Akobian Wins Californian Challenge
By Thomas Southerland   
April 27, 2009
GM Varuzhan Akobian dominated in his match against GM Yury Shulman, winning the rapids 3.5-2.5, and the blitz 6-2. The match was held at the Robinson Racheria resort in Northern California, a few hours from San Francisco. "I've never been on a farm before but I really liked it." said the winner, Akobian. The Californian didn't get to milk any cows, but he did enjoy driving a quad. The match featured a $10,000 prize fund--Organizer Thomas Southerland gives the full story. Check the official website for more links and photos.

Thomas Sutherland, Varuzhan Akobian and Yury Shulman, Photo Macauley Peterson 

Akobian's mental strategy for his challenge match against GM Yury Shulman? "Hang-Loose Baby!"
Many considered this to be a nearly even match-up of two of America's strongest players, with a slight edge going to the U.S. Champion.  So Akobian's convincing victory came as a surprise to many.
Day 1. Arrival:

I met GM Akobian at SFO (the San Francisco airport) early in the morning on the 21st. We had several hours before the arrival of GM Shulman, so we decided to head down to Fisherman's Wharf for some lunch and to discuss the projects that we are working on. It was then that I realized just how relaxed he was and how determined he was to bring fighting Chess to the U.S. Champion. (This was a good sign I thought.)

After lunch, we headed back to the airport to await the arrival of GM Shulman. While waiting in the airport Var and I played two short blitz matches in which he gave me 5-1 on the clock. Of Course, he demolished me. In one game he literally defeated me in 13 seconds! (Again I was thinking; "This is a good sign.)

After GM Shulman's arrival we began the trek to the site of the match and my family's ranch where the players and I would be staying.
At that point I was able to play some blitz with GM Shulman. Same time odds, though I didn't fall as quickly as before while playing Var. I began to see that this match was going to be much closer than many had expected, In fact, I was thinking that Var seemed sharper on that day, and had a real chance to defeat GM Shulman in the match.

After dinner and a movie at the ranch, the players retired to their suites to rest up for the beginning of the match the next morning.
Day 2. The Match Begins:

Day one of play saw GM Akobian drawing first blood in a King's Indian then securing a draw (The only draw out of 14 games!) in a Bogo-Indian.

Again, Var seemed very relaxed. He was confidently out-performing Shulman and clearly enjoying the occasion.
Varuzhan told CLO that the following game was his favorite from the match:


After the games we had a very nice lunch at the Tallman Hotel's "Blue Wing Cafe" before heading back to the ranch where the players went over the games while I worked on getting our live broadcast up and running and ready for the next day's games. Unfortunately after many hours working to establish the broadcast capabilities I was making no progress, So I decided to focus on providing the best coverage we could through ICC. Many thanks to the good people there  for helping to bring the games to the online audience.
Day 3. Akobian Leads, Shulman resolves himself:

The second day of the Rapid saw GM Shulman put a full point on the board with the Black side of the King's Indian and GM Akobian taking the full point in round four in a Slav defense.

So after two days, Akobian led 2.5 to 1.5. It was still very close and I knew that Shulman was within striking distance. And he was obviously resolved to come-back in the rounds 5 and 6.

After the games we headed back to the ranch where the players analyzed the games from rounds 3 and 4. Then it was time to have some fun on the quads! Life in the country has many perks and the players seemed to enjoy a great deal being in the fresh air, going for walks. In addition to a competition, this was an opportunity for Yury and Var to train for the 2009 U.S. Championship, coming up in just ten days.

Late evening saw the arrival of ICC multimedia journalist Macauley Peterson to the ranch. After a brief introduction and chat he settled into the guestroom for some rest from his journey.

Day 4. Akobian Wins Rapid:

After arriving at Susan Feiler's Lake County Wine Studio for Fridays rounds of 5 and 6 I could tell that Var seemed to be doing what we used to call in tournament tennis in Florida; "Tree-ing". This is basically when a player's confidence and preperation come together in a display of rare precision. An expression of being far beyond the sum of the parts. Though GM Shulman wasn't going down without a fight!

Fridays rounds were fiercely contested with GM Akobian winning the first game in a QGD Exchange, The second game going to the U.S. Champion in a solid performance via a Catalan. Akobian was winning round six when GM Shulman dug-in and produced perhaps the greatest comeback I have ever seen at this level! I congratulated GM Shulman on an amazing game. A spectacular display of Chess Mastery. He thanked me and indicated that he was now focused on winning the blitz.

In the following two games from the rapids, Shulman made uncharacteristic blunders.



In the last round of the rapids, Akobian told CLO he had a great position, but that Yury played well to maximize complications and eventually win. The finale instructively shows the power of a rook and a passed pawn against minor pieces.


Shortly after arriving back at the ranch on Friday, the band began to show-up for the party that would unfold later in the evening.
Apparently, word quickly spread that I was throwing a party for the players and before I knew it there were way more people showing up than I had invited. Which was fine of course.

Good food, good company, and great entertainment by Neon Napalm, Michael Barrish and Friends made celebrating our hero's victory, (California's strongest player) over the U.S. Champion in the Rapid Match a sweet moment. Of course we also celebrated the visit of our U.S. Champion and our highly esteemed chess journalist Macauley Peterson for gracing our hometown with their enthusiastic presence.
After the party wound down, Var and Yury watched a movie in the home theatre at the ranch while Macauley and I played some blitz. Although Macauley came out well ahead of me, it was quite enjoyable.
Day 5. The Blitz:

The blitz match was very exciting for the spectators, GM Akobian was clearly on another level. It's as if he were putting on a clinic in how to play blitz against a world-class opponent. Taking nothing away from GM Shulman, Var was was quite simply "On Fire!". The result was a quick 6-2 victory.

Var had done it. He beat the U.S. Champion in the Rapid and the Blitz!

And the rest is history.
I'd like to personally thank both players for an outstanding showing of "Fighting Chess".

Check out the website of the match, chessmastered.com.