Pack Your Pieces and Go: A Southern Rocky Story
By Chad Schneider   
March 5, 2012
The 2012 Southern Rocky FIDE Open reminded me of an episode of Top Chef. I know, it’s kind of an odd comparison considering our course du jour was bottled water and a Sunday continental breakfast provided by a local bakery. The reason for my comparison is that in Top Chef, and in any elimination-based reality show, there is significant foreshadowing imbedded in each episode so that in the waning moments, you internally debate who is going to be sent home. Inevitably, you find out who wins or loses, go through your mental notes, and wonder how you could be so foolish to not predict the outcome.

The cast of this year’s event included players from 15 states, most notably GMs Georg Meier, Alex Yermolinsky, and Melikset Khachiyan, IM Justin Sarkar, IM-elect Faik Aleskerov, All-American NM David Adelberg, and defending champion NM Lior Lapid. Going into the tournament, world class GM Meier was the heavy favorite to win by club and titled players alike. If I were editing this for television, I would have included conversations with the other titled players saying, “He must be here to pick up some extra money,” “Meier is in a different class,” “He will win. No doubt,” and the single outlier, “You never know what happens in a 5-round swiss.” 

Before the Open, the festivities started with an educational and witty lecture from GM Yermolinsky who spoke about the changing of the guard in chess and how new generations reinvent certain aspects of the game to overcome the old guard. Particularly, he referenced games by GMs Nakamura and Carlsen at the Tata Steel tournament who consistently created dynamic positions which generated poor computer evaluations, but offer significant winning chances. GM Yermolinsky also answered questions for about 15 minutes, describing his own personal experiences and preparation; noting that he does not prepare as he once did and he no longer considers himself a competitive tournament player; he is a member of the old guard of American Chess. New or old guard, I still consider him one of the best American players. He and GM Khachiyan provided a sampling of this with a 30.5/31 record in the simul and first round games that ended in a flash.

The plot really started to develop in the second round, when there were a series of buzz-generating surprises worthy of a pilot episode. The second round of the 3-day schedule included several draw upsets including Carlos Santillan (2000) holding off GM Meier (2705), Ray Fourzan (1969) sharing a point  with GM Khachiyan (2554), and defending champion Lior Lapid (2298) drawing Gerald Georges (1975). The surprises continued into the third round as GM Yermolinsky (2524) drew Andrew Lebovitz (2161) and Ben Coraretti (2147) defeated IM-elect Aleskerov (2469). As a couple GMs noted, there must be something in the water at our tournament.

After the turbulent opening rounds, there were four mostly surprising players left undefeated and pre-tournament prognosticators were bewildered. The remaining undefeated players were:

1)    IM Justin Sarkar wrote a recent piece on CLO about winning the Golden State Open after training with GM Kachiesvilli. In the article he noted that he still wonders if Grandmasters consider him a weak player.
2)    NM David Adelberg who was just named to the All-American team. David appeared to finish his first three wins with more time than he started each match with due to the increment and expeditious play.  
3)    Ben Coraretti who lives in the same Southern New Mexico town, Las Cruces, NM, as last year’s winner. He is probably best known in the chess community for playing in the 2006 US Junior Invitational.
4)    Brian Cassidy (1925) who played on the Texas Tech “C” team at the Pan Am games. Brian drove to the tournament with GM Meier. They could not have expected that it would be Brian playing on the higher board in round 4.

The trailing pack, at 2.5/3, included GM Meier, GM Yermolinsky, GM Khachiyan, NM Lapid, NM Adelberg, and Andrew Lebovitz.
Left to Right: GM Melikset Khachiyan, IM Justin Sarkar, Brian Cassidy, and GM Alex Yermolinsky. Photo courtesy of William Aranda.

The top board from round four appeared to attract the most interest, as it showcased IM Justin Sarkar versus New Mexican Ben Coraretti. IM Sarkar provides annotations:

Round 4:


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.Ne5 a5 9.e3 Nfd7?! 10.e4! Be6? 11.Nxd7 Bxd7 12.Be2 e6 13.0-0 Be7?! 14.Be3 0-0 15.Qb3 Nc8? 16.Qxb7 Nb6 17.Bf4 +/- Rc8 18.Rfd1 f5?!
Relatively best was 18...Bb4 19.d5
19...fe4? The last chance was 19...ed5 20.ed5 Bc5 20.de6 Rxf4 21.ed7 Rb8 22.Qxc6 e3 23.Qe6+ Kh8 24.Qxe3 Qf8
25.d8/R Prettier and equally strong is 25.d8/B! That way I wouldn't have had to reach for a piece from an adjacent board! I felt maybe black would have an unnecessary extra option of 25...Bc5, but in that case 26.Qe5 wins easily. Another convincing alternative instead of promoting at all was 25.Nd5! Bxd8 26.Rxd8 Rxd8 27.Qxb6 Rxf2? and resigns 1-0 Slightly better was 27...Rb8

On board 2, NM Adelberg and Brian Cassidy agreed to a draw; on board 3, GM Meier pressed on for a win, which is the only result that could salvage his chances to win the tournament, but ended up losing against GM Yermolinsky; on board 4, GM Khachiyan defeated NM Lapid.  
GMs Yermolinsky and Meier square off in the penultimate round. Photo courtesy of William Aranda.


Heading into the final round, IM Sarkar had the clear lead with 4 points against GM Khachiyan with 3.5/4. GM Yermolinsky faced Brian Cassidy and NM Adelberg versus Andrew Lebovitz on boards 2 and 3, each player with 3.5/4.  IM Sarkar annotates: 

Round 5:

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.0-0 6.Be3 is sharper and more critical Nc6 7.c3 cd4 8.cd4 Nge7 9.Nc3 Bg4 10.Be3 Nf5 11.Bb5?! Rc8 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Qxf3 a6 14.Bxc6+ Rxc6 15.g4?! Nh4 16.Qg3 h5 17.Rac1 hg4 18.hg4 f5!
19.Ne2 19.gf5?? ef5!; 19.ef6 e.p. Qxf6! 20.Qb8+ Kf7! and the complications looked favorable for black without much danger of being worse, though maybe it was white's best option g5! 20.Rxc6 draw offer bc6 21.Bd2 f4? Unnecessarily releasing the tension and clarifying the kingside situation whereas the simple 21...Be7, while not immediately winning, is great for black 22.Qd3 Qb6 For some reason I was seriously tempted for a little while in trying to make 22...f3?? work, with fantasies of somehow bringing the queen into the game and mating white, but fortunately came to my senses and realized the simple 23.Ng3 is just fantastic for white, always being able to block the h-file with a later Nh5 if need be whereas suddenly black's in big trouble. 23.b4 Qb5 24.Qxb5 ab5 24...cb5 may be slightly better but on 25.f3 white still looks too solid, whereas 24...Nf3+ 25.Kg2 Nh4+ is a cute way to force a draw 25.f3 Rh7 26.a3!
this move holds white's position together and now it's completely equal Ra7 27.Bc1 Be7 28.Kf2 Kd7 29.Rh1 Ra8 draw agreed 1/2-1/2

This result earned IM Sarkar a guaranteed share of first. As the round continued, GM Yermolinsky won a full point on second board and NM Adelberg and expert Lebovitz agreed to a draw. These results meant that IM Sarkar and GM Yermolinsky would share 1st place and $2,300 in prize money. As I consider the tournament as if I were watching it on reality TV, I considered the foreshadowing. In doing so, I felt like an idiot for not realizing that IM Sarkar, after mentioning GMs possibly considered him a pushover, would win a share of first prize. I felt like I should have known that GM Yermolinsky would win after he described how hard it is for the next generation to take over and how he doesn’t consider himself a top level American GM anymore. I have always considered myself as a person who believes in coincidence and hindsight instead of omens and destiny; thus, I consider the results and coincidences flippantly. Regardless of what you believe, I am sure you will agree that good editing truly enhances the drama of any event.


1st-2nd – GM Alex Yermolinsky & IM Justin Sarkar (4.5/5)
3rd-7th  – GM Melikset Khachiyan, NM David Adelberg, Andrew Lebovitz, Ben Coraretti, John Gurczak (4/5)


1st – Josh Brackelsberg (4.5/5)
2nd-4th  – Andrew Flores, Eric Stuart, & Brady Barkemeyer (4/5)


1st-2nd – Joseph Torres & Samuel Dorchuck (4.5/5)
3rd-6th – Jeff Little, Scott Burns, Matthew Jackson, Grant Burrier (4/5)

Saturday Scholastic

1st – Smiley Gomez (5/5)

Sunday Scholastic

1st – Phillip Ionkov (5/5)

Alex Yermolinsky won 14 games and drew 1 in his 15 board simul. Photo Courtesy of William Aranda.


Look for a follow-up article later this week on the Game/15 Championship, held in conjunction with the 2nd Rocky Mountain Open. Also see the CLO piece on the 1st Rocky Mountain Open, which ranked #7 in Best of CLO 2011.