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Khachiyan Wins in Reno Print E-mail
By Michael Aigner   
March 27, 2008
CLO Reno reporter Michael Aigner, flanked by, Steven Zierk and Daniel Naroditsky who both tied for second in the Far West Open. Photo from CalChess Scholastic, 2007
After three wild days and sleepless nights, the 8th Far West Open has entered the record books.  A grand total of 193 players competed in five divisions ranging from Open to Class D, allowing chess players of all skill levels a chance to win a major money prize.  At the end of Easter weekend, the Sands Regency Hotel and Casino paid out $20,376 to chess players, much of it in cold hard greenbacks at the cashier’s cage downstairs in the casino.  It was indeed a record setting weekend, as hotel representative Barbara Woodward told me: the most entries and largest payout in the history of the annual spring tournament in Reno.

Why were the nights sleepless?  Well, I actually did get some sleep, unlike a few other chess players.  Others played in the casino for much of the night or enjoyed the nightlife of Nevada’s second biggest city.  Simply said, there are plenty of potential distractions in Reno, especially for those over 21.  At least guests at the Sands Regency no longer have to worry about waking up to the loud horns from freight trains passing on the transcontinental railroad tracks right next to the hotel—since a few years, the tracks are below street level, eliminating the need for those horns.

At least a few chess players remained focused on the tournament.  One was GM Melik Khachiyan of Los Angeles, who finished in clear first place after sharing top honors at both the Far West Open and Western States Open in 2007.  He dominated the field, scoring 5.5 out of 6 games, yielding merely a round 3 draw to top rated GM Sergey Kudrin.  I know that chess tournaments are not meant to be a popularity contest, but Khachiyan certainly is one of the most social Grandmasters and loves to crack jokes even right before the rounds.  I greatly enjoyed his colorful commentary during a post-mortem at last year’s event, even as he painfully demonstrated why I am not yet worthy of a rating above 2300.  

GM Melik Khachiyan

The story of this tournament can be summarized by a single last round game: IM Enrico Sevillano had the White pieces against GM Melik Khachiyan.  The two Southern California friendly rivals often split the point against each other, but this time, Khachiyan’s score was half a point more going into the contest.  Here’s how Reno bulletin editor Ernie Hong described the scene in an email: “Khachiyan was the only 4.5 chased by the three 4.0s.  Since the other two 4.0s ended up drawing, it was down to Sevillano and Khachiyan.  See how Sevillano maroon's Black's king in the center, but can't quite deliver the killing blow.  Khachiyan eventually turns the tables and it becomes White's king who comes under siege and finally succumbs.”


The critical game began with Khachiyan playing a Pirc defense against Sevillano’s pet Alapin (2.c3) Sicilian.  On move 6, Black managed to trade away one of his bishops for a knight, a common theme in games by the Armenian Grandmaster.  However, Sevillano was prepared for a battle and essayed the double pawn sacrifice 11.e5 and 12.d6, opening up the Black king.  Accepting the second pawn is suicidal; for example 13… dxe6 14.Nd2 O-O loses a piece to 15.Bxd7 Qxd7 16.Bxf6 (or alternatively 14… d5 15.Bxd7 Kxd7 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Rad1).

Position after 18.Qc4

 The game continuation was not much better, with Rybka giving White a +2 advantage after the move 18.Qc4, even while still down a pawn! Why such a big advantage?  The centralized Black king faced the crossfire of White’s entire artillery: two rooks, a knight and the queen, all aided by that pesky pawn soldier on d6.

However, between moves 20 and 25, something went terribly wrong for White.  I tell my private students to look for moves that win tempo, especially when defending, in the hope that a single tempo will lead to more down the road.  That first glimmer of light for Black came on move 23… f5, driving away the menacing knight.  Just two moves later came a second bit of hope: 25… Qxa2 restored the material balance.

Position after 26.Ra4

 Next, the fancy tactic in the above position, 26… Rxc3 traded a pair of rooks to further decrease White’s attacking power.  Suddenly, Black had dug himself out of the hole and had equalized!  Miraculously, the Black king on d6 at move 29 was immune to any checks.

By move 32, the initiative had completely passed to the Grandmaster commanding the Black forces.  The text move 32.Rf1 was a sad necessity; the alternative 32.h4 fails to Bxf2+ when now the White queen is overworked protecting both the rook and the f2 square.  While the White queen wandered from one corner to another (35.Qa8 to 38.Qh8+), Black demonstrated that Her Majesty prefers to be centralized and picked off a pawn with 36.Qd4.  By move 45, White’s pieces had run out of mobility, with the rook stuck on f1 and the knight in the corner at h1.  Even queen checks were useless, as Black’s king would hide on h6.  Of course, 45.f4 and 46.Nf2 were losing moves, but by then White had little better to choose from.

Final position in Sevillano-Khachiyan

Four players finished in second place at 4.5 out of 6, a full point behind the winner.  Two were hardly a surprise.  Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin played successfully in Reno for many years and FM Alexandre Kretchetov developed a strong reputation in the Los Angeles area. 


Against teenager Sam Shankland in round 4, Kretchetov sacrificed the exchange with 22.Rxg6 to open up Black’s monarch and, after some hair-raising tactics, ended up with an extra rook ten moves later. 

Shankland-Kretchetov. Position after 21...fxe3

Kudrin quickly won a piece in the final round with 12.Na4, 13.c3 and 14.Nxc6 after Michael Langer grabbed the poisoned b2 pawn in the Najdorf (recapturing with 14… bxc6 loses the queen to 15.Bb6). 


However, few expected two youngsters not even old enough to drive—let alone gamble in a casino—to finish tied for second place in the elite Open section!  The lifetime achievements of 6th grader FM Daniel Naroditsky have been well chronicled, and still he managed to elevate his chess game to a higher level.  He faced half of the top 10 rated players in the tournament and did not lose a single game, drawing with Grandmasters Kudrin and Alex Yermolinsky plus defeating IM Vladimir Mezentsev.  Still only 12 years old, Danya cracked 2300 USCF with a staggering performance rating of 2623!

By move 30, the talented youngster had completely neutralized White’s advantage in the Moscow variation of the Sicilian.  However, in mutual time pressure, the International Master from the Bay Area blundered with 37.Qxd3, allowing a spectacular mate in four!  Can you find it? 

Position after 37.Qxd3

Show Solution

Of course, it didn’t take the World U12 Champion long to find the critical moves. 

Here is the full game:


The biggest revelation of the weekend was the impressive result of Northern California 9th grader Steven Zierk, who also tied for second in the main event after winning the blitz tournament on Thursday night.  He came into the tournament with a modest rating of 2105 and scored 2.5 out of 4 against higher rated opponents, including three FIDE titled players, for a performance rating of 2445!  Steven has always had the ability to play well at big tournaments, starting when he won the U1400 section of World Open in 2001 at just seven years old.


In the money round, Steven outplayed WIM Batchimeg “Chimi’ Tuvshintugs from the black side of the Sveshnikov variation of the Sicilian.  The move 24… a3 demonstrated a strong understanding of pawn structures and, predictably, the many isolated pawns all fell one after the other. 

Position after 39...e3

White probably should have drawn the queen endgame above, but first she needed to find the only saving move at time control: instead of 40.g3, the pin 40.Qg1 slowed down Black’s passed pawn.  For example, the game could have ended in a draw after 40.Qg1 Qd2 41.a6 e2 42.a7 e1Q 43.a8Q+.  

Far West Open, March 21-23, Reno

Final standings

Open section

5.5 GM Melik Khachiyan
4.5 GM Sergey Kudrin, FM Alexandre Kretchetov, FM Daniel Naroditsky (top U2300) and Steven Zierk (top U2200)
4.0 GM Alex Yermolinsky, IM Enrico Sevillano, FM Vladimir Strugatsky, FM Michael Langer, NM John Bryant and FM Nick Raptis
3.5 (U2200 class prizes) Rohan Agarwal, Dereque Kelly, Steven Merwin

Class A:
 Evan Sandberg
with 5.5
Class B:
  Drayton Harrison with 5.5
Class C:
 Daniel Copeland with 5.5
Class D:
 Clark Robertson with 5.5

Crosstable on Reno website:  http://home.nvbell.net/wayern/renochess/results/20080323.html
USCF ratings report:  http://main.uschess.org/assets/msa_joomla/XtblMain.php?200803232061.0

For more photos from the 8th Far West Open, please check out my photo album on the CalChess website.

My next big tournament comes up pretty quickly—in fact, it starts tomorrow!  I am writing these last few paragraphs in my hotel room in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having flown one day early to the US Championship Qualifier Open.   Surprisingly, I am not the only master who chose Reno as a warm-up for Tulsa; others include GM Kudrin, GM Yermolinsky, FM Langer, FM Naroditsky and NM Viktors Pupols.  I will offer daily insights live from the venue of the Qualifier on my personal chess blog at http://fpawn.blogspot.com.