Wesley So Tears Through North American Open
By Randy Hough   
January 1, 2015
Wesley So
Continental Chess's  24th Annual North American Open at Bally's Las Vegas, December 26-30, marked another victory for GM Wesley So, who won the Millionaire tournament in the same city two months ago. The NAO offers the third highest prize fund of any US tournament ($115,000 this year), and So earned over $9700 with his dominating performance in the 93 player Open section.

There were 15 GMs, 16 IMs, and one WGM present, but top seed So set a blistering pace, downing FM Ali Morshedi, IMs John Bryant and Roman Yankovsky and GMs Alex Yermolinsky, Sergey Erenburg, and Jianchou Zhou, after which his 6-0 led the field by a point. The Round 5 win was his favorite.


14.Nb5 would have maintained equality. After the vigorous pawn sac 16...Ne4, White could have minimized Black's edge with 22.Bg5 Bxg5 23.Qxc5 Be7 24.Qc2. Instead, 22.Red1? allowed 22...Rxa2! when the rook cannot be taken because of 23...b3 exploiting White's back rank. In the game, Black's pressure is decisive, though both 28...b3 and 33...f5 might have expedited matters.  An attractive king hunt - while White is threatening mate himself - concludes the game (50.Qxe7 Qa3+).
Draws with the second and third seeds, GMs Xiangzhi Bu and Julio Becerra, followed, leaving So with the full point lead, and it was necessary to reach down to the 5½ point score group to find an opponent he hadn't played. Mongolian GM Tsegme Batrchuluun offered an early draw, but went wrong in the opening (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 Nbd7? 6.Nb5 Bb4+ 7.Nd2 Ba5 8.b4 a6 9.bxa5 axb5 10.cxb5) and So went on to win. Meanwhile So's former rivals drew: Becerra with Yermolinsky and Bu with Erenburg, making the margin of victory 1½ points. 

So, who turned 21 in October, played under the US flag for the first time, and will be eligible for our Olympiad team in 2016. He's now living in Minnesota.

Bu, Becerra, Yermolinsky, and GM Vladimir Georgiev (who had a last round bye) were in the 6½ point tie. This was a fine result for the 56-year-old Yermo, whose rating reached 2600 for the first time in six and a half years. His favorite win came against the talented young California FM Michael Brown in Round 3. Yermo exploits Black's pawn grab on move 14. After the correct 14...Bc4 White could have saced the Exchange with 15.f4 Bxf1 16.Bxf1, perhaps followed by 16...Qd7 17.d5 Ne7 18.Bc4 when the two bishops offer fine tactical chances. In the game continuation, the attack cannot be parried (the immediate 22.Re5, and also 23.Be4, are equally winning).


Becerra applied intense pressure against Colombian IM David Arenas in Round 4 to bring home the point. 19...Bxc5 and later 26...Rb7 would have minimized White's advantage; Becerra could have improved with 28.Rc7. After 28.Nc5, Bxc5 was again the right answer. When Black finally captured on  c5, it was too late and the passed c-pawn triumphed.

The Open was a norm tournament, something that may become less frequent as FIDE forces organizers to jump through more and more hoops. The objective was met, as veteran FM Alex Kretchetov and young FMs Safal Bora and Atulya Shetty garnered IM norms and WFM Ramya Krishna Inapuri secured a WIM norm.


Shetty had clinched his norm before the last round - fortunately, as he might have lost to another young FM, Daniel Gurevich (not in the running for a norm because of a poor start), had White found 17.Qc6+ Bd7 18.Qb6. In the game, White had nothing better than a piece sac that led to a forced repetition.

The runaway victory in the top section was not even approximated elsewhere. Under 2300 saw a five-way tie among top seed Giovanni Carreto, Toby Boas, Jack Qijie Zhu, Alex Averbukh, and James Fu. With 5½ of 7. There was a similar result in Under 2100, as Bryon Doyle, Victor Rosas, Lennart Bjorksten, Shyam Gandhi and Abhishek Handigol split top honors. Corbin Gustafson's 6 points earned a clear first in Under 1900. Gilbert Lomboy and Novica Kecojevioc scored 6 in Under 1700. Hiep Nguyen was clear first in Under 1500 with 6½. And Mason Korb, unrated player Renato Ogranaja, and Adam Reed Gillett Isom tallied 6 in Under 1250. Kaitlyn Chu and Gabriel Sam took Mixed Doubles honors with 11 points (they had tied for first in the American Open in November).

The Blitz, with 122 players, saw a tie between GMs Zhou and Batchuluun; they finished at 1 am and then played their important last round Open games at 10 am!

The NAO turnout totaled 649.

Final standings, prize list, and games can be found at http://www.northamericanopen.com/ Find the USCF rating report on MSA.