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Lenderman Dances To the Top at Golden State Print E-mail
By Michael Aigner   
January 25, 2010
Khachiyan and Lenderman at the Golden State Open
Yes, it was all about the dance.   There must simply be no other explanation.  First of all, who told the New Yorker that Concord was not in New Hampshire, but across the country in California?  Why else would a gaggle of Grandmasters trust some excitable teenager to drive them across town on Friday at rush hour?  And lastly, is there a cure for the pandemic of drawitis that afflicted the home team?

The aforementioned New Yorker, GM-elect Alex Lenderman, won six out of his seven games to finish on top of the Golden State Open on January 15-18, a full point ahead of his nearest challengers.   The competition was stiff, including four Grandmasters and six International Masters--seven players rated above 2495.  The guest from the East left little doubt in most of his games, wowing the spectators by routinely winning in 30 moves and under 3 hours.  After the final round, Lenderman fulfilled a promise he made before the tournament: he would dance if he won.  About 40 spectators, including tournament officials, watched and laughed as the champion waved his arms, bounced up and down and finished his victory dance.

When asked for his best games over the weekend, the answer seemed a bit surprising.  He mentioned two contests against Grandmasters, although one was the lone game he lost!  Check out Lenderman's win against Jesse Kraai and his loss to Melik Khachiyan below, with my light comments.


1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 Bf5
The Slav Defense sees Black develop his bad Bishop before it gets trapped by the classic triangle pawn structure (c6-d5-e6).
5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Be4 7.f3 Bg6 8.Qb3 Qc7
Another possibility is Qb6.
White often delays this capture until Black plays Nbd7, instead playing Bd2, Nxg6 and O-O-O. 9.Bd2 Be7 10.Nxg6 hxg6 11.0-0-0 Nbd7 12.cxd5.
 9...cxd5 10.Nb5 Qb6 11.Nxg6 hxg6 12.Bd2 Nc6
Black's position remains very solid with no weaknesses, a hallmark of the Slav and Semi-slav Defenses.
 13.Bd3 Kd7
Already anticipating a Queen trade and subsequent endgame.
14.Kf2 a6 15.Nc3 Qxb3 16.axb3 Bb4

Pinning the Knight for one move.
17.Ke2 Ke7 18.Na4 Bxd2 19.Kxd2 Nd7

The time gained on move 16 allows Black to challenge the c5 and b6 outposts.
20.Rac1 Rac8 21.Rc3 Nb4

White plays down a critical tempo. He would like to double Rooks, but then the h2 pawn hangs.
22.e4 b5 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Nc3 dxe4 25.Bxe4?

The game could have continued with 25.fxe4 e5 26.Ne2 exd4 27.Nxd4 Nc5 28.Bb1 Ne6 29.Ke3 Nxd4 30.Kxd4 with advantage to Black.
White has two weaknesses: doubled b-pawns and the isolated d-pawn. With a little Grandmaster technique, White is busted.
26.Ke3 f5
Watch how, in both moves 26 and 29, Black carefully takes away squares from his opponent, minimizing any counterplay.
27.Bb1 Nb8 28.Rd1 N8c6 29.Rd2 g5 30.g3 Na5

Winning the b3 pawn.
31.Bc2 Nxc2+ 32.Rxc2 Nxb3 33.Ne2 Na5 34.b4 Nc4+ 35.Kd3 Nb6 36.f4 Nd5
The perfect outpost for the Knight.
37.Rb2 Rh8


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2
While this line of the Giuoco Piano is popular among kids, it has a drawish reputation at the Master level. However, even boring openings can explode in tactics, especially if one player (White) maintains a nagging initiative.
7...Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Qb3 Nce7

If he is so inclined, Black might propose a draw by repetition. 10...Na5 11.Qa4+ Nc6 12.Qb3
11.0-0 0-0 12.Ne5 c6 13.Ne4 Qb6
Black moves closer to connecting his Rooks.
14.Rad1 Qxb3 15.Bxb3 Rd8 16.Rfe1

All of White's forces are optimally developed, poised to pounce at the slightest opportunity.
16...Kf8 17.h3
17.f3 f6 18.Nc4 b6 19.Kf2 Ba6 20.g4 Rd7 21.g5 Bxc4 22.Bxc4 f5 23.Nc3 Nf4 and 0-1 in 42 moves. Miles,A-Korchnoi,V 1979
17...Nf5 18.g4 Nh4 19.Kh2!
Without Queens roaming around, White's King becomes a fearless warrior.
19...h6 20.Kg3 g5 21.f4!
A clever trick! Black cannot defend g5 without losing either his Knight on h4 or Pawn on f7.
Insufficient is 21...f6 22.fxg5 hxg5 23.Bxd5 cxd5 24.Nxf6
22.Nxf7 Re8 23.Ned6 Re2 24.Rxe2 Nxe2+ 25.Kf2 Nf4 26.Nxh6
Black's position, specifically the coordination of his pieces, is already quite poor.
26...Be6 27.Bxe6 Nxe6 28.Re1 Nf4
Another try was 28...Nxd4 29.Nhf7 Nhf3 30.Re3 b6 And sadly Black is running out of moves. 31.Ne5 Nxe5 32.Rxe5 c5 33.Rxg5
29.Kg3 Kg7 30.Nhf7 Kf6 31.Ne5

The natural question is what brought Lenderman out West to play?  Two words: GM House.  It is the tourist attraction in the San Francisco Bay Area for chess players rated over 2500.  As a talented young player with four GM norms and a high FIDE rating, Lenderman was a welcome guest at this infamous house in El Cerrito.  He just had to see it, and an invitation by one of the residents was all it took.  The rest is history.  Veni, vidi, vici!  He came, he saw, and he conquered.  

Actually, the story was a bit more complicated.  First of all, the El Cerrito Grandmasters almost didn't make it to the first round on Friday night, unwisely relying on the navigation skills of an anonymous teenage International Master.  The 26 minute trip from El Cerrito to the Hilton Hotel in Concord took a bit longer than expected.  In fact, I recall a panicked cell phone call from another passenger in the same car requesting assistance to sign up before the registration deadline.   

Three players shared second place at 5.0 out of 7, although surprisingly, none were residents of the GM House.  Top seeded Grandmaster Melik Khachiyan defeated Lenderman in round 3 and remained in the lead for most of the tournament.  However, he drew his final four rounds.  After beating me in round 1, he faced the stiffest possible opposition, including all three of the other GMs and three IMs.  GM Walter Browne--Mr. Six Time himself!-- came out of semi-retirement to compete in just his second Bay Area chess event since 2002 (the other was a G/45 action).  Always a clever strategist--poker professional--he calculated that 5 points would earn significant money; Browne requested three half-point byes and drew the final round versus Khachiyan.  The final player to share second place was IM Emory Tate, a creative tactician who has defeated many Grandmasters over the years.  He didn't score a major upset in Concord, but he beat two International Masters on the final day to earn his prize check.

There were, however, some impressive upsets in the Open section.  Rapidly improving NM Andy Lee crushed IM Ricardo DeGuzman, the Bay Area's top active local tournament player, in a theoretical line of the Alekhine.  Likely a FIDE Master soon, he stands as living proof that it is still possible to improve in chess even while maintaining a relationship and holding a demanding job. 


The next game turned a few heads because of the large rating difference.  Simply said, 1900 players don't beat 2400s every weekend.  Watch Clarence Lehman combine checkmate and promotion threats (the h-pawn) against a highly rated FIDE Master.  Well done!


The final game was not an upset, but a crushing victory by one of the nation's strongest International Masters.  Black simply never managed to develop his back rank.


As a coach of many of California's talented juniors, I pay close attention to how they perform against adults at tournaments.  Several young participants learned difficult lessons in Concord.  Here's one of my favorites: Improvement is a repeating process that will take you two steps forward, then one step backwards.  Fortunately, most of the elite juniors are quite resilient and smile regardless of how well they do in the tournament.

Two young FIDE Masters stood out in particular.  Both scored 4.5 and tied for fifth place overall.  They've been ranked #1 in the nation for their age for several years, one currently 13 and the other 14.  FM Darwin Yang flew in from Texas and faced extremely difficult pairings, including one GM and three IMs.   Losing just once (to Lenderman), he gained 21 rating points up to 2398.  FM Daniel Naroditsky, who recently broke 2400, had some ups and downs throughout the weekend, but finished on a high note with a draw against a Grandmaster.

One fascinating Bay Area tradition is to encourage very young children to compete in adult events.  Adults are the minority at most local adult tournaments, even in the upper sections!  Fortunately, the Golden State Open was not completely dominated by kids, except for the U1200 and U900 rated sections.  The tournament's youngest participant was just 3 years old, scored 3.0/7 and keeps score with paper and pencil!  Now I feel really old!

Golden State Open winners

Open: GM-elect Alex Lenderman at 6.0; U2400: IM Emory Tate at 5.0

U2200: Oleg Shakhnazarov and Jim Geary at 5.5

U2000: Michael Da Cruz at 6.0

U1800: Vadim Smelansky, Edward Li, Andrew Mueckenberger and Evan Ye all at 5.5

U1600: Joshua Cao and Joshua Percy at 6.0

U1400: Abraham Choe at 6.0

U1200: Gilbert Han and Evan Howard at 6.0

U900: Trevor Stearman at 6.5

According to the MSA rating report, a total of 274 players joined the tournament, far less than the 450 that the prize fund was based on.  No doubt the weak economy kept some players away.  However, it must be noted that the Bay Area has never seen more than about 200 players at a local adult event, meaning any turnout above that level must come from Southern California or other states.   The Continental Chess Association guaranteed 2/3 of the prize fund, so that Lenderman earned $2867 for first place.

Thanks to Bill Goichberg for organizing and hosting this tournament.  The tournament directors John McCumiskey and Tom Langland walked many miles around the playing hall, for 12+ hours each day, keeping everything under control.  Hopefully the Golden State Open in Concord will become an annual event on Martin Luther King weekend, with a larger attendance in January 2011.

Click here for my album of 60 photos. 

January - Chess Life Online 2010

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