Akobian and Aldama Top American Open

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In the Blitz, Akobian is ready to meet Garush Manukyan’s next move

For the sixth straight year, the American Open was held over Thanksgiving Weekend in Orange County, California. There were 262 participants at the Doubletree Hotel in Orange. Two other “A’s” were prominent, as GM Varuzhan Akobian and IM Dionisio Aldama emerged on top with 6½ points of 8 in the Open section. It featured three GMs and eight IMs, an impressive roster although the last-minute cancellation of many-time champ GM Melik Khachiyan was a blow.

Both had 4-0 starts. Olympian Akobian (back in Southern California after a stint in Kansas where his wife attended medical school), in the slow schedule, downed IMs Kesav Viswanadha, John Daniel Bryant, and Keaton Kiewra. In this game he displays tactical panache and earns a quick victory (though the computer prefers 12…exd5 13.Qxd5 Qe7+ 14.Be2 Nb4). After his 17…Nb4! the queen cannot be taken because 18…Nc2+ 19.Ke2 Ba6+ forces mate.


Aldama playing Ray Kaufman

Aldama is best known as the winner of the Second Metropolitan International in 2012. He faced down a weaker field in the fast schedule, but drew an evenly contested game with Akobian in Round 5 after the merge. He then downed IM Ray Kaufman, though not without difficulties. His enterprising play secured an advantage after White missed 24.e5, but then relaxed and allowed equality. White holds easily after 57.hxg4 h3 58.Nxd6 h2 59.Ne4+ Bf6 60.Rc1. Perhaps short of time, Kaufman blundered and Aldama won quickly.

Meanwhile, Akobian was unable to win an extra pawn up in a rook and opposite bishops ending against the Southern California Invitational champ, 18-year-old FM Michael Brown. Brown in the previous round had turned around a dubious position against Northern California wunderkind Andrew Hong. 25.dxe5 dxe5 26.Rxd8 Rxd8 27.Qe3 would have left White on top, and when he blocked the center with 26.d5, Black soon had a winning attack.

Thus, after six rounds Aldama led with 5½, while Akobian had 5 and Brown 4½. Akobian faced GM Enrico Sevillano (who had 4 points; eight rounds is a bit too much for 31 players). His 8…g5!? threw White off his stride and led to a bind. 24.Bxd5 is losing, though the similarly-themed improvement 24.c4 still leaves Black with a clear edge.

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Third place finisher Michael Brown

At the same time, Brown made his move by luring Aldama into an inferior opening variation. Given Black’s attacking style, White expected 12…Nxf2?!, though White is also clearly better after the alternatives. In the game, the messy variation 14.Bxf4 Rxf4 15.gxf4 Qh4+ 16.Ke3 Qh3+ 17.Kd2 e3+ 18.Kc2 Bf5+ 19.Kb3 leaves White up a full Exchange; Brown opted for a pawn-up technical win.

With Brown’s college obligations committing him to a final round bye, Akobian clinched a first place tie via a quick draw with Ecuadorian GM Carlos Matamoros. This enabled Aldama to catch up by downing Bryant in a hard-fought game.

Black’s enterprising Exchange sac led to a dynamically equal position, and Aldama went wrong on move 25 (25.g3=), but in a time scramble White emerged back on top, an advantage he could have cemented with 39.b6. As the game continued, 40…Qd7 would have been equal. White could have winning with 43.Qb3+ (possibly preceded by exchanging on f4). Instead the uncharacteristically cautious 43.Kh1 kept Bryant in the game, and he had reached equality again by move 54, but the erroneous queen trade left White with a won ending, as his king stops the d-pawn. A worthy last round struggle!

Thus the “two A’s” emerged on top, with Akobian taking the tiebreak. Brown’s 6 points left him in clear third place (and brought his rating over 2500 for the first time), Kiewra was fourth with 5½, and Matamoros was fifth – with 5. Among the 4½’s, Kaufman, WIM Annie Wang, FM Eugene Yanayt, FM Movses Movsisyan, Daniel Mousseri, and Conrado Diaz pooled and split the Under 2450 and Under 2350 prize money.

Here’s one more game from the Open, which concludes with a king hunt. Annie Wang’s solid handling of the Dutch is fine, but she begins to go wrong on moves 15 and 16, underestimating Black’s attacking chances.

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Under 2200 winner Arman Baradaran with TD Anthony Ong after winning the Scholastic a week earlier

The Under 2200 section was topped by 12-year-old Arman Baradaran, who represented the US internationally back in 2011, when he played in the World Youth Under 8 in Brazil. Having won the American Open Scholastic the weekend before and tallied 6½ in this event, he posted a total 87 point gain, bringing him almost to Master level. Younger players often have difficulties when facing dubious openings, but in Round 2 Arman promptly secures an advantage against the Albin Counter Gambit, and cashes in tactically.

In another game from the same section, 17-year-old Rachael Eng of Arizona played an uneven game but a great ending, adroitly deflecting her opponent’s attempts at stalemate.

Under 2000 honors were split between Queena Deng, the 14-year-old daughter of Beyond Chess program organizers, IM Ben Deng and WIM Sarah Lu, and Alex Silvestre, 16, of San Diego. They drew in the last round to reach 6½ , with Queena ahead on tiebreaks.


Queena Deng

Youth also triumphed in Under 1800, with Jaren Huang, a sophomore at San Marino High School (appropriately, the Titans) alone in first, again with 6½.


Under 1800 winner Jaren Huang with proud mom

Under 1600 was the only section with an adult winner, as Henry Romero of Oregon notched 7. With a provisional rating (21 games), Henry’s check was capped at $700, leaving $800 to trickle down and enhance the winnings of the top scorers below. Jonathan Chen and Dylan Gould (yes, both juniors!) trailed a respectful point behind.

In Under 1400, Jasmine Yang, a sophomore at Troy High (a magnet school in Orange County known for its science and technology program), lost her last round but still went 7-1 for first place.


Under 1400 winner Jasmine Yang and brother Michael savor the fruits of their labor

This was especially impressive given that she was originally seeded 23rd among the 36 players. Jasmine gained 318 rating points, and with her brother Michael (a Troy freshman who scored 5½ in Under 1600), won the Mixed Doubles competition to put icing on the cake. Agustin Reyes was top Under 1200 and Campbell Queen earned the Unrated prize.

The afore-mentioned American Open Scholastic, held at the same venue the previous weekend, drew 377 players. An anonymous donation of 16-gigabyte Apple Air ipads for the winners of the varsity sections (who included Benjamin Bankhead and Reagan Pearl, as well as Baradaran) enhanced the treasure trove of computers, trophies, and medal prizes.

Akobian also won the 44-player Blitz, giving up just three draws in ten games, and FM Eduardo Ortiz, after a disappointing result in the Open, switched to the 20-player Action and emerged on top.

The main event featured an unfortunate cheating incident. A previously repentant player who had been caught with an elaborate device (reflecting hundreds of hours of ingenuity at work – what a waste!) based on transmitting coded (by foot-tapping) moves through a device strapped to his ankle and receiving recommended moves coded (silent vibrations) via smartphone, apparently decided the American Open would be a good time for recidivism. Since San Diego Club President Chuck Ensey, who had caught him in the first place, was present, this was dumb as well as immoral. The miscreant’s games were eliminated for rating purposes, and he swears he’s quitting chess. Let’s hope so!

Marking the beginning of a second half-century, the American Open was again organized by the Ong family (aka Chess Palace). John McCumiskey headed the TD staff. This writer thanks IM Jack Peters for game inputting and Kele Perkins for photography. Hope to see you in Orange next Thanksgiving!


  1. It was Expert Jamieson Pryor who caught him the first time (three years ago) by secretly video taping his game and then he was able to tie the cheater’s leg movements to the moves on the board for which we had a score sheet. It is really hard to detect unless you know the tell tale signs.

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