Front-Runners Fall as Sevian, Mishra Clinch Spring Classic

The phrase “time flies” has taken on new resonance over these past two years as we all been experiencing life in a pandemic. But I want to give you another tale of how time flies, and how you (and I) feel it.

I can close my eyes and see the Elshan of 1995, back in Tehran. It is my first “open” (without age limit) tournament. I am the youngest competitor at the Tehran city championship, in a field of more than 250 players. Most of my competition is middle-aged men wearing puffed trousers — you might call them ‘Hammer’ or… parachute pants? — and sporting mustaches similar to Steve Harvey’s.

The cheap plastic sets are dirty. The light inside the playing hall is dim; outside it, it’s bright, but there is an unsavory smell. (This is not surprising — the new building was constructed on the site of what used to be a slaughterhouse just months before.) I am a curiosity, a boy among men, and everyone watches my games with interest. How can this kid play so well?

Fast forward, 27 years later: I am inside the Saint Louis Chess Club, about to start my first-round game at the 2022 Spring Classic. The “Classics” are a quarterly series of invitational round-robin events that were paused for two years due to the pandemic. So here I am, wearing a nice sport jacket and straight pants — done with any puff and fluff, thank god! — and calmly settled in my chair. There is a chic wooden set and DGT board before me. I sip my coffee from a mug.
 

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Elshan Round 1 Spring Classic
The author, in his modern fit, glances up from his first round match against GM Harshit Raja. Photo by Austin Fuller


The other players file in and take their seats. The games are about to begin. As I take it all in, I see how things have come full circle. Now I am the oldest guy in the room, the grizzled veteran trying to ward off these young up-and-comers.

But then as now, the feeling is the same: how fortunate I feel to play this game, and what joy there is in competition!

The 2022 Spring Chess Classic ran from March 1-11, featuring two parallel round-robin events. The A group consisted mostly of players rated above 2600, led by top seed GM Jeffery Xiong at 2686 FIDE.  

Xiong started well with two wins, but then lost with the White pieces from a better position against GM Aram Hakobyan in round three. Another loss against GM Illia Nyzhnyk dashed Jeffery’s hopes for first place.

[pgn][Event "Spring Chess Classic - Group A"] [Site "chess24.com"] [Date "2022.03.06"] [Round "5.3"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Nyzhnyk, Illya"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2686"] [BlackElo "2674"] [Annotator "Elshan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r1r1k1/3n1p2/p2p1bp1/1p1P1P1p/2q5/1N2B3/PPPQ4/1K1R1R2 w - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "22"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "Ukraine"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "UKR"] [WhiteClock "0:00:04"] [BlackClock "0:31:50"] {[#]} 24. Rf4 {Nyzhnyk's crucial victory was built on this exchange sacrifice after Xiong hesitated for many moves about his kingside attack.} Qxc2+ $1 25. Qxc2 Rxc2 26. Kxc2 Rxe3 27. fxg6 fxg6 28. Nd2 Kg7 (28... Be5 29. Rf3 Re2 { is more dominant and accurate.}) 29. Rdf1 $2 (29. Re4 Rxe4 30. Nxe4 Be5 31. Rc1 {looks very bad for White but it is the last chance to 'test' Black's accuracy. }) 29... Re2 $6 {Wasting an unnecessary tempo.} 30. Kd1 Re7 31. Ne4 Be5 { Black has consolidated. Now it is all over for Xiong.} 32. R4f3 Nb6 33. Ra3 Bxb2 34. Rxa6 Nxd5 {White to loses to the double threat of ...Re7xe4 and ... Nd5-e3+.} 0-1 [/pgn]

After five rounds, Hakobyan was tied for second with Nyzhnyk. Both trailed GM Ray Robson, who had jumped out to a quick lead with four points. The smart money would have been on one of these three players, but as so happens at the Classics, there was another dramatic turn when GM Sam Sevian took off on the backstretch.

Seeded second coming into the event, Sevian scored back-to-back wins in rounds five and six, including a win over Hakobyan. A victory over Robson in the penultimate round put Sevian into a tie for first place with Nyzhnyk, who scored his third win against Hakobyan.

[pgn][Event "Spring Chess Classic - Group A"] [Site "chess24.com"] [Date "2022.03.09"] [Round "8.1"] [White "Sevian, Samuel"] [Black "Robson, Ray"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2684"] [BlackElo "2676"] [Annotator "Elshan"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {[%evp 0,67,30,-7,-25,-27,-27,-20,-13,-45,-19,-27,-16,-20,19,-12,12,-1,19,-17, -3,-12,7,-1,-8,-19,-20,-28,-24,-11,-2,-14,-9,-16,-38,-22,-10,5,73,137,142,153, 153,146,146,146,204,208,177,166,195,204,252,264,270,271,256,275,260,182,240, 244,268,263,803,866,29997,29998,29999,-30000]} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Bc5 7. O-O O-O 8. d3 h6 9. Nxd5 Qxd5 10. Bd2 a5 11. Bc3 Qe6 12. Nd2 a4 13. Nc4 f6 14. Rc1 Rd8 15. Qd2 Qe7 16. Qc2 Ra6 {[#] Sevian did not achieve anything out of the opening, so he decides to test Robson in this position.} 17. Bxc6 bxc6 (17... Rxc6 18. Qxa4 Ra6 19. Qb3 Kh8 { does give Black enough compensation but I think Robson did not want to be down on material.}) 18. Na5 Bh3 $4 {This obvious move is a losing blunder.} (18... Qf7 19. Bd2 Bb6 20. Nxc6 Rd6 21. Qc4 (21. Nb4 Ra5 {and suddenly White's pieces are getting uncomfortable, especially the b4-knight.}) 21... Qxc4 22. Rxc4 Be6 23. Rc2 Rxc6 24. Rxc6 Bxf2+ 25. Kxf2 Rxc6 26. Rc1 Rxc1 27. Bxc1 Bxa2 {Black is up a pawn, but the opposite-colored bishops mean this is a draw.}) 19. Be1 $3 { White traps his own rook but his threat is stronger than his loss of an exchange. Soon we will see why 19. Be1 was stronger than 19. Bd2.} Rb6 20. Qxc5 Qxc5 21. Rxc5 Rxb2 {Here's the point: if White's bishop was on d2 this move would have cost a tempo.} 22. Nxc6 Rd7 23. Bc3 Rxe2 24. Nb4 $1 {Note that 24. . ..Bxf1 does not work because White recaptures and traps the e2-rook!} e4 25. Re1 $1 {Easiest.} exd3 26. Rxe2 dxe2 27. f3 Rd1+ 28. Kf2 Rh1 29. Be1 $1 { Back to e1, trapping the black rook!} g5 30. g4 h5 31. Nd5 h4 32. Rxc7 Bf1 33. Nxf6+ Kf8 34. Bb4# {Sevian's accuracy was great to watch in this game. To Ray's credit (or consolation), he only played one 'very bad' move.} 1-0 [/pgn]
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Nyzhnyk Sevian Spring Classic
GMs Illia Nyzhnyk and Sam Sevian deep in thought during their playoff. Photo: Crystal Fuller


After final round draws, both Nyzhnyk and Sevian finished at 6/9, tying for first place but forcing a two-game rapid playoff. There, Sevian won 2-0 to take the top Group A prize. He also continues his ascent towards toward 2700, standing at 2693 after his strong performance in St. Louis.
 

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Spring Classic Group A Crosstable


The story of Group B was one of two players. Mizzou student GM Christpher Repka bolted out of the gates, scoring four wins in his first four games. He picked up another crucial win over 15-year-old phenom IM Christopher Yoo in round seven, after which his hefty 6/7 score set him a point ahead of the youngest GM in the world, Abhimanyu Mishra.

The eighth-round battle between the two leaders seemed to favor Repka. After all, he had the white pieces, and a draw would have secured him at least a tie for the first place. However, just as in the A group, it came down to who would finish the tournament best.
 

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Repka Mishra Round 8 Spring Classic
GMs Repka and Mishra square off for a definitive Round 8 of the Spring Classic. Photo: Crystal Fuller


Mishra prevailed with the black pieces and went on to win his last round game against Yoo, earning a winning score of 7/9. (The only draw he gave up in the last seven rounds was to your author.)

[pgn][Event "Spring Chess Classic - Group B"] [Site "chess24.com"] [Date "2022.03.10"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Mishra, Abhimanyu"] [Black "Yoo, Christopher Woojin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C06"] [WhiteElo "2505"] [BlackElo "2534"] [Annotator "Elshan"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. e4 {Mishra arrives for the final round battle in a tie for first, and with a whopping score of 5½ from his last 6 games.} e6 {A surprise - this is not part of Yoo's main repertoire.} 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Be7 $5 {In Correspondence chess, this line is considered dead lost!} 4. Ngf3 Nf6 5. e5 Nfd7 6. Bd3 c5 7. c3 Nc6 8. O-O g5 9. Nb1 $5 {One of the engine's favorites, but not the most topical move.} b6 $6 {Yoo does not know this line or he relies too much on the practical aspect of this position.} (9... g4 10. Ne1 h5 11. Be3 Qb6 12. b3 Rg8 13. Nc2 {doesn't appeal much either.}) (9... Qb6 {is more testing.} 10. Nxg5 $1 cxd4 11. Nf3 Ncxe5 12. Nxe5 Nxe5 13. cxd4 Nxd3 14. Qxd3 Bd7 15. Nc3 {White stands better but Black is not without any play. There is no doubt that this position has far less complexity and the burden of finding reasonable moves is on Black.}) 10. Be3 Bb7 11. a3 c4 $6 {I just do not understand Black's whole opening concept. It seems to me that he is voluntarily entering a losing structure.} 12. Bc2 h5 13. Ne1 $2 {This lets go of most of White's advantage.} (13. a4 g4 14. Nfd2 Qc7 15. Qe2 {And White's b2-b3 plan looks pretty dangerous. Black's king will have a hard time finding a safe haven.}) 13... Qc7 14. f4 gxf4 $2 (14... g4 {followed by ...0-0-0 and ...f7-f5 makes more sense. 15.f5 could be met by 15. ...0-0-0 after which ...Nd7xe5 is a daunting threat.}) 15. Bxf4 O-O-O 16. Nd2 Rdf8 17. Qe2 f6 18. exf6 Bd6 19. Bxd6 Qxd6 20. Nef3 { Black is positionally busted.} Rxf6 21. Ng5 $1 {Like most of he event, Mishra's technique is impressive and to the point.} Qe7 22. Ndf3 Re8 23. h4 $1 {It is important to secure the g5-square.} Qd6 24. Nd2 e5 25. Bf5 Rff8 26. Bxd7+ Kxd7 27. Qxh5 Rxf1+ 28. Rxf1 exd4 29. cxd4 b5 (29... Nxd4 30. Qg4+ $18) 30. Ndf3 Qe7 31. Re1 Qxe1+ {Desperate, but things have been over for Black for quite some time now.} 32. Nxe1 Rxe1+ 33. Kf2 Re8 34. Qf7+ Re7 35. Qxd5+ Kc8 36. Qf5+ Kc7 37. Qf4+ Kc8 38. Ne4 Nd8 39. Nd6+ Kd7 40. Nf5 Rf7 41. g4 Nc6 42. d5 Ne7 43. Qd6+ Ke8 44. Qb8+ Nc8 45. Kg3 a5 46. Nd6+ {A fine finish for Mishra and another step towards a bright future. This, on the other hand, was just a small hiccup for the impressive Yoo.} 1-0 [/pgn]

Meanwhile, Repka achieved a better position in the last round against GM Titas Stremavicius, who was struggling after three consecutive losses. But here it was Repka who stumbled, finishing second after losing the game.

The lesson? Coming from a culture of idioms, I can only refer you to this fable of Aesop’s: don’t count your chickens before they hatch!
 

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Spring Classic Group B Crosstable

 

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Mishra Sevian Spring Classic 2022
GMs Mishra and Sevian pose together after winning their respective groups at the 2022 Spring Classic. Photo: Crystal Fuller


Other Spring Classic Game Highlights
 

[pgn][Event "Spring Chess Classic - Group B"] [Site "chess24.com"] [Date "2022.03.03"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Ali Marandi, Cemil Can"] [Black "Mishra, Abhimanyu"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E01"] [WhiteElo "2524"] [BlackElo "2505"] [Annotator "Elshan"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Turkey"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "TUR"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {[%evp 0,93,25,26,13,19,27,-10,30,8,51,12,-1,-11,-16,-19,6,-16,-38,-40,-43,-46, -43,-51,-50,-42,-27,-46,14,-36,-3,1,-1,-38,-35,-59,-75,-65,-41,-65,-38,-65,-49, -70,0,-6,25,77,93,-11,143,187,233,100,233,174,418,414,426,419,449,459,459,484, 491,501,501,510,512,586,702,508,639,428,521,483,495,502,513,513,595,608,623, 642,645,654,683,696,702,713,1112,1161,1257,1257,1273,1687]} 1. d4 {Mishra's event did not begin on a high note. He ended up losing to Marandi's deep preparation in this sharp line of Slav.} d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. g3 dxc4 6. Bg2 Nbd7 7. O-O b5 8. e4 Bb7 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ng5 h6 11. Nge4 $5 {A side line.} (11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Qh5+ Ke7 13. Ne4 Qe8 14. Bg5+ hxg5 15. Qxh8 Kd8 16. Nxg5 Kc8 $13 {is where the main theory of this line begins!}) 11... Qb6 (11... Be7 12. Qg4 Kf8 13. h4 Kg8 14. Rd1 a5 $132 {1/2-1/2 (37) Pundak,M (2364) -Doderer,H (2391) ICCF email 2020}) 12. Be3 Be7 13. Qg4 g6 14. b3 cxb3 15. axb3 a5 16. Nxd5 cxd5 17. Nd6+ {So far all engine approved.} Bxd6 18. exd6 Qxd6 19. Bf4 Qb4 20. Rac1 (20. Rfc1 Nf6 21. Qe2 O-O 22. Bxh6 Rfc8 23. Qe5 Ne8 24. h4 { seems dangerous, but the engines do not feel any worries for Black here.}) 20... g5 21. Be3 Ke7 $4 {A natural-looking move, but it turns out to be a losing blunder.} (21... Rc8 22. Rxc8+ Bxc8 23. Rc1 Ke7 24. h4 Nf6 {would have made all the differences and in the actual game, we see why.}) 22. h4 $1 f6 ( 22... Nf6 23. Qf3 Rac8 24. hxg5 $18) 23. Bh3 f5 24. Qh5 $6 (24. Qe2 g4 25. Bxg4 fxg4 26. Rc7 Rab8 27. Re1 {with Be3-d2 coming was the way to go.}) 24... Rag8 ( 24... Nf6 25. Rc7+ Kd8 26. Qf7 Rf8 27. Qg7 Rg8 {White looks winning but I cannot find anything conclusive.}) 25. Rc7 Bc8 26. Rfc1 {Now it is over.} g4 27. Bxh6 Qd2 28. Bxd2 Rxh5 29. Bf1 Rhh8 30. Bxb5 Kf6 31. Bxd7 Bxd7 32. Rxd7 Rc8 33. Re1 Rhe8 34. Bf4 Rc3 35. Ra7 Rxb3 36. Rxa5 Rd3 37. Rxd5 exd5 38. Rxe8 Rd1+ 39. Kg2 Kf7 40. Re5 Rxd4 41. Rxf5+ Ke6 42. Re5+ Kf6 43. h5 Ra4 44. Rxd5 Kg7 45. h6+ Kg6 46. Rd6+ Kh7 47. Rd7+ 1-0 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "Spring Chess Classic - Group A"] [Site "chess24.com"] [Date "2022.03.03"] [Round "2.4"] [White "Robson, Ray"] [Black "Lenderman, Aleksandr"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A35"] [WhiteElo "2676"] [BlackElo "2600"] [Annotator "Elshan"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {[%evp 0,73,19,-27,14,16,13,22,33,29,43,33,31,57,47,19,10,-8,10,0,0,-8,10,30, 35,35,33,24,28,36,62,59,89,79,51,-6,-7,-28,-30,-37,-1,-5,0,5,0,-11,-8,-14,95, 52,101,101,102,11,67,84,124,133,139,133,169,127,108,97,87,83,83,0,208,175,1169, 1160,29985,29986,29989,29990]} 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 g6 4. e3 Nf6 5. d4 cxd4 6. exd4 d5 7. h3 Bg7 8. c5 O-O 9. Bb5 Ne4 10. O-O Nxc3 11. bxc3 Qc7 12. Re1 Bd7 13. Bg5 Rfe8 14. Qd2 b6 15. Bh6 Bh8 16. cxb6 axb6 17. h4 Na5 18. Bd3 Nc4 19. Bxc4 dxc4 20. h5 Bf5 21. Bf4 Qb7 22. Re3 Ra5 23. Rae1 Qa8 {[#] The very same thing Robson missed round eight helped him win in round two.} 24. Rxe7 Rxe7 25. Rxe7 Bf6 26. Qe3 $1 {White gives away an Exchange, but Black lacks defense against White's attack on the dark squares.} (26. Re2 Bd3 { and ... Ra5xh5 follows. Although White remains much better, it is far from winning.}) 26... Bxe7 27. Qxe7 f6 28. Bh6 Ra7 29. Qxf6 b5 30. Ne5 {Bringing the dudes to the party!} Qe8 31. d5 Qe7 32. Qb6 $1 {Accurate play by Ray.} Ra8 33. Nc6 Qd7 34. Qxb5 Bd3 35. d6 Qe6 (35... Qxd6 36. Qb7 $18 {[%cal Gb7g7]}) 36. Qb7 Qe1+ 37. Kh2 1-0 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "Spring Chess Classic - Group A"] [Site "chess24.com"] [Date "2022.03.10"] [Round "9.4"] [White "Hakobyan, Aram"] [Black "Niemann, Hans Moke"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B51"] [WhiteElo "2601"] [BlackElo "2642"] [Annotator "Elshan"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Armenia"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "ARM"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] [WhiteClock "0:18:59"] [BlackClock "0:26:32"] {[%evp 0,73,19,18,52,50,68,45,73,54,52,45,29,29,24,29,30,42,36,35,26,29,30,30, 41,41,37,50,48,26,24,29,8,14,28,59,70,68,69,72,98,81,111,77,81,55,67,89,88,52, 82,73,93,117,99,135,140,136,122,116,116,122,122,166,203,185,160,151,153,137, 137,133,155,146,201,201]} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. O-O a6 5. Bxd7+ Bxd7 6. d4 cxd4 7. Qxd4 Nf6 8. Bg5 h6 $6 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. c4 Rc8 11. Nc3 e6 { During the game I passed by this board and asked myself, 'could they find improvement over Ivanchuk-Kasparov?' I thought this was just better for White. As I look at it now, this game at least proves that I can stick to my teaching material for a while!} 12. a4 (12. Kh1 {Ivanchuk's play does not make 21st centuries' engines happy but he demonstrated how two knights could actually be better than two bishops in certain structures.} h5 13. a4 h4 14. h3 Be7 15. b4 a5 16. b5 Qc7 17. Nd2 Qc5 18. Qd3 Rg8 19. Rae1 Qg5 20. Rg1 Qf4 21. Ref1 b6 22. Ne2 Qh6 23. c5 $5 Rxc5 $2 24. Nc4 $1 $18 Kf8 25. Nxb6 Be8 26. f4 f5 27. exf5 Rxf5 28. Rc1 Kg7 29. g4 Rc5 30. Rxc5 dxc5 31. Nc8 Bf8 32. Qd8 Qg6 33. f5 Qh6 34. g5 Qh5 35. Rg4 exf5 36. Nf4 Qh8 37. Qf6+ Kh7 38. Rxh4+ {1-0 (38) Ivanchuk, V (2695)-Kasparov,G (2800) Linares 1991 CBM 022 [Boensch,U]}) 12... Be7 13. b4 a5 14. b5 Qc7 15. Nd2 Qc5 16. Qd3 Bd8 17. e5 $5 (17. Kh1 Bb6 18. Rad1 {and the threat of e4-e5 is even stronger here.}) 17... f5 18. exd6 Bf6 19. Rad1 Bg7 ( 19... O-O 20. Qf3 Qb4 21. Ne2 Qxa4 {Engines love White but it is not easy to say how exactly White should play, although his plan with Ne2-f4 and g2-g4 seems clear enough.}) 20. Ne2 O-O 21. Nf4 Kh7 22. Nh5 Bh8 23. Qg3 Qd4 24. Qf3 b6 25. Rfe1 Rcd8 26. Qf4 $1 {Great judgment call. The endgame is actually winning for White. This is one of those odd cases when two bishops are dominated by two knights.} Qxf4 27. Nxf4 Bc3 (27... Bc8 28. c5 $1 bxc5 29. Nc4 Bc3 30. Kf1 $1 Bb7 31. f3 Rfe8 32. Re5 $1 {Please take my rook . White dominates the dark squares.} Bd4 33. Rxd4 {Alas}) 28. Re3 Bb4 29. Nf3 Bc5 30. Re2 Bb4 31. Ne5 Bc3 32. Re3 Bxe5 33. Rxe5 Rc8 34. c5 {Now it is all technically winning.} bxc5 35. Nd3 c4 36. Nc5 Rfd8 37. Nb7 Rg8 38. Nc5 Rgd8 39. Nb7 Rg8 40. Rc5 c3 41. Rc7 Rg4 42. f4 $1 c2 (42... Rxf4 43. Rxd7 c2 44. Rc1 { and Black cannot go Rd4 and Rd1 because} Rd4 45. Rc7 Rd1+ 46. Kf2 {with the f2 pawn gone, has no back-rank issues.}) 43. Rc1 Rxc7 44. dxc7 Rxf4 45. Rxc2 Rxa4 46. Nc5 {A neat win for Hakobyan, and I am happy to see that part of my old knowledge still retains value!} 1-0 [/pgn]

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