Kudrin Wins Western States
By Michael Aigner   
October 25, 2008
GM Sergey Kudrin,
 Photo Jennifer Shahade 2006
The 26th edition of the Western States Open attracted 252 players to the Sands Regency hotel and casino in Reno, Nevada.  Despite a decrease in attendance due to the weak national economy, the tournament paid out about $26,000 in prizes (70% of the advertised target).  Read my previous blog entry for background on the veritable chess festival that organizer Jerry Weikel and his staff put together each year.  This report will focus on the chess games played over the weekend, concentrating on the 43-player Open section.

Congratulations to Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin for taking top honors all by himself.  He efficiently scored 5.0 with four wins and two draws.  Over the years, it has become an exception to see a sole winner at a large Swiss tournament, but Kudrin left no doubt by sitting on board 1 for the last four rounds.  I am sure that the organizers were thrilled with Kudrin's victory, since he has attended the Western States Open for 15 of the past 17 years.  In round 5, Kudrin outplayed GM Darmen Sadvakasov in an IQP middlegame from the Tarrasch French.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.0-0 Nge7 9.Nb3 Bd6
Position after 9...Bd6

In this main line, White chooses from a wide array of moves: Re1, Bg5, Nbd4 are popular while h3, Bd2 and Be3 have seen occasional success.
10.Re1 0-0 11.Bg5 a6 12.Bd3
Keeping the bishop pair.
12...Bg4 13.Bh4 h6

[13...Ne5 Wolfgang Uhlmann played this line three times in the mid 1980s, preferring 14.Nbd4 for Black. 14...Re8 15.h3 Bxf3 16.Nxf3 Nxd3 17.Qxd3 Qb6 18.Bxe7 Bxe7 19.Qxd5 Bc5 White won the isolated pawn, but Black's activity more than compensated for it. 20.Rxe8+ Rxe8 21.Rf1 Rd8 22.Qc4 h6 23.g3 Re8 24.Kg2 a5 25.Re1 Rxe1 26.Nxe1 Qc6+ 27.Nf3 g6 28.a4 Qd6 29.Qe4 Qd7 30.b3 b6 31.Ne5 Qe6 32.Qa8+ Kg7 33.Nd3 Qe2 34.Nxc5 bxc5 35.c4 Qd2 36.Qc6 Qd4 37.g4 Qe5 38.Qf3 Qd4 39.h4 g5 40.hxg5 hxg5 41.Qf5 f6 42.Qe6 Qd1 43.Qe7+ 1/2-1/2 Yudasin-Uhlmann/Leningrad 1984]
 14.Bg3 Bc7 15.Bxc7 Qxc7 16.h3 Bh5 17.Be2
A slow maneuvering battle ensues. White wants to blockade the IQP with one or both knights while Black must find activity for his minor pieces.
17...Rfe8 18.c3 Qb6 19.Nfd4 Bg6 20.Bf1 a5 21.Nb5 a4 22.N3d4 Red8 23.Qd2 Nf5 24.Nxf5 Bxf5 25.Rad1
Position after 25.Rad1

White slowly builds up pressure on the weak pawn.

Black has trouble finding reasonable moves. One possibility might be 25...Ra5 26.Qf4 (Not 26.Nd4 Nxd4 27.cxd4 and now both players have an IQP.) 26...Be6 27.Nc7 Qxb2 28.Nxe6 fxe6 29.Rxe6 Rf8 (29...Qxa2 30.Bd3 gives White too much play on the light squares, for example 30...Rf8 31.Bh7+ Kxh7 32.Qxf8 Oops!) 30.Qd2 Qxd2 31.Rxd2 Rc5 with equal chances.
26.Qe3 d4?!
Black tries to solve his problems by giving the IQP to White. But this strategy leaves White up a pawn.
27.cxd4 Nb4 28.Qc3 Nd5 29.Qc5 Qc6 30.Qa3 Qf6 31.Nc3 Qb6 32.Re5
Black's blockade of the isolated pawn look shaky because the White pieces have become too active.
 32...Nf4 33.g3 Ne6 34.Nd5
34...Qd6 35.Ne7+
35...Kh7 36.Nxg6 Qxa3 37.bxa3 Kxg6 38.d5!
Position after 38.d5

The fundamental rule of playing with an IQP says that it gains in strength when it can move.
38...Kf6 39.Re4 Rd6 40.Rc4
White controls the open lines. It is a matter of time before Black loses another pawn.
40...Ra5 41.Bg2 Rc5 42.Rcc1 Rxc1 43.Rxc1 Nd4 44.Rc4 Nf5 45.Rxa4

Up two pawns, the rest is a matter of technique for GM Kudrin, the champion of the 2008 Western States Open.
45...Rd8 46.Be4 Nd6 47.Bc2 Re8 48.Kf1 g5 49.Rb4 Rc8 50.Bb3 Rc3 51.a4 Ke7 52.a5 f5 53.Ra4 h5 54.a6 bxa6 55.Rxa6 g4 56.hxg4 hxg4 57.Ke1 Rf3 58.Rb6 Kd7 59.Ba4+ Ke7 60.Rb3 Rxb3 61.Bxb3 Kf6 62.a4 Ke5 63.a5 1-0

The only two opponents who nicked Kudrin for draws finished half a point behind the winner.  Kudos to journeyman GM Jaan Ehlvest and Los Angeles based GM Melik Khachiyan.  They were joined in a three-way tie for second by one of America's strongest International Masters, Enrico Sevillano, also from Southern California.  Ehlvest and Sevillano both scored three wins and three draws while Khachiyan recovered from an upset loss in round 2.  In the next game, GM Ehlvest converts his more active pieces into a victory against Vinay Bhat, America's newest Grandmaster.

Ehlvest-Bhat, White to Move

At first glance, this position looks like a trivial draw. There are few pawns left and they are symmetric. A deeper look shows that Black has difficulty because of the activity of White's rook and knight.
43.Kg3 Rb6 44.b3 Nf6 45.Re7 Nh7

Perhaps 45...Nd5 was more active for Black. 46.Rd7 Nf6 47.Ra7 Nd5 Black's knight is quite pesky on d5.
46.Ne4 g5 47.Kf2 Kg6 48.Re5 f6 49.Re7
This seemingly obvious move carries a subtle threat: checkmate on g7 after White's knight hops to f5.
49...Nf8 50.Ng3 Rd6

The alternative 50...Ne6 leaves Black's pieces all tied up and they become prey to the White king. 51.Nf5 Rc6 52.Ke3 Rb6 53.Ke4 Ra6 54.Kd5.
51.Nf5 Rd7
Position after 51...Rd7

By rejecting the rook trade and gaining a tempo on the knight, White wins the b4 pawn.
52...Kf7 53.Rb8 Ng6 54.Rxb4 Ne5 55.Rd4 Ra7 56.Nd6+ Kg7 57.Ra4 Rd7 58.Ra6 Nd3+ 59.Ke3 Nb4 60.Nf5+ Kf7 61.Rd6 Rc7 62.Ke4
Here comes the king.
62...Rc3 63.Rd7+ Ke8 64.Re7+ Kd8 65.Re6 Rxb3 66.Nd4 Ra3 67.Rxf6

White is content to trade b3 for f6 because the g5 pawn will fall as well. The rest is technique.
 67...Nd3 68.Kf5 Ra5+ 69.Kg6 Rd5 70.Ne6+ Ke7 71.Nxg5 Ne5+ 72.Kg7 Nxg4 73.Rf7+ Ke8 74.Ne6 Re5 75.fxg4 Rxe6 76.g5 1-0

Not all of the eight Grandmasters and five International Masters who traveled to the "Biggest Little City in the World" left with a share of one of the top prizes.  A lengthy parade of upsets shook up the standings.  Two young masters from the Southwest picked up a total of four wins against Grandmasters.  I first met FM Daniel Rensch when he was a talented teenager at the 100th US Open in Reno in 1999.  Nearly a decade later, he took on four straight Grandmasters, defeating Alexander Ivanov and Melik Khachiyan.  On the other hand, NM John Bryant is still a teenager today.  He picked up two scalps by playing fearlessly in complex positions with the black pieces, ironically against the same two Grandmasters: Khachiyan and Ivanov.  Bryant also drew with GM Dashzeveg Sharavdorj and his stepfather, IM Sevillano before losing to GM Ehlvest in the money round.

When playing through these two games, I got the strong impression that these young men both will earn their IM titles in the near future. 


Black carefully engineers a draw with his higher rated opponent by trading into an innocuous endgame. The game ends in victory after White refuses to accept the peaceful result. 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.e4 Nc6 5.Be2 d5 6.exd5 exd5 7.d4 Be7 Instead of capturing cxd4, Black continues to develop, preparing to castle while overprotecting his queen. 8.Be3 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 dxc4 11.Qxd8+ Bxd8 12.Bxc4
The trades in the center lead to a symmetric pawn structure with no weaknesses. Black is still slightly worse because his bishops are less active, but after the queen trade, this imbalance means less.
12...0-0 13.0-0 Bd7 14.Rad1 a6 15.Nd5
Since the knights are coming off sooner or later, Black must decide which bishops to trade.

15...Nxd5?! The immediate knight trade forces a trade of dark bishops. 16.Bxd5 Bb5 17.Rfe1 Ba5 18.Bd2 Bxd2 19.Rxd2 Rad8 20.Red1 Rd7 Black must babysit his queenside pawns and cannot easily trade the remaining bishops. In short, his position is solid, but passive.
16.Bb3 Nxd5!
The delayed knight trade forces the light bishops off the board.
17.Bxd5 Bxd5 18.Rxd5 Bf6
Now we see the difference. White loses a tempo to defend b2, allowing Black time to bring a rook to the center. This is a demonstration of active defense.
19.b3 Rfc8 20.g4 h6 21.Rfd1 Rc2

Activates rook.
22.a4 Rc3 23.R1d3 Rac8 24.Kg2 Kf8 25.Kf3 Rxd3 26.Rxd3 Ke7
Activates king.
27.Ke4 Rc2
Activates other rook.
 28.h3 Rc6 29.f4 Bc3 30.f5 Bf6 31.b4 Rc4+ 32.Kd5 Rc3 33.Rxc3 Bxc3 34.b5 axb5 35.axb5 Kd7
Gains the opposition and denies White an entry square.
36.Bf4 Bf6 37.Be3 Bc3 38.Bc1 Bf6 39.Bd2 Bb2 40.Kc5 Be5 41.Kd5 Bb2 42.Bf4 Bf6 43.Be5 Bxe5 44.Kxe5 Kc7

Not falling for the trap 44...Ke7?? 45.f6+ gxf6+ 46.Kf5 b6 47.h4 Ke8 48.Kxf6 Kf8 with zugzwang.
45.Kd5 Kd7 46.Kc5 Kc7 47.h4 f6
This should be a simple draw. However, the Swiss tournament format sometimes requires a player to win at all cost. No doubt, Yermolinsky needed to win after yielding two draws in the first three rounds.
48.Kb4 Kd8 49.Kc4 Kc8 50.Kd4 Kd8 51.Kc5 Kc7

Both players triangulate, returning to the position after move 47, except it to Black's turn to move. Does this tempo give White a chance to win?
 52.Kb4 Kd8 53.Ka5 Kc7 54.h5 Kd7 55.Kb6 Kc8
The critical moment. The game ends peacefully after Ka5 or Kc5.
Position after 56.Ka7

Ouch! Now Black wins because his king gets to the kingside one move faster.
56...Kc7 57.Ka8 Kb6 58.Kb8 Kxb5 59.Kxb7 Kc5 60.Kc7 Kd5 61.Kd7 Ke5 62.Ke7 Kf4 63.Kf7 Kxg4 64.Kg6

If 64.Kxg7 then 64...Kg5 is the only move that wins for Black.
 64...Kf4 0-1

Alexander Ivanov-John Bryant, White to Move

Most chess players would be scared of the queen and bishop battery on the long diagonal. Not John Bryant!
25.Bb2 f6!

This is the only move that allows the queen to defend g7.
26.Bf3 Bg4 27.Qxf6 Kh7
Amazingly, Black's king doesn't get checkmated. However, the ensuing position with both kings exposed is so insane that Fritz has a heart attack.
White's problem is the check on either g4 or g8. A prophylaxis is called for. 28.Kf2! Bxf3 29.f5 Threat is Qg6 mate. 29...Rg8 30.Re1 Rae8 31.Re6 Rxe6 32.dxe6 Qe8 33.Kxf3 and the connected passers will prove decisive.
28...Bxf5 29.Kh1 Re3?
The silicon oracle suggests gaining tempo with 29...Rf8 30.Qc3 Rae8
Now the threat is Rg7+ with mate to follow.
White has a beautiful retreat to crush the resistance. After 31.Bd1!! Black cannot play Bxd1 due to threats on the g-file and has no useful way to block Bc2+. Didn't I say this game was crazy?! 31...Re5 32.Bc2+ Kg8 33.Bxe5 dxe5 34.h3 and White wins.
31...hxg4 32.Bc1 Rh3 33.Bf4 Re8 34.Bxd6 Rf3
Despite his exposed king, Black is able to make threats and hold the balance in the game.
35.Bf4 Qg7 36.Qxg7+ Kxg7 37.Rxg4+ Kf6 38.Bg3?
After 38.Kg2 Rc3 39.Kf2 White's king is far more active than in the game, e.g. preventing Re2.
 38...Re2 39.Kg1 Rxa2 40.b4 Rb3
Time control has finally been reached. Both White's king and extra pawns are dying and the end is merely a matter of time and technique.
41.Rf4+ Kg5 42.Rf1 Rd3 43.d6 Rb2 44.c5 Rxb4 45.Rf8 Rb2 46.Bf2 a5 47.Ra8 a4 48.Ra5 Kg4 49.Rxa4+ Kf3 50.Be1 Rb1 51.Kf1 Re3 0-1

As one of the few big tournaments in the Pacific time zone, the Western States Open offers the rare opportunity for improving players young and old to show their mettle.  Two Northern California teenagers earned experience and rating points.  In the first round, NM Steven Zierk (2252) extended his life-long undefeated streak against Grandmasters to three games (all drawn) against GM Alex Yermolinsky.  Expert Rohan Agarwal (2173) scored 50% against five masters, including a draw against IM Vladimir Mezentsev.  Agarwal is a devotee of tactical opening gambits such as 2.b4 against the Sicilian, as FM Michael Langer found out in round 4.


You don't always have to be young to succeed at chess.  Veteran Glenn Bady (2188) flew into Reno from Philadelphia and went home with victories against GM Sharavdorj and IM Salvijus Bercys, plus a draw with IM Mezentsev.  Against the Grandmaster, Bady won an exchange and calmly took it to the bank.


On a personal note, I finished the tournament at 50%.  That's an accomplishment, considering that my wheelchair broke down on Friday night and I wasn't even sure that I could play at all!  Thanks to all my friends and fans for their help and good vibes.  Sadly, the quality of my games left something to be desired.  I also wished to meet new opponents when I travel out of state, but instead I was paired against five familiar faces from Northern California.  Sigh!

I will close with the final position of my last round game against teenager Rohan Agarwal.  It wasn't my best effort and I deserved to lose.  The win, however, was not so obvious.  My young opponent, too eager to draw with a master, didn't look hard enough at the tactics.  Too bad, Agarwal's rating ended up at 2196 and he would have broken 2200 by solving this puzzle!

Agarwal,Rohan (2173) - Aigner,Michael (2273)

White to Move and Win

Show Solution

Winners are summarized below. Also see final standings , rating report and a photo slideshow. Michael Aigner is a blogger and life master from the Bay Area.

Western States Open Winners

1st GM Sergey Kudrin, 5.0
2nd-4th GM Jaan Ehlvest, GM Melik Khachiyan and IM Enrico Sevillano, 4.5
U2500: GM Vinay Bhat, IM Salvijus Bercys, IM Bryan Smith and FM Daniel Rensch, 4.0
U2400: NM John Bryant, 4.0
U2300: Glenn Bady, 3.5

Expert: Igor Margulis and Ben Marmont, 5.0

Class A:
Hayk Manvelyan, 5.0

Class B: Gordon Barrett, Erlend Millikan, Richard Haggstrom, Ewald Hopfenzitz, Kesav Viswanadha, Robert Russo, all with 4.5

Class C: Guy Ontai, Jan Jones and Sam Young, 5.0

Class D: Suraj Nair and Darren Chapla, 5.0

Class E: Merak Arriola, 5.0