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Oklahoma gives the Open a Twist Print E-mail
By Elizabeth Vicary   
February 26, 2007
Valery Aveskulov Photo Irina Krush

by WFM Elizabeth Vicary  

A recent study published in Psychological Science examines the gender differences in chess performance and comes to a surprising conclusion: "If you look at the participation rate of women and relate that to performance, you find that in cases where the participation rate of women and men is equal the disparity in ability vanishes" (Chabris and Glickman, quoted on www.chessbase.com 1/31/07). What amazes me about this conclusion is not that it's true, but that there exists an area in the US where men and women play chess in equal numbers. Mysteriously, these areas are limited to four zip codes -- areas in Oakland, CA; Bakersfield, CA; Lexington, KY; and Pierre, SD. Despite my suspicions, the publication of this finding seemed an auspicious omen when I heard about the unusual conditions promised at the OCF North American FIDE Open, held February 17-19 in Stillwater, OK.

The tournament organizer, Frank Berry, offered any FIDE rated woman free entry, hotel, transportation from the airport in Tulsa (70 miles!), and a $500 appearance fee. There was even a separate $4,500 prize fund for women that exceeded the overall prize fund. This seemed absolutely incredible to me, and something I would be crazy to turn down. Apparently, IM Irina Krush, WGM Camilla Baginskaite, WIM Nadia Ortiz, WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs, WIM Alexey Root, WFM Bayaraa Zorigt, WFM Tatev Abrahamyan, WFM Iryna Zenyuk, WFM Lilia Doibani, WCM Judit Simo, Tatiana Vayserberg, Vanessa West, Simone Sobel, Becky Huang, Stephanie Ballom, Sarah Chiang, Courtney Jamison, Stephanie Pitcher, Helen Jamison, Sylvia Yang, and Alexa Zolman all felt the same way!

WFM Bayaraa Zorigt and WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs. Photo E.Vicary

Why such generosity? Frank Berry, who both organized and sponsored the tournament explained: "I wanted to make the tournament special, unique. There are very few women players in Oklahoma, and I thought this would be a great thing for Oklahoma chess. It creates opportunities not just for the women, but also for local players. Of course, I wanted to attract stars like IM Irina Krush, WGM Camila Baginskaite and WFM Tatev Abrahamyan, but I wanted the players with lower FIDE ratings just as much, because they offer regular Oklahoma players a great chance to get FIDE ratings themselves." GM Pascal Charbonneau suggested the conditions policy was a smart move—"You offer conditions to the women, so they come, and then the grandmasters come just to see the women!" I asked Frank if he thought some of the male players had shown up for this reason and he agreed "Sure, at least, say, 15 of them played out of curiosity." Two local players who happened to be passing by the conversation at this moment interjected "We did!" "You played just to see the women?" I asked, somewhat incredulous. "Oh, not me," the first one explained, blushing. "I'm married! But he did!" he continued, pointing to his friend, who nodded in agreement.

A rare site at chess events- women outnumbering the men! (left to right) Elizabeth Vicary, Irina Krush, Camila Baginskaite and Alexander Shabalov center.

GM Magesh Panchanathan (2538), UTD first board and tournament second seed, got off to a slow start when David Zelnick (1863) held him to a draw in a 71 move opposite-colored bishop ending.


The remaining top seeds made it through the first day unscathed, although FM Pieta Garrett (2291) went in for some unsound complications in round two and lost quickly to veteran Carlos Santillan (2026).

There were no big surprises in the first round Sunday morning, and just a couple draws in round four. Shabalov-Krush provided the spectators with some excitement, however, as Irina defended tenaciously for many moves before falling for a cute tactic in time trouble.


Perhaps tired from this attack, Shabalov then fell in just 22 moves to Ukranian GM Valery Aveskulov in round five. Haven't heard of Valery before? I'm sure we'll hear more from him in the coming months as he hopes to stay in America. Here are the basics to whet your appetite: 21 years old, rated 2517 FIDE and currently living in Omaha, Nebraska.


9…g5 would have given him an excellent position, he realized after the game, but this was "maybe the only point in the game where I didn't seriously consider …g5."

WGM Camilla Baginskaite defended accurately against IM Marko Zivanic's kingside pressure, taking control of the only open file and establishing a beautiful knight on d5 in the process, and then proceeded to win after picking off two undefended pawns.


The beginning of the final day saw GM Valery Aveskulov in clear first, with GM Magesh Panchanathan, GM Pascal Charboneau, and WGM Camilla Baginskaite trailing by half a point. The top two boards made quick draws (Panchanathan – Aveskulov ½-1/2 18 moves; Vavrak – Charboneau ½-1/2 19 moves), while Irina tricked Camila on move 28 in an originally innocuous-seeming symmetrical rook, bishop and knight ending.


The game of the round, however, was the extravagent and magical battle IM Ron Burnett and WFM Iryna Zenyuk.


Iryna sacked a pawn on move 14, temporarily as it turned out, but Burnett responded in kind with the wild 20. Ne6, after which insane complications ensued. Iryna's play was both clever and fearless; she eventually triumphed.

Iryna Zenyuk and Becky Huang. Photos Irina Krush

My own best game occurred Monday morning also, when WIM Batchimeg Tuvshintugs completely outplayed me from the black side of an Open Spanish, only to blunder mate in two in time trouble. Better to be lucky than talented, right?

The last round was a disappointment for the spectators, as the top three boards (Aveskulov- Vavrak, Charbonneau – Shabalov, Krush – Panchanathan) all took quick draws. To compensate, WIM Nadia Ortiz pulled off an amazing feat of trickery to defeat master Trevor Jackson.


Co-winner of the women's grand prize Nadia Ortiz

IM Irina Krush, WGM Camila Baginskaite and Nadia Ortiz tied for 1st-3rd for the women's prize, eaching earning 5.5/7 and $900. GM Valery Aveskulov finished first in the "men's standings" with 6/7, also good for $900. Valery was followed by GMs Shabalov, Charbonneau, and Panchanathan; IM Peter Vavrak; and master Gary Simms with 5.5.

Elizabeth Vicary,your author, and Irina Krush, co-winner of the women's prize.

Ace Chesslife reporter Jerry Hanken, was playing and will have his unique perspective in the May issue of Chess Life. This will include in-depth interviews with the overall winner, helped along by Irina Krush, who served as translator and co-interviewee. Stay tuned!