The 52nd incarnation of Southern California’s premier tournament over the Thanksgiving weekend saw GM Timur Gareyev, 28, and IM John Daniel Bryant, 25, emerge as co-champions. Their 6 ½ – 1½ scores led the Open section field (which included three GMs, five IMs, three WGMs, and one WIM) by a point.
Gareyev calls Kansas home but had been in Southern California for a month, preparing for his successful assault on the blindfold simultaneous record and tying for first in the Orange Pumpkin and Los Angeles Opens. He played in the “short” schedule as always, and at the merge was tied at 3½ /4 with Bryant and young FM Rayan Taghizadeh of Northern California. Timur annotates his Round 4 win against a many-time American Open champ featuring both a King’s Gambit and an instructive pawn ending!
Gareyev and Bryant drew in the fifth round, and Timur then beat master Dayron Huertas (who had upset WGM Tatev Abrahamyan) with a sacrificial attack; 15…0-0 would have been the lesser evil, and after 16.Nxf7, taking is out of the question because of 17.Qf3+ followed by Bxe6.
IM John Bryant. Photo: Irina Nizmutdinova
Gareyev then drew with fellow GM Alex Yermolinsky, then downed Abrahamyan in the final round to reach 6½. Bryant, after a draw with IM Andranik Matikozyan, caught up by beating young Albert Lu and WGM Camilla Baginskaite in the last two rounds. Lu went wrong with 16…Nxe4, when 16…Nxd5 and 16…Rfe8 both look fine for Black.
Baginskaite, who is married to GM Yermolinsky (more on him soon), was trailing Bryant by a half point. She essayed a sharp variation against the Modern Benoni, but in a position with both sides uncastled, opted to force a queen trade on the 15th move. 15.Qe2 or 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.Qe2 appear to improve. Yet after further minor inaccuracies typical of a tense last round game, White blundered a piece on move 28, when alternatives 28.d6, 28.Ra4, or 28.Bg3 are all approximately equal.
Yermolinsky, 58, returned to the tournament after several years’ absence. He jokingly compares his residence in South Dakota to being in Siberia (not sure whether he’s referring to the weather or isolation from the chess world), but he and Camilla seem to have carved out a nice chess niche there. After a stunning upset by young Daniel Mousseri, he reeled off four straight wins, moving into the first place tie after Round 5, but then drew with Lu, Gareyev, and Matikozyan to finish with 5½. Alex annotates his favorite game, a cut-and-thrust affair against another veteran, IM John Watson, in Round 4:
Matikozyan hasn’t been playing too much in recent years, but he turned in a workmanlike undefeated performance to get into the third/fifth place tie. Another IM, Keaton Kiewra, took a more circuitous path to that perch. After starting with ½/2 in the slow schedule, he reentered (well, it’s allowed in the US Open too) and lost again in Rounds 2 and 3 of the three-day. A burst of 4½ /5 left him with a reasonable prize – but still 15 rating points poorer.
As mentioned above, GM Melik Khachiyan has won the tournament many times, but the rigors of the unaccustomed fast schedule may have taken a toll, and he finished tied for sixth place in a group of seven players, including Under 2450 co-winners Hurertas and Lu, as well as Under 2350 leaders Baginskaite and FM Alex Kretchetov, the victim in Khachiyan’s favorite game, a positional squeeze that duly generates some tactics.
Section winners included many-time participant Saleem Kiwan of Fresno (Under 2200), Michael Taylor and Amarjargal Ganbaatar (tied at 6½ in Under 2000), and Christotpher Tyau of Hawaii, whose 7-1 tally lapped the field by a full point in Under 1800. Under 1600 was a triple tie among Paul Savage (another veteran participant from Northern California), Gokhan Akat, and Pranav Kumarsubha. Young Aidan Ye earned the only perfect score, winning Under 1400 by two points and gaining 249 rating points (the sky’s the limit when those bonus points kick in!). Last year he went 5-0 in JV K-12 Under 1200 – that’s the kind of annual progress we like to see!
Two Mongolians, the afore-mentioned Ganbaatar and Damdinbazar Baterdene (he scored 4 ½ in Under 2200) took Mixed Doubles honors. In the Scholastic, with a total entry of 332 in the rated sections, Aaron Chang unsurprisingly topped the Varsity K-12 section – he was a 359 rating point favorite! In smaller side events, Expert Nicanor Navarro took both the Blitz and Action.
Space availability forced the tournament to find a new venue after five years In the City of Orange. The Costa Mesa Hilton was up to the task, with two huge ballrooms smoothly accommodating both the 255-player main event and the scholastic. Well-received lectures were a feature as always, this time by Gareyev, Yermolinsky, and Khachiyan. The Ong family, proprietors of Chess Palace, worked hard to ensure the players’ comfort, and are looking forward to number 53 in 2017.