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Four Tie for First in Pacific Coast Print E-mail
By Jerry Hanken   
July 24, 2008
Sam Shankland and Steven Zierk. Photo Michael Aigner
Earlier in the week I blogged on the Pacific Coast Open and promised a more traditional report later. Well, here it is, with the invaluable help of Bay Area ace coach and strong master Michael Aigner.

The 13th annual Pacific Coast Open Chess Championship,  once again organized by the CCA (the Continental Chess Association), was held July 17-20 at the lovely Agoura Hills Renaissance Hotel, about 40 miles from downtown L.A.

Only the American Open, which will once again be at the sister Renaissance near LAX for the fourth consecutive Thanksgiving weekend, offers more in cash prizes- the total prize fund was $18,000. Two GMs, three IMs and one WIM played in this year's 31-player Open section.  

Renaissance Hotel in Agoura Hills

The class prizes were broken up with odd numbered floors, such as Under 2100, Under 1900, etc.  This allowed for $2400 in guaranteed prizes in the Open for under 2300 players, which led to some lively matchups. 

 In the Open, four players tied for first with 4.5/6, a score that seldom wins a 32-player event. There were no tiebreaks or playoffs, so the Fab Four shared the title, the glory, and the cash (760$ each).

If tiebreaks had been used, the ever-smiling GM Melikset Khachiyan, a resident of Glendale, which is a stand-alone city in the dead center of LA, would have prevailed. Melikset, who thinks of himself as a coach more than a professional,  played four of the top seven finishers in the last four rounds.  His last round draw with fellow Southern Californian Enrico Sevillano, put both into the top Open money of $760 each. Enrico has played in the US Championship and plays well enough to become a GM if he were given the opportunities for norms; Enrico now sports a hefty post tournament rating of 2547 USCF.

Joining the winner's circle was the surprisingly strong 14-year-old Armenian FM Robert Aghasaryan, who was playing in his very first American tournament. Robert and his father want very much to settle here in he USA, as they have family members living here. Robert was the only one of the top four who lost a game. He was defeated in a brilliant 25-miniature by top-seed GM Sergey Erenburg. Robert came back with wins over Aigner and IM Mladen Vucic, who came out of semi-retirement for this event. Vucic made the most of the trip, combining the Pacific Coast with a vacation with his wife and two children.  

Not a bad spot for chess vacation: The landscape in Agoura Hills. Photo Michael Aigner

I've saved the happiest news for American chess fans for last. 16-year-old Sam Shankland from Northern California, who earned an IM norm at the World Open,  pulled a stunning last round upset of Erenberg. In a fine positional battle, Sam , who is going into his senior year of high school, made his exchange advantage stand up. I watched the last few moves of this game, as it was the last one finished, and when Erenburg resigned, he showed class and dignity, as is not always the case when an expected winner loses. Sam became the hero of the event as Sergey could have won clear first with a victory.

Here is the game with notes from Sam's friend and former coach Michael Aigner, the mighty f-pawn.


1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.a3

 This is the Two Knight's variation against the Caro Kann. More common here for White is the immediate d3.
6...Nd7 7.d3 g6 8.g3 Bg7 9.Bg2 Ne7 10.0–0 0–0 11.Qe2 d4
11...Re8 12.h4 b5 13.h5 a5 14.hxg6 hxg6 15.Bg5 Bf6 16.Bxf6 Nxf6 17.Qf3 Kg7 18.exd5 exd5 19.Bh3 Rh8 20.Kg2 Qd6 and Black eventually won in Bakre,T (2450)-Khenkin,I (2598)/2002.
 12.Nb1 e5 13.Nd2 c5 14.f4 Nc6 15.Nf3 b5 16.f5
Position after 16.f5

White's position is quite easy to play. Black's last move, weakening the a8-h1 diagonal, merely is begging for the thematic f5 advance. 16...Nb6
16...gxf5? 17.exf5 Qb6 18.Ng5 Nf6 19.Ne4 is awesome for White.
Not 17.g4 c4 18.g5 Re8 19.f6 Bf8 and White's attack is stunted due to the pawn on g5 which blocks the minor pieces.
 17...c4 18.h5! cxd3 19.cxd3 gxh5
The alternative 19...Qd6 20.fxg6 fxg6 21.h6 Bf6 22.Qd1 threatening Qb3+ gives White a significant edge.
 20.Nh4 f6 21.Bf3 Rf7 22.Bxh5 Rc7 23.Bd2 Rac8 24.Qh2!
Position after 24.Qh2

 The a2-g8 diagonal beckons for White. Thus, the question becomes whether to put the queen or bishop on b3. Shankland was proud of this strong positional move and the next one, giving both exclamation marks in his post game analysis. White's target is clearly the black monarch.
24...Ne7 25.Bd1! Rc2

The alternative to sacrificing the exchange 25...Nd7 26.Bb3+ Kh8 27.Ng6+ Nxg6 28.fxg6 Nf8 did not look too appealing to Black.
 26.Bxc2 Rxc2 27.Rab1 Na4 28.Rfc1 Rxb2 29.Rxb2 Nxb2
White is winning, but now needs to carefully avoid the Grandmaster's tricks.
 30.Qe2 Na4 31.Qd1 Nc3 32.Bxc3 dxc3 33.Qb3+ Kh8 34.Qxc3 Bh6 35.Re1 Qg8 36.Kf2 Qa2+ 37.Re2 Qb1 38.d4 exd4 39.Qxd4 Ng8 40.Qxa7 Bf8 41.Kg2 Qd1 42.Qf2 Bxa3 43.Rd2 Qc1 44.Rd8 Be7 45.Ra8 Qc6 46.Qa2 Qxe4+ 47.Nf3

Despite bleeding two pawns in the last several moves, White remains in control due to the checkmate threats.
 47...Qc4 48.Qxc4 bxc4 49.Rc8 Ba3 50.Rxc4 Bb2 51.g4 Ne7 52.Rb4 Bc3 53.Rb8+ Kg7 54.Rb7 Kf8 55.Kg3 h5 56.gxh5 Nxf5+ 57.Kf4 Nh6 58.Nh4 Kg8 59.Nf5 Bd2+ 60.Ke4 Nf7 61.Kd5 Bg5 62.Rb8+ Kh7 63.Ke6 Ne5 64.Rb7+ Kh8 65.Nd6 Kg8 66.Ne4 Nd3 67.Nxf6+ Bxf6 68.Kxf6 Kh8 69.h6 Nf4 70.h7 1–0
In a strange twist of fate, Michael’s current star student Steven Zierk, a highschooler who will be the Denker rep in Dallas next month, won more money than the four winners of the title!  14-year-old Zierk went into the competition with a 2170 USCF rating and emerged with his coveted Master rating at 2237! He was the only 4-2 score of the five who were  under 2200 at the start of the event. He won clear first under 2300 and collected $960, the largest cash prize in the Open! Local lad Julian Landaw looked almost sheepishly guilty as he collected his check for $480, second under 2300 money, with only three and a half points. Michael Aigner, who will be taking Zierk to the Denker and the U.S. Open, gave CLO readers the timeline of Zierk's ascent to master:

1.  Steven won the U1400 section of the 2001 World Open at just 7 years old.  His post tournament rating was 1553.

2. He retired from active chess competitions at age 8, playing just two or three times a year for nearly 5 years.  His rating stayed near 1550 for those years.

3. He returned to chess at the beginning of 2007, shooting from 1549 to 1921 in just six tournaments over three months.  He won clear first in the A section of the 34th People's Tournament with an official supplement rating of 1527.

4. Steven broke 2000 at 2007 World Open, sharing 2nd place in U2000 just six months after coming back to chess.  He shared 3rd in U2200 at 2008 World Open.

5. He is the 2008 Northern California High School Champion and CalChess Denker representative, finishing ahead of FM Daniel Naroditsky and Jeff Young on tiebreaks.  Note that NM Sam Shankland played in US Championship at the same dates.

6. He broke 2200 at 2008 Pacific Coast Open, facing six straight opponents rated over 2300 USCF and losing just once.  His performance rating was over 2500.  Having never played a GM or even an IM before, Steven drew with GM Khachiyan in round 3.

I wish to extend  hearty congratulations to Steven as, of course, I do to all of the prize winners. But those of us who have climbed that seemingly elusive Master mountain,  know the wonderful feeling of that big break through. Also in line for hearty congratulations is my friend and co- writer of this report, the mighty F-Pawn Michael Aigner. Mike has yet again helped produce a Master player with his splendid coaching. Mike has to be in the top five chess coaches in the US. You can follow Michael and his students on his website, http://fpawn.blogspot.com/.

Below is one of Steven’s games annotated by the coach himself. 


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 g6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Nc6 7.Be3 Nf6 8.f3 0–0

We have finally reached the main lines of the Dragon through the unusual 3.Bc4 move order.
Position after 9.0-0

White opts not to play the popular Yugoslav attack with Qd2, O-O-O, g4 and h4.
 9...Qb6 10.Na4 Qa5
10...Qc7 11.Bb3 Bd7 12.Nc3 Na5 13.Nde2 Nxb3 14.axb3 a6 15.Nf4 Bc6 16.Rf2 Rfd8 17.Rd2 e6 18.Qe2 d5 19.exd5 Nxd5 20.Nfxd5 Bxd5 21.Nxd5 Rxd5 22.Rxd5 exd5 23.c3 Re8 24.Qf2 Qe5 25.Bd4 Qe2 26.Bxg7 Kxg7 1/2–1/2 Robatsch,K (2522)-Pirc,V (2494)/1961
 11.Bb3 Nxd4
11...d5 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.e5 Nd7 14.f4
12.Bxd4 Be6 13.Nc3 Nd7 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.Qd4+ Kg8 16.Nd5 Bxd5 17.Bxd5 Rab8

An alternate setup for Black's pieces was to place the rooks on c8 and d8. 17...Rac8 18.c3 e6 19.Bb3 (19.Bxb7? Rc7)19...Qc5 20.Rad1 Rfd8.
 18.c3 Rfc8 19.a4 Qc5 20.Rfc1 Ne5 21.b4!

White claims the initiative with pawn moves on the queenside.
21...Qxd4+ 22.cxd4 Nd3 23.Rxc8+ Rxc8 24.b5!
Position after 24.b5

Avoiding the temptation to play the impatient move 24.Bxb7 Rc7 25.Bd5 Nxb4 with a small edge for Black.
24...b6 25.Bc6 might have been Black's best try, but this is a most unpleasant position to play against someone rated about 150 points lower.
 25.Bxb7 Rc2?

Black's best bet to save this game is 25...Rc7 26.Bc6 Ne2+ 27.Kf2 Nxd4 with a very interesting endgame.
The pawns are rolling!
26...Rxg2+ 27.Kh1 Rg5

27...Rb2 is too slow because 28.b6 axb6 29.a6 and White queens the a-pawn.
 28.Bc6 Nd3 29.h4
White does not fall for the cheapo 29.b6 Nf2# Checkmate!
29...Rg3 30.b6
 The pawns are rolling!
30...axb6 31.a6 Rh3+ 32.Kg1 Nf4 33.a7 Rg3+ 34.Kf2 1–0

Mr. Kipling famously wrote in his poem If that “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same.” Kipling has set the bar very high  in the ultimate struggle for  adulthood. Not many of us can clear that bar. Michael Aigner and I had the same score at 3-3. To me, this was a triumph indeed. I got one point off my 2200 floor and played some good chess. After my illnesses last year, I doubted that I would ever play like a Master again but this, and my last three rounds of the World Open, made seven games in a row at that level. On the other hand,  Michael viewed his 3-3 performance as utter disaster. Although Mikes’s three losses were to a GM,(Erenburg),  an FM, (Prize winner Aghasaryan), and a near senior Master (John David Bryant), Aigner had the right to expect better things. He has been over 2300 often and has played in the US Closed Championship. He is still in his thirties and he has every right to expect more of himself, and he will get more in the future. But in the end, Kipling was right, triumph and disaster ARE indeed imposters. And yet, it's hard to get out of the moment. Michael thought his game against Erenburg was his most publication-worthy:

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3

I spent some time reviewing my lines of the Caro Kann before the game. As the game will painfully prove, it was not enough.
3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nf3 Nd7 7.h4 h6 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.Bd2 Ngf6 12.0–0–0 Be7 13.Kb1 0–0 14.Ne4 a5

This move took me out of book. The Grandmaster tries to provoke some weaknesses in my kingside.
Position after 15.c4

The game move was simply too loosening. The immediate 15.Nxf6+ Nxf6 16.Ne5 a4 17.a3 was more accurate.
 15...a4 16.Nxf6+ Nxf6 17.Qe2 b5 18.Ne5 bxc4 19.Nxc6 Qd7 20.Nxe7+
Not much better than the game is 20.Qxc4 Rfc8 21.Nxe7+ Qxe7 22.Qd3 Qb7.
 20...Qxe7 21.Qxc4 Qb7 22.f3 Rfb8! 23.Qc3 Ra6
Position after 23...Ra6

My last chance to survive was 24.Rc1! Rb6 25.Rc2 Nd5 26.Qa3 Nb4 27.Bxb4 Rxb4 and Black has a small long term edge due to superior pawn structure plus king safety.
 24...Rb6 25.Bc3 Nd5!
 The knights come marching in!
The computer gives an alternative defense 26.Ka1 Ne3 27.Rc1 Nc4 28.Qxa4 Nxb2 29.Bxb2 Rxb2 but I wouldn't want to be White in this position either.
There is no defense to Nc4.
 27.Qxa4 Ra8 28.Ba5 Rb5 0–1

Just a word or two about the class sections. There was a tie for first in the under 2100 section, between Michael Zhong, who took advantage of the non open re-entry option, and an old friend and sparing partner of mine, John R Williams. John and I have had some knock down battles over the years. At about 60, the razor thin and white mustached Williams, who is always self effacing and congenial, is playing as well as he ever has. He never quite made Master, but, who knows, he may get there yet. To me he will always be that kid from the West valley who gives me fits over the Board. Michael and John each won $880, more than the champions!

Kenneth J. Poole, rated 1873 going in, won clear first in the Under 1900 section, good for $1200. In under 1700, Frank Arias made the most of his 1697 rating in this odd class break event and ran off with the gold, the $1200 first prize. Under 1500 saw Sky G. Palma reach for the sky indeed and come down with the $1120 first prize. Jarrett D. Milner and Robert F.Westreicher tied in under 1000. Robert went in unrated and received $920. That will keep him coming back! For the same score Jarrett was paid $960.  

 The under 1000 section gave out a little cash but mostly trophies. There were 24 in this section including four unrated. My thoughts go back to the Kansas State Championship of 1955, when I played my very first tournament game as unrated. I can never forget the rush of adrenalin when I sat down to play. I faced an established 1763 rated player and was overwhelmed with fear and aggression bubbling up just below the surface. Now, I finally could call myself a real chess player! Astonishingly, I drew that game by adjudication. The clear first place winner of this section was Shushan Abrahamyan, who came in with an 866 rating and a post event gain of 71 points even after a last round loss to David Abdella, who had the same five points as did 3rd place winner Kevin Paul. Shushan got the big trophy on tiebreaks. All the scores and prizes can be seen at Chesstour.com.

Gentle readers and all my fans (both of you), I promised you my gambit draw with Andranik Matikozyan. I must sheepishly admit that I don’t have it and have not been able to reconstruct it completely. After the draw with Andranik, he told a friend  “I am having a horrible tournament, I just drew with Hanken!!”  So I have been reluctant to ask his help in my attempts at reconstruction, but I did manage to recollect the final position. I was Black and had 12 minutes on my clock and he was White with 8 minutes.
Matikozyan-Hanken, White to Move

I was playing Black and offered a draw, which was accepted reluctantly by my opponent. JerryAgora.JPG

I covered the fine Directors and the hotel in my blog. The booksellers are too often taken for granted- we would miss them badly if they did not show up. At the Pacific Coast, the Ong family, who run the club in Garden Grove known as the Chess Palace, drove some 65 miles to set up shop. Southern California is very grateful to the CCA for it’s persistence in putting on two high-class events here every year, even though they are not big money makers. We hope it will continue long into the future.  I know, gas prices are high and Agoura Hills is a long drive for some of you, but we should go way out of our way to support classy events like this.

Your Humble Reporter, Jerry Hanken