Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2010 arrow April arrow GM Jesse Kraai Takes Clear First in Reno
GM Jesse Kraai Takes Clear First in Reno Print E-mail
By Michael Aigner   
April 13, 2010
GM Jesse Kraai, the big winner at the Western States Open
Chess fans descend on the so-called "Biggest Little City in the World" twice a year to push pawns and skewer queens.  However, the 182 chess players in the Far West Open were dwarfed by more than 60,000 bowlers registered for the four month long US Bowling Congress in downtown Reno.  Both events drew participants from every state in the Pacific and Mountain time zones and even as far away as the East coast.  No doubt the chess players worked harder than the bowlers, given the schedule of two games daily at the seven hour time control of 40/2, 20/1, SD/30 plus a five second delay.

The smaller turnout for chess did not diminish the competition as players competed for over $16,000 in paid prizes, including $2000 for first place.  The favorites in the 56-player Open section were a trio of Grandmasters: Melik Khachiyan from Los Angeles, Jesse Kraai from the San Francisco Bay Area and Alex Yermolinsky all the way from South Dakota.  The field comprised of five International Masters, a half dozen FIDE Masters, 19 talented juniors as young as 8 and 9 years old, and one WIM.   

The chess festival began on Thursday night with three events.  About 40 chess enthusiasts listened to GM Larry Evans share a few of his vivid stories about Bobby Fischer.  Later in the evening, GM Yermolinsky calmly dispatched all eight opponents in a clock simul.  The other two Grandmasters joined the small yet strong blitz tournament (nearly half of the roughly 20 players were masters).  After five double rounds, GM Khachiyan emerged victorious ahead of FIDE Masters Steven Zierk and Nick Raptis.

Two more side events were scheduled between rounds on Saturday.  GM Evans analyzed games, sharing tidbits of advice with his eager listeners, some more than 65 years younger!  Next door in the bookstore run by Chess Palace, the youngest chess author in the world, 14 year old FM Daniel Naroditsky, signed copies of his book Mastering Positional Chess.  Daniel had to work swiftly because he didn't want to miss another exciting event: the pizza party for students in my hotel room!

At the time of my previous article, a trio of players led the Open section with perfect 2-0 scores: IM Enrico Sevillano, NM Garush Manukyan and NM Howard Chen.  One day later, a quartet shared the lead with three wins and a draw each: GM Khachiyan, GM Kraai, IM Sevillano and NM Chen.  The top boards were drawn on Sunday morning, allowing teenage FM Steven Zierk to join the leaders at 4.0 out of 5.

The stage was set for a wild west shootout in the last round, with all three Grandmasters playing the white pieces: Khachiyan (4) - Chen (4), Kraai (4) - Zierk (4) and Yermolinsky (3.5) - Sevillano (4).  A full gallery of spectators watched the tense action on the large demo boards.  The climax came in the fourth hour of play.  Boards 2 and 3 finished decisively in favor of the Grandmasters, meaning the winner on board 1 would share first place.  Alas, Chen maintained a level game throughout, earning a well-deserved draw.  Check out the top two games below.


Khachiyan,Melik (2619) - Chen,Howard (2314) [B23]
On paper, the top board pairing in the last round has all the looks of a mismatch. The experienced Grandmaster plays White against an opponent rated 300 points lower.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.Bxc6
Khachiyan essays one of his pet lines as White.
4...bxc6 5.f4 d5 6.d3 Nf6 7.Nf3 Be7
An alternative is 7...Ba6 8.e5 Nd7 9.0-0 c4
8.0-0 0-0 9.e5 Nd7 10.Re1
Both players have several nuances of move orders to choose from in this opening. 10.Qe1 Rb8 11.b3 Qe8 12.Ba3 Ba6 13.Nd1 f5 14.Qa5 Bb7 15.Nb2 Qd8 16.Qc3 Ba6 17.Na4 d4 18.Qd2 Bb5 19.Nb2 Nb6 20.Nc4 h6 21.Kh1 Kh7 22.Rae1 Rb7 23.Rg1 Nd5 24.Nd6 Bxd6 25.exd6 Qxd6 26.Re5 Rf6 27.Rge1 Rb6 28.Nxd4 Ra6 29.Qc1 Nb4 30.Nxe6 Nxc2 31.Qxc2 Rxa3 32.Qb2 Ra5 33.Nxc5 Bxd3 34.Nxd3 1-0 Kasparian-Bronstein / 1947 URS-ch
10...Qc7 11.Qe2
White has other flexible moves to choose from, including Qe1 and b2-b3.
Black wastes no time, immediately striking in the center, hoping to gain initiative as in the French defense. 
12.Nd1 fxe5 13.fxe5 Rf7!
Black prepares to double rooks on the open f-file, but there is a second purpose behind this strong move.
14.Nf2 Nf8
The Knight is well suited to defend his Monarch from f8.
15.Nh3 h6 16.Nf4 Rb8 17.c4 Bd7
Black defends patiently, giving White few weaknesses to attack.
18.Rf1 g5 19.Nh5 Ng6 20.h3 Rbf8
Completing the plan begun on move 13. Black's patience is rewarded by an equal middlegame.
21.Bd2 Kh7 22.Rae1 Rf5 23.Ng3 R5f7 24.Nxg5+!?

While the sacrifice looks pretty, it doesn't amount to more than a draw.
24...hxg5 25.Rxf7+ Rxf7 26.Qh5+ Kg7 27.Bxg5 Bxg5 28.Qxg5 Kh7
Avoiding a loss of tempo after Nh5 check.
White could try 29.Nh5 Rf5 30.Nf6+ Kg7 31.Qg3 Rxe5 32.Rf1 but the game still ends in a draw.
29...Qc8 30.Qh5+ Kg7 31.Qg4 Kh6 32.Qh5+
Well done by Black to earn a solid draw against a strong opponent! ½-½


Kraai,Jesse (2550) - Zierk,Steven (2420)
The other last round game pits the Grandmaster as White against an improving junior.
1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.d4 cxd4?!
Black yields too much of the center with this Pawn capture. Theory recommends d6 or Nf6 instead. 5...d6 6.Be2 Bg4; 5...Nf6 6.d5 Na5 7.e4 d6
6.exd4 d6 7.d5 Ne5 8.Nxe5 Bxe5
Knights belong in the center, not Bishops. The Grandmaster calmly exploits this awkward setup.
9.Bd3 Nf6 10.0-0 0-0
Not falling for a tempting trap. 11.Bh6? Bxh2+ 12.Kxh2 Ng4+
11...Bg4 12.Qd2 Qd7 13.f4!
White increases his space by harassing the misplaced Bishop.
13...Bd4+ 14.Kh1 Ne8
Black's position already looks ugly. Perhaps Rac8 or Rfe8 would be more stubborn.
15.Rae1 f6 16.Bh6 Ng7 17.f5!
White strikes before his opponent has time to coordinate his pieces. Black wishes he could swap minor pieces on d4 and g7, but that's not legal.
17...Bxf5 18.Bxf5 Nxf5 19.Bxf8 Rxf8 20.g4 Bxc3 21.Qxc3 Ng7 22.h3
18.Ne4 Bxf5
Black could try to defend with Rf7. Instead he lashes out, but the tactics fail.
19.Bxg7 Kxg7 20.Nxg5!
Crunch! The computer prefers giving up an Exchange to win two Pawns with initiative. 20.Rxf5 Qxf5 21.Nxd6 Qf2 22.Rxe7+ Kh8 23.Rxh7+ Kg8 24.Qxf2 Bxf2 25.Bf5
Alternatively 20...Bxd3 21.Qxd3 fxg5 22.Qxd4+ and once again the Black Bishop finds itself in trouble in the center.
21.Qxg5+ Bg6

It is all over! The wayward Cleric still sits idle on d4, unable to protect his Monarch.
22...Qxe7 23.Qxe7+ Kg8 24.Qe6+ Kg7 25.Qe7+ Kg8 26.Qe6+ Kg7 27.Qg4 Be5 28.Rf3 Bxb2 29.Qd7+ Kg8 30.Bxg6 hxg6 31.Qxd6 1-0

When the dust settled, a single man remained standing at the Chess Corral.  Congratulations to GM Jesse Kraai for winning the 2010 Far West Open with 5.0/6!  Five players shared second place.  While GM Melik Khachiyan and NM Howard Chen drew their game, the others had to win in the final round: GM Alex Yermolinsky (beat IM Sevillano), IM Vladimir Mezentsev (beat NM Kavutskiy) and NM Arun Sharma (beat IM Grefe).  In addition to second place, Mezentsev and Chen shared top U2400 honors while Sharma took first U2300. 

The performances of a few players stood out in the Open section. 

·        Washington State champion NM Howard Chen (2314) impressed observers by staying undefeated on the top boards for the final four rounds.  He beat IM Mezentsev and drew against IM Sevillano, GM Kraai and GM Khachiyan for a performance over 2600.

·        Former prodigy NM Arun Sharma (2259) played his first serious tournament in a decade without showing much rust.  Living in a "Grandmaster Apartment" may have something to do with that.  He scored 4.5 by beating IM Grefe and losing just once, to GM Kraai.  Thank goodness that Sharma, Kraai and IM David Pruess escaped a chain reaction car accident in snow and ice on the trip home with relatively minor injuries.  Drive safely!

·        13-year-old NM David Adelberg (2244) continues to improve by beating IM David Pruess and drawing with GM Kraai.  Many other elite juniors had a tough weekend.

·        NM Richard Koepcke (2252), better known as a tournament director in the San Francisco Bay Area, showed off his playing skills with an undefeated 4.0 out of 6, including a win against FM Curt Collyer and draws with GM Yermolinsky and FM Zierk.

·        Another Washington master on the move, NM Dereque Kelley (2206), earned quality rating points, scalping FM Raptis and splitting with IM Mezentsev and FM Marcel Milat.

·        By my calculations, Northern California high school student Evan Sandberg earned the rank of master at exactly 2200.  He would be my sixth student to achieve this milestone.  

Final Standings of 2010 Far West Open  (click here for crosstables and click here for MSA rated results.)

Open section

5.0 GM Jesse Kraai ; 4.5 GM Melik Khachiyan, GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Vladimir Mezentsev, NM Howard Chen, NM Arun Sharma
Top U2200: 3.5 Romulo Fuentes, Edwin Straver, Paul Romero
Class A
5.0 Joshua Osbourn
Class B

5.0 Weston Leavens
Class C

6.0 Udit Iyengar
Class D/E/UNR

5.0 Lauren Treiman, Charles James, Cole Erskine and Kyle Kaylor
Club Competition

35.0 Tie between Mechanics' Institute and Seattle Chess Club

What separates Reno tournaments from other chess events that I attend is the hospitality by organizer Jerry Weikel, his wife Fran, their eager staff (over half a dozen) and the Sands Regency Casino Hotel.  For some players it is the opportunity to play serious chess at a slow time control; others appreciate the free coffee, cake and snacks at the start of every round; a few even call the trip to Reno a vacation!  And at under $50/night, the spacious yet unpretentious hotel rooms don't blow the budget.  Players return twice a year to savor a fun weekend of chess.  In fact, I participated in 16 Reno tournaments over the past decade, eight each of the Western States Open (fall) and Far West Open (spring). 

Thanks to my friends and students for the many laughs, to Grant Fleming for sending me the games used in this article, and to the strangers who encourage me to write more articles.  I hope to see you all again in Reno at the next Western States Open on October 22-24. 

To close this article, I prepared four exercises from tournament games.  The central theme of these problems is initiative.  Enjoy!

Formanek,Edward - Naroditsky,Daniel

White just captured a poisoned Pawn on a7. Black to move and win! Make sure to check out all obvious replies.

Show Solution

Manukyan,Garush - Khachiyan,Melikset

 Black is already up a Pawn, but White just showed his aggressive intentions with f4-f5. Black to move and reassert his initiative.

Show Solution

White should already be pleased with his position. How does he make progress?


Show Solution

Yermolinsky,Alex - Koepcke,Richard 


Black to move and keep control the action.  Obey the maxim 'force a draw from a position of strength'.

Show Solution


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