The American Open: SoCal's Chess Festival

The 2017 American Open Champion, Grandmaster Vladimir Belous
It’s so quiet in the tournament hall you could hear a piece drop. The critical sixth round has begun. On board 1, Russian grandmaster Vladimir Belous, studies the position carefully as he faces Texas Tech’s top player, GM Andrey Baryshpolets. Recent World Youth Champion, Annie Wang, takes on the record-breaking blindfold player, GM Timur Gareyev. Aspiring prodigy Danial Asaria gains the upper hand against seven-time American Open Champion, GM Melikset Khachiyan. Outside of the double doors leading into the tournament hall, the atmosphere changes instantly. Teenagers run back and forth across a giant chess board to a regular sized digital clock as they play a whimsical game of blitz. Two opponents explore imaginative tactical possibilities in a post-game analysis. Pieces fly wildly from board to board as a group of kids play a spirited game of bughouse. As day one of the 700+ player scholastic tournament clears out, several coffeeshop speed chess specialists arrive for the Saturday night blitz tournament. This is the American Open. If you’re a chessplayer in Southern California, there’s a good chance your years of competing in the American Open ranges towards the double digits. I know mine have. The tournament is located in Costa Mesa, Orange County, which is between Los Angeles and San Diego, making it a convenient middle ground for SoCal chess players, allowing for a wealth of competitors from both major cities along with the OC locals.
Due to increasing participation, the American Open has been hosted at the spacious Costa Mesa Hilton since last year.
My own first American Open was in 1999. I still remember Jeremy Silman’s annual lecture that year and his animated description of GM Eduard Gufeld (both of whom would be coaches of mine in the future), who was leading the tournament at the time:
“If you see an exuberant Ukrainian man dancing around the tournament hall, that’s Gufeld.”
Since then, I’ve competed in the event 9 times. And, while my performances at the American Open have varied widely, every single one has been memorable: a time to try to shake the rust off my game, compete against some strong players, and visit with old friends. One of my favorite American Open games over the years ended up published in the Los Angeles Chess Column by IM Jack Peters, who himself is a four-time American Open Champion.

Puzzle #1

Vanessa West vs. Ed Collins

How did my 12-year-old self win the game?
2000 American Open
White to move and win.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "2000 American Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "West, Vanessa"]
[Black "Collins, Ed"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B01"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r4rk1/pp3ppp/2p1p3/1q6/1b1P3B/1Q3N2/PP3P2/2KR2R1 w - - 0 23"]
[PlyCount "7"]23. Rxg7+ $1 Kxg7 24. Rg1+ Kh6 (24... Kh8 25. Bf6#) 25. Qe3+ Kh5 26. Rg5+ 1-0[/pgn]
This was the 52nd annual edition of the American Open, a tournament with a great deal of historical significance:
“It seems so long ago and yet it is so vivid. The year was 1965 when many of you were far from the cradle. Walter Browne and Andy Soltis were up and coming youngsters and none of our current Olympic team were even close to being born. Bobby was at his peak but acting weirdly as usual and was seven years away from his world title. We were still four years away from the first moon landing. President Lyndon Johnson was about to escalate a small war in Asia into a big one. The memory of the assassination of JFK still burned in our brains but we had not yet had hope crushed as it would be by two more horrible assassinations in the next three years.. The LA Lakers were still 17 years away from their first NBA Championship and the famous “counter culture” was being born in Berkeley California. In the midst of these turbulent times, the Santa Monica Bay chess club founded a new chess tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. The event was destined to continue an unbroken string of predecessors leading down to this year! The American Open (AO) was envisioned by the late USCF President Ed Edmondson to be part of a great “Triple Crown” with the US Open and National Open. There have been some changes in the status of this venerable event over the years, it is no longer a National tournament per se, but is both an American Classic and an American Heritage event, and still the largest tournament on the West coast.” -the late Jerry Hanken, Chess Life columnist and a participant in 44 consecutive American Opens, in his 2008 preview of the event
It’s very fitting that the American Open is held over Thanksgiving, a weekend of family tradition. It’s run by the Ong family for the 7th year in a row. The Ongs are an institution in Southern California chess and the owners of the local Chess Palace, one of the most active and competitive clubs in the area. I myself have known the Ongs for nearly the entire two decades that I’ve played chess. I remember my final round clash with Charlene Ong for 1st place in a scholastic tournament when I was 11-years-old. I remember competing alongside Anthony Ong at the junior high and high school state championships year after year. I remember playing in tournaments at the Chess Palace nearly every other weekend as a kid, back when the club was run by its founder, Charles Rostedt. I remember the disappointment I had when Charles mentioned that he was selling the space and the relief I felt when I heard that the Ongs were taking it over----that, although the location was changing, the Chess Palace would continue. The Ongs make an effort to organize not just a very strong tournament, but a welcoming and enjoyable chess atmosphere for the entire Thanksgiving weekend, providing extra features such as free t-shirts for all players (even participants in the side events), $25 gift certificates for players who score above 50%, and a free lecture by GM Gareyev, who himself is a three-time American Open Champion. In addition, the American Open is also one of the only major opens that has retained the classic time control, 2 hours for 40 moves + 1 hour sudden death. While I’m a big advocate of the 30 second increment for most tournaments, it’s nice to have the option to occasionally compete with the time control I grew up with.

The Main Tournament

“Previous American Open winners read like a Who’s Who in American chess. To name only a few and not to slight any of the fine players who have won or tied for first over the years: Gata Kamsky, Yasser Seirawan, Pal Benko, Robert Byrne, all World Championship candidates at one time or another, and the irrepressible Walter Browne who has his name on the winner list seven times!” -Jerry Hanken
GM Vladimir Belous vs. GM Andrey Baryshpolets
GM Belous won clear 1st, going undefeated and scoring 6.5 points out of 8 games. Throughout many of his games, Belous favored piece activity and dynamic compensation over material. While this playing style ultimately worked out, Belous faced a close call in his game against IM Andranik Matikozyan. Belous sacrificed a considerable amount of material for attacking chances, refusing an opportunity to draw by perpetual check. Although Matikozyan's king was under significant pressure, he was winning with best play.
[pgn][Event "53rd American Open"]
[Site "Costa Mesa"]
[Date "2017.11.24"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Matikozyan, Andranik"]
[Black "Belous, Vladimir"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "B31"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[EventDate "2017.11.23"]
[EventRounds "8"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. Bxc6 bxc6 5. O-O Bg7 6. Re1 Nh6 7. c3 O-O 8.
d4 cxd4 9. cxd4 d5 10. e5 f6 11. e6 Nf5 12. b3 Nd6 13. Qc2 Ne4 14. Nbd2 Bxe6
15. Nxe4 Bf5 16. Nxf6+ Rxf6 17. Qc3 Be4 18. Ne5 c5 19. Qxc5 Rc8 20. Qxa7 Rc7
21. Qa4 Rxf2 22. Kxf2 Bxe5 23. Rxe4 dxe4 24. dxe5 Rc2+ (24... Rxc1 25. Rxc1
Qd2+ 26. Kg3 Qg5+ 27. Kf2 Qd2+ {would've led to a draw.}) 25. Ke1 Qd3 26. Qe8+
Kg7 27. Qxe7+ Kg8 28. Qe6+ Kh8 29. Qf6+ Kg8 30. Qf1 Qd4 31. e6 Rc7 32. Rb1 e3
33. Qe2 Qh4+ 34. Kf1 Qe4 35. Ra1 $2 (35. e7 $1 {By giving back a pawn, White
can distract Black's rook from aiming at the c1-bishop and free up his own
rook and then make use of his extra material:} Rxe7 36. Rb2 $18) 35... Rc2 36. Qb5 $4 {White immediately resigned
because Black has checkmate in 4} ({White has to give up his queen for the rook, which is likely to
lead to a draw:} 36. Qxc2 Qxc2 37. Bxe3 Qd3+ 38. Kf2 Qc2+ 39. Kf1 (39. Kg1 {
would be a mistake because of} Qc3) 39... Qd3+) 36... Qxg2+ 37. Ke1 Qf2+ 38.
Kd1 Rd2+ *[/pgn]
The critical victory for Belous was his win against one of his closest competitors, GM Baryshpolets.
[pgn][Event "53rd American Open"]
[Site "Costa Mesa"]
[Date "2017.11.24"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Belous, Vladimir"]
[Black "Baryshpolets, Andrey "]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D46"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2017.11.23"]
[EventRounds "8"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nc3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O
e5 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. e4 exd4 11. Nxd5 Nxd5 12. exd5 h6 13. Nxd4 Qh4 14. Nf3 Qh5
15. Bh7+ Kh8 16. Qf5 Qxf5 17. Bxf5 Nf6 18. Bxc8 Rfxc8 19. Rd1 Rd8 20. Be3 Be7
21. d6 Rxd6 22. Rxd6 Bxd6 23. Rd1 Be7 24. h3 a6 25. Bb6 Rc8 26. b3 Kg8 27. g4
Rc2 28. Nd4 Rxa2 29. Nf5 Ba3 30. Kg2 Rc2 31. Rd8+ Kh7 32. Bd4 Bb2 33. Ne3 Re2
34. Kf3 Bxd4 35. Kxe2 Bc5 36. Kf3 b6 37. Nc4 g6 38. Nxb6 1-0[/pgn]
After this victory, Belous drew his last two games to clinch 1st. Baryshpolets recovered with a win over IM Evgeny Shtembuliak to tie for 2nd along with his fellow Texas Tech teammate, GM Pavlo Vorontsov.
GM Pavlo Vorontsov vs. GM Andrey Baryshpolets---they drew in the last round to share 2nd.
One of Baryshpolets most exciting games of the tournament was his attacking victory against 14-year-old National Master Alex Costello.

Puzzle #2

Alex Costello vs. GM Andrey Baryshpolets

With the kings castled to opposite sides, Black's queenside attack is more developed than White's. How can he break through?
Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "53rd American Open"]
[Site "Costa Mesa"]
[Date "2017.11.23"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Costello, Alexander"]
[Black "Baryshpolets, Andrey"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C12"]
[WhiteElo "2159"]
[BlackElo "2583"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1rr3k1/6p1/4pnP1/pq1p3p/1pb5/2P1RN2/PP1Q1P1P/1BK1R3 b - - 0 26"]
[PlyCount "17"]
[EventDate "2017.11.23"]
[EventRounds "8"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]26... Ne4 $1 27. Bxe4 (27. Qc2 bxc3 28. bxc3 Qc5 {and White's position
crumbles because of the threat of 29...Qa3+ 30. Kd1 Rb2.}) 27... dxe4 28. Nd4
Qb6 (28... Qd5 {also wins:} 29. Kb1 (29. Rxe4 bxc3 30. bxc3 Qc5 31. Nc2 Bxa2)
29... e5 30. Nb3 Bxb3) 29. Ne2 Rd8 30. Qc2 Bd3 31. Qb3 Qc6 {The threat of ...
a4 is too much for White's scattered position to handle.} 32. c4 a4 33. Qd1
Qxc4+ 34. Qc2 Qxc2# 0-1[/pgn]
Tatev Abrahamyan, the 3rd highest ranked woman in the country, with her most recent hair color, cobalt blue. She ultimately tied for the 2nd U2450 prize. In addition, her mixed doubles team with Rafi Andranigian won 2nd as well.

Local Prodigies

In addition to attracting 2600+ GMs, the American Open also drew many of the most formidable talent in the area, such as recent World Youth gold medalist Annie Wang, 12-year-old National Master Robert Shlyakhtenko, 11-year-old National Master Rochelle Wu, and 8-year-old Steve Wongso, who is just 14 rating points from reaching expert level. While an open section this strong can be a tough battlefield for players under 2400, many of these underdogs achieved upset victories and draws while gaining valuable experience against higher rated competition.
Robert Shlyakhtenko, the 7th highest 12-year-old in the country, vs. Steve Wongso, the 2016 National 1st Grade Champion
Robert Shlyakhtenko achieved upset wins against two players 250-300 points above him, International Master Felix Ynojosa and Tatev Abrahamyan.
[pgn][Event "53rd American Open"]
[Site "Costa Mesa"]
[Date "2017.11.24"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"]
[Black "Abrahamyan, Tatev"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E20"]
[PlyCount "61"]
[EventDate "2017.11.23"]
[EventRounds "8"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 c5 5. d5 O-O 6. e4 d6 7. a3 Ba5 8. Bd3 Nbd7
9. Nge2 Ne5 10. O-O a6 11. Be3 exd5 12. cxd5 b5 13. b4 Nxd3 14. Qxd3 cxb4 15.
axb4 Bxb4 16. Nxb5 Nd7 17. Rfb1 Bc5 18. Bxc5 Nxc5 19. Qe3 Rb8 20. Nbd4 Bd7 21.
Qf4 Qc7 22. Ng3 a5 23. Ngf5 Bxf5 24. Nxf5 Qa7 25. Qe3 Rxb1+ 26. Rxb1 a4 27.
Nxd6 a3 28. Nb5 a2 29. Ra1 Qb6 30. Nc3 Ra8 31. Rxa2 1-0[/pgn]
IM Philip Wang vs. FM Danial Asaria, ranked 10th in the country for 15-year-olds. Albert Lu, the 2016 National 9th Grade Champion, overlooks the game.
Fide Master Danial Asaria won the top U2450 prize. He lost only one game in the entire 8 round event to GM Bartlomiej Macieja, holding his own against a plethora of higher rated players, including victories over two International Masters, Felix Ynojosa and Philip Wang, and draws against GM Khachiyan, IM Craig Hilby, and IM Guillermo Vazquez.
National Master Mike Zaloznyy vs. Annie Wang, ranked 8th nationally for 15-year-olds
Annie Wang was one of the leaders for the first half, scoring 3.5 points out of 4, including an upset victory over IM Joshua Ruiz. This led to very strong opposition in the following rounds, including back-to-back games against two of the tournament favorites, GM Belous (the eventual winner) and GM Gareyev.


Sergey Yurenok vs. Ming Lu, two of the Expert section co-Champions
The expert section had the largest tie for 1st. Five 2100 players reached 6 points: Tony Kukavica, Ming Lu, Gabriel Eidelman, Sergey Yurenok, and Yuan Wang. All but the last drew against each other in the final round. Wang defeated Tim Deng to join the tie.


Class A Champion, Jacob Nathan (playing white), and his last round opponent, Alireza Fallahi
The highest score in the entire tournament was achieved by the U2000 1st place winner, 13-year-old Jacob Nathan, who won 7 games out of 8. In addition, he earned his first expert rating, gaining nearly 100 points. 


Dardanilo Latoreno vs. Benjamin Bankhead in the final round
Andrew Huang won clear 1st, going undefeated to gain 6.5 points. In the final round, Huang clinched 1st by drawing with Brent Bennett. Bennett tied for 2nd along with Benjamin Bankhead, who won a critical last round game to reach 6 points.
[pgn][Event "American Open 2017"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2001.01.01"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Latoreno, Dardanilo"]
[Black "Bankhead, Benjamin"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D02"]
[PlyCount "120"]
[EventDate "2001.??.??"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 e6 3. Bf4 Nf6 4. h3 g6 5. c3 Bg7 6. e3 O-O 7. Qb3 b6 8. Nbd2
Bb7 9. Bd3 Nbd7 10. O-O c5 11. Qc2 c4 12. Be2 Ne4 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Nd2 b5 15.
Nxe4 Nf6 16. Nd2 Nd5 17. Bh2 f6 18. Bf3 Qe7 19. a4 a6 20. a5 Rf7 21. e4 Nc7 22.
Rfe1 Raf8 23. Re2 e5 24. Nf1 f5 25. Bxe5 Bxe5 26. dxe5 Qg5 27. Nh2 f4 28. Ng4
h5 29. Nf6+ Kg7 30. Rd1 Qxe5 31. Nd7 Qg5 32. Nxf8 Kxf8 33. Qd2 Ne6 34. Qd6+ Re7
35. Red2 Kf7 36. Qb8 Nc5 37. Rd5 $2 {White tries to trade his rook for Black's
bishop and knight, but it doesn't work. How can Black regain his material?}
Bxd5 38. Rxd5 Nd7 $1 {Defensive tactics can be just as important as offensive
ones.} 39. Qd8 Ne5 40. Kh2 Qf6 41. Rd6 Qh4 42. Rd2 g5 $6 ({The right idea, but
Black should prepare it first with:} 42... Kg7) 43. Qd5+ $2 ({White has to
continue the attack:} 43. Qh8 $1 g4 (43... Nd3) 44. Qh7+ Kf6 45. Rd6+) 43...
Kg7 44. Bd1 {In the midst of defending his king, Black has also been building
up a kingside attack.} g4 45. Qd4 f3 46. Kg1 ({White should play} 46. Qe3 {
with equal chances.}) 46... fxg2 47. Qe3 gxh3 48. Qg3+ Qxg3 49. fxg3 Ng4 (49...
Rf7 {also wins} 50. Be2 Rf1+ 51. Bxf1 Nf3+ 52. Kf2 g1=Q+) 50. Bxg4 hxg4 51. Rd4
Rf7 52. Rd1 Rf3 {and White resigned. Even though White is only technically
down a pawn, there is no way to fight for a draw because his pieces are
paralyzed. For example:} 53. e5 Kf7 54. Re1 Rf1+ 55. Rxf1+ gxf1=Q+ 56. Kxf1 Ke6
57. Kg1 Kxe5 58. Kf1 Ke4 59. Kf2 Kd3 60. Kf1 Kc2 0-1[/pgn]


Rose Atwell---ranked 6th in the country for girls her age---tied for 3rd and gained nearly 200 rating points, reaching a new peak, 1552. She only began playing tournament chess in March of this year. Her last round opponent, Eric Pangilinan, won clear 2nd. 
A provisional player, Yakov Gurovich, won clear 1st in Class C with 6.5 points. This was his 4th US Chess tournament, and he gained nearly 200 points from his victory.


The Class D section ended with a tie between Timothy Abadilla and an unrated player, Khalid Siddiqi, with 6.5 points each. Siddiqi's tournament performance gives him a first rating well over 1600. In addition, Siddiqi scored 8 points out of 10 in the U1900 blitz, tying for first and achieving a provisional blitz rating over 2000.

Mixed Doubles

The top mixed doubles team was Julia Wiley, who tied for 5th in the U1400, and Dardanilo Latoreno, 9th in the U1800. Together they earned 10.5 total points.

Side Events

Side events can really enhance an event, making it more like a festival than just a tournament. For the players who can’t spare 3-4 full days to play in the main competition (which included me this year), the Saturday night blitz or Sunday action chess can be perfect.


The Saturday Night Blitz Tournament
American Open Champion Vladimir Belous also won the blitz tournament with a convincing 9.5 points out of 10. GM Gareyev took clear 2nd, losing only to Belous. The U1900 Blitz ended in a tie between Aiden Zhou and two previously unrated players, Abdul Omar and Siddiqi.


Gabriel Sam, the Action Chess Champion
National Master Gabriel Sam won clear 1st in the Sunday Action Chess Tournament, drawing with IM Cyrus Lakdawala and winning all the rest of his games. Lakdawala won 2nd, also going undefeated with an additional draw against expert Takashi Kurosaki. Lakdawala is one of today's most prolific chess writers, and he won the Chess Journalists of America "Book of the Year" award for his recent release, Chess for Hawks.


Aaron Householder, the High School champion, and GM Timur Gareyev
The scholastic tournament drew over 700 participants throughout 3 varsity sections, 6 junior varsity, and an unrated booster section for each grade level. Varsity 1st place winners were awarded iPads in addition to trophies. In total, 177 trophies were awarded. Aaron Householder won the K-12 Varsity with a perfect 5-0 score, crossing the 2100 mark for the first time. Here are the winners of the other scholastic sections:
K-6 Varsity

Jonathan Chen (4.5 points)

K-3 Varsity

Bryan Xie (5 points)

K-12 U1200

Yi-ning Li (5 points)

K-9 U1000

Benjamin Teng (5 points)

Max Eibert (5 points)

K-6 U800

Marilyn Gan (5 points)

K-6 U600

Colin Tarng (5 points)

K-3 U600

Daniel Maxwell (5 points)


Nathan P. Thomas (5 points)

For additional information, visit:
Vanessa West is a regular writer and digital assistant for US Chess News. She won the 2017 Chess Journalist of the Year award. You can follow her on Twitter: @Vanessa__West


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for the article! A small correction: In the Shlyakhtenko - Abrahamyan game, the given move is 21.Qc1, but 21.Qf4 was actually played.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Nicely done, Vanessa. (But the Action winner was Gabriel Sam, and you're not the first journalist to reverse his name!)

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Great article Vanessa, I love all the historical references and the great human touch you add to the report. I am sorry I have missed this event the last two years, but I will do my best to play next year. Thanks to the Ongs for putting on such a fine event and keeping the long tradition going!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm honored that of all of Vanessa's American Open games, she chose that position against me for this article. And yes, that position was later published in the Los Angeles Times. Here's the full score: [Event "2000 American Open"] [Site "Los Angeles, CA"] [Date "2000.11.26"] [Round "7"] [White "West, Vanessa A."] [Black "Collins, Edward Dennis"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteUSCF "1714"] [BlackUSCF "1685"] 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nxd5 4.d4 Bg4 5.c4 Nb6 6.Be3 e6 7.Nc3 c6 8.Qd2 N8d7 9.O-O-O Nf6 10.h3 Bh5 11.g4 Nxg4 12.hxg4 Bxg4 13.Be2 Nxc4 14.Qd3 Nb6 15.Rhg1 Bf5 16.Qd2 Nd5 17.Bg5 Qa5 18.Bd3 Bxd3 19.Qxd3 Nxc3 20.Qxc3 Bb4 21.Qb3 Qb5 22.Bh4 O-O 23.Rxg7+ Kxg7 24.Rg1+ 1-0

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks for the feedback, Robert, Randy, Chuck, and Ed! I'm glad you liked the article, and I've made the mentioned corrections.

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