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Cirque de Chess in Oklahoma Print E-mail
By Tom Braunlich   
September 13, 2009
1st Women's Open champion, Saheli Nath
The Okie Chess ‘Festival’ really lived up to its name this year and as an organizer I was happy to see a celebrative diversity of events and players:
o    the U.S. Senior Open, with one of the strongest lineups of experienced players in its history,
o    the 1st U.S. Women’s Open, an experimental and popular event,
o    the 5th annual Master Invitational, featuring many young players and future GMs in a hard-fought round robin,
o    the 5th annual Okie Open, a Fischer-Random event, and even some Pot Limit Omaha.

Here are games, results, and stories from these Labor Day Weekend events played at the Trade Winds Central in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and sponsored by IA Frank K. Berry.

Master Invitational

This year’s round robin finished in a 3-way tie between FM Conrad Holt of Kansas, IM Bryan Smith of Pennsylvania, and IM Ray Kaufman of Virginia. They each won $534. All of the players were about in their 20s or younger and provided a colorful contrast to the Senior Open going on in the next room.

It isn’t hard to imagine that we are seeing some future GMs in action here, such as this last-round encounter between 13-year-old Darwin Yang and 15-year-old Holt. A victory would have given Holt clear first, but he was unable to win a pawn-up bishop endgame, and nearly threw it away in time trouble.
Conrad Holt and Darwin Yang


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.e4 b5 5.a4 b4 6.Na2 Nf6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Bxc4 e6 9.Nf3 a5 10.Bg5 Qb6 11.Nc1 Ba6 12.Qc2 h6 13.Bd2 Nd7 14.0-0 Be7 15.Bxa6 Qxa6 16.Nb3 c5 17.dxc5 Rc8 18.Rfc1 Nxc5 19.Nxc5 Bxc5 20.Qe4 0-0 21.Rd1 Qa7 22.Be1 Rfd8 23.Rac1 Qd7 24.b3 Bb6 25.g3 Rc7 26.Rc4 Rxc4 27.Qxc4 Rc8 28.Qe2 Qc6 29.Nd4 Nc3 30.Nxc6 Nxe2+ 31.Kf1 Nxg3+ 32.hxg3 Rxc6 33.Ke2 g5 34.f4 Kg7 35.Rd7 Kg6 36.Rd6 Rxd6 37.exd6 Bd8

After 37...Bd8

The passed d-pawn gives White a suprising amount of practical chances to save the game. Black spent 7 of his remaining 12 minutes on this move. But perhaps he overlooked the strength of the clever bishop manouver it allows. Instead, perhaps 37...f5 38.Kd3 Kf7 39.Kc4 (39.Bd2!?) 39...gxf4 40.gxf4 Be3.
38.Bf2 Kf5 39.Ba7! e5 40.Bb8 Ke6 41.fxe5 h5 42.Kf3 f6??

43.Bc7! Kd7 (43...Bxc7 44.dxc7 Kd7 45.exf6+-) 44.e6+! wins for White. However, Yang was moving quickly in his opponent's time trouble and was seemingly focused on this manouver to win the a-pawn and equalize the game.
 43...Bxf6 44.Bc7 Be5= 45.g4 Bxd6 46.Bxa5 h4 47.Bb6 Kd5 48.Be3 Be7 49.a5 Kc6 ½-½

Last year’s winner, IM Bryan Smith, found the going tougher this time, unable to convert some advantageous positions and losing a game to tough FM Michael Langer. For example, Holt put up a determined defense against him in an interesting French Winawer:


1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Nbc6 9.Bg5 Qa5 10.Ne2 cxd4 11.f4 dxc3 12.h4 Kh8 13.Rh3 Nf5 14.Qh5 f6 15.Bxf5 exf5 16.exf6 Qc7 17.fxg7+ Qxg7 18.Bh6 Qg4 19.Qxg4 fxg4 20.Re3

20.Rxc3 Re8
20...d4 21.Bxf8 dxe3 22.Bb4 Nxb4 23.axb4 Bf5 24.Ra3 Bxc2 25.Rxc3 Be4 26.g3 a5 27.Rxe3 Bc6 28.bxa5 Rxa5 29.Re7
White still has a dangerous initiative against Black's cornered king, despite the reduced material. At this point Holt was down to 1 minute, plus the 30 second increment. Smith had 15 minutes.
29...Ra1+ 30.Kd2 Ra3 31.h5
31.f5!? Rf3 32.Nf4 Rxg3 33.f6 might be another winning attempt.
31...Ra5 32.h6 Rd5+! 33.Ke3 Rd6 34.f5 Rxh6 35.Kf4 Rd6 36.Kxg4 Rd7 37.Re8+ Kg7 38.Nf4 Kf7 39.Rh8 Kg7 40.Rb8 Ba4 41.Nh5+ Kh6 42.Nf4 Bd1+ 43.Kh4 Bf3 44.f6?
Smith pointed out he missed the careful 44.Rf8! preventing ...Rf7, and Black would then be hard-pressed to defend against the threat of g2-g3-g4 etc. 44...Rd4 45.Rf6+ Kg7 46.Kg5 Kg8 47.Ne6 Rg4+ 48.Kh6 Kh8 49.Ng5 and wins.
44...Rf7! 45.g4 Bxg4 46.Kxg4 Rxf6 47.Rxb7 Ra6
White still has hopes here due to Black's time trouble and trapped king, but...
48.Kf5 Ra5+ 49.Kf6 Rf5+! 50.Kxf5
Stalemate. Solid defense by young Holt to hold off a determined IM. ½-½

Ray Kaufman, traveling here with his Dad (GM Larry), needed a little luck to make the winner’s circle, defeating former Denker Champion Nelson Lopez from a lost position with a truly vicious double-check in time trouble.

Perhaps realizing his luck was running hot, Ray multiplied his winnings within hours after the tournament by moseying over to the nearby River Spirit Casino, where he won $1800 playing Pot Limit Omaha “against some crazy Asians.” Combine that with his winning the Fischer-Random blitz event, and Ray said he took home over $2500 this weekend. But he didn’t always need luck to win, of course, as shown in this nice endgame attack against Yang:


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 dxc4 4.e4 b5 5.a4 b4 6.Na2 Nf6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Bxc4 Bf5 9.Nf3 e6 10.Bd2 a5 11.Nc1 Be7 12.Nb3 Bg4 13.0-0 0-0 14.h3 Bh5 15.Qe2 Nb6 16.g4?!
White will miss his light-square bishop. 16.Bd3 Qd5 17.Qe4 Bg6 18.Qxd5 cxd5=
16...Nxc4 17.Qxc4 Bg6 18.Be3
19.Nfd2 Bd5
This bishop is a tower of power for the rest of the game.
 20.Qc2 Nd7 21.f4 f5 22.Rad1 Kh8 23.Qd3 g5 24.Kh2 gxf4 25.Bxf4 fxg4 26.hxg4 Rg8 27.Qh3 Rg6 28.Nc1 Bg5 29.Bxg5 Qxg5 30.Nf3 Qxg4 31.Nh4 Rg7 32.Qxg4 Rxg4 33.Kh3 Rag8 34.Rf7 Nb6
Now the knight infiltrates for a king attack.
35.Ne2 Nc4 36.Rdf1 Ne3 37.R1f6 Ng2 38.Rh6 Be4!
The bishop combines defense with attack very nicely here.
39.Nf3 Bf5 40.Kh2 Ne3 41.Ne1 Nf1+ 42.Kh1 Be4+ 43.Nf3 Nd2 0-1

Okie Open

IM Michael Brooks will be getting an invitation to the round robin next year after topping the 45-player field at the annual Okie Open, cruising to a 6-1 score. There was a massive tie for 2nd at 5-2 with Sergey Galant (2172, OK), Tim Steiner (2115, MO), Chris Niggel (2145, AR), Bran Whitcomb (1840, OK), Nathaniel Fast (2074, MO), and Terry Wright  (1878, KS).

Michael Brooks and Sergey Galant

U.S. Women’s Open

This experimental first Women’s Open featured 10 players rated over 2000 and provided another congenial counterpoint to the variety of the festival. It is such a pleasure to have lots of women players around a large event and once again several discussions erupted about how we can encourage more participation by women in tournaments beyond scholastics. The post-scholastic membership “dropout rate” among girls is incredibly high, and I know is of special interest of new USCF Vice President Ruth Haring (who was playing in the Senior!).

This event was an intriguing mixture of talented young girls (such as Margeret Hua and Joanna Gossell) and more experienced young women players, a large contingent of whom came from UTD (headed by Bayaraa Zorigt (2276) and Karina Vazirova (2104)) to join top-ranked Iryna Zenyuk (2280), a brilliant graduate student at Carnagie-Mellon University in Pittsburg, and the ever-popular Chouchanik Airapetian (2142) of Seattle and Alexey Root (2000) of Dallas.

I asked some of the younger girls what it felt like to play in a women-only event with players of different ages, a rather rare experience outside of the championship or scholastic realms. They all said it was more pleasant because there was less of that hard-to-define tension that exists in mixed events; perhaps less testosterone or aggression. (Although having played both Zenyuk and Airapetian, I can testify there was a heck of a lot of aggression coming from their side of the board!)

Vying for a spot in the prestigious U.S. Women’s Championship in 2010, the tournament was very hard fought. A case in point is this pivotal round 5 game in which 5th-ranked Saheli Nath (2026) of UTD upset Zenyuk in a Dragon. It was awarded the $100 Best Game Prize donated by Oklahoma’s well-known USCF Forum cowboy, Harry Payne.

Saheli Nath won the trophy with a fine 5-1 score after drawing with Jennifer Acon in the final round. Since she is from India, however, the 2010 championship slot was awarded to Iryna Zenyuk, who finished in clear second place.


Nath,Saheli (2107) - Zenyuk,Iryna (2280)

This was the critical game of the 1st U.S. Women's Open and was awarded the Best Game Prize of $100 donated by Harry Payne, of Oklahoma.
 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.0-0-0 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Kb1!
This is a known subtlety that allows White now to meet 11...Qa5 with the strong 12. Nd5!, and is why Black's choice of ...Nxd4 and ...Be6 is not the main line of theory.

Normal is 11...Qc7 12.g4 Rfc8 13.h4 Qa5 losing a tempo in order to get in the counter-attacking move Qa5.
12.Bxg7 Kxg7 13.Nd5
13.h4 Qa5 14.h5 also looks good. Then 14...g5!? 15.g3 intending f3-f4 looks dangerous.
13...Bxd5 14.exd5 f6!?
It's hard to find a viable defensive setup for Black. 14...Rc8!? 15.h4 (15.Qd4+ Nf6 16.Qxa7 Rc5 might be a playable pawn sac for Black.) 15...Nf6 16.h5 with a typical strong attack for White.
15.h4 Rc8 16.f4 Rc5 17.h5± Nb6 18.hxg6 hxg6 19.f5!
The attack on d5 is not enough to distract White!
19...g5 20.Qe2 Qe8 21.Rd3 Rxd5 22.Rdh3 is presumably too much.
 20.Bd3 Rxd5
It's probably better to try to keep White's pieces out with 20...Rxh1 21.Rxh1 g5 when it is still a problem for White to find a breakthrough.
 21.fxg6 Nd7 22.g4! Nc5 23.Qg2 Rd4
It looks bad to allow white g4-g5, but if 23...Rg5 24.Bf5 is strong, i.e. 24...e6 25.Rxh8 Qxh8 26.Rh1 Qg8 27.Qh2+-
24.g5 fxg5
24...Rdh4 may be the last chance, although 25.gxf6+ exf6 26.Qd5 Qe7 27.Rhe1 Qc7 28.Bf5 looks close to winning, doubling on the e-file.
 25.Qxg5 e5 26.Rh7+! 1-0

Saheli Nath and Iryna Zenyuk

I was asked to make some comments on the controversial ruling that occurred during the first round of this event. The FIDE time control of Game in 90 with 30 seconds increment per move is one that I personally like, but which does have some problematic aspects. FIDE (and I guess the USCF too) consider in the rules that players using this time control must continue to keep score even in time trouble under 5 minutes. This is because 30 seconds is considered plenty of time to write down your moves, and thus a complete scoresheet is required to win on time even in this sudden-death time control. IA Frank Berry has enforced that rule in the past (such as during an incident at last year’s U.S. Championship Qualifier). But this assumption, however, isn’t always true. At this year’s events for example we had players in their 80s, some of whom were half-blind, partially deaf or handicapped; and it is not true that 30-seconds is plenty of time for them. There also were some very young kids here who can’t handle the scorekeeping that quickly. Chief TD Frank Berry agreed and stated at the opening ceremony that he wasn’t going to require this rule and instead would allow players in time trouble to hand off their scoresheet to an assistant TD or spectator to continue scorekeeping. Unfortunately, this was not well communicated and led to some confusion in the first round, and one case in which a player overstepped on time aware that her opponent wasn’t keeping score, and the opponent thought she didn’t have to keep score in time trouble, etc. Frank wasn’t present at the time, and later on appeal declared the game a draw, which was acceptable to both players. I think this rule needs to be reconsidered by FIDE and USCF. Even under ideal circumstances with 30 seconds players start scribbling their moves in time trouble and they the scoresheet often becomes an unreadable mess.

Despite this small glitch the 1st U.S. Women’s Open was considered a success by the players and should hopefully continue as one way to encourage more post-scholastic female tournament participation.

U.S. Senior Open — Make Room for the Boom!

This year’s championship was the strongest in several years and I think is a harbinger of things to come in the Senior ranks now that Fischer Boom players start to pass 50 and become eligible. 52-year-old GM Larry Christiansen (who actually was already a strong player before Fischer-Spassky in 1972) is one example. GM John Fedorowicz (51) was also signed up to play but withdrew at the last minute (Larry speculated he must have scored some Yankees tickets). Soon we may be seeing DeFirmian, Rohde, and others of that great chess generation admitting they are officially seniors in order to be able to compete again at top levels and to try for an otherwise hard-to-get slot in the U.S. Championship.

Christiansen won the tournament with 5.5/6, topping a 54-player field that included such famous players as GM Larry Kaufman (defending champion), GM Boris Gulko, IM Joe Bradford, IM Walter Shipman, and many other strong and enthusiastic contestants.

What I found intriguing about this event was the camaraderie of the players.  It’s a little bit like what I imagine a reunion of old army buddies might be like decades after the war. In some cases active players meet yet again with old rivals they’ve played dozens of times, and in other cases players are paired who last played together decades ago. For example, I played Christiansen in round 2. The last time I played him was in the 6th round of the 1980 Southwest Open, 29 years ago!

Christiansen wins a slot in next year’s U.S. Championship for his effort. Kaufman finished in clear 2nd place with 5-1, and as the top scorer over 60 wins the official USCF slot in the World Senior Championship coming up in Italy in October, which includes a stipend for expenses from its organizers. However, since Larry is also the defending World Senior Champ and is receiving some considerations for that, it may be that his slot can go to the next finisher over 60, Michael Schemm (1974) of Washington, who had a great tournament and outscored Gulko for this slot! The USCF is looking into the details of this, but perhaps both of them will be able to go.

The key round featured GM Larry Christiansen vs. IM Joe Bradford and GM Boris Gulko vs. GM Larry Kaufman

Round 5 was the turning point for this event, with “the two Larrys” defeating Bradford and Gulko, with Black, to take the lead:


Kaufman used a TN discovered by his protégé’ Rybka. Gulko responded with an exchange sac but after a few ups and downs Larry came out on top:


These games will be presented with full annotations in the upcoming Chess Life article on the event.

Having already drawn each other, both leaders were paired down in the final round. Christiansen defeated Gregory Markzon, but Kaufman got nowhere in an ending against veteran IM Walter Shipman (who had a great tournament). Shipman’s been playing endings since his first U.S. Championship in 1948 and won several nice ones here.

For the first time in several years this event had a schedule of two games per day instead of the usual one, which did not sit well with some of the players such as 87-year-old Dan Mayers who need the more leisurely pace. On the other hand, with three fewer days other potential players were able to afford the time or money to come that wouldn’t be able to otherwise. It’s a trade off, and perhaps future Senior tournaments should experiment with compromise schedules, such as 6 games in 4 days.

Age Category Awards for the Senior:

50-54 - Yefim Treger (53)
55-59 - Joe Bradford (58)
60-64 - Michael Schemm (62) (ahead of Gulko!)
65-69 - Denis Strenzwilk (68)
70-74 - Dr. Jorge Montero (72)
75+  -   Walter Shipman, (80) except he refused the award, saying he doesn't believe in age categories.

Fischer-Random Speed Chess

Our annual “Fischer-Random Speed Chess Pizza Bash” was won by IM Ray Kaufman with 6.5/8 over a very tough field of 20 players, mostly masters and experts. WIM Bayaraa Zorigt and FM Conrad Holt tied for 2nd place with 6/8.
The two Kaufman’s ponder their back ranks before a Fischer-Random game.

If you’ve never played Fischer-Random (also called “Chess 960” in Europe), give it a try; it’s great fun. It’s regular chess with the starting position of the pieces “randomized” on the back rank. It feels normal and the only thing weird about it is how castling works … the king can castle despite starting out on b1 or f1 or wherever. The next day in the main event Michael Langer’s black king had been checked over to g8 by Conrad Holt, hemming in his rook on h8. Michael remarked to me, “I must be playing too much Fischer-Random chess; I keep thinking about castling now with Rf8!”

The Okie Chess Festival and related tournaments were all handled by Chief Director, IA Frank K. Berry, who also generously sponsored the prize funds. He was ably assisted by Rob Jones and Steve Wharry. It was organized by myself. The Fischer-Random was directed by Mike Crockett. Special thanks to the Trade Winds Central staff for their extra hospitality. We’ll see you again next year!

See the official website here and the U.S. Chess Scoop featuring the Senior.