California Games: Vanessa on the SoCal Open
By Vanessa West   
September 26, 2015
The Southern California Open was exceptionally strong this year. Five grandmasters, (three of which have US Chess ratings over 2700), three International Masters, and a host of ambitious up-and-coming players competed for the top prizes over Labor Day weekend at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego.

In the end, GM Alex Lenderman won clear first with 5 ½ points, adding yet another open tournament title to his mantel. He secured victory by defeating the top seed, GM Zherebukh, and drawing against the second seed, GM Akobian. Additionally, Lenderman has managed to conquer both coasts in the span of a week: He tied for first at the Atlantic Open the weekend before.

The Southern California Open is one of the few opens to have best game prizes, which allows players to examine the quality of their chess beyond the scoreboard. The winner was FM Michael Casella for his positional victory over IM Dionisio Aldama. In the game, Casella gains the advantage in the minor piece battle by getting both his knights to commanding outposts in the center. His active minor pieces and passed pawns eventually get the better of Aldama's rook and knight in the endgame.

Second prize was split between GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Yaruslav Zherebukh, GM Melikset Khachiyan, and IM John Bryant. GM Khachiyan and GM Akobian were both undefeated in the tournament. IM Bryant sprung himself into the top prizes by defeating his step-father, GM Enrico Sevillano, in the final round.

Additionally, Bryant was the runner-up for the best game prize for his attacking victory against NM Kevin Davidson.

Can you find Bryant's game-winning tactic?

IM John Daniel Bryant vs. NM Kevin Davidson


White to move.

Show Solution

Here's the full game:

Up-and-comers IM Keaton Kiewra, NM Craig Hilby, and NM Joshua Sheng tied for sixth place. IM Kiewra, who is just one norm away from becoming a grandmaster, achieved his score despite a particularly difficult schedule, being paired against IM Aldama, GM Lenderman, GM Khachiyan his last three rounds.

The best game prize of the non-open sections went to Carlos Hernandez in the Class A section for his energetic victory over James Taylor.

Can you guess Taylor's surprising tactical move?

James Taylor vs. Carlos Hernandez


Black to move.

Hint: Find the biggest weakness in White's position.

Show Solution

Here's the full game:


Here are the victors of the additional sections:

Expert Section

1st-4th tie: Bohan Li, Danial Asaria, Kevin Yang, and Alex Costello  (4 1/2 points)

Class A

1st-2nd tie: Joselito Quiba and Steven Miller  (5 points)

Class B

Clear 1st: John Paul Baligad (5 points)

Class C

Clear 1st: Luke X. Wang (5 ½ points)

Class D

Clear 1st: David Olea (5 ½ points)

Find the full crosstable here. Also find more posts by Vanessa on the US Chess blog on