2024 Las Vegas Chess Festival: Durarbayli Wins National Open

Every June, thousands of players flock to Las Vegas, but it’s not to gamble (indeed, many of them have to wait upwards of a decade before they can hit the slot machines). With a plethora of side events, special guests, and lessons in addition to the perennially strong National Open, the Las Vegas Chess Festival is one of the most engaging tournaments of the year. This was also a milestone National Open for me: I’ve now played in this tournament for more than half the years I’ve been alive!


Image Caption
GM Vasif Durarbayli, pictured here with the Edmonson Cup, took clear first with a strong performance in this year's National Open (Photo courtesy of the organizers)


The tournament featured a very strong open, held June 5 through 9 at the Flamingo Hotel and Resort. Headlined by over 20 GMs including top seeds GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Vasif Durarbayli, and defending champion GM Illya Nyzhnyk, but after four rounds none of them were in the lead. That mantle was instead taken by IM Ryo Chen. Riding the momentum of his first GM norm, Chen played an attacking gem against GM Balaji Daggupati (showcased below) followed by a nice technical win against GM Dariusz Swiercz.



Chen almost carried this performance to a GM norm, looking poised with 5½/7. But with an unfortunate loss to GM Elshan Moradiabadi and a double-edged draw against GM Arman Mikaelyan, he just missed out, nevertheless ending with an amazing performance. He was far from the only young player to impress, with IM Joseph Levine also just missing out on a GM norm but winning a nice $2,400 for best under 2400, FM Eric Yuhan Li scoring his final IM norm and coming close to clinching the title, and Rishabh Gokhale far outperforming his 2079 rating to end on 6/9. One of the most impressive games — Li’s convincing win against GM Jingyao Tin — is analyzed below.



I also tried my hardest to join this group of norm-seekers, and came fairly close at some points in the tournaments. However, after being thoroughly outplayed by GM Daniel Fernandez and failing to win with the white pieces, my norm chances were gone, leaving a nevertheless respectable performance. Below is my third-round game against GM Bartlomiej Heberla, which was a very topsy-turvy game that I was lucky to survive:



While the norm-seekers made their mark on the leaderboard, in the end it came down to experience. With GM Vasif Durarbayli scoring key wins in rounds five and seven — over IM Ryo Chen and GM Illya Nyzhnyk, respectively — to take clear first, and GMs Illya Nyzhnyk and Daniel Fernandez tying for second alongside GM Rahul Peddi, there was little prize money left to be split. In fact, the rest of it went to the players involved in a four-way tie for fifth and a 14-way tie for ninth! The key game Durarbayli – Nyzhnyk has been annotated below.



The side events provided even more entertainment with the ever-strong Walter Browne blitz being composed of dozens of GMs and IMs. GM Robby Kevlishvili put up an impressive 10½/12 to take the tournament by a full point, followed by GM Bartlomiej Heberla and FM Eric Liu tied for second with 9½/12 each.

In the 2024 National Women's Open, WCM Avery Yu and and WFM Olivia Smith shared top honors with perfect 5/5 scores. Results are available here and select games can be found in the festival's daily recaps.

Whether you come to play the National Open, the WB Blitz, or simply the annual Poker tournament, the Vegas Chess Festival lived up to its long-held reputation as a must-play event.