The 2019 Denver Open

Founded in 1859, the Denver Chess Club is one of the oldest chess clubs in the United States. This year a few enthusiastic club members got together and came up with the ambitious idea of inviting leading players and chess personalities to participate in the Denver Open, a tournament with a history going back to 1870.

Club President Brian Wall, J C MacNeil, Kevin McConnell , and Ann Davies were among those who contributed considerable time and money, funding several side events to help make this the most significant Colorado tournament in many years. To kick off the festivities, IM Danny Rensch of fame lectured and gave a 26-board simultaneous exhibition.

Of particular interest was the Girls State Scholastic Tournament, sponsored by the Colorado State Chess Association and directed by Dean Clow and Todd Bardwick. It drew 46 players in three sections, with Tanya Olga Sorbana winning the 7-12 section, Tanishka Sameer Tagare the 4-6 section, and  Tanya Prabhu Gurpur Madke the K-3. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, who recently finished second in the US Women’s Championship, was the star guest of honor for this event.

The top section was headed by Grandmasters Fidel Corrales Jimenez, Andrey Gorovetz, Jesse Kraai, Alexander Fishbein, and Andrew Tang, along with IMs Danny Rensch, David Vigorito, Dean Ippolito, Prasanna Rao, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, and numerous strong untitled players. Sunil Weeramantry was a celebrity addition; he is famous as a chess coach, trainer, author, raconteur, and longtime head of the National Scholastic Chess Foundation, as well as a feared player in his prime.

In the first round, a fascinating fight took place between Brian Wall and fellow Coloradan Jesse Hester.

Brian Wall (photo John Brezina)

Brian has not only been a dominant force in Colorado chess for almost 5 decades, he is nationally renowned for his writings, teaching, and advocacy of unusual openings.

[Editor’s note: Because IM Watson’s annotations are so dense, we are alternatively providing them via the ChessBase replayer.]

A game which ultimately proved important for the tournament was Jesse Kraai’s win over Daniel Herman, because the promising young local achieved a winning position versus his GM opponent (rated 500 points higher). Kraai’s escape enabled him to stay in contention for and eventually succeed in grabbing the top prize.

In round three, two of the favorites met in the game Fishbein-Corrales Jimenez. White played a tricky positional setup versus the Sicilian and achieved a nice edge, sacrificing the exchange to achieve a strong bind. But after some inaccuracies Black cleverly achieved active counterplay and took over:

Corrales Jimenez-Tang

The Corrales Jimenez-Tang 4th-round grandmaster matchup was a wild, difficult affair from start to finish.

Josh Bloomer was the star player for Colorado, finishing with a stunning 2626 performance rating, and gaining a whopping 103 FIDE rating points. He lost only once, to Tatev Abrahamyan, a game in which he had a winning position for many moves but couldn’t seem to pull the trigger and eventually blundered. After that, he absolutely decimated this writer in a miniature, won a terrifically hard-fought tactical battle against IM Rao, and in the last round won the following crucial game to secure a 4-1 result and tie for 3rd-6th place:


GMs Corrales Jimenez and Gorovetz also scored 4 points. They were joined in 3rd-6th place by Bloomer and by rising Colorado star 12-year-old Sullivan McConnell. With this fine result, Sullivan achieved a masters rating, a particularly serendipitous result because the McConnells sponsored the girl’s tournament.

Sullivan McConnell (photo John Brezina)

First place was shared by Jesse Kraai and Danny Rensch. Kraai’s path to the top was marked by steady, error-free play and exploitation of his opponent’s mistakes. Rensch played complex double-edged games and defeated three of the strongest participants including Ippolito, Vigorito, and Fishbein. In fact, since he took a bye in the first round, he won every game he played and had easily the highest performance rating of the tournament. This win was a typical fighting example:

Before signing off, I should add that I’ve seldom seen such a friendly atmosphere at a swiss system tournament. There were countless post-mortems (a dying custom in many parts of the country) and a heady dose of beer-drinking and conviviality after the evening rounds. This is chess as it should be, and anyone looking for a fun weekend chess getaway should strongly consider attending next year’s event.

Note: Photographs courtesy of John Brezina and the Denver Chess Club


  1. An excellent write-up by the legendary chess author Watson, who I found to be not only a chess luminary but a gentleman and a great conversationalist. Thanks John!

    To any non-Denverites reading this: Denver is currently experiencing a veritable chess renaissance, with the DCC posting record attendance numbers month after month. The top section of our monthly Tuesday-night tournament is consistently populated by masters, young (near-) future masters, strong experts, and battle-hardened A players who will take you down a peg if you don’t mind your P’s and Q’s. I’m sure that the average rating is well over 2000 USCF, and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s topped 2100 in recent months. The DCC, along with Denver and Colorado as a whole, is becoming a chess Mecca under the national radar. Crucially, we are not losing our friendliness and sense of fun even as we come into our own in terms of raw chess strength. I can state from personal experience that the DCC in particular is light of heart and welcoming to all while at the same time serious about chess and directed with professionalism.

    I’ve been playing at the DCC off and on for 15 years, and I’ve never seen it closer to taking a spot on the national stage than it is now. It’s a great time to be a chess player in Denver!

  2. Thank you to IM John Watson for such a wonderful article. Additional thank you to everyone who worked so hard on this tournament including NM Lior Lapid and Paul Covington for their efforts!

    Kevin McConnell
    Colorado State Chess Association

  3. Thank you kindly for the glowing report, Mr. Watson. Your participation in the tournament made it better. Your report of the tournament in Chess Life is of great value to the Denver Chess Club. Thanks again, sir.

  4. I declined Jude Acers Evans Gambit in 1968 at age 13 at the Denver Chess Club at the Gates Rubber Company. I lost.

  5. Wow! RAR is impressed! Great Analysis and great games! Make sure you don’t invite me, I might ruin it all

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