The Return of Foxwoods: Kovalyov Wins, Sevian Earns GM Norm
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
January 26, 2014
Kovalyov.jpgMashantucket, Conn. -- For GM Anton Kovalyov, one of the hardest parts about competing in the Foxwoods Open was being the highest rated player in the Open Section of the event.

"I prefer not to be the highest-rated," Kovalyov said. "I feel less pressure," he said of occasions when he's not the highest rated player at a tournament. "I don't feel like I have to win."

Despite the extra pressure that came with being the only GM in the event above 2600, Kovalyov still went undefeated with seven wins and two draws to score a total of eight out of nine points.

In fact, Kovalyov had established such a strong lead that by the ninth and final round, no one could catch to him point-wise whether he won, lost or drew.

The only drawback to winning clear first place at Foxwoods was the relatively low turnout -- 271 entrants as opposed to the 520 that organizers had projected.

The suboptimal turnout led organizers to cut the prize fund in half.

Thus, Kovalyov's clear first place netted him only $3,500 instead of the $7,000 he would have won if he had done the same thing in a larger and potentially stronger field.

Organizers had a number of possible explanations for the low turnout: recent bad weather in the area; a possible reluctance to trek to the region during the winter; the Liberty Bell being held just last weekend in Philadelphia, possibly having an adverse effect on players who did not want to do two tournaments back to back.

All in all, the Foxwoods Open made only a modest comeback after a five-year hiatus that organizers attributed difficulty securing favorable hotel rates from the Foxwoods Resort & Casino, which in recent years has been struggling with debt as massive as the picturesque mountains that surround the immense complex, which is at 6.7 million square feet is larger than the Pentagon and reportedly the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere.

Continental Chess Association director Bill Goichberg said "it could be another five years" before the Foxwoods Open is held again if he cannot secure the venue during its traditional time of Easter Weekend.

In the tournament, GM Kovalyov, the clear first place winner, faced a different sort of difficulty. It was the unpleasantness of having to play his coach at the University of Texas at Brownsville -- GM Bartlomiej Macieja -- given the fact that his coach knows his playing style.

Kovalyov, 21, a computer science major at Brownsville, said his Round 5 game against Macieja was the only game that got complicated to the point where he felt he might lose.

The trouble began in the opening, he said, when he found himself having to choose between playing the Catalan in a way that both of them were familiar versus a way that was unfamiliar to both of them. Kovalyov chose the latter.

Here is the game, which Kovalyov ultimately won:


Also of note, IM Samuel Sevian, 13, earned his first GM norm, putting him on track to join the ranks of some of youngest players ever to achieve GM status.


As has been this writer's practice over the years with high-performing young chess players, I asked Sevian about the nature of his daily study routine, and he revealed that he puts in five to six hours a day.

His father, Armen, also spoke of the role that several coaches and programs have played in Sevian's rise. They include Alexander Chernin and Andranik Matikozyan and the Kasparov Chess Foundation's Young Stars program.

Sevian said his most complicated game was his round 8 game against GM Alexander Shabalov.
"I had to find accurate moves to get an advantage," Sevian said.


Lastly, for what it's worth, this CLO writer -- in his ongoing quest to become a halfway decent chess player -- tied for second with three other players in the Under 1600 section.

I won my last game by forfeit, but, hey, I'll take the victories and the prize money -- $575 in this case -- however I can as long as it's legit.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim is the 2013 Chess Journalist of the Year. Find out full standings and information on the Foxwoods Open, including a pgn file at