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Reflections on a Model U.S. Open Print E-mail
By Al Lawrence   
August 14, 2012
The recently completed U.S. Open Chess Championship in Vancouver deserves a look-back. First of all, it demonstrated once again that the Northwest is a viable location for big USCF events. The previous local U.S. Open, in across-the-river Portland, was held a quarter-century ago in 1987. “We won’t wait that long again to have a U.S. Open here,” USCF Executive Director Bill Hall told the closing-ceremony crowd.

The reasons for returning are obvious. The hard work of Northwest Chess stalwarts Russell Miller, Frank Niro, Jeff Roland, and webmaster Eric Holcomb, in combination with USCF’s own professional efforts, brought in 517 entrants, ranking attendance in the top 15 of all 113 U.S. Opens. (The Open has been held without fail every year since 1900. The all-time record was set in 1983 when more than 800 attended the famous but now defunct Ambassador Hotel in Pasadena, California.) This summer’s downtown location, the Hilton Vancouver Washington, turned out to be a U.S. Open annual migrant’s dream venue. All the players were spaciously deployed in one giant, perfectly lit and well-air-conditioned room—where they could keep track of the roped-off top boards and hear all announcements first hand. The host hotel’s accommodations were first-rate, but after a few days a brief change of scene and cuisine is always welcome. A walk around town, past dozens of nearby restaurants and shops provided blood flow and variety.

A surprise treat was Esther Short Park, with its signature bell tower, immediately across the street from the Hilton. Even a short break yielded an opportunity to stroll through the farmers’ market or booths at the other special events. Free live music—unheard in the game room next door!—was often a feature of this walk in the park.

Seirawan & Pupols

A highlight for chess-history buffs was the photo op of Viktors Pupols and Yasser Seirawan, two of the Northwest’s legendary chess superheroes, reprising their famous head-hug photograph from 40 years ago, when Pupols was “uncle” to a curly-haired Yaz. 

GM Seirawan with 70s style hair, with young IM Greg Shahade.
I’d be remiss not to point out that the results of the Open and its ancillary events were a romp for three representatives of Webster University’s new 2012-13 squad, two of whom were previously on Texas Tech’s 2011-12 university championship team. The three new Webster U. teammates won three titles: U.S. Open, U.S. Open Blitz and U.S. Open game/15. Manuel Leon Hoyos, the current champion of Mexico and first board on that nation’s Olympiad team, took the overall title by virtue of his eight-point score, tie-breaks over GM Dmitry Gurevich, and a win in the one-game Armageddon playoff against John Bryant of New York. Teammate Andre Diamant, former Brazilian champ, won the blitz title, besting the frenetic 129-player field, while teammate Vitaly Neimer won the Game/15 over 37 others. Diamant and Neimer transferred to Webster U. from the Texas Tech University championship team.

Chief TD Bill Snead
All the tournaments ran without hitches. And despite three-tiers of four-day, six-day, and nine-day schedules and staggered starting times, the TD staff kept everyone in the right chair at the right time. The two critical merges of one schedule into another took place without distractions. The event was a triumph for both local organizers and USCF, who these days takes responsibility as chief organizer. Chief TD Bill Snead of Texas, along with NTD Alan Losoff of Illinois and Phillip R. Smith, USCF’s IT Director and Webmaster, led the directing staff, who were always visible and in control. USCF’s chief operating officer Patricia Smith was on hand to handle the complex coordination of tournaments and meetings.  

“I remember that National Open Organizer Fred Gruenberg emphasized two simple rules,” Snead said. “Start the rounds on time. Keep the playing room quiet.” Those key accomplishments and lots more, plus a strong turnout of both locals and travellers, made Vancouver 2012 a model for future opens.

Al Lawrence, the new Director of the Texas Tech U. Chess Program, will also be writing an article about the US Open for Chess Life Magazine