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Ehlvest Wins Title in Chicago with Dutch Magic Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
May 26, 2009
Ehlv320.jpgWith a total area of about 11,500 square miles, the Republic of Armenia is only slightly larger than the state of Vermont. Yet the average FIDE rating of its top ten chess players ranks it as the #7 chess country in the world, just behind the United States. (There is one FIDE-titled player for every 175 square miles in Armenia, as opposed to one every 7,500 square miles in our country!) This year's Chicago Open once again saw a strong Armenian grandmaster make it to the final Armageddon playoff for first place: GM Gabriel Sargissian.

Sargissian, the tournament's top seed with a USCF rating of 2760, and GM Jaan Ehlvest, coming off a solid performance at the U.S. Championship, agreed to a last-round draw to each score 5.5/7.0 and split the combined $12,000 prize fund for the first and second place finishers.

They both got into this sweet last round spot by winning penultimate games against strong GMs. Ehlvest won over his friend GM Alexander Shabalov, while Sargissian defeated Foxwoods Champion, Darmen Sadvakasov.



Sargissian's tiebreaks gave him the right to choose his color in the Armageddon playoff, and he chose the White pieces. Last year, his countryman GM Tigran Petrosian (no relation to the former World Champion) had been dealt the Black pieces against GM Varuzhan Akobian. L.A-based Akobian was also born in Armenia; Sargissian seconded Akobian in last week's U.S. Championships.  In last year's game, Petrosian eventually lost in a desperate time scramble. This year, however, the Armageddon rules had been modified - although White had five minutes to Black's three minutes, each side had a five-second time delay. "With the delay, the players seemed to show a lot less emotion," one spectator remarked. Without a true time scramble, this year's playoff match saw fewer heroics by the two contestants, but that didn't stop nearly a tenth of the tournament's 750+ players from trying to get a glimpse at the board.

The playoff game was held in the skittles room rather than the deserted tournament hall, making it more of a public spectacle. Whereas the players played behind a partition last year, this year the crowd gradually encircled the board - pushing, shoving, and "shushing" one another as the battle heated up. Some spectators towards the back even stood on chairs to see over Ehlvest's head; I lost my spot in the crowd for roughly ten seconds at one point and couldn't manage to get a full view of the board for nearly a minute afterward! Only Sargissian's fellow countryman Tigran Petrosian managed to get a chair next to the board - when he leaned in too close to the players, GM Yury Shulman, standing directly behind, reached down to hold him back.

Ehlvest surprised everyone by his bold decision to enter the Dutch Defense on move two. He eschewed the idea of playing a solid Nimzo or Queen's Indian - openings he knows well - and instead took matters into his own hands. Rather than aiming for a draw, he played for a win right from the start. Ehlvest's choice of opening surprised no one more than Sargissian himself, who hesitated for nearly twenty seconds before playing 3.g3. Ehlvest's tricky play paid off handsomely when Sargissian's natural-looked 15.Qe2? turned out to be a gruesome mistake.
Position after 15.Qe2

Within the next four moves, Black won material and achieved a dominating position. Ehlvest managed a win rather than a draw, something unique for black in an Armageddon game!


Ehlvest's choice to mix things up may have been akin to gallantry in an Open Section playoff game, but in the class sections, wild and wooly chess was the rule of law. With the exception of the two games I managed to play in the U2400 Section of the World Open last year, I haven't played in class section for years, and it took me a couple of rounds to get back in the rhythm of class play. Every one of my seven opponents was rated in the 2150-2250 range, bringing a level of competitive stability not found in the larger opens.

As the slightly higher-rated player in every game, the pressure was always on me to find a way to play for the win; after my frustrating "winning" attempts early on in the tournament, I switched up strategies and just started steering for complications right out of the opening. I made some rather energetic decisions, like castling queenside on the Black side of a Goring Gambit; playing g3-g4 for a kingside attack against the Slav (after fianchettoing my king bishop); and, in general, grabbing as much space with pawns out of the opening as I could possibly get away with. In the end, I found that going for the throat every game can prove a lot more fun than (if not quite as satisfying as) trying to play more solid "positional" chess. The strategy paid off, and I wound up getting 5.5/7.0 to tie for third with NM Damir Studen and FM Michael Langer for a boatload of cash.

If I thought my games were sharp, however, they pale in comparison to those of the co-winner of the U2300 Section, NM Tyler Hughes. Hughes, with 6/7, tied with renowned blitz player NM Yaacov Norowitz for first.

Matt Lodge from CCSCSL staff and Tyler Hughes at the Closing Ceremony of the U.S. Championships.
Photo Betsy Dynako

Hughes' strength lies not only in his analytical abilities, but also in his keen intuition. We've analyzed together dozens of times before, and I've known him to look at a position, pick a crazy move, and say, "...c4!? is calling out to me." The thing is, even if ...c4!? turns out not to be best, he could still probably play it and out-calculate anyone under 2300 to snatch a win! After his performance at the U.S. Championships - just two FIDE rating points shy of an IM norm - and his performance here in Chicago, Hughes' rating will already be within striking distance of the 2400 mark. Here is one of Tyler's craziest games of the tournament. Hughes played in the 3-day, so this was G/75.


Ramer, Scott - Hughes, Tyler

[E94] Chicago Open (7), 23.05.2009

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Na6

Hughes often plays this line to avoid the dreaded "Bayonet" attack after 7...Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4.
8.Be3 Ng4 9.Bg5 f6 10.Bh4 Nh6 11.Rb1 g5 12.Bg3 f5 13.exf5 g4
13...Bxf5, according to Hughes, might have proved sounder. Now the game heats up.
14.Bh4!? Qe8 15.f6 gxf3!?
Heading straight for the complications. 15...Bxf6 here was certainly a reasonable alternative.
"I thought I was just winning here," Hughes remarked after the game. "Two pieces are threatened."
16...Rf4 17.Nd5!
Now, the knight is coming to f6, and it is White who has a strong initiative - not Black.
17...fxe2 18.Qxe2 Qf7
White eschews grabbing the rook on f4 immediately and continues to play brilliant chess.
19.Bg5!! Rxd4 20.Bxh6 c6

White doesn't bother moving the threatened knight: he's playing for mate on f8.
Of course, the only defense.
22.Qf2 Rxd5
Hughes goes down the exchange to keep his position afloat.
23.cxd5 Bf5 24.dxc6 bxc6 25.Rbc1 c5 26.Rfd1 Qe6 27.Qh4?!
A costly inaccuracy, letting Black back in the game. Fritz points out that White should move the queen towards the queenside instead, for instance, 27.Qd2 Rd8 28.Qa5 Rd7 29.Qxa6 Qxh6 30.Rd5 Qe6 31.Rcd1 and so on.
In the time pressure that ensues, White misplays the position and gives Black a clear advantage.
28.h3 Nb4 29.Kh2 Nd3 30.Rc2 d5 31.Re2 d4 32.a3 Re8 33.b4 c4 34.g4 Be4 35.f5 Qd6+ 36.Kg1 Ba8!?
Playing for mate! Unfortunately, this direct strategy has a fatal flaw. White soon takes the initiative. 36...Bf3 was decisive.
37.f6 Qd5?

The computer recommends 37...Ne5 38.Rxe3 dxe3 39.Rxd6 Nf3+ 40.Kg2 Nxh4+ 41.Kg3 e2 42.Bd2 Nf3 43.Rd7 Rc8 44.Bc3 e1Q+ 45.Bxe1 Nxe1 with a likely win for Black.
38.f7+! Kxf7!
Accurate defense with just seconds remaining on the clock. 38...Qxf7 39.Rf1 Bf3 40.Qg3 Nf2 is losing after (40...Ne5 41.Bxe3) 41.Rexf2 exf2+ 42.Qxf2.
39.Rf1+ Ke6 40.Qf6+ Kd7 41.Qf7+ Kd8 42.Qxd5+
Both sides calculated that 42.Bg5+ Qxg5 43.Qxe8+ Kxe8 44.Rf8+ Ke7 45.g8Q Qxg8 46.Rxg8 Bf3 would be a win for Black, but 43.Rf5!! instead would actually have given White a crushing attack. White queen exchange is still winning, however.
42...Bxd5 43.Rf5 Bg8 44.Rf8 c3 45.Kg2?
45.Bxe3! dxe3 46.Rxe3 wins for White on the spot.
45...c2! 46.Rxc2 Ne1+ 47.Kg3 Nxc2 48.Kf3
Black is now completely winning, but White still manages to salvage this and reach a drawn position! "I guess I just panicked here," Hughes remarked of this move. "I should have just played something like 48...Bd5+, but I just didn't want to move that bishop from g8."
48...d3? 49.Bxe3 Nxe3 50.Rxe8+ Kxe8 51.Kxe3 Kf7 52.Kxd3 Kxg7 53.a4 Kf6 54.h4 Ke5 55.Ke3 Bb3 56.a5 Bc4 57.h5 h6 58.Kf3 a6 59.g5 hxg5 60.h6 Kf6 61.h7 Kg7 62.Kg4 Kxh7 63.Kxg5
This position is now a draw because the rook pawn's queening square is the wrong color for Black's bishop. There is one way for Black to swindle a win, however...
63...Kg7 64.Kf4 Kf6 65.Ke3 Ke5 66.Kd2 Kd4 67.Kc1 Kc3 68.Kd1 Bd3 69.Kc1??

69.Ke1! is the only move to hold the draw. White's king will always make it to the corner in time, for instance, 69...Kc2 70.Kf2 Kd2 71.Kf3 Kc3 72.Ke3 Bc4 73.Ke4 Kxb4 74.Kd4 Bb5 75.Ke3 Kxa5 76.Kd2 Kb4 77.Kc1 Kc3 78.Kb1 and so on.
69...Bc2! 70.b5 axb5 71.a6 b4 72.a7 b3 73.a8Q
73...b2# 0-1

During the tournament I received a great number of exciting games from players of all levels. Players were creating attacks and entering complications like crazy, making one wonder if the so-called "Windy City" has something unique in its air. 

I got my reward for popularizing IM Benjamin Finegold in my last article "Hilton on Playing Like Finegold and Chicago"; while hanging out in the skittles room after the last round, the strong IM (who tied for third with 5.0/7.0) showed me his last-round game in a theatrical post-mortem almost worthy of IM Emory Tate.


After, he proceeded to show me a dozen study-like chess puzzles, a crowd of about thirty people gathered around; needless to say, I failed miserably to solve any of them. I am now forced to admit that not only can Finegold win games by getting incredibly lucky, but he is also incredibly brilliant and witty beyond belief.

Many thanks to Bill and Brenda Goichberg for putting on such a fantastic event, and many thanks to the TD's who made this possible. "Don't mention any of the TD's," said TD Chris Bird. "Usually, when a TD gets specifically mentioned in an article, that means he did something wrong." Everything ran like clockwork at this event, so I guess I won't be mentioning the fine work of Walter Brown and all the other TD's on staff!

Photo Gallery by Betsy Dynako

Jonathan Hilton

GM Alexander Shabalov playing Alisa Melekhina, with GMs Varuzhan Akobian and Tigran Petrosian watching.

Sonia and Lorena Zepeda, WIM sisters from El Salvador

Pinkus, who played his first game in 20 years at the Chicago Open.

A local chess fixture, Albert Chow.

See the official website, standings and game links. Download the pgn file from the tournament here.  Also see Jonathan Hilton's first CLO dispatch, "Hilton on Playing Like Finegold and Chicago" and look for Hilton's in-depth report in your August Chess Life Magazine. 

May - Chess Life Online 2009

Copper State International Kicks OffKruml and Qi Tie in U.S. Amateur West GM Joel: Sleepless in Saint Louis Hutama Wins U.S. Amateur Championships East Ehlvest Wins Title in Chicago with Dutch Magic Six Tied for Lead in Chicago Amateur Championships UnderwayHilton on Playing Like Finegold in Chicago Photos From ChessFest 2009 Chicago Open Kicks Off Memorial Weekend Interview with Hikaru Nakamura 2010 U.S. Championships Announced at ClosingSchein Friedman Scholarship DetailsFantasy Chess Finishes! Nakamura 2009 U.S. Chess Champion!Round Eight Video Recap Fantasy Chess Update: Round EightHess and Nakamura Lead Fantasy Chess Update: Round SevenRound 7 Video Recap: Nakamura, Onischuk, Kamsky and Hess AdvanceRound Six Video Recap Akobian and Shulman Still LeadFantasy Chess Update: Round Six Round Five Video Recap Fantasy Chess Update: Round FiveU.S. Championship Video Galllery Shulman and Akobian Lead after Five Rounds Fantasy Chess Update: Rounds 3 and 4Round Four Video RecapFive Lead in Saint Louis Naroditsky in Action in Young Stars Round Three Video Recap Friedel, Shulman, Nakamura and Kamsky Lead in Saint Louis Hess, Shulman and Kamsky Lead in Saint Louis US Champs Round One: Upsets and Stellar Games by Top Two Fantasy Chess BreakdownDuchamp Counts Down to the 2009 U.S. Championship Yury Chooses White Wine and the White Pieces for Round OneUSCF Board Meeting Agenda Watch a Nakamura Scorcher on a New Gameplayer Chess Talk with Rex and Tony and Ramp-Up Video Saint Louis Psychs Up for U.S. ChampsGreg Shahade Picks Fantasy Team and Predicts U.S. Championship