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Hilton Blogs from Chicago, Part II Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
May 27, 2008
Last night here at the Chicago Open , the Armageddon playoff came down to Tigran Petrosian and Varuzhan Akobian. Before the big game, there was one pressing question buzzing in the minds of many spectators. Is Tigran Petrosian related to the former World Champion?

Akobian, who had the better tiebreaks, had chosen the White pieces. As Petrosian whipped out his first dozen moves, his arms seemed to spin like wheels magically over the board, producing each move in just tenths of a second. As Petrosian poured out solid move after solid move, the debate in my own mind whether Petrosian was related to the former World Champion started leaning toward “yes”.

For his part, Akobian was spending about two or three seconds per move each move in the opening. Leaning forward against the table, eyes fixed in concentration on the board, he seemed to be taking painstaking care to avoid the slightest inaccuracy. He reminded me a bit of a fighter pilot in an adventure movie. As Petrosian bounced from side to side moving the pieces, dodging this way and that, Akobian seemed to be zeroing in on his target.

Petrosian’s first major think—at least an entire minute out of his original five—came with 12...c5!?, a spectacular center break that caught the spectators by surprise.

Position after 12...c5

Then, the Armenian GM played his next six moves in a row in a combined total of just one or two seconds. Akobian was still taking two or three seconds a move, and I was beginning to feel quite confident in Petrosian’s drawing chances.

Then, at move 19, Petrosian had to settle into yet another one-minute think. Unable to find a clear way to equalize against Akobian’s well-developed pieces, he hunkered down and decided to enter the endgame. Although the endgame was certainly worse for Black, White’s clock time was slowly eroding to the point where the players were nearly equal on time. By move forty, both players were at about the thirty second mark. The win wouldn’t have been difficult for White had Petrosian not found the stunning 42…Ne5+!!, setting up a stalemate trick. Akobian’s precious seconds were ticking down as he searched for the clearest path out of the stalemate tricks.

Position after 42...Ne5

Petrosian had almost flagged, but with his ability to whip out moves without losing a shred of clock time, Akobian still needed to find a clear win. In the final position, Petrosian flagged. Akobian had four seconds remaining, and the entire room burst out into applause. The following Chicago Open video by Betsy Dynako includes some footage from the playoff.

Looking at the faces of the players after the game, you could not have guessed who won and who lost. Akobian, although slightly relieved, still had on his intense look of concentration. Meanwhile, Petrosian seemed unfazed by his loss. He walked over and started laughing and joking with Yury Shulman and a few others, excited and exhilarated by the game. Now, I felt it my duty as a journalist to answer that pressing question concerning Petrosian’s family heritage. How to approach the world-class GM, I wondered. As he was laughing and joking, I nervously walked up and introduced myself. “Are you a former World Champion?” I tried as a joke, to break the ice. “Yes I am!” he exclaimed. (Tigran was on the 1998 Olympic Championship team and placed 2nd in the 2004  Under 20 World Championship ) I talked with Petrosian for a couple of minutes, and the entire time he maintained his animated demeanor.

According to Petrosian himself, he has no relation to the former World Champion. (This surprised me, as the tales had grown pretty tall amongst us amateurs in the skittles room.) He is from Armenia, and is on his first trip to play chess in the United States. He is really enjoying himself and having a good time, and is thrilled to be here.

I also congratulated Varuzhan Akobian on his victory. I lost my last round game to finish with 3.0/7.0, so I figured I must have hurt Akobian’s tiebreaks some, but I was glad that he managed to still have the choice of color in the playoff.

After writing my blog on Sunday morning I went out with a burning and intense desire to calculate well in my games. I did just that in my following draw with GM Sharavdorj, my first GM draw with the Black pieces. I repeated a line Sergey Kudrin used unsuccessfully with Black in the US Championship against Yury Shulman, and had no real improvement prepared; luckily, I didn’t need one, as Sharvadorj came out with the aggressive 14. e5!?, and I quickly gained sufficient counterplay on the c-file to earn a draw.


Despite having a good result against Sharavdorj, I actually played “down” both games on Sunday, defeating one expert but losing to another, Garrett Smith of Indiana. One or two friends joked that I would have done better to play in the U2300, in which I would probably play a master almost every round. However, my philosophy is that any Expert who chooses to play in the Open is probably on the upswing, so I feel my overall performance was good overall. I played Experts in four rounds (scoring 2.5/4.0) and 2400+ players in three rounds (.5/3.0).

However, I think the real story of a dream tournament goes to Expert Iryna Zenyuk of New York. Iryna, who played up round after round, drew with IMs Emory Tate and Mark Ginsburg and defeated the strong 2300 player Matt Parry in the final round. I’d managed to keep pace with Iryna in the first few rounds and had the privilege of sitting next to her once or twice. She is composed during her games and intensely focused, but not so much that she won’t smile at friends or greet them when away from the board. Throughout the tournament she was upbeat, friendly, and certainly excited about her performance.

I’d also like to recognize IM John Donaldson for doing such a good job analyzing everyone’s games. He was always in a bright and cheerful, explaining chess concepts—no matter whether it was two or three people well past midnight, or a large crowd of onlookers at midday. The sign to the room where he was teaching read, by a comical error, “I Am John Donaldson Lecture” instead of “IM John Donaldson Lecture”. Many were surprised by the seemingly egotistical topic of the lecture until they realized the mistake! So for all of us who didn’t finish in the big bucks, many thanks to John Donaldson for helping us learn from our mistakes and improve at chess.
In other news, the other day I found a $100 bill lying on the ground at a nearby McDonalds. I hesitated for a moment before picking it up, wondering whether I ought to report it to someone or even just simply pocket it. I stared at the little folded paper, and finally unfolded it to see if I could possibly discern to whom it might belong. On the inside of the paper, much to my astonishment, was an ad. “Turn this cash into real money! Go to our new car wash!” it read. “Nuts!” I cried in disgust. Eventually I passed this prank $100 bill to my good friend Expert Michael Vilenchuk, who proceeded to use this fake bill to trick several innocent bystanders in the hallways of the tournament. I’d like to conclude by saying congratulations to all the real prize-winners in the tournament, who finished in the real money!


May - Chess Life Online 2008

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