Tips From Class Champs: Plenty of Bug & A Supportive Mom
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
October 9, 2012
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Rob Ritchea, Jr and Adia Onyango both left the Continental Class Championships held this past Columbus Day weekend as first place winners in their sections – Class C and B, respectively -- but their style and method of preparation couldn’t have been more different.

One is carefree and cavalier while the other is more circumspect and serious.

Ritchea – a 22-year-old bowling ball-driller-in-training from Columbus, Ga., -- told CLO all he did was play a lot of bughouse before the tournament.

“I try to study sometimes but it’s pretty boring,” said Ritchea, who busied himself in between games playing bughouse in the hotel foyer.

“Endgames I don’t even look at,” he said, explaining that he tries to get an advantage early on so that endgame knowledge isn’t even necessary.

He doesn’t believe in paid instructors, feels pretty good about himself since he beat a player rated over 1900 at the 113th annual U.S. Open when he was only rated 1507. He believes “you either have it or you don’t” when it comes to knowing what to do on the board, although he said bughouse helps you discover if you’ve got what it takes or not.

 “Bughouse really helps your tactics and pattern recognition and intuition,” Ritchea said. “That’s huge, having the intuition.”
Onyango also believes strongly in tactics.

“Tactics always come into play because you have to be able to look out for your opponent coming up with tactics and knowing whether it’s a real threat or a fake threat,” Onyango said.

But in preparation for the tournament, she steered clear of blitz and other fast-paced games.

 “Before tournaments I try to play 40 moves in two hours, so when I get to a tournament I’m not antsy from sitting down for six hours,” said Onyango, a New Yorker.

Rated at 1735 before the tournament, she surrounded herself with Class A players, and now she is a Class A player herself due to her near perfect score of 6.5 at the Continental Class Championships. In contrast to Ritchea, she never gets overconfident because she knows a won position can easily become a lost position if she makes on mistake that is seized upon by her opponent.

Adia with her mom
Ritchea, who split $1,500 with another player in the Class C section, says he wasn’t concerned much about the size of the prize. Onyango, who won $1,800 for clear first in the Class B section, thinks the payout should have been higher: "The pay out was only 60% of the projected prize advertised. In my opinion the real issues are what needs to be done to get more players coming out to tournaments?  How can we bring more sponsors to chess and how can we increase the frequency of higher payout tournaments? I think when we can respond to all of these issues we will not have great tournaments like the Continental Chess Championship that do not make their numbers and thus do not pay out the full expected prize."

The timing of her victory made it particularly meaningful to Adia, who was the sole clear first place finisher and the only woman to win her section. She dedicated the victory to her mother, who died on 8/22/12. “I had not really done much preparation since my mom was hospitalized on July 20th…. I dedicate this win and all of my wins for the next year, to my biggest (and only…LOL) fan, my mom who always supported my desire to excel in chess, my favorite sport.”

First place in the masters section went to two of the four foreign GMs who competed in the tournament, along with four U.S. GMs and 9 IMs, four of which were foreign.

Norms were possible but eluded the few players who were in the running.

Sergey Erenburg, Photo Betsy Dynako '08
Splitting $4,500 – the first and second place prizes combined in the masters section – were GM Sergei Azarov, of Belarus, and GM Sergey Erenburg, of Israel, who both scored 7 out of a possible 9 points.

Erenburg left the premises as soon as he got his check. Azarov, who is visiting New York, gave a brief interview with CLO in Russian through GM Vladimir Romanenko, also of Belarus, who translated.

Azarov, who was rated 2618 at the time of the tournament, said his most challenging game was against fellow first-place winner Erenburg, who was rated 2629 at the end of the tournament.

It ended when Azarov, left with only a Rook and a Bishop, was able to get a win out of what looked like a drawn game against Erenburg’s Knight and Bishop.

“He was in a difficult situation because he wanted to win the game,” Romanenko said of Azarov, who noted that the 50-move rule loomed.


“He had to play really precisely to finish the game in those 50 moves,” Romenko said of Azarov. “And he did.”

Since the event is titled a “class” championship, I’ve felt it more fitting than usual to cover games and stories from some of the amateur sections.  Here’s a game in which Tim Murphy, of Maryland, forced his opponent in the Class B section to resign after he achieved a royal fork.


As for my own tournament, it began on a tough note when 19-year-old Yakun Hu, of Arlington, Va., subjected me to “death by a thousand cuts” in Round 1 by sniping a total of six pawns.

Asked how he was able to achieve the slow but steady imbalance, Hu credited the tactics training on a website called For class players, it always seems to come back to tactics.

Find full standings and further information at the official website and USCF rated results on MSA.