Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2008 arrow July arrow Stripunsky Wins Continental Open
Stripunsky Wins Continental Open Print E-mail
By Chris Bird   
July 30, 2008
2008 Continental Champion, GM Alexander Stripunsky
The 38th Continental Open run by Bill Goichberg’s Continental Chess Association (CCA) is a much travelled event although it seems to have found itself a permanent home in the quaint rural town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where it has been for the past 5 years.

Sturbridge is firmly on the CCA chess tournament map as it is also the permanent home of the Eastern Class Championships run by them every March.  A popular summer vacation spot, it is home to the Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum that recreates life in rural New England from the early 19th century.

The Sturbridge Host Hotel is a comfortable setting, which not only has the usual hotel amenities such as a heated pool and gym but also offers a private beach on the lake front and a mini golf course on the premises.  It is also very popular with groups and functions, as all the players found out on Saturday evening when they hosted a wedding, complete with extremely loud music, in a nearby function room.  Thankfully the distance to the playing hall was far enough away that it didn’t interfere with the chess but ear plugs were necessary to go and check out the equipment and book store provided by Rochester Chess.  It also led to various inquisitive visitors taking time out of their respective parties to come and see whether their stereotypical vision of a roomful of chessplayers was accurate.

The tournament hotel boasted a private beach

Once the chess began it was GM Alex Stripunsky from New York taking home the honor of Continental Open Champion.  Stripunsky finished with 5/6, only conceding two short draws, one to GM Zviad Izoria in round 4 and the other to GM Sergey Erenberg in the final round that assured him at least a share of first.  As it happens, the only other player who could catch him lost in the final round and so Stripunsky took home sole first place along with $2,050 for his weekend’s efforts.

Stripunsky’s tournament success was practically assured when he won a grueling six hour fight with Marc Esserman in round 5.  However, when I asked him for a copy of the game, he stated “no, my best game was against (FM Bill) Kelleher in round 3” and he instantly whipped up a copy onto his flash drive for me.

Having looked at the game I can see why.  At one stage Stripunsky was down a piece and two pawns, all of which had been sacrificed in the name of an attack against Kelleher’s king.  Of course, players at this level do not worry so much about the materialistic count in positions and the GM had presumably calculated most of the variations, although once again, at their level, a lot of sacrifices are made on intuition as well as deep thought.


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6

The Hyper-Accelerated Dragon
3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.e5 Nc6 6.Qa4 Nd5 7.Qe4 Nb6 8.Bb5 a6

8...d5 9.exd6 Qxd6 10.Bf4 Qd5 11.Qe2 Bg7
9.Bxc6 dxc6 10.Nc3 Bf5 11.Qh4!?
Position after 11.Qh4

Unless you have studied this system it would be hard to understand why you don't just play the simple 11.Qe2 to protect the c2 pawn. Stripunsky doesn't care about that pawn as Kelleher would have to waste precious time to take it.
11...Nd5 12.0–0
 A highly provocative move, inviting doubled isolated pawns.
12...Nxc3 13.bxc3 Qd5
13...Qa5 keeping the queen out of the line of fire may be a slightly better option.
14.Re1 Bxc2
Kelleher finally succumbs and accepts the challenge.
 15.c4 Qd3 16.Bg5 0–0–0 17.Rac1 h6 18.Bxe7 Bxe7 19.Qxe7 Qxc4 20.e6!

 There were e much quieter options such as 20.h3 but Stripunsky chooses the most active continuation. The e5 square is now open for the knight.
20...fxe6 21.Ne5 Qxa2 22.Nxc6!?

22.Qc5 was the other main option threatening the bishop and Nf7.
Stripunsky is a piece and two pawns down but has a good attack with plenty of chances for Kelleher to go wrong. At the very least he will practically always have a perpetual for the draw.
 23.Qc5 Ba4 24.Qa5 Rd2
Kelleher finds the best continuation in a tough position against the GM.
 25.Ra1 Qd5
25...Qc2 may have put up the toughest resistance 26.Qxa6+ Kd7 27.Qa7+ Kd6 28.Rxa4 Qc5 and there is no obvious mate in sight although Stripunsky still has an attack.
 26.Qxa4 Kd7?
Position after 26...Kd7

At last a blunder from Kelleher.  Stripunsky suggested 26...Qc5, when he has to defend f2, which may let Kelleher develop his h8 rook. 27.Rad1!
The attack on the rook wins major material or mates as demonstrated by Stripunsky.
27...Ke7 28.Qb4+; 27...Kc7 28.Qf4+
 28.Rxd2 Qxd2 29.Qxc6+ Kf8
29...Kd8 30.Qxe6 Kc7 31.Qe7+ Kc8 32.Qc5+ Kd8 33.Rb1
 30.Qxe6 Qc3 31.Qe8+ 1–0

Finishing in a tie for 2nd-5th were GMs Jaan Ehlvest, Alexander Ivanov and Sergey Erenburg along with Marc Esserman.

Both Ehlvest and Erenburg arrived by virtue of the 2-day schedule, which was nicknamed the “Group of Death.”  There were only seven players in total that played in the 2-day schedule and the two runners up were joined by GM Zviad Izoria, sporting his new look hair style, Lenderman and local Masters Denys Shmelov, Charles Riordan and Cherniack.

GM Zviad Izoria

Given so few players, and considering they had to play three rounds before merging with the main schedule, it was inevitable that the GMs would end up facing each other and they did as early as the second round with Erenberg beating Ehlvest.  In round 3, Izoria beat Erenburg and managed to go into the merge with 2½ points, while Erenburg had 2 points and Ehlvest just 1½.  However in the final table both Erenburg and Ehlvest finished above Izoria while Riordan and Cherniack finished tied with him.

However, all the GMs accomplishments were overshadowed by Esserman who was definitely the highlight of the bunch (gaining 44 rating points) and obviously the least expected person to finish up there with the “big boys.”  In the following game Esserman holds GM Alexander Ivanov to a draw on the white side of one of his favorite openings, the Smith-Morra Gambit.

Esserman-Ivanov, Black to Move

Esserman identified this moment as the key part of the game. Here he has some typical compensation for the sacrificed pawn in active piece play and the backwards d-pawn hinders black's development.
14.Nxe7+ Ngxe7 15.a4 b6 16.b4 Qb8 17.Qd2 b5 18.axb5 axb5 19.Bb3 Ng6 20.Bxe6 dxe6 21.Rxc6 Bb7 22.Rxe6 Qc8 23.Rb6 Bxe4 24.Nd4 Rb7! 25.Rxb7
Not 25.Rxb5? which falls into a neat tactical shot 25...Rxb5 26.Nxb5 Bxg2 and white cannot capture the bishop 27.Kxg2 Qg4+ 28.Kh1 Qf3+ 29.Kg1 Nh4 with a mating attack.
25...Qxb7 26.f3 Bd5 27.Nf5 Be6 28.Nd6 Qd7 29.Bc5 Ra2 30.Qd4 Ne5 31.Ra1 h6 32.Rxa2 Bxa2 33.Qe4 Be6 34.Qa8+ Kh7 35.Qe4+ Kg8 36.Qa8+ Kh7 ½–½

The following win against FM Paul MacIntyre was a fascinating game, which involved MacIntyre “sacrificing” his queen for two knights and a boat load of compensation.  With MacIntyre unable to find the best continuation, possibly because of the number of different choices he had available at every turn, Esserman managed to eventually hold and convert his material advantage.

FM Paul MacIntyre


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.Bd3 Be7 8.Qf3

The early queen sortie is interesting. More popular in this position is the simple 8.0–0
 8...h6 9.Be3 Nbd7 10.Qg3 Ne5 11.Qxg7?!
Position after 11.Qxg7

The queen is deliberately trapped. Speaking to MacIntyre after the game he thought he was sacrificing it for a knight and rook. As you can see, he only gets two minor pieces for the queen.
11...Ng6 12.e5 Nh5 13.Qxg6 fxg6 14.Bxg6+ Kf8 15.Bxh5 dxe5 16.0–0–0 Qc7

16...exd4 17.Rxd4 Bd6! A difficult move to see and one that had to be seen before taking the knight.18.Bf4 18.Rhd1 Qa5( 18...e5 19.Bxe5 Qg5+)
17.Nf3 b5 18.Rhe1 Kg8 19.Kb1 Bb7 20.Bg4 Kf7? 21.Nxe5+

21.Rd7! MacIntyre misses the move he had probably been looking for in the position.
 21...Qxd7 (21...Qb8 22.Bc5)22.Nxe5+ and White will be up slightly in material although there is a lot of game left.
21...Qxe5 22.Bd4 Qxh2 23.Bxe6+ Kg6 24.Bh3
When I was an observer to the game, the move I saw here was 24.Be5! and it turns out it's not too bad, e.g. 24...Qh4 25.g3 Qh2 26.g4 Qh4 (26...Qxf2 27.Bf5+ Kg5 28.Bd4) 27.Bf5+ Kf7 28.Be6+ with a repetition.
Position after 24...Bf6

A good move by Esserman that lets him develop his remaining pieces.
25.Re6 Rhf8 26.Rd3 Rae8 27.Rg3+ Qxg3 0–1

In the final round Esserman played IM Alex Lenderman, also a Smith-Morra player.  However, Lenderman declined a theoretical fight by playing 1.d4 and was eventually ground down by Esserman in a pawn down ending. Lenderman lost his pawn to a nice tactic in the following position:
Lenderman-Esserman after 19.Bh3

 A great shot. The white king will come under a great attack thanks to the cramping black pawn on f3 and the now open h-file. 20.Bxc8 Rxc8 21.Rfc1 Ng4?
More decisive was 21...Rxc1+! 22.Rxc1 (22.Bxc1 Qh5) 22...Ng4 23.Ne3 Nxe3 24.fxe3 f2+ with ...Qh5 to follow.
22.Rxc8 Qxc8 23.Qc5 Qe8 24.Ne3 Nxe3 25.Qxe3 Qh5 26.Qe1 Qh3 27.Qf1 Qg4 28.Re1 Rd8 29.b5 axb5 30.Qxb5 Qh3 31.Qf1 Qxf1+ 32.Rxf1 g4 33.Rb1 h5 34.Bc3 Rd3 35.Be1 Rd4 36.a5 Rxe4 37.Kf1 Ra4 38.Rxb7 Ra1 39.Rb4 Kh7 40.Rb7 Kg6 41.Rb6+ Kf5 42.a6 Bf8 43.Rb8 Bc5 44.Rb5 Rc1 45.Rb3 Ra1 46.Rb5 Ba7 47.Ra5 Rxa5 48.Bxa5 Ke6 0–1

Final position, Lenderman-Esserman

The Under 2300 class prizes went to WGM Anya Corke and local player Alex Cherniack who both finished with 4 points.  Corke was in with a shout of first place going into the final round having beaten Ivanov in round 4. 

WGM Anya Corke vs. GM Alexander Ivanov

However, a final round loss on board 2 to Ehlvest meant she had to settle for a share of the class prizes.

An interesting game that attracted a lot of attention was played down on board 7 in the final round between Ilya Krasik and James Dickson.  Both players were on 3 points and a win for either player would have seen them get a share of the Under 2300 prize.  The game was a tactical slugfest, with a peculiar opening that saw Krasik use up well over an hour on the first 6 moves.  With the amount of time used in the opening, both players were very short for the remainder and a wild game ensued with both players possibly missing opportunities to gain an advantage.  In the end a draw was achieved and neither player ended up in the prize money although Dickson can be very satisfied with his overall tournament performance, gaining nearly 40 rating points for his weekend’s hard work.

As for me, for once I actually played in an event, setting myself the ambitious goal of completing my quest to obtain a FIDE rating.  To achieve that I needed to play at least 5 FIDE rated players and score a whopping half-point.  (Such lofty goals are harder than you think!)  Thankfully the pairing Gods were with me and I obtained the opposition I needed.  I was also lucky enough to win a couple of games and so from the October FIDE rating list I should be a fully fledged FIDE rated chess player.

Although the play in my games was not anywhere near the quality shown above, I will share with you the following moment from my game against Ilya Solonkovich in round 5. Solonkovich had just played 24.Bd2, leaving it in an undefended position. Having recently read the most recent Alburt article in Chess Life that mentioned the acronym LPDO (loose pieces drop off) I was able to put that new found knowledge to good use.

Solonkovich-Bird, Position after 24.Bd2

The queen and bishop are attacked simultaneously.
The idea is that if the knight is taken, 25.exf6 then 25...Qxg3+ 26.Qg2 Qxg2+ (26...Bxf2+?! 27.Kf1 Bxe1 28.Bxe1) 27.Kxg2 Rxd2 should be winning.
 25...Rxd2! 26.Qxd2 Bxf2+ 27.Kg2 Bxe1 28.Qxe1 Qxe5 And I went on to win the game in 41 moves. 0–1

On a final note from the tournament, I promised my roommate I would publish his entertaining queen sacrifice.

Harris-Tkach, Position after 16...Rd8


 Computer engines are not impressed by the sacrifice but over the board, against a human with a clock to watch, it may be a good practical decision.
17...Kxd8 18.Nxb7+ Kc8 19.Na5 b4 20.Nc4 Qc7 21.Na4 Nd5

21...Qxc4 22.Nb6+
22.b3 f6 23.Bb2 e5?
Position after 23...e5

It is not obvious that this is such an error. Black's knight can now be attacked with tempo.
24.Rad1 Nf4 25.Nab6+ Kb8 26.Rd7 Qc6 27.Rd8+ Kb7 28.Na5+ Kxb6 29.Nxc6 Kxc6
White is up the exchange and Black's pieces cannot get developed. The rest of the game was just a matter of negotiating Black's attempts at complications, which White managed to do, winning in 44 moves. 1–0

Here is a round-up of the other section winners from the 2008 Continental Open:

Under 2100: Hana Itkis, David Plotkin, Maxwell Scwartz and Haotian Zheng (4½ pts)
Under 1900: Kanti Fields, Frank Paciulli and Anthony Andrews (5 pts)
Under 1700: Dianna Hu (5½ pts)
Under 1500: Matthew Oliver (5½ pts)
Under 1300: Nick Komissarov (5½ pts)
Under 1000: Sabrina Zhang (5½ pts)

Organizer, senior tournament director and newly minted FIDE rated player Chris Bird's current projects include organizing the
New England Masters (August 11-16) and creating the Boston Blitz U.S. Chess League homepage.