The 2023 Spring Classic

Editor's note: This story first ran in the June 2023 issue of Chess Life Magazine. We have republished Gledura's article below, and included several fully annotated games that were not in the print edition. Members can access the print version of the article here and also read GM Christopher Woojin Yoo's annotations of his game against GM Abhimanyu Mishra. Consider becoming a US Chess member for more content like this — access to digital editions of both Chess Life and Chess Life Kids is a member benefit, and you can receive print editions of both magazines for a small add-on fee.

The 2023 Spring Chess Classic was hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club from April 5-13. With parts of the Club currently under renovation, this edition of the Spring Classic was held at the nearby Chase Park Plaza hotel in the “chasement” — the Chase basement.


behind the scenes
Image Caption
Behind the scenes in the "Chasement" (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


It’s no secret that Saint Louis organizes some of the best events in the world, and this includes the quarterly Classics series. The playing hall was quiet and comfortable, and the circulating photographers and livestream coverage added to the prestige. While the players in the two round-robins are very strong, we’re not (yet!) quite at the level of the Grand Chess Tour, so getting a taste of that level of coverage and interest was invigorating.

The Classics generally feature two 10-player round-robins. The A Group boasted an average rating of 2621, with top American players like GMs Illia Nyzynyk, Sam Sevian, and Dariusz Swiercz along with top juniors Abhimanyu Mishra and Christopher Yoo. GMs Benjamin Bok, Daniel Dardha, Yasser Quesada Perez, and Nodirbek Yakubboev rounded out the all-grandmaster field, along with your author.


Image Caption
Blohberger chilling in the Chasement


The B Group also featured a tough, professional lineup, with seven grandmasters (Dambasuren Batsuren, Felix Blohberger, Luka Budisavljevic, Akshat Chandra, Balaji Daggupati, Gergely Kantor, and Viktor Mikhalevski) along with three hungry IMs (Gleb Dudin, Kirk Ghazarian, and Jason Liang) looking for norms.

With pairings drawn about a week in advance, there were no “easy days” to be had. There were no punching bags in the field, and everyone did special preparation for each round. The fighting nature of the event was also boosted by the “no draw offer before move 40” rule, which cut down (but not completely eliminated!) short draws. This is part of what I like most about Saint Louis tournaments. Players have to fight, and the spectators get to enjoy the results.

Perhaps you have wondered what it’s like to play in a high-level round-robin like this. While everyone’s routine varies a bit, the basic elements are very similar in my experience. Rounds start at 1 p.m. sharp, with the exception of the final round, which kicks off at 11 a.m. in case time for tiebreaks are needed.

Games can run up to four hours, after which players grab a bite to eat and clear their heads. Then preparation for the next day begins, lasting for two to four hours. It can be exhausting to play for hours a day, and then have to sit down and memorize opening preparation. Multiply this by nine rounds, and you begin to understand how difficult top-level chess can be.


Image Caption
The author in action (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Perhaps this is why the percentage of draws was surprisingly high, despite the 40-move rule. The relative parity between the players in each group certainly contributed as well. With no one who stood out strength-wise, draws are inevitable. But someone has to win!

In the eighth round, your author made his move to join the leaderboard:



For the first time in Club history, there was a five-way tie at the top of the A group — quite unusual in my experience! Bok, Quesada Perez, Sevian, Swiercz, and your author all finished at +1 (5/9). While the tie would stand in other events, one of the unique rules in America is that first place must be fought for. There must be an ultimate winner, and here, there was an Armageddon knockout tiebreaker.

The ninth and final round finished around 4pm, five hours after the first moves were played, and we moved to Armageddon shortly thereafter. In this knockout structure, Black had four minutes to White’s five, but with draw odds to compensate. Some people had time to prepare; some did not. No matter — the fight was on.


Image Caption
Two different paths to the top: Bok (R) won a multi-way Armageddon playoff, while Blohberger ran away with the Group B prize (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC) while


Quesada Perez knocked out Swiercz, who was defeated in turn by Bok. I lost to Sevian. This left a final between Bok and Sevian, and with the exhaustion of the event coupled with the stress of the playoff, there was a sense that anything could happen. 

To get a feel for the tense nature of these games, here's Quesada Perez's "win" (a draw with the black pieces is a win in Armageddon, after all) against Swiercz.



Here is the game that gave Bok the top prize of $6000.



In stark contrast, the B group was dominated by one player: Austria’s Felix Blohberger. He played very strong, stable chess, scoring 6½/9 and finishing a point and a half ahead of the field. For this performance he deservedly took home the $4000 first prize.



The closing ceremony was held in the Kingside Diner, which every chess player should visit when they are in St. Louis. It is always — well, usually! — very pleasant to spend some leisure time with people that you have competed against. Chess has its own language, and not that many people can speak it at a high level. Naturally there were chess boards available, and some people, including your author, took the opportunity to play a bit more! We ate, laughed, and analyzed together, and before we knew it, the closing ceremony was over.


Image Caption
The champ getting ready for a fight (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Now, let’s look at one of the most interesting games from the tournament with annotations from GM Benjamin Bok.