Ramirez Repeats in Mid-America Open: Part I
By Al Lawrence   
March 17, 2009
GM Alejandro Ramirez, 2009 Mid-America Champ
University of Texas-Dallas team-captain Alejandro Ramirez—who is young and can be mistaken for even younger—was at the registration table in front of assistant TD Wayne Clark on Saturday morning, entering the two-day version of the 13th Annual Mid-America Open (March 13-15, Clayon, Missouri). Clark, online at the USCF rating site, quickly found two players from Texas with the name “Alejandro Ramirez”—one unrated, and one 2600. 

Clarke: “Did you want to play in the under-900 section?” 

Ramirez: “Hmmm. Is there any money in it?” 

“By the way, I have two Ramirezes in Texas,” Clark said.

“I’m the higher one,” Ramirez admitted.

Two days and some two hundred moves later, Ramirez proved he was indeed the stronger Ramirez, posting the only 5-0 score in a very tough open section that featured two grandmasters, one international master, and 11 more master players.

The Friday-night first round of the three-day option yielded some upsets. GM Dmitry Gurevich of Chicago, the other GM at the event, lost on Board 2 to 2055-rated Matthew Marsh of Tennessee. Meanwhile, Kansas City IM Michael Brooks drew Iowa’s Robert Keating, 2053—opening up some room for hope for the lower-rated masters and experts and a scattering of ambitious A-players in the 44-player top section. 

IM Michael Brooks
No one speaks French?

After the Friday night first round, I caught Gurevich and Brooks having a consoling brew in the hotel lounge after first round. “Sorry, Demo,” I said. 

“No. It was about time,” he said with a grin. “I deserved to lose.”

The self-effacing GM quickly turned the conversation to Brooks. “Michael is very, very talented—much more talented than I. Years ago I had a sponsor for him to go to Europe and make his GM title. But he said ‘No. I don’t want to go. I’m not ready. I don’t even speak French.’ I told him, don’t worry—no one speaks French.”

The laconic Brooks took it all in, remembering. “Yep. But the good players all come here anyway.”

Gurevich was persistent. “Come to Chicago. It’s not too late. You’re so talented. You can still make GM.”  Brooks looked back with a skeptical but polite smile. 

Talent will out

By tournament’s end, Gurevich had fought back with four straight wins to tie for second place with Cadet Champion and National master Conrad Holt of Kansas. They each took home $760. Ramirez’ first-place prize was worth $1,680.

Brooks, who fell to Ramirez in round four, shared an eight-way tie for fourth through eleventh, including a string of masters: St. Louis’s Charles Lawton, FM Doug Eckert of Illinois, Charles Cadman of British Columbia, FM Alexander Stamnov of Illinois, Chicago’s legendary Andrew Karklins, and Minnesota’s Kevin Wasiluk. They were joined by former master and St. Louis-area stalwart James McLaughlin, who took the expert prize.
Charles Lawton
Kenneth Odeh of California won the A-prize with three points—a very respectable score for an 1830-player in this tough crowd!
The tournament was organized by the Continental Chess Association and run on time and without incident by chief director Steve Immitt and assistant TD Wayne Clark. The host hotel, the Crowne Plaza, is a little jewel tucked into a side street in the upscale St. Louis suburb of Clayton, with comfortable rooms and an accommodating staff. I’m looking forward to visiting next year to see if Ramirez can make it three in a row.
Besides the Open section, the 13th Mid-America Open featured six lower sections, giving everyone a chance to play their peers.

Under 2000

Paul Mechem of Illinois scored clear first in the Under-2000 section with 4.5 points, taking home $1,200. Four players tied for second-fifth places: Rene Ancheta of Illinois, James Long of Arizona, Isaiah Gadson of Missouri, and Mark Cobb of Tennessee. Each won $280.

Under-1800 champ Mike Mei (right) with Timothy Nesham
Under 1800
Mike Mei, a student at the University of Chicago, won the Under-1800 section with 4.5 points to take home $1,200. Timothy Nesham of Missouri, Marcus Scott of Kansas, and Stephan Desmoulin of Wisconsin tied for second through fourth, each winning $373.

Under 1600
Charles Stewart of Michigan finally won the latest-finishing crucial last-round game to take the Under-1600 section with five straight wins, worth $1,200. Khalid Masood of Indiana and James Smith of Missouri tied for second and third, taking home $440. Adam Schuld of Illinois, and Joe Hoffmann and Namit Gaur, both of Missouri, tied for fourth-sixth, winning $80 each.
Under-1600 champ Charles Stewart

Under 1400
Stephen Zhang of Missouri topped the Under-1400 section with 4.5 points, winning $960. Jacob Amann of Missouri and Daniel Kopp of Indiana tied for second and third, winning $360. Michael Finkelstein and Chansamone Khotsyphom, both Missouri residents, took fourth-fifth and $80.
Under-1400 winners: (clockwise from left, rear) Chansamone Khotsyphom, Daniel Kopp, first-place finisher Stephen Zhang and Mike Finkelstein

Under 1200

Duane Powell of Missouri took top honors and $960 in the Under-1200 section, with 4.5 points. Indiana’s Terry Vibbert, Missouri’s Robert Luckey, and Indiana’s Richard Huls tied for second-fourth, winning $293 apiece.

Under 900

Jonah Smith of Missouri scored the tournament’s third 5-0 to wrap up the Under-900 section, gaining more than 150 rating points. Unrated Alvin Smith of Missouri came in second with 4.5. Hunter Marsh of Tennessee placed third. Sloane Hertel of Indiana took clear fourth, while Dominic Station, Lucas Johnson, Jason Ding—all of Missouri—and Shaw Hertel of Indiana took fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth places, respectively. All took home tall trophies and small cash prizes. 
Under-900 champ Jonah Smith (left) with runner-up Alvin Smith.


For the second year in a row, the Hertel family drove six hours from South Bend, Indiana, to play in the Mid-America Open. Sloane (rear, second from left) was fourth Under-900, while brother Shaw (second row, far left) took eighth in the same section.

Chicago based GM Dmitry Gurevich coaching World Youth representative and St.Louis local Margaret Hua

Check out MSA rated results. Also look for part II of this report, which will include games from Ramirez and Al's visit to the host of the 2009 U.S. Championships and U.S. Women's , the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Al Lawrence is the author of more than a dozen books on chess and science and is executive editor of GM Lev Alburt's Comprehensive Chess Course. His latest, with Alburt, is Chess Training Pocket Book II: 320 Key Positions.