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Storming the Hills of Agoura Print E-mail
By Jerry Hanken   
January 12, 2009
Rennaisance Hotel in Agoura Hills
This is a call to all chess warriors old and young alike. Sharpen your Bishops, polish your Pawns, load up your Rooks and Queen with number two buckshot, and build an impenetrable wagon fortress around your Sacred Monarch. Be ready to saddle your horses, two by two, and deploy your whole chess army for a massive assault on the Hills of Agoura.
I think I have now simply exhausted my trove of riffs and puns on “Agoura Hills,” the site this weekend for the second or third largest chess tournament on the Pacific coast, the 16th annual Western Class Championships, January 16-19 . If you're on the East Coast, you're not out of luck: The Liberty Bell Open in Philadelphia is also set for the long weekend, from January 16 to January 19 in the same venue as the World Open, the Center City Sheraton.

Once again, The Continental Chess Association and the southland will host the Western Class at one of the finest hotels in the area, the Renaissance, in the very prestigious upscale city of Agoura Hills, California. The rooms, the food, the lighting and playing rooms, the service, and the ambiance at this fine hotel, are excellent. (I love those new flat screen TVs!).

There is something vaguely exotic sounding about the name “Agoura Hills” which has inspired my flight of fancy. Forty-five miles from downtown Los Angeles, it is a straight freeway ride of less than an hour from most places in Los Angeles County. It is close enough to Ventura County to make it a short drive from the north. Only the American Open, and possibly the July CCA tournament at the same venue, draw as many or pay out as much as this event. Last year the tournament had only six rounds and first place was split among three: FM Matt Beelby, and IMs Andranik Matikozyan and Valentin Yotov.  Each scored four and a half of six. (See my story last year for more details.)  

In 2009, the tournament will have even class sections, as opposed to 2008, which had odd-numbered sections. The CCA has eliminated the somewhat awkward two day schedule for the top sections and expanded the event to  seven rounds, No open tournament except the American Open on the left coast, is this long.   The problem with the two day schedule was that there were not usually enough players who entered that schedule. Once someone had to play the same person twice and two years ago, I was drafted into the two day. I avoided the two titled players and beat a 2300 to win the $300 Master prize and got enough GP points to take third in The Geezer GP (65 and over).

There is another anomaly this year. As this IS a class tournament, normally you can play up only one class. The problem is that the Under 1200 and Under 1000 sections only allow the two day schedule (Jan. 17-18). Not to worry. If you really want to play seven long games, an exception will be made and the under 1000 will be permitted to play two classes up.

Those of you who played in the American Open in November 2008 may recall that the top boards were provided by that purveyor of extremely fine and elegant chess sets and boards, thechesspiece.com. If you go to their website you will find that their pride and joy is a triple Decker set with a double sided gorgeous board called “The Alban.”

Jerry Hanken playing with the triple decker set.
Photo coutesy chesspalace

The American Open used this set on Board one as did the North American Open in Vegas in December. The retail value is over $1300   for this set. We will be auctioning it off to the highest bidder with a minimum bid of $850. We will accept that amount from the first bid we get, but if you are not at the tournament, you have to pay the shipping. This and some other beautiful sets from thechesspiece.com, will still be available at this tournament, deeply discounted, for the last time in Southern California. Afterwards, this incredible bargain and the other dazzling sets and boards, must be returned to Florida, the home of the chesspiece.com.

The hard-working Ong family, who own the Chess Palace in Garden Grove California , just south of Los Angeles, will again provide a wide selection of books and equipment for The Western Class Championships, as they did for the American and North American Opens. The chesspalace website is kept current by the point man, Anthony Ong, his parents and his five brothers and sister.

If you would like to check out the advance entry list, go to chesstour.com. We hope to have genial and approachable GM Melikset Kachiyan, who plays in most Southern California tournaments, and two of last year’s trio of winners, FM Matt Beelby and Matikozyan. We expect the US Open Champion IM Enrico Sevillano to be playing for a share of $20,000 prize fund ($16,000 absolutely guaranteed).

You will also see YHR (Your Humble Reporter), bloodied by eight losses in nine games in the last two big tournaments, the AO and the NA O. However, I did just win a small Game/30 at the Chess Palace and am off my 2200 floor for the second time in two months. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I must play at a 2200 performance level to get it published. Darn. I know, I know, I should quit embarrassing myself and retire. But I am having such a good time playing the game I love so much, and have for so long. I will only retire when they pry my lady (with which I am about to part!), from my cold dead fingers! See you all there, Jerry  

Look for a wrap up on Agoura Hills by Jerry next week. Also coming are photos and reports from the Liberty Open, including a blog by Abby Marshall.