Akobian and Sevillano Win in Vegas
By Jonathan Hilton   
June 8, 2009
SevillanoAkobian.jpg
National Open co-champions, GM Varuzhan Akobian and IM Enrico Sevillano
You can't play two rounds in the National Open (June 4-7) without hearing about how the tournament "put the fun back in chess." Having never been to Las Vegas before, I was puzzled by this phrase. A number of questions were raised in my mind. How is it possible to put the fun back in chess? Wasn't chess fun already? What do we really mean when we say we're "having fun" at a chess tournament, anyway? 

I found my answers on the evening before the start of the event when I headed for the South Point hotel pool. Having always tried to take chess seriously, it's been my custom to not to pack a swimsuit when traveling to a tournament. I had a fantastic view of the pool from my hotel room window, however, and when I realized my mother had tossed a pair into my suitcase (buried inconspicuously amidst my usual tournament attire), I decided going for a dip couldn't hurt. 

The rest is history. Although I'm still aching inside from my "minus one" performance - I won both my games against lower-rated players, but only nicked one draw off the four strong IM's I faced - I got a tremendous amount done during my stay in "The Entertainment Capital of the World." I toured the Las Vegas Strip, went to a nearby rodeo, ate fine cake with friends, and met dozens of regular folks from around the country who had come to Vegas for one occasion or another. I spent more time hanging out in the hot tub than I did analyzing my games; for once in my life, I can confess that I don't know where my beloved (but now severely outdated) Fritz 8 says I went wrong. I took my games seriously while I was playing them, but when they were over, I tried to set them aside and forget about them. The lesson learned was that everyone has some reason for coming to Vegas, but once you're there, the lifestyle draws you in - you have to get out and have fun. 

Taking this into consideration, there could not have been two more fitting winners of the National Open than GM Varuzhan Akobian and IM Enrico Sevillano. I've known the former for a couple of years now, and I can say that his charisma would definitely bode well in the fun-loving Vegas atmosphere. I'm only just getting to know the latter, but I certainly know his style over the chess board: his best wins usually occur when he's given the chance to play his favorite Benoni Defense. I was lucky to nick a draw off him in Round 2 by steering clear of his Benoni, but GM Evgeny Bareev didn't fare as well in their last-round encounter: 



Meanwhile, Akobian's last-round win proved to be a positional grind. Even though his opponent, the French grandmaster Laurent Fressinet, was higher rated, Akobian took him down in clean style. It feels as if Black never had any real chance for counterplay in this critical encounter: 



Both Sevillano and Akobian managed 5.0/6.0, but a slew of other GMs and a handful of IMs came in right behind with 4.5/6.0. Among them was IM Benjamin Finegold, whom I lost to in Round 3. After my write-up on "Playing Like Finegold" from the Chicago Open, having to face the man who is often called "America's strongest IM" was a cruel twist of fate. If I could only have calculated the lines as well as he did, I might have had a chance! 



Hilton, Jonathan - Finegold, Benjamin [A34]
National Open (3), 6/06/2009

1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 b6 4.e4 d6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bb7 7.f3 g6 8.Bg5!?
Normal play would be 8.Be3 Bg7 9.Be2 0-0 10.0-0 Nbd7 11.Qd2 Re8 12.Rfd1 Rc8 13.Rac1 Qc7 14.b4 Qb8 15.Nb3 and so on. White's plan often involves marching the a-pawn down the board. The text move has the advantage of putting pressure on e7, but sets me up for Finegold's classic tactic on move 16.
8...Bg7 9.Qd2 0-0 10.Be2 Nbd7 11.0-0 Rc8 12.Rac1 a6 13.Rfd1 Re8 14.b4
After the game, both players felt this move might have been a mistake. So long as White follows it up correctly, however, he should actually benefit from having played this space-gaining thrust.
14...Ne5 15.Nd5 e6 16.Ne3?
after16.ne3.jpg
After 16.Ne3

This was not the correct idea. I didn't want to trade pieces, but in this case, taking on f6 is just good for White. Both parties missed that after the simplifying 16.Nxf6+ Bxf6 17.Bxf6 Qxf6 18.Nb3, Black's defensive move 18...Red8 can be met with 19.Qe3, winning the b-pawn.
16...Nxe4!
Finegold's tactical instincts prove better than mine. Alternatively, 16...h6 17.Bh4 g5!? 18.Bf2 Ng6 19.Nb3 Nf4 20.Bf1 d5 was suggested as another try for Black, but 21.exd5 exd5 22.c5 looks good for White.
17.Bxd8 Nxd2 18.Bg5
18.Bxb6 Bh6 ultimately loses for White. But after the text move, am I not just trapping the knight on d2?
18...h6!
The key idea. 18...Nexc4 19.Rxc4! is good for White. (Instead, 19.Bxc4 Bxd4 20.Rxd2 Bxe3+ 21.Bxe3 b5 22.Rxd6 Rxc4 23.Rxc4 bxc4 is drawish.)
19.Bf4 g5!?
19...Nexc4! 20.Bxc4 g5! 21.Bxg5 Nxc4! 22.Nxc4 hxg5 was the most accurate route to an advantage.
20.Bxe5 dxe5 21.Ndc2??
During the game, I thought Black's knight on d2 would be stuck. Unfortunately, I overlooked the obvious plan of an eventual...f7-f5-f4. I miscalculated and thought that on 21.Nxe6 Black had 21...Nxf3+. Actually, after 22.Bxf3 Bxf3 23.Nxg7!, White is simply winning a piece. Thus Finegold had planned 21...fxe6!? 22.Rxd2 e4 23.fxe4 Bxe4, with a possible slight edge for Black due to the bishop pair.
21...Red8 22.Ne1 e4 23.Rc2 Bd4 24.Kf2 f5!
after24...f5.jpg
After 24...f5

Now the game is over. I had only expected 24...Bxe3+ 25.Kxe3 Nf1+ 26.Kf2 Rxd1 27.Bxd1 Nxh2 28.Kg1 Nxf3+ 29.gxf3, and if here 29...exf3 30.Bxf3 Bxf3 31.Nxf3 f5 32.Ne5 White appears better.
25.Rcxd2 Bxe3+ 26.Kxe3 f4+
Oops!
27.Kf2 e3+ 0-1 

They say that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. From a chess perspective, I certainly hoped during the tournament that this was true. Back at Foxwoods I mentioned how I imitated the play of GM Julio Becerra during one of my games; on that occasion, Becerra's ideas were strong. On the final day of this tournament, both Becerra and I came up with the same rather awful idea of putting our kings on f8 as Black and starting weird kingside attacks featuring ...h7-h6, ...g7-g5, and ...Qd8-e7. I managed to get away with mine, though I probably shouldn't have. Becerra lost his against none other than - you guessed it - Ben Finegold. 





Hilton,Jonathan (2282) - Furman,Eugene (2167) [A28]
National Open (5), 6/07/2009

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.Bg5 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 h6 8.Bh4 d6
8...Ne5 is the main line, but I couldn't figure out what happens on the bizarre move 9.Nb5!?, threatening taking on f6. My c7 pawn is loose. I missed that after 9...0-0 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Nxc7 I have the one and only saving move 11...Nf3+!!, winning after 12.gxf3 Qxc3+ 13.Qd2 Qxa1+ 14.Qd1 Qxd1+ 15.Kxd1 Rb8 and so on.
9.f3 Ne5 10.e4 Qe7
10...Ng6 11.Bf2 0-0 12.Qd2 Nd7 has been played by strong players a couple of times and is much more logical. But now, I start to go nuts.
11.Be2 g5 12.Bf2 Kf8?!
12...g4 13.Be3 Rg8 with an eye towards possibly castling queenside might have been a sounder way to proceed.
13.Rb1 a6 14.Qd2 Nh5 15.h4?!
after15.h4.jpg
After 15.h4


After this move, Black suddenly has some interesting chances. Any move like 15.g3 or 15.Be3 would leave White with a solid advantage, since my pawn formation on the kingside is lamentable.
15...g4 16.Be3 Qf6 17.f4 Ng6 18.Nf5
This was White's idea, but now I have a strong sacrifice.
18...Bxf5! 19.Bd4 Qe7 20.exf5 Ngxf4 21.Bxh8 Qe4 22.Rb2 Nxg2+!
I correctly sensed that this continuation was stronger than 22...Ng3 23.Qd4. (I did miss that on 23.Kd1 I have the insane 23...Nxh1 24.Qd4 h5!!, holding everything together since Black's queen is covered by the fork idea...Nh1-f2+.)
23.Kf2 Ngf4?!
But with this move, I lose my way. 23...g3+ 24.Kg1 Nhf4! leaves White hopelessly entangled in mating scenarios such as 25.Bd4 Ne1 26.Bg4 Re8! with the essentially unstoppable idea of...Ne1-f3+ and mate on the back rank.
24.Rg1
after24.rg1.jpg
After 24.Rg1

24...Nh3+?
24...Qxf5! 25.Bxg4 (forced) 25...Nd3+ 26.Ke2 Re8+ 27.Kd1 Nxb2+ 28.Qxb2 Qd3+ 29.Qd2 Qb1+ was still good enough to get me a perpetual check.
25.Kf1??
25.Ke1 Nxg1 26.Qxh6+ Ke7 27.Qxh5 Re8 28.Qxg4 Qxg4 29.Bxg4 Rxh8 30.h5 followed by Rg2 is winning for White. Instead, I would have to play 25...N5f4 with the idea of ...Re8, when Black has some compensation but White's chances are definitely improving.
25...Ng3+!
Now, however, Black is winning.
26.Ke1 Nxg1 27.Qxh6+ Ke8 28.Bf6 N1xe2 29.Qh8+ Kd7 30.Qxa8 Nd4+
Embarrassingly, there was a faster master with 30...Qh1+ 31.Kd2 Qc1+ 32.Kd3 Nf4+ 33.Kd4 c5#
31.Kf2 Qf3+ 32.Kg1 Nge2+ 0-1

Maybe it wasn't the Immortal Game, but playing this kind of chess always feels fun. I doubt I'll have the nerve to play such a plan in another tournament, though - I'm saving this kind of tacky chess for Vegas, where flamboyance, decadence and extravagance reign supreme. And although I'm happy for Finegold's last-round triumph, I am saddened to see that Becerra's own attempt at playing "Vegas chess" went faster than the paycheck in a gambler's wallet. 

On a closing note, my travels across the country in pursuit of chess are slowly but surely providing me with much-needed cultural enrichment. Some of my "homeschooler" innocence was lost upon my arrival in Vegas when I missed my bus to the hotel and had to take an airport shuttle. The trip cost $9, so I handed the woman at the booth a ten and she handed me a poker chip. "Oh," I thought. "She must have given me my $1 change as a poker chip - how odd." I then asked her for my ticket, and in response she handed me a dollar bill. Eventually I figured out that the poker chip was my shuttle ticket and that the piece of legal tender was my change; taking advantage of my confusion, however, the woman at the counter somehow pocketed my dollar bill! I wound up passing the favor on by tipping my shuttle driver just twenty-four cents, which was by then the only small change I still had. Like I said, much was accomplished during my stay in Vegas. And sometimes, the things I learn going to tournaments have little or nothing to do with chess. Learning to have fun between rounds - a specialty of Akobian's - and learning to play fun, attacking chess - a specialty of Sevillano's - made my trip to the National Open worthwhile. Congratulations to the two winners and to anyone who enjoyed this splendid event.

Although Fred Gruenberg is retiring from a illustrious career of organizing, Al Losoff, who will take over as organizer announced to CLO that The National Open is on again next year, from June 11-13! Look for more details on CLO and in the TLA section.