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Western States Open Kicks Off Print E-mail
By Michael Aigner   
October 18, 2008
sandslead.jpgMany people who have little or no understanding of the Game of Kings may think that chess is a game of luck.  Of course, any passionate chess player would disagree, explaining how more skilled professionals routinely vanquish their less experienced foes. 

However, the case for luck in chess does have some merit.  One common source of luck comes in the pairings, when you avoid facing a certain difficult opponent or get to play the white pieces in a critical match.  During the games, a competitor might ascribe a victory to “dumb luck” after being completely outplayed.  While the opponent’s mistake may be due to lack of skill, it is naïve to expect someone to make a 1200 level blunder after reaching a winning position by playing at a 2000 level.  Nine times out of ten, you lose—and that tenth instance is luck.

For most chess players, luck indeed is where preparation meets opportunity.  Capablanca once observed that “a good player is always lucky.”

Perhaps it is not surprising that an unusually large number of good chess players travel to Reno once or twice each year to play in one of the biggest annual events west of the Rocky Mountains.  While Nevada is best known for slots and other games where the luck component far exceeds skill, the hotels have expanded their base to attract aficionados of skill games.  For example, downtown Reno’s National Bowling Stadium is just across the street from several major casinos.  Of course, there is no reason not to gamble a little while in town for another purpose, as at least two Grandmasters proved on Thursday.

In the middle of October each year, the game of choice at the Sands Regency hotel and casino is chess.  For a historical perspective, read the Chess Life article after last year’s 25th Western States Open. One tradition that began last year was the champagne reception open to all players on Thursday evening (coffee, punch and water were also available), followed by a 90 minute lecture by GM Larry Evans on the World Championship match between Anand and Kramnik.  How many other American events can boast that?  The organizer Jerry Weikel, his entire family, together with Barbara Rainey of the Sands Regency, make no secret of their goal to have all players feel comfortable—so that they come back next year.  This formula has worked for over a quarter century!

GM Larry Evans in Reno

Unfortunately, the reality of the national economic situation took its toll on the turnout.  Before the first round, Weikel announced an attendance of only 245, down sharply from 340 just a year ago.  Unlike other tournament venues, Reno has a small population base and the vast majority of players fly or drive anywhere from 100 to 3000 miles.  Despite high airfares, the top five in the 42 player Open section hailed from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Dakota and Kazakhstan.  The total count of titled players included 8 Grandmasters and 5 International Masters. 

It is Saturday morning and two rounds have been completed.  Only five players remain with a perfect score in the Open section.  Here are the top pairings for round 3:

1. GM Sergey Kudrin (2.0) vs FM Daniel Rensch (2.0)
2. NM John Bryant (2.0) vs GM Dashzegve Sharavdorj (2.0)
3. GM Jaan Ehlvest (1.5) vs GM Vinay Bhat (2.0)

Update: 10/20/08:
Kudrin takes clear first with 5/6. Look for full report later this week.

The other four Grandmasters all fell victim to the west coast upset parade.  In round 1, NM Gregg Small drew with GM Sadvakasov while 15-year-old NM Steven Zierk split the point with GM Alex Yermolinsky.  On Friday evening, FM Rensch defeated GM Alexander Ivanov and NM Bryant won against fellow Southern Californian GM Melik Khachiyan.  In one other notable upset, Reno chess club expert Edwin Straver held a draw against IM Vladimir Mezentsev. 

In round 2, I was paired as black against my friend Vinay Bhat.  The game in itself was not unusual and the stronger player won without too much trouble, but there were two story lines behind the scenes.  Both Vinay and I were amused by the name tag next to the board, which incorrectly listed his title as IM.  In the middle of our game—noticed by nearby players and spectators—the directors replaced it to display his brand new GM title.  How intimidating!  Vinay also commented afterwards that I never moved from the board during the entire 3.5 hour contest, opposite of my usual wandering.  Was I paying homage to America’s newest Grandmaster?  No.  Unfortunately, I had a problem with my power wheelchair and couldn’t move even if I wanted to!

To close this article, I present one game from the simuls held on Wednesday and Thursday night.  GM Sergey Kudrin played eight opponents in a clock simul, winning seven and drawing with Reno area A player George Fischer.  The next night, the pride of South Dakota, GM Alex Yermolinsky, hosted 20 boards and vanquished 19 players.  The one lucky gentleman was Ricardo Salazar from Sacramento, California.

In a Benko gambit, Salazar developed pressure on the queenside with moves Rb8, Rb4 and Qa5, threatening both the white monarch and the e4 pawn.  After mutual blunders (14.a3 wins for White, 15… Nfxe4 seems promising for Black) the game reached a position of dynamic equality on move 19.  White was up a pawn but Black’s pieces were far more active.  As often happens in such a position, one mistake is fatal.  In this case, the natural looking move Qd4, offering to trade queens, allows Black to control the 7th rank with Rc2!  If 21.Qxe4 then Re2+ 22.Kd1 Nxe4 wins f2, b2 and the game.  (Ed. Note-Game score corrected 10/19)

Ricardo Salazar

Stay tuned for further updates and a final report sometime in the middle of next week. Also check out my Western States Open slideshow on Flickr for photos of chess players and the city of Reno.