The Final Five in Indiana
By Macauley Peterson   
August 11, 2009
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GM Kudrin and GM-elect Lenderman, Photo Monroi.com

For many GMs and IMs in Indianapolis, the fight for the top places was about more than money. The five qualification spots for the 2010 U.S. Championship (set for Spring 2010 in Saint Louis) were a major factor attracting grand masters to this year’s U.S. Open. “That’s the main reason I came to this tournament,” said Sergey Kudrin, who added that he normally skips the Open, but decided to play this time around.

Kudrin missed out on the 2009 Championship, despite being invited to the 2008 edition in Oklahoma as one of the country’s top players (currently #20 overall). So with 7 points and White on board one in the last round on Sunday, it is understandable that he wanted a draw. His opponent, GM-elect Alex Lenderman, also had 7 points, after recovering from an early upset in the second round.

One more half point would secure Kudrin not only a tie for first, but having some of the best tiebreaks among the top scorers, he would be assured a spot in the Championship, irrespective of the outcome of the lower boards. One might expect a quick handshake to be in order.

The trouble was Lenderman’s tiebreaks were not as good, so with only five spots available, he preferred to win clear first, just to be sure. Plus, with substantially more prize money for a win, than he stood to lose with a loss, he judged it was a risk worth taking. According to America’s newest soon-to-be grand master, “[Kudrin] offered me a draw before [the game]. I said, ‘no, I want to play.’” Lenderman used the dreaded word in professional chess -- “pre-arranged” -- to describe this exchange, but when given an opportunity to comment, Kudrin demurred, saying “well, I didn’t mind a draw, but, you know, I have to play.”

In any case, after forty-one moves, and a legitimate contest, a draw was agreed.



“He played a good game,” Lenderman explained. “I mean, he didn’t take too many chances, he didn’t take a lot of risks. He was making good adequate decisions throughout the game, not trying to attack me too hard, when he could have, made good practical positional decisions, chose a good line against my opening -- just played a good game.”

In fact, when Lenderman offered a draw himself in the middlegame, Kudrin declined and played on. “After the opening it wasn’t clear, but then I was better,” said the veteran grand master, “and I just couldn’t find a way to break through. He created a wall and I couldn’t break this wall.”

By the end of the first time control, Julio Becerra and Gergely Antal had drawn on board two, and Lenderman saw that both IM Blas Lugo, and FM Daniel Rensch were likely to lose, improving his qualification chances, considerably.
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GM Jesse Kraai, Photo Monroi.com

With 7.5 as the score to reach, players with 6.5 could still tie for first with a win. Jesse Kraai was one them, as he finished early with a 22-move dismissal of IM Justin Sarkar. “To end it like that was just really nice,” said Kraai. Earlier he had yielded two draws that threatened his chances to qualify.



“Round three some expert just held me. It was really frustrating -- I couldn’t sleep that night -- it was awful. I was White and he just made normal moves and I couldn’t do anything. So you never know in this tournament what’s going to happen like that.”  Kraai, also cited his 108-move draw with Michael Langer as a critical game, in which he needed to hold a rook and knight versus rook ending. Ed.Note-As pointed out in comments to this article, the "some expert" was none other than U.S. Junior Open Champion Eric Rosen, who had a fantastic U.S. Open, defeating GM John Fedorowicz and breaking 2200.

Also scoring in the last round to reach 7.5 was GM Alexander Yermolinsky, who fended off a dangerous-looking attack from IM Sal Bercys.



“The whole line that I played I actually analyzed it years ago and I think I forgot my own analysis,” said Yermo in his deep base voice. He spent a great deal of time trying to recall the correct way to play, which eventually lead him into a complicated position where he needed to make about eight moves in three minutes. “Indeed, I didn’t think I was going to win the game,” he said. But Bercys went astray and Yermolinsky was able to consolidate and win with an extra bishop for two pawns.

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GM Alexander Yermolinsky, Photo Monroi.com


Yermolinsky was less concerned with qualifying to the U.S. Championship than the rest. “It’s too early to think about the Championship. I will need to prepare.” But winning the U.S. Open in a six-way tie (Ed. Note: IM Jacek Stopa also tied for first, but since he is from Poland, does not qualify to the U.S. Champs.) is no big deal. “I have nothing to add to my titles. I won this tournament four times,” he adds, noting that in 1995, 1997 and 2000 he won the event outright.

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IM Jacek Stopa also tied for first in the U.S. Open, but he plays for Poland and was not eligible for one of the five US Championship spots, Photo Monroi.com


As to his future playing schedule, Yermolinsky doesn’t expect to make any more commitments to compete other than a small tournament in Fargo this Fall. Teaching dominates his chess life nowadays. He describes his work in the schools of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as “a mission,” adding, “unlike other grandmasters who teach everywhere, I came to a virgin land, so I started from scratch.”

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GM Dmitry Gurevich, Photo Monroi.com

Finally, our 2009 U.S. Open champion is Dimitry Gurevich, who defeated IM Ron Burnett to claim his share of first.



His tiebreaks were enough to force a “Armageddon” blitz playoff against Kudrin. Gurevich thought it was smart for Kudrin to choose to have five minutes and white, to Gurevich’s three minutes, but draw odds.

“I am a good blitz player, I know Sergey is not particularly a good blitz player. Gurevich was confident in his chances in the game, in part because of winning an ad hoc blitz match with Kudrin on the ICC in 2006 by a score of 7-1.



In the opening of the blitz playoff, Gurevich borrowed an idea from GM Roman Dzindzichashvili, he said. “After Bg5 You make sort of dragon...I knew the position and he didn’t.” After a close call, blundering a pawn in the middle game, Gurevich was able to drum up enough threats to force Kudrin to take a perpetual check.

Gurevich is also no stranger to teaching, but he plans to gear up for the U.S. Championship next May. “I know that if I’m in really good form I can play well, otherwise I’m in between bad and terrible.” Unlike most of his teaching grand master peers, Dimitry does not think his work with kids hurts his own game. He focuses on teaching gifted students either privately or in small groups, rather than large curriculum or after school classes.

“When I teach a young talented student, I learn from him as well. They teach me how to understand things about chess and about life. Most of my students are more talented than I was at their age.”

Gurevich comes across as amiably satisfied with the direction his chess career has taken. “You have to appreciate what you’re doing,” he explained. “You have to enjoy what you are doing. And I’m trying to do that. I know that I’m not going to be the strongest chess player in the world -- I never was -- and I know so many people are more talented than me. I have to understand that, I have enough sense to understand it. I see Conrad Holt, I know that he’s more talented than me. I teach this great kid -- his name is Christopher Wu. I know he’s more talented than me.”

He seemed almost sorry for taking the U.S. Open title away from his friend, Sergey, who will turn 50 years old this year, and Gurevich has high hopes for him in 2010. “I wish him success over there because he proved that at his age he can really improve. He plays better now than fifteen years ago, which is great -- it gives me also encouragement myself.”

For more on the U.S. Open, access games from Monroi.com, final standings and MSA with rating changes. CLO coverage included Macauley's first report, Abby Marshall's Denker wrap-up, a story on the Tournament of  College Championships, and the U.S. Chess Scoop on Indiana highlights.