44th American Open Coming Up
By Jerry Hanken   
November 17, 2008
Courtesy of thechesspiece.com, this "triple decker" chess set will be used on board one of the American Open, signed by the winner, and auctioned off.
It seems so long ago and yet it is so vivid. The year was 1965 when many of you were far from the cradle. Walter Browne and Andy Soltis were up and coming youngsters and none of our current Olympic team were even close to being born. Bobby was at his peak but acting weirdly as usual and was seven years away from his world title. We were still four years away from the first moon landing. President Lyndon Johnson was about to escalate a small war in Asia into a big one. The memory of the assassination of JFK still burned in our brains but we had not yet had hope crushed as it would be by two more horrible assassinations in the next three years.. The LA Lakers were still 17 years away from their first NBA Championship and the famous “counter culture” was being born in Berkeley California.

In the midst of these turbulent times, the Santa Monica Bay chess club founded a new chess tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. The event was destined to continue an unbroken string of predecessors leading down to this year! The American Open (AO) was envisioned by the late USCF President Ed Edmondson to be part of a great “Triple Crown” with the US Open and National Open. There have been some changes in the status of this venerable event over the years, it is no longer a National tournament per se, but is both an American Classic and an American Heritage event, and still the largest tournament on the West coast.

Over the years, the AO has offered a number of unique features which have made it “player friendly”. There are eight rounds in four days, time to recover from a poor start.  Only two open, five figure prize tournaments in all of the USA consistently offer more rounds. There are the options of a 3 day schedule with four relatively fast games or, for those who do not like fast time controls, or wish to spend Thanksgiving day with family, two half point byes still allow for six “slow” games.

There are free lectures every day and chess videos and DVDs on display, so one can relax and learn between rounds. The very popular and amusing IM Jeremy Silman will again give the anchor lecture on the last day and we suggest you get in early as, no matter how big a room we find for him, he always has people hanging from the rafters! Of course there will be an array of chess equipment and books on sale in a room nearby, provided by the Chess Palace of Garden Grove, California.

There are side events including a popular Saturday night tradition, the $1000 guaranteed American Open Quick (G 10)

This year, the forty-fourth AO, (coincidently, just before we inaugurate our forty fourth president!), will, for the fourth year in a row, be held at the beautiful and luxurious Renaissance Montura Hotel, a handy two miles from LAX. They have exquisite food in their two restaurants (the bar food is not so expensive and available almost all the time, but there is fast food across the street for those of us watching our pennies). 

Due to the nose diving of oil prices, there are great bargains in airfares from anywhere in the US which are available even now, a week from the event. Also, there is still a good chance that the discount hotel chess rate of $99 will be available throughout the tournament. We have also held the line on the $5 parking rate! The Renaissance always offers fantastic playing conditions and lighting, and this year there is a special treat for the Open players.
The American Open is proud to announce sponsorship from one of the most elegant purveyors of chess pieces and boards in the US, thechesspiece.com. The South Florida based company has graciously agreed to allow the use of 13 of their top of the line chess sets and boards for the first 13 boards in the Open section.   This is topped off by the use on Board One of their pride and joy, their triple-decker Alban, a chess set and case comprising ebony, red sandal wood and boxwood chess pieces and double sided chessboard. After the event, the set will be signed by the winner and auctioned off, with proceeds to go to the tournament. The minimum bid is $800 but the retail value is quite a bit higher. You may bid now through the www.americanopen.org website. If you wish to get a preview of the Alban and the entire array of offerings, just go to thechesspiece.com.
The estate of the late and very missed Joyce Jillson, offers some very special prizes in her memory, adding up to $1400. For these and other details including the distribution of the $36,000 prize fund, (50% guaranteed), please click on this link, www.americanopen.org.

Writing this promotional article is a labor of pure love by me, Jerry Hanken. I have competed in all 43 of the past American Opens and organized 17 past AOs, and plan to be there once again next week. Previous American Open winners read like a Who’s Who in American chess. To name only a few and not to slight any of the fine players who have won or tied for first over the years (the full list is on the website): Gata Kamsky, Yasser Seirawan, Pal Benko, Robert Byrne, all World Championship candidates at one time or another, and the irrepressible Walter Browne who has his name on the winner list eight times! America’s new World Senior Champion, GM Larry Kaufman, is also on that prestigious list.

Your Humble Reporter (“Moi,” as Mrs. Piggy likes to say), actually had two chances to join this pantheon, both times going into round eight in 1966 and 1972 tied for first with 6-1. In ’66 Larry Kaufman destroyed me quickly but in “72, YHR blew a dead win against Carl Pilnick in the very last second! It was not to be, and that train has long since left the station. But I go into this year with resolve (not to have a minus score!). “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?” (Robert Browning)

It’s still not to late to join me and my many friends in this great event! Just go online, register and come on down. We promise you a good chance for a lot nicer weather than you are probably having at home now!

Also check out details on the East Coast Thanksgiving tournament, the National Chess Congress (150 Grand Prix points!) See a preregistered list and look for onsite reportage by web-editor Jennifer Shahade. Also look for games and news from the American Open on CLO.