Bryan Smith Wins in Philly
By Jennifer Shahade   
December 1, 2008
IM Bryan Smith and GM Giorgi Kacheishvili strike symmetrical poses, while GM Alexander Fishbein waits for his opponent.

Philadelphia resident Bryan Smith sent shock waves through the National Chess Congress (Nov.28-30, Philadelphia), taking clear first over six GMs with 5.5/6. Many short Swisses end in big ties, but in the past three years, the Congress has had clear firsts. In 2006, Hikaru swept the event 6-0 while GM Darmen Sadvakasov won a point ahead of the field in 2007.  

Going into his final round, Bryan had a perfect 5-0 record marked by wins over GMs Kritz and his favorite, a Dragon victory over GM Sergey Erenburg.


Although the 9.0-0-0 line against the Dragon has an impeccable reputation that has turned many Dragon devotees to other Sicilians, Bryan thinks Black is OK in these lines. He was surprised that Erenburg allowed a4, rather than playing a4 himself. He also questioned the unnatural looking 30. c4, with the risky idea of rounding up the a-pawn with Qd1.

Position after 29...Qf5

 "He was in bad time pressure at that point (that he played c4). I expected 30. Qa6. I thought I still have an advantage but now I don't see anything.  Of course, I can draw with 30...Qh3 31.Qxc6 Qf1+ 32.Ka2 Qc4+ but I thought I should have an advantage in this type of position, so maybe I should have played 28...Qd5 instead of 28...Nf4. Then White needs to play Be3 but his position is kind of passive after for example 29...c5."

Bryan says he didn't realize the game was over until he played d2 and didn't completely relax until the time control was reached. "Under time pressure, nothing seems clear."

When I asked Bryan if his 5-0 start made him hungry for a win over Kacheishvili, Bryan quickly answered that he was focused on first place, not a sweep. He expected Kacheishvili, who needed a win for a chance to tie for first, to play the Sicilian. Instead, the Georgian GM chose the Caro-Kann and the game did not last long.


Bryan is on a hot streak lately and has shot up from 2450 to 2561 (post NCC rating) in less than three months. He tied first in the King's Island Open, was clear first in the Okie Festival Masters in Tulsa and also gained rating points at the Western States in Reno. Bryan told CLO, "I feel like I have an angel watching over me lately." Bryan clarified that he was speaking metaphorically, but I'm sure he hopes that his angel, real or figurative, will stick around. Bryan is thinking of devoting his prize money from the Congress to a norm hunt in Gibraltar or Hungary later this winter.

Daniel Ludwig and Zhe Quan tied for 2nd-4th with GM Kacheishvili.

Bryan was not the only underdog to shine in Philly. Daniel Ludwig, who just graduated high school, is taking a year off to focus on chess. He is also considering a visit to Hungary in search of his final IM norm, and GM norms after that. In the Congress, Daniel gained a remarkable 44 rating points (just a few points shy of Bryan's 49 point gain), to put him just one torturous point away from the big 25-00. In the following victory over GM Alexander Ivanov, the game seemed to be balanced for quite a while, but a strange turn of events allowed Black to punish White for his weak back rank.


Daniel's final round win over Marc Esserman in the final round brought him into a three-way tie for 2nd-4th with Zhe Quan of Canada and Kacheishvili.


Mackenzie Molner also had a good tournament, defeating GM Darmen Sadvakasov in round four.


10 minutes before game time, Kirill shows Alisa what he's thinking of playing.

Another Philadelphia local, Alisa Melekhina, also gained a few rating points despite losing her last round game to IM Kirill Kuderinov, who tipped off his plan for the opening prior to the start-time. However, in the photo above Kirill indicates 1.a4, while the game move, 1.a3, must be a stronger choice.

Knowing Kirill would move his a-pawn, Alisa had time to plan her response in advance, 1...g6, which Kirill responded to with 2.h4. 

Alisa Melekhina played 1...g6 against a3. On the next board, an amused IM Dean Ippolito chooses 1.d4 against Ray Kaufman, who was just awarded the IM title. 


National Chess Congress

Premier Standings
1. Bryan Smith-5.5/6

2-4- Girogi Kacheishvili, Daniel Ludwig and Zhe Quan-5/6
5-7- Alexander Fishbein, Mackenzie Molner and Thomas Bartell- 4.5/6

Check complete standings for all sections on the National Chess Congress website, and see all rating changes on the MSA NCC page. 

In the Under 2200, 11-year-old Arthur Shen of New Jersey earned clear first with 5.5/6, despite being 1958 and playing up a section. Karsten McVay, fresh from the World Youth in Vietnam was also rated Under 2000 going into the event, but scored 5/6 for a tie for second with Lorand Bela Kis. McVay and Shen both broke expert with this tournament, so they'll have a chance to win more Under 2200 sections without playing up a section!

Karsten McVay in the World Youth Championship last month in Vietnam. Photo Dujiu Yang.