Count Em Up: Cristian Chirila Wins Clear in Vegas

The National Open, a fixture on the tournament circuit since 1965, attracted 722 players to the Westgate Hotel, the third highest total ever and the greatest since 2008. The Open is the flagship event of the Las Vegas International Chess Festival, about which more later. The powerful (18 GMs and 11 IMs) Open section saw a clear winner, GM Ioan Chirila of Romania.

Like his three fellow GMs who tied for second, Ioan, 27, known as “The Count,” for his spirited Grand Chess Tour segments, has lived in the US for a number of years while retaining his national affiliation. His successes include the 2007 World Under 16 Championship and the Under 2550 prize in the 2016 Millionaire tournament, which he chronicled for readers on Chess Life Online. Cristian obtained a degree in political economy from UT Dallas spent some time coaching and playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is now based in Saint Louis. His live commentary on the many championship events sponsored by the club there is familiar to chess fans.

The new seven-round format provided more opportunity for a clear winner to take the prized Edmondson Cup, and also allowed for additional multiple schedules. The two-day schedule in the Open had just 12 players, but they included nine GMs and two IMs! When the “merge” occurred after the fourth round, there were just two perfect scores: fifth seed GM Illia Nyzhnyk (our new World Open Champion) and seventh seed Chirila. GMs Dariusz Swiercz and Tigran Petrosian (the latter from the fast schedule) were a half point behind, along with FM Nick Raptis, who was fresh off an upset of GM Fidel Corrales Jimenez.

Chirila had caught something of a break in Round Four when young GM Ruifeng Li rejected a repetition of moves and then played h2-h3 a move too late in time pressure (39.c4 or 39.Kh1 and White is worse but still in the fight).

Round Three saw a convincing win by The Count. As bulletin editor Chris Bird observes, 14…Ng4! Is a multi-purpose move if ever there was one, trading off White’s Ne5, developing black’s Bc8, and opening the diagonal for the Bg7. Chirila outplays his GM opponent in the ensuing tactics.

Swiercz, 24, a student at Saint Louis University, had a break of his own in the fourth round. He was outplayed by IM (or GM-elect, as he has the norms but not yet the requisite 2500 rating) John Bryant, who missed the winning 30.Ng6+, after which the advantage completely flipped.

Nyzhynk, a 21-year-old student at Webster University, had reached these heights with the help of a second round attacking game against IM Keaton Kiewra.

An attractive finish (29…exd4 allows 30.Be6+ Kh8 31.c6), but 27.Rxd4! exd4 28.Be6+ Kh8 29.Bxd4 might have been more so. But no need to gild the lily!

Chirila and Nyzhynk drew in the fifth round, allowing Swiercz to catch up with a win over Petrosian, who might have been a bit fatigued after four rounds of Game/30.

Chirila began to stake his claim to the Cup by defeating the top player in the next score group. GM Elshan Moradiabadi, in the penultimate round. The unusual opening sequence has been seen before, and 11…Nf8 has been played and is the computer’s first choice, and it prefers Black after 12.Rd1 Bd6. Instead, the game continuation favors White (though …Bg5 is one of the ideas behind placing the knight on e6). No better would have been 14…Bxc1 15.Rxc1 Bg6 16.e3, or 14…Bg6 15.Nc3 when Black’s pieces are awkwardly placed and his king faces an uncertain future.

In the game, White is clearly on top, though either 18.Bxf7+ Nxf7 19.dxe5 or 18.d5 may improve. Black could have escaped into a pawn-down ending with 20…Qc5, and after 23.Ne4?! (23.Rac1) he missed a tactical opportunity with 23…0-0! when 24.Qxe7 Rae8 25.Bxf6 Rxe7 26.Bxe7 Re8 27.Bxc5 Qc6 28.f3 Rxe4 29.fxe4 Qxc5 and White’s fragmented pawns give Black good drawing chances. 24.Bxf6 Bxf6 25.Qxc5 leaves White more clearly on top. In the game Black gets no further chances (though 33.Qc4+ Qf7 34.Qxg4+ Bg7 35.Rd7! is a cleaner win).

At the same time Nyzhynk and Swiercz drew, leaving the latter to play the clear leader….and secure a clear advantage with White…

A slip on the 55th move (55.Ra8+ Kg7 56.Kd6 or 55.Rxc5 should close the deal) left Black close to a draw (56…Rg3=), but the game took another turn with 56…Rf4? 57.Rxc5 Rxg4 when 58.Rc8+ Kg7 59.c5 would be winning. Instead, after 58.Rc7 the game petered out to a draw – albeit a much longer and more interesting one than many previous top board games in the last round!

Chirila’s luck held as GM Nikola Mitkov of Chicago was unable to exploit an advantage against Nyzhynk.

Mitkov was the only player among the top four to start in the two-day schedule (perhaps counterintuitive for a 46-year-old player), and he had an attractive win in the fourth round.

Mitkov says he invested almost all his remaining time on move 24 calculating up to the move that ends the game, 31.Nc8 (an amusing echo).

Thus Chirila took the Cup and $8000 for clear first (the National Open prize fund totaled $100,000) and the afore-mentioned Swiercz, Nyzhnyk, and Mitkov tied for second. FMs Raptis and Teemu Virtanen, IM Dean Ippolito, and Siddharth Banik split the pool for players rated under 2500 and under 2400.

One player who made an early departure from the Open was GM Ruifeng Li, who withdrew after that loss to Chirila. In the second round, however, he schooled a fellow young GM, Akshat Chandra, in rook endings. 65.Re8+ would have held the draw, and after 65.Rg6? Kf5! is the only way to win.

In the Under 2300 section, WGM Carla Heredia of Ecuador, a Texas Tech stalwart, tied for first at 6-1 with 25-year-old Vilmos Balint of Hungary and veteran Lorand Bela Kis of Pennsylvania. She beat Balint in the last round to do it!

Carla and her partner, Eric Phares, also tied for first Mixed Doubles.

In Under 2100, Andrew Koenigsberg of Texas, the second seed, split the honors with Omar Garcia of New Mexico and hometown player Ryan Phillips, also with 6-1 tallies. Under 1900 saw four players reach the same score: Rachael Li (Ruifeng’s eight-year-old sister), Luke Curry of Arizona, Ryan Leong (a 16-year-old Canadian whose CFC rating, higher than his US rating, was used), and veteran Jose Cruz Pacheco of Los Angeles. Rachael gained 120 rating points and for good measure, tied for first Mixed Doubles with her partner Alexander Wang. (Ryan Leong and his partner, Kate Jiang, were third.)

In Under 1700, junior Brice Huang of Massachusetts was clear first with 6½, ahead of Anatoly Zharikh, Osias Ganotisi, and A K Singh. Under 1500 also saw a clear first, young Mark Chen of Hawaii, whose 6½ score put him ahead of Jason Zhang, Ivan Nikola Mitkov (presumably the GM’s son), and Julio Jose Candanedo. Under 1300 landed in the “multiple tie” category, as Mohammad Jarullah of Arizona, Saul Ramirez of Texas, and Joshua White and Wyatt Okikawa of Hawaii (that small state was well represented!) scored 6.

We mentioned that the National Open is part of a festival, and the chronologically first event was the Women’s Open, with 46 players. Saikhanchimeg Tsogtsaikhan of Mongolia made a clean sweep with 5-0, winning $1000, after losing to IM Nazi Paikidze (after a 4-0 start) last year.

Another Mongolian woman living in the San Francisco area, Badamkhand Noravsambuu, had helped clear the way for her with an upset of WGM Sabina Foisor. 15…Nd7 is highly suspect, and later Black has to shed two pawns to get her queen out of the danger zone.

A sampling of the many other Festival events: the Walter Browne Memorial Blitz, with 56 players, was won by Nyzhnyk. The Age 14 and Under Premier saw Alexandr Zuev, Amudan Mangudi, and Yu-Cheng Liang atop a 53 player field, and the 9 and Under Premier had Marcus Vasquez, Omya Vidyarthi, and Elena Zhang ahead of 33 others. Beyond Chess was top team in both. There were also beginners tournaments, simuls, junior trophy tournaments, other blitz events, and GM Melik Khachiyan’s popular clinic, going over submitted games.

Finally, in conjunction with the awards ceremony, a mixed field of veteran and junior GMs engaged in “Spirit of Chess,” a double-round blitz tournament. Ruifeng Li returned to the playing field and dominated with 9-1.

Organizers Al and Janelle Losoff once again did a superb job of juggling the myriad of details involved in a successful festival. Their webpage,  has many other results and pictures. They were happy to announce that the festival will begin ten days earlier next year, June 12, and (another first!) the top section will be nine rounds with title norms available. My thanks to the Losoffs, bulletin editor Chris Bird, DGT game coordinator Jon Haskel, photographer Tim Hanks, and Chief TD Kiki Huerta and his staff for their help. Hope to see you at the Westgate next June! Find full information and bulletins edited by Chris Bird on the event site.


Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press