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.

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.

The critical victory for Belous was his win against one of his closest competitors, GM Baryshpolets.

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.

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.

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.


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


  1. 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.

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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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