7-Way Tie in Reno; Serper Wins Playoff
By IM Josh Friedel   
October 19, 2007
Photo Michael Aigner
GMs  Serper, Khachiyan, Yermolinsky, Kudrin, Ivanov, Ibragimov, and IM Sevillano tied for first in the 25th annual Western States Open with 4.5 out of 6.  Six people were in the chasing pack with 4 points, namely GMs Perelshteyn and Kraai (yes, that’s GM Kraai, a scary thing), IM Mezentsev, FMs Strugatsky and Karklins, along with myself.  There was a playoff for first place, which Serper won.  Now, at first I was confused as to why there was such a huge tie this year, while last year there was a clear winner.  It baffled me for some time.  Then I remembered.  Last year’s clear winner got to play ME in the last round.  This year, I was behind the leading pack, and thus unable to propel some fortunate soul to clear first.

 In the last round, four players with 4/6 drew quickly, while a few 3.5s won to catch up. Melik Khachiyan was one of the winners who drew his last game, and let me tell you, there’s nobody out there who’s more skilled at drawing.  At this year’s US Championship, he managed +1 with 1 win and 8 draws.  In Reno, he also went undefeated.  I asked him after the last round about this, and he told me that he always gives draws to friends.  For those of you who don’t know, Melik is one of the most outgoing GMs there is.  He’s friendly with practically everyone.  So there you have it.  Congrats to him and all the winners. Here is one of the last round wins, in which Ibragimov defeated Zilberstein to join the winners.


My own tournament was similar to most of my recent tournaments.  It had the good, the bad, and the retarded.  It started well enough, as I went 2.5 out of the first 3.  I beat a low master round one, and drew GM Stripunsky as Black  round 2.  While normally this would be an excellent result, I couldn’t help but feel a tad disappointed.  He played a highly dubious opening, and I got an advantage which I increased to the point when it was probably winning.  However, one tactical oversight and it simplified to a 4 vs. 3 rook ending which is theoretically drawn.  While I pushed it for awhile, he defended it without too much difficulty. 


Later, I learned he actually had an identical ending many years ago in Ukraine against IM Leonard Livschitz, who incidentally gave me a ride to Reno from the bay area (while he’s retired from chess, his two daughters Louiza and Jenny play).  He drew the ending back then, and apparently years of experience doesn’t hurt one’s technique.  Anyways, pressing a GM with Black  isn’t all bad.  Then the next morning I beat a 2300-area player named Alex Salimbagat.  This guy had to be one of the nicest opponents I’ve had in a long time.  First, he talked to me after losing, and I can tell you most people don’t handle losing well, especially to me.  Not only that, but after we analyzed he thanked me and said he saw a few games of mine before that impressed him.  Talk about nice.  Maybe there was a German GM Friedel from the 80s he was confusing me with? 

Anyways, next came my sole loss of the event, as White against the only non-GM to tie for first, IM Enrico Sevillano.  Enrico is always a dangerous opponent, however his opening preparation is often lacking, so I tried to catch him there.  Though I thought I had an edge at some point, it petered out into a fairly dry equality.  However, neither Enrico nor I was inclined to play peacefully, and a bunch of tactics broke out.  In the end, he ended up on top, taking advantage of my weak king position and queen that was stuck on a desert island. 


Then I was Black  against experienced FM Andrew Karklins.  Though his rating had dropped below 2300, I recall when he was well over 2400, so I didn’t take him lightly by any stretch.  I managed to slowly outplay him in a quiet guiocco piano, and reached what seemed like a winning position.  However, in mutual time pressure, I couldn’t find the knockout blow.  Just before we made control, he found a neat swindle that left him an exchange up.  However, with all pawns on the same side of the board, it was difficult to win.  My struggle was made quite easier when he allowed me to win a pawn with a little tactic, resulting in an easily drawn ending.  This game reminded me of how my game has changed.  I used to be the one swindling, but now I’m the one getting swindled!  However, as a result my defense of positions after I’ve been swindled has improved quite a bit.  What an odd way to expand one’s game.  Chess isn’t without its share of irony.

In the last round I managed to win against the famous Michael “fpawn” Aigner. I messed up in the opening, and he should have drawn easily, but played a few inaccuracies.  As a result I ended up in an advantageous rook ending, which I actually played quite well and converted accurately.


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4

My usual move is Nc3, however already having lost in that this tournament, I decided to give the main line Sveshnikov a go.
3...cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c3 Bg5 12.Nc2 Rb8
Already I started thinking, making sure I got my lines straight.
13.a4 bxa4 14.Ncb4 Nxb4 15.Nxb4 Bd7 16.Bxa6 0–0
 I recalled Qa5 as being the main move, so after this I was truly on my own.  
17.Qxd6 Be7 18.Qxe5 Bxb4 19.cxb4 Rxb4 20.0–0 Qb6 certainly is nothing to brag about for White.
 17...Be7 18.Bc4?
 My aim was to stop d5, which was annoying me in most lines.  For example, If I had sacked on a4, d5! is quite annoying instead of taking the rook immediately.  However, I missed one small detail. 18.Qe2 is probably best, and life continues.
I'm not preventing it at all!
19.Qxd5 Bxb4 20.cxb4
20.Rfd1 was my first consideration, but I rejected it due to 20...Qc7 21.Qxd7 Qxc4 22.Rxa4 Qxe4 23.cxb4 Rxb4=]
20...Rxb4 21.Rfd1 Qc7?!
21...Qb6 was the simplest, when the best I have is 22.Qxd7 Rxc4 23.Rxa4=
22.Rac1 Be6 23.Qxe6 fxe6 24.Bxe6+ Qf7 25.Bxf7+ Rxf7 26.Rd8+ Rf8 27.Rd7 Rxe4?
27...Rxb2 and Black still draws. 28.f3 a3 29.Rcc7 Ra8 30.Rxg7+ Kf8 31.Rxh7 Kg8 32.Rcg7+ Kf8 33.Rb7 Kg8= NOT 33...Rxb7?? 34.Rh8+ Kg7 35.Rxa8+-
Now White has excellent winning chances, though I'm not positive what the objective evaluation of this ending is.
28...Ref4 29.Ra7 R4f7
29...R8f7 30.Rc8+ Rf8 31.Rcc7 R4f7 32.Rxf7 Rxf7 33.Rxa4 and the absence of rooks would seem to only simplify white's task.
 30.Rxa4 Rb7 31.b4 Rd8 32.Rb1 Rd2
32...Rd4 33.Ra8+ Kf7 34.b5 and my rook gets free while my pawn marches along.
My opponent had counted on 33.b5 Rc7 34.b6 Rcc2 35.Rg4 Rb2=
33...Re7 34.h3! e4 35.fxe4 Rxe4 36.Ra8+ Kf7 37.Ra7+ Kg6 38.Rb3 h5 39.Rg3+ Kf6 40.b5±
 34.b5 e4 35.b6! exf3
35...e3 36.Kf1 (36.Ra7?? Rxb6!) 36...Rd2 37.Ra7 e2+ 38.Ke1 Rd1+ 39.Kxe2 Rxb1 40.Rxb7+- is won by simply advancing the pawn to b7 and creating a passed f-pawn.]
 36.Ra7 Rb8 37.Rc7! Rf4
37...fxg2 38.b7 Rf4 39.Rbc1 Rff8 40.Kxg2 and now White wins in a most amusing fashion.  Black can move neither his king nor either rook due to Rc8, so I simply wait until he's run out of pawn moves.  For example: 40...h6 41.Kg3 h5 42.h4 g6 43.R1c3‡+-]
38.g3 f2+ 39.Kf1+- Rf7 40.Rxf7 Kxf7 41.Kxf2 Rb7 42.Ke3 Ke6 43.Kd4 Kd6 44.Kc4 Kc6 45.Rb2
 Once again, White wins by simply running Black out of pawn moves.
45...Rxb6 46.Rxb6+ Kxb6 47.Kd5 is easily winning.
 46.g4 Kd7
46...Rxb6 47.Rxb6+ Kxb6 48.Kd5 Kc7 49.Ke6 Kd8 50.Kf7+-
 47.Kc5 Kc8 48.Ra2
My threat is Ra8+ followed by Ra7, and if Kb8 I simply play Ra7 trading off the rooks.

For those of you who didn’t read last year’s Reno report, or forgot it, there was an amusing part of the opening ceremony when the organizer announced the titled players.  You can read more about it here, but basically half of them didn’t even know their names were being announced they were so off.  Well, this year they didn’t announce them until the last round.  It went off almost without a hitch this time though.  As if he’d been practicing since last year.  The only offbeat part was the strange malice with which he read “IM JOSH FRIEDEL.”  I didn’t know people read my garbage, I guess I have to watch out now.  In serious though, I really try not to be too hard on chess organizers.  People like the Weikels, the Berry brothers, etc. have one of the hardest and thankless jobs on the planet.  They have to spend months making arrangements and advertising, work ridiculous hours during the tournament, and probably worst of all, have to deal with chess players.  I hate to criticize my kin, but we aren’t exactly the easiest sort to put up with.  Anyways, my thanks to anyone who dares take on this daunting task.  So thanks to the Weikels, and congrats again to the winners.