Ivanov Tops Western States in Playoff
By Randy Hough   
October 28, 2012
GM Alexander Ivanov at the 2011 US Championships, Photo courtesy CCSCSL
It was past 1 a.m. at the Reno Sands Regency, but an apt crowd of two dozen continued to watch a playoff for the championship of the traditional Western States Open (October 19-21). WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, down the Exchange for a pawn, shook her head and repeated moves, then shook hands with GM Alexander Ivanov; the draw gave him the title and the first place bonus of $100.

Ivanov had downed the 2009 and 2010 champion, GM Melikset Khachiyan in the first round of the playoff, winning the first game with Black and drawing the second. Abrahamyan, who was profiled in the September Chess Life , beat veteran GM Walter Browne in a double-barreled first round match, splitting two 7-minute games and then winning two blitz contests.

In the final, Abrahamyan as Black in a French Tarrasch, had pressure on the queenside but got her queen trapped for insufficient compensation. Ivanov admitted he was worse in game two – before he forked her queen and rook in time pressure. (The games were recorded on video, and we hope to see them eventually on the Reno Club page.)

The 56-year-old Ivanov, of Newton, Massachusetts, could be considered lucky to be in the playoff. After drawing with IM Roman Yankovsky in the third round, he faced Khachiyan and should have lost:


Black was a bit better out of the opening and missed a probable win with 35…Rxc1 36.Nxc1 Nc6! when White’s dark square weaknesses are fatal, e.g., 37.Nb3 Qb4 38.Qd2 Qxd2+ 39.Nbxd2 Nxd4 40.Nh4 Nc6—same square, another exclam – when White loses too many pawns. After more vicissitudes (when White equalized) and already in time pressure on the second time control, he missed a clearer win (though some in the large audience saw it) with 46…Ra8, when Black crashes through on the a-file after either 47.Rh1 Bd1! or 47.Qxf4 Bb5. As the game went, a draw was soon agreed; Khachiyan could have played on with 57…Kh7, but after all that excitement and facing Reno’s unique third G/30 control, he chose not to risk it.

Ivanov finished with a win over FM Bryant and a draw with newly minted GM Enrico Sevillano to reach 4½. (The fact that this score sufficed to tie for first – it usually takes 5 points -- is indicative of the tough competition and a slightly smaller 33-player field in the Open, though five GMs, a WGM, and five IMs still made it a powerhouse event.) Khachiyan, who had drawn with young Kesav Viswanadha in the first round, drew with the 2011 champion, GM Sergey Kudrin, and then beat Yankovsky on the final day.

Abrahamyan, seeded only 12th, lost to Yankovsky in the second round and had to beat FM Andrew Karklins and IM Ray Kaufman in the last rounds to secure her place in the playoff. In another appearance of the ubiquitous Giuoco Pianissimo, the IM was over-ambitious with 15…Ng5, and several moves would have been more tenacious than 23…gxf5, but White is clearly better in any case.


The 63-year-old Browne made a rare appearance. The six-time US Chess champion drew with Oregon master Nick Raptis and took byes in rounds four and five to sign copies of his fascinating new book The Stress of Chess and Its Infinite Finesse and recharge his batteries. Browne beat IM Vladimir Mezentsev in the finale to earn the first place tie. His favorite game came in Round 3; the youngster played well but began to go wrong when 23.Nc7 would have kept the balance, and 24.Qd3 was necessary.


Defending champion Kudrin yielded draws to Mezentsev and Khachiyan in Rounds 2 and 5 respectively, but it was his sensational fourth round loss to Yankovsky in an unorthodox opening that really destroyed his hopes. Houdini believes Black already went wrong on move 3, and the prophylactic 13…a6 failed to prevent White’s combination exploiting Black’s development lag. Getting three pieces for the queen was then the lesser evil, though White has a clear edge after 16…axb5 17.Rxd8+ Rxd8 18.Bb6 Nc6 19.Bxd8 Kxd8 20.Rd1+ Kc8 21.Qb5. In the game Kudrin’s position proved indefensible, though 19.Nd5 and on the next move 20.Qe4 appear more efficient.


Sevillano’s four draws kept him out of the winners’ circle, and he was fortunate to win in Round 3 after withstanding Raptis’s vigorous attack. White, not sure if he had made time control, went wrong on move 41, when Re1 or Ng5 maintain virtual equality.


Of course, non-titled players produce some interesting games too! In this contest between two Experts, Colin Chow (nationally ranked sixth among 12-year-olds) gets a virtually winning attack; his piece sac on move 17 is correct although other moves were equally good. Black’s king gets chased around and White secures connected passers on the sixth… but underestimates Black’s looming counterattack (32.h3 maintains the advantage).  After Colin misses 35.cxd3 Nd4 36.Re3 his smaller advantage was gone, and he needed to play 40.Kf1 or 40.Qf2 to keep equality (zeitnot?). Mackenzie finishes attractively.


Kudrin, Sevillano, Yankovsky, and IM Ricardo De Guzman tied for fifth at 4-2. IM Edward Formanek and Cameron Wheeler (another 12-year-old!), both rated under 2300, split Under 2400 and Under 2300 honors with 3½. The winner in Expert was Mike Zaloznyy, winning a tough ending against 1853-rated Andrew Roach (this kid is only 10; keep an eye on him!) of Utah in the last round.

The Class A winners were Hovisk Manvelyan, Matthew Parshall, and Aaron Grabinsky (this gutsy 14-year-old from Oregon led by a point going into the last round but still played his favorite Scotch Gambit and lost, though he says it had nothing to do with the opening).  Other class winners included Mark Lynch in B, Paul Wilson in C, and Scott Cameron and Gary Click in Under 1400. One of the trademark Reno features is special prizes for seniors (Roy Benson and Charles James tied) and clubs (the Seattle Club finished narrowly ahead of the Reno, Sacramento, and Utah Clubs). Crosstables of the tournament can be viewed on MSA.

The event drew 188 players and a $19,340 prize fund. Jerry and Fran Weikel and their crew (mostly family!) again did a great job, offering all the extras that bring players back to Reno: lectures, a simul, player flags, and ten demo boards. They’ll be putting on another great show with the Larry Evans Memorial, March 29-31.