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Qualifier Open: A Qualified Success Print E-mail
By Tom Braunlich   
April 1, 2008
16-year-old Sam Shankland qualified for the U.S. Championship. Photo  Alexey Root
Not since the enormous tree-crunching ice storm last December has there been so much “wood” flying around Tulsa as during the hard-fought 2008 Frank K Berry U.S. Championship Qualifier Open this past weekend.

Seven Grandmasters led the very strong field of 104 players (and 60+ masters) through seven rounds of intense competition for seven qualification slots in the upcoming U.S. Championship. The expected battle of youth vs. experience proved out — though not with the results many would have predicted. Here is the story, with selected key games.

Winning qualifier spots were GM Jesse Kraai, GM Alex Yermolinsky, GM John Fedorowicz, and IM Dean Ippolito (all with 5½/7, tying with GM Julio Becerra for first), plus IM David Pruess, 17-year-old FM Daniel Ludwig, and surprising 16-year-old NM Sam Shankland (5/7). The latter three beat out “local” favorites IM Michael Brooks (MO), IM Joe Bradford (TX), and FM Todd Andrews (TN) who also scored 5/7 but lost out on tiebreak points. NM Iryna Zenyuk won the spot in the U.S. Women’s Championship.

It was also confirmed at this tournament that five other players would be seeded into the U.S. Championship based on rating: GM Julio Becerra, GM Alexander Ivanov, GM Eugene Perelshteyn, GM Sergey Kudrin, and IM Ben Finegold. All five of them played in this Qualifier Open because at the time of the entry deadline they were unsure whether they would be seeded automatically. Their seeding depended on others above them on the March USCF rating list declining their invitations, and the deadline for responses was only a few days before the Qualifier Open began. There were several Top 10 GMs whom we had not heard from as the tournament started. We felt obligated to try to contact them in case there were communication problems and were not able to get it straightened out until round 4. The result was that two of them (Christiansen and Ibragimov) declined their invitations and two others (Kamsky and Ehlvest) could not be contacted despite attempts to determine their whereabouts and phone numbers. Thus the above five players on the “bubble” were all ruled “in.”

Of course, this delay in determining the rating seeds was less than ideal. Some of those GMs on the bubble (Ivanov and Kudrin for sure) would not have come to the Qualifier had they known in advance they would be seeded. Note to future organizers of qualifier events of this new kind: the deadline to accept invitations among the seeded players should be a month before the tournament, not just a few days, to avoid such delays.

Despite that hitch, the Qualifier Open one of strongest open tournaments ever held in the Southwest and was enthusiastically approved by the players. Many masters I talked to remarked that they appreciated the opportunity this kind of event offered them for both great competition and the realistic chance to win a spot in the prestigious championship.

The Games:  Youth vs. Experience

The theme for this event was evident right from the start. Kansas teen Maxx Coleman (2136) defeated IM Mark Ginsburg in round 1, and his fellow Jayhawk young Conrad Holt (2053) beat Carl Boor (2335) and followed with a nice win over IM Ron Burnett in round 2. Both finished with a very respectable 3½/7.

Young phenoms Ray Robson (2427) and Daniel Naroditsky (2256) had solid performances but finished just out of the top tier with 4½/7. Robson was stopped by veteran master John Bick of Louisiana in round 5, and Naroditsky could “only” get draws against Brooks and IM Blas Lugo in the final two rounds.


Revenge of the Veterans

My pre-tournament pick, IM Josh Friedel was among the leaders until rocked by a tough loss to Sam Shankland in round 5. Then a loss to IM Walter Shipman, the tournament’s oldest participant, in round 6 ended his chances. Josh got little against Shipman’s solid Veresov opening and eventually went down in an ending.

GM John “The Fed” Fedorowicz continued the veteran vengeance by knocking out strong young IM Salvijus Bercys with a Petrosian-like exchange sacrifice in a key final round Gruenfeld. Bercys had a fine tournament and probably would have qualified with a draw.


Jesse Kraai also beat young FM Jake Kleiman in another thorny last-round matchup. Jesse will write about his experiences in an upcoming CLO article.

The Qualifiers

While Kraai, Fedorowicz, Yermolinsky and Ippolito all had seemingly smooth tournaments to win a qualification slot, the three younger qualifiers had a more stressful experience. Pruess bounced back from a third-round defeat by Ivanov to finish strong with a tense seventh-round win over FM Michael Langer in a sharp Benoni.

Daniel Ludwig had an impressive event: two early wins followed by draws with three IMs, then a big win over IM Ben Finegold and a draw in the last round against GM Ivanov gave him strong tiebreaks. Daniel said he was proud of the Finegold game “because his opponent only made one mistake the whole game and he punished him for it,” with a continuing initiative —not easy to do against a 2600-player:


Daniel Ludwig (left) vs. Alex Ivanov. Photo Frank Berry

Sam Shankland of California was the surprise of the event. As Joe Bradford said, “he played very well and deserved to win.” He followed an early loss to Kraai with three straight wins, including a key round 5 defeat of Josh Friedel. In an event like this an upset will get “punished” with an even tougher pairing the next round. Shankland would have to “earn it” with two more games on the top boards. He came through with draws against GM Ivanov and GM Kudrin!


The Women

With one slot available here for the top female finisher for the U.S. Women’s Championship, the women had their own interesting tournament-within-a-tournament. It was a close race between Iryna Zenyuk, Chouchanik Airapetian, Hana Itkis, Courtney Jamison, and Jennifer Acor. Chouchan and Courtney had played well and went into the last round with 3½ points, ½-point ahead of Zenyuk. But both leaders lost tough games (to FM Jim Dean and NM Michael Aigner, respectively) — while Iryna pulled off a win against Steve Harrington (2154) to vault into first place with 4/7.

The Field

With so many masters in the 104-player field there was quality combative chess on all boards. Witness for example this very creative long-term sacrificial attack on board 29 in the last round by Ohio master Carl Boor against veteran Texas NM Nick Schoonmaker:


Courtney Jamison vs. "f-Pawn" Michael Aigner (foreground). Walter Shipman (standing) Photo Frank Berry

Grandmasters Have to Follow the Rules Too

The one dispute was time trouble related, and may be of interest to players and TDs using time controls with long increments. The time control of G/90 +30 has the merit of softening the time scrambles considerably, but has some unusual ramifications that appeared in round 2. With 30 second increment the players are expected to keep an accurate score, even in time trouble, unlike other time controls. In the game Andrews – Ivanov, the GM got into deep zietnot contemplating the ramifications of an endgame rook sacrifice for 3 connected passed pawns. In the tense play Ivanov missed several moves on his scoresheet. Each time Andrews complained about it Ivanov, whose scoresheet is always a total mess anyway, would just scribble something and then continue ignoring the tall Tennessee FM. “Grandmasters have to follow the rules too!” Todd exclaimed. Finally the TD was called. FKB checked on what the potential penalties were for failing to keep a complete scoresheet in such cases. A warning was then given, but by that time Andrews had to return the rook to stop the pawn onslaught and had a losing pawn-down opposite bishops endgame in prospect. Todd endured the vexing situation well and fought back in later rounds to a fine 5/7 score, missing out on qualification only by tiebreak points. Ed.Note- Todd Andrews will weigh in on this tough game and a nice victory on Chess Life Online later this week.

… the “experiment” of a special Qualifier Open event must be considered a success. A qualified success, one might say. Everyone had a great time, and lessons were learned to make such events better in the future. I’m sad that many of my friends didn’t qualify, but I was rooting for so many there weren’t enough spots for all of them anyway.

The event was run smoothly by IA Frank K. Berry, with assistance from Steve Wharry, myself, and Jon Haskel of Florida (who handled the MonRoi devices and whose son Jeff was playing in the tournament). Special thanks must again be given to Frank, who also generously funded the event as well as directed the tournament and entertained the troops. Few players hanging around the T.D. room escaped his distinctive barbs.
Frank K. Berry. “He who has the most badges has the most authority!”

In a few days we are due to finalize the wild card choices for the Championships, and as soon as they are confirmed we will announce them and the resulting final (or near-final) players lists for the championship here on Chess Life Online.

Stay tuned for fantasy chess 2008, in conjunction with the Frank Berry U.S. Championship (May 13-21.) The second annual fantasy competition will feature great prizes including two Monroi PCMs, a signed board by all the paricipants and daily contests.


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