Hilton Blogs from Foxwoods, Part III
By Jonathan Hilton   
March 25, 2008
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NM Jonathan Hilton. Photo Elizabeth Vicary
It’s one o’clock Monday morning and the Foxwoods Open has ended. Robert Hess defeated Stripunsky with the Black pieces—not only did he make his GM norm, he tied for first with 7/9. Chris Williams earned an IM norm with a last-round draw and 5.5/7.0. I was defeated by IM Dean Ippolito in the last round, so Williams and I tied with three others for the U2300 money. I had the most spectacular tournament of my life, finishing with a 2474 performance rating, and might possibly have gotten a norm myself had I played more foreign players!

However, the biggest story of the night took place in a nearly empty tournament hall, while all but a handful of players were smacking clocks in the late-night blitz tournament. GM Yury Shulman and GM Alexander Ivanov faced off for the title of Foxwoods Open Champion. Shulman, who had the lead on tiebreaker points, was given the choice of colors in an Armageddon match. Jerry Hanken asked Justin Sarkar and I to cover the game since he was playing in the blitz tournament, so I trailed Shulman to ensure that I didn’t miss the match.

Ten minutes before the game, Shulman passed a group of teenagers in the tournament lobby. Corey Acor walked up, pumped, and asked, “So are you ready to play some blitz or what?” He offered to let the GM warm up by playing him one. Shulman laughed and declined; it was not hard to tell that he was in full concentration and saving his energy for the game. “Take the Black pieces!” Elliot Liu exclaimed. Shulman frowned for a second and said, “Do you think I should?” Corey said to take the White pieces. “It’s such a big advantage, just do it and take him out.” Shulman just said, “We’ll see.”


The spectators of this final battle included me, Justin Sarkar, and Chris Bird all keeping the game score; Elliot Liu, Corey Acor, Eunice Rodriguez, and a handful of others.Shulman was focused, determined, and played with great intensity. Shulman had chosen the White pieces and leaned in over the board with his hands holding his head as he calculated. Ivanov, with the Black pieces, sat straight in his chair, poised and attentive, as if he were watching the event unfold before his eyes. He held his hands clasped together, resting them against the table, occasionally allowing his thumbs to twitch nervously.

The crowd did not make a noise the entire game. When Shulman snapped off Black’s knight with 33. Rxg6+ and Ivanov resigned, no one moved! Finally, I placed my hands together and began clapping softly. No one joined in for some time, but eventually a wave of applause rolled over the crowd. 

The excitement of the match was followed by the long line of strong players waiting patiently to have their checks written. Ivanov apparently found an error in Mr. Goichberg’s computations and the two of them discussed for some time the correct amount for Ivanov to receive. Shulman could not have been happier, however. He had had an excellent performance and reaped the reward.

After my last blog, in which I interviewed IM Alex Lenderman, I coincidentally faced him in the seventh round. At that time, Alex had only four points and needed to win his remaining three games to have a shot at tying for first. I enjoy Alex’s company a great deal and consider him a friend; as I shook his hand before the match I told him, “Don’t worry. You’ll get back up there.” I was startled and shocked when he pointed to Board 1 and said, “Perhaps—or instead you will be further up there!” I did a quick double-take and concluded he was being genuine.

To be honest, several of my opponents have shown me a great deal of discourtesy during the tournament. One refused to shake my hand after I defeated him from a drawn endgame in a time scramble; another tried to verbally intimidate me after he missed a simple tactic and I won all of his remaining queenside pawns. Lenderman not only treated me with respect as a fellow human being, but also as a strong chessplayer—something I had learned quickly not to expect when playing a few hundred points up. I still consider his polite acknowledgement that I had even a small chance against him the highest compliment paid to me during my entire trip.

We exchanged queens early on, and after a struggle hard to imagine from just playing over the raw game score, Lenderman finally conceded the draw.




 I was very happy to be playing against the 4…Bf5 line. 4…dxc4 provides Black more chances to play for the win. Everyone I have played in this variation has defended with 6…Qc8, which gives White some chances for the initiative. Lenderman’s line seemed to equalize more quickly for Black, though after the game Lenderman suggested 10. Nb5 followed by 11. Nfd4 and 12. f4 as being one way to try for an advantage. “Still, I like the way you played—it was solid, you did not give me any chance,” he told me in the post-mortem. He added with a sly smile, “I know that I did not play badly enough to not defeat a 2200 player. Therefore you must have played like a 2400.”

Instead of being angry when I did not make any blunders in the rook and pawn endgame, Lenderman patiently exhausted his chances and then was not upset about having to offer a draw. He immediately offered to analyze the game afterward. Although there will probably not be much more written about Lenderman’s performance in the tournament, which wound up being lackluster after a great 3-0 start, I want to use this space to thank the gentlemanly IM from Brooklyn for being such an incredible sport. I think he is a role model for chessplayers of all strengths and all ages.

Another excellent sport and all-around nice guy was New Jersey’s IM Dean Ippolito. Dean miniatured me in the last round with a quick slaughter, but nonetheless took plenty of time to analyze with me after the game. He and I knew each other through Pete Tamburro’s “Openings for Amateurs” forum some years ago. Although I was disappointed to lose the game—a draw would have allowed me to take clear first for Under-2300 prize, worth some $2200—I was thrilled to learn about a line in the Catalan of which I was completely unaware. I played a solid Grunfeld-styled defense with Black against White’s Catalan and was astonished when Dean “the Dean” Ippolito played 7. Qb3 rather than the usual 7. cxd5, which was played by Karpov decades ago. I have played 7. cxd5 many times and have constantly failed to get any sort of advantage, yet it is still the “main line”. I could find absolutely nothing over the board to equalize against Dean’s line, however, and after half an hour I meekly played the passive 7…e6 in an attempt to hold the center. Around move ten I changed my mind and decided I couldn’t afford passivity after all, but by that point in time I was already well on the way to being lost!



After the game, Dean informed me he had played no less than six GMs from the White side of 7. Qb3 and had achieved winning or clearly better positions in all of those games. He was surprised I did not know about the line because it was an old Wojo favorite! In any case, I certainly know about it now, and expect to put it to good effect in both my own practice and in my book on Wojo, which I’ll be writing over the summer.

Even after my loss, my take-home pay for the tournament was $772.80. I was helped a great deal by having my first miniature over a titled player earlier in the morning. Actually, I cannot recall having ever beaten a titled player or a player over 2300 USCF in my entire chess career. I did not play a single player rated less than 2300 this tournament and still finished at plus two after nine rounds; several times my dad and I have exchanged glances and declared to each other we had no idea such a performance would be possible for me.

I am hopeful that this tournament is just the beginning, if I keep working hard to improve my game. My good friend Kris Meekins and his dad Kurt agreed to give me a ride to the World Open this summer, and I hope to also be playing in the US Open in Dallas as well. In the coming months my next big challenges will be the National High School Championship in Atlanta and the state high school championship to qualify for the Denker, in which I will undoubtedly be facing off with Kasun Waidyaratne, who finished with a respectable 4/9 in the Open. But for now, I’m happy and exhausted, and looking forward to having my head against a pillow in the car on the thirteen-hour drive home.

Read Part I and Part II of Jonathan's Foxwoods blog. Also check out the final report by Elizabeth Vicary and Jennifer Shahade with more details on Hess's accomplishment. Watch out for Jerry Hanken's in-depth Chess Life Magazine report.