valley (surrounded by L.A.). GM Melikset Khachiyan and IM Andranik Matikozyan made the relatively-short trek up the 101 freeway, in the bitter cold, to collect $1500 each.

Each of these strong players chose the insane 2-day schedule and lived to tell the tale! They both entered the Sunday-night, 5th-Round merge with three wins and two draws apiece. Normally, the two winners would meet in the last round, or at least the second-to-last round. In this case, the two met in Round 2, and took a congenial draw. Why did they meet so early? There were only six players in that schedule!

I was drafted into the two-day, having originally intended to play in the leisurely 4-day format. My own result astonished everyone, including myself. After a recent, 9-game losing streak (mostly to GM's, IM's, and 2300-players), my friends and acquaintances were all suggesting that someone stick a fork in me, cause I was done! In this tournament, however, a strange convolution of reasonable play, and considerable luck, landed me in a tie with FM Robby Adamson and the above-mentioned IM David Pruess, at 4½ out of 7, which was good for joint 2nd U2400 prize and $300. (Matt Beelby won clear Under 2400 money - a $1200 payday!) Because of the monetary loss by the CCA, I did donate this back to the tournament. I am off my "Original Life Master" floor for the 4th time in eleven months! Take that, you disrespectful twelve-year-olds who keep beating my brains out!
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IM Andranik Matikozyan. Photo courtesy Chris Roberts.

After the schedules were sorted out, IM's Enrico Sevillano and David Pruess were 3-1 in the 3-day schedule. The key games in this tournament came in Round 6, for Matikozyan, when he faced-off against the dreaded 'Yerminator',



After 30....e4!, White cannot capture with the f-pawn because of attacks on f2. So he took with the Queen, allowing it to be trapped. 31. Qxe4 Re5 32. Rxd4 (Matikozyan pointed out that White cannot capture the d-pawn with his Queen due to multiple discovered attacks.) cxd4!! Rxe4? gives White a better game-he can control the e-file with his rooks and has a clear plan to create a passed pawn with a4, a5, b6 while it's not clear what Black can do. Realizing this, Matikozyan ignored the queen and took the exchange instead! 33. Qd3 Re1 34. Nxf4 Rxf4 35. g3 Rf8 36.Kg2 Rfe8 37. a4 Ra1 White position is hopeless, and so he resigned.


Matikozyan calls himself an aggressive player. 30...e4! is an example of his inspired attacking play.

In Round 7, Melikset Khachiyan took on the 2006 Samford Fellow, IM David Pruess:



1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bxd7+ Qxd7 5. c4 Qg4 6. O-O Qxe4. At this point, Khachiyan says the e-pawn should not be taken, but Black has compromised his opening already. Also, if White plays Re1, this allows the queen to retreat to the queen-side, so he plays 7. d4 7. …cxd4 8. Nxd4 Nc6 It appears that White is more than compensated for the pawn, but, according to Melikset, "Analyzing and playing are two different things!" 9. Nb5 O-O-O 10. Be3 Kb8 Khachiyan spent about 25 minutes here 11. Qe1 " For starters, I'm threatening to capture on e7, and another threat is to take with the bishop, winning the Queen, or to take with the knight on a7. 11. ... Qf5 Khachiyan notes that if Qxc4, Na3 is a killer-move!" 12. N1c3 a6 13. a4!  Nf6 14. Qd2 Ne4 15. Nxe4 Qxe4 Khachiyan said, "This is desperation. When you're losing the game, you must do something, if you're not ready to resign." 16. Rfe1 Qxc4 17. Rec1 Qb4 18. Qxb4 Nxb4 19. Ba7+ Ka8 20. Bb6 (and the rook has no moves!) 20. …axb5 21. Bxd8 b6 22. axb5+ Kb7 23. Rc7+ Kb8 24. Rca7 resigns Finally, if Kc8, Bxe7, and mate is unavoidable! What is most astonishing about the final position is that Black's entire king-side, starting with the pawn on e7, with the exception of the king's knight, has never left home. Pruess, ironically enough, had won the American Open trophy, on tie-breaks against Khachiyan, and we can see that revenge was not far behind!

International Master Enrico Sevillano, whose 2574 rating actually went up at the end of this tournament, was in a position to tie for 1st in the last round, as he was paired against Matikozyan. I had a last-round bye, so I could observe the top boards and make this report. Before the round started, I half-jokingly remarked to Matikozyan and Sevillano, "Now, let's have a fair fight, and a great game!" Of course, as soon as I turned my head away, I heard the pieces being put back into the bags! I know this assured Enrico of an undefeated, 5-2 finish, and $500. But, it would have been nice to see more than a 5-minute, 10-move game.

This did allow for the opportunity to have an in-depth interview with Andranik, and for him to discuss his fine victory in Round 6 over Yermo.

Jerry Hanken:
First I want to congratulate you for securing at least a tie for 1st place in the Master Section of the Western Class Championship.

GM Andranic Matikozyan:
Thanks.

JH:
What goes into your decision as to what tournaments you play in? Do you decide at the last minute, or do you plan in advance?

AM:
This time, I decided at the last minute, and I played the 2-day schedule.

JH:
Normally, do you have a calendar?

AM:
Not really.

JH:
When the tournament is available, the spirit moves you.

AM:
In 2005 and 2006, I didn't play a lot of tournaments, but this year, I intend to play more. I want to find GM tournaments.

JH:
Do you have any GM norms?

AM:
Yes, I have one from the 2005 Gufeld Memorial.

JH:
Are you still an Armenian player?

AM:
Yes. I wanted to change federations 3 years ago, and I sent my papers to the USCF, but I didn't get any answer. I haven't had time to follow up.

JH:
You first came to L.A. 7 years ago, in April 2000?

AM:
Yes, and I've only played in the U.S since then.

JH:
Have you applied for citizenship?

AM:
Yes, I'm waiting for my papers. I am a patient man.

JH:
How do you feel about this fast chess? You played in the 2-day schedule, do you think this is really chess?

AM:
No, in Armenia, we play a tournament for 9 or 10 days, one game a day. Five games in a day! (He laughs)

JH:
What is your educational background?

AM:
I went to a sports university in Armenia, where they taught chess, soccer, and other competitive sports. I had one year left when I came to America.

JH:
Are you married?

AM:
No.

JH:
So, you're foot-loose, and fancy-free. Do you have a girlfriend?

AM:
No.  I have family in Armenia. I'm taking care of them. My mother and sister are here, and I hope to be able to bring my father and brother over next year.

JH:
Normally, what you do with your time, I assume teaching?

AM:
Yes, but I also I work part-time in a messenger service. I would like to play chess all the time, but this is very difficult in America. It's hard to make a living playing and teaching chess here. There are expenses of traveling and hotel which, in Armenia, were taken care of, but here, the prizes are much better, but It could come done to one game, whereas, at least in Armenia, you do have your food and expenses covered.

JH:
What do you think of the quality of games in American Swisses are, as compared to the kind of tournaments you played in Europe?

AM:
I'm not sure, in Europe, players know the pairings a couple of hours before the game, so you can prepare beforehand, not like here. Of course, after the opening, it's the same. You can blunder, you don't make the best move always. Chess is chess! It is a difference when you play 1 or 2 games in a day, in the 2nd game, sometimes you make a mistake because you were tired. In Europe, they rarely play two games in a day.

JH:
Who's the best GM you ever beat?

AM:
Simbat Luputian-another strong GM I beat was Hikaru Nakamura-in the American Open.

JH:
Now, you're looking to earn norms of course.

AM:
Yes, but it's difficult to find many 9-round tournaments in America.

JH:
You have to go overseas then. Would this affect your immigration status?

AM:
Yes, it does, so I have to wait for my citizenship.

JH:
How do you approach the game? Do you consider yourself an artist, or pragmatic person, or somewhere in between? What is your overall philosophy of chess?

AM:
I like the sharp-edged, tactical games. I'm not so much a strategic player.

JH:
You like to mix it up, like in your game with Yermo.

AM:
Yes, like when I played e4.

JH:
What do you think about this wave of midgets, these little kids becoming strong GM's?

AM:
It's very good, I like that some children become GM's at 12 or 13. This is good for chess.

JH:
It seems that if you're not a GM by 13, you're over-the-hill these days. Magnus Carlsen is about 15, and he is now over 2700, a super-GM. On the other end of the spectrum is Viktor Korchnoi

AM:
Yes, (smiling), Korchnoi says that he started later than others, and that he will finish later! He started when he has 13 or 14.

JH:
There's another subject I'd like to get your opinion on. There have been these allegations of cheating, is this something that is foreign to your idea of chess?

AM:
Terrible! It's against the sport, against the spirit of chess. It's like 'doping' in other sports. There should be a rule that, if you are caught, you are punished harshly.

JH:
There was a recent case in India, where a very strong player received a 10-year ban from competition over cheating. If potential cheaters realized that they would be given these kinds of penalties, and could possibly end up tending bar, or driving a bus, perhaps they would think twice.

AM:
But, in the lower sections, there is still a lot of much money, and players might not care about being disqualified.

JH:
Where there is money, there is always temptation. Outside of chess, what do you like to do?

AM:
I watch a lot of movies. I also like soccer, since we played a lot of it in Armenia. Sometimes, we would play all day in the streets, but there's not much soccer here. Also, when I have time, I like to play on ICC.

JH:
What's you're rating there?

AM:
Around 2850, but I know Nakamura is 1000 points ahead of me!

JH:
Do you play under your own name, or do you use a handle?

AM:
I play under the name Erebuni2750. 2750 is just a number I picked, and Erebuni is the name of my neighbor in Armenia.

JH:
One last question: Is there a historic chess player who you look up to?

AM:

Mikhail Tal. He was a very good player, and a very good man. It's good that you should be a good chessplayer, but more importantly, you should be a good human being. The first thing is to become a good person, and second to be a good chessplayer.

Western Class Championship Crosstables (MSA)

Jerry Hanken is president of the Chess Journalists of America and a frequent contributor to Chess Life Magazine. Jessica Lauser assisted him with this article. Below is a picture of Jerry at his Wednesday night chess group.

Jerry Hanken with Jacob Alon (who tied for first in the "B" section and won $500). Photo Dr. Joseph Wagner