The US Open champ and Blindfold King came to play chess! Photo: Jim Woodward
For the eighth consecutive year, the Southern California Open was hosted by the San Diego Club over Labor Day weekend. The spacious Town and Country Resort (also the venue of scholastic nationals in the past) easily accommodated the 236-player turnout (the best since 1999).
GM Timur Gareyev, less than a month from becoming US Open champ, took first by a full point with a 5½ – ½ score. He played in the two-day schedule, and, by the time he started, second seed GM Melik Khachiyan had already yielded two draws in the slow schedule. His first round game with 2211-rated Aaron Jones was a puzzler. In a rare sideline of the Giuoco Piano, he sacs a piece on for two pawns but lacks the firepower to launch a successful attack. Jones could have played for a win with 16…f6 17.Qxh6+ Kh8 18.Bxe6 Qxe6 19.Nf5 Rg8 20.Bh4 Ne7, but instead was satisfied with a perpetual.
Gareyev downed three masters in the G/45, including second seed IM Dionisio Aldama, and, at the merge of the two schedules, only local high school star Kevin Yang had equaled his perfect score.
Yang and another young local master, Alex Costello, were the next two victims.
Leading by a point, Gareyev still made an effort with White, but IM Keaton Kiewra held the draw. Timur took $2400 of the guaranteed $20,000 prize fund.
13-year-old Robert Shlyakhtenko made a splash by downing Aldama. Photo: Jim Woodward
Kiewra and Robert Shlyakhtenko, ranked fifth among 13-year-olds by US Chess, tied for second with 4½. The latter drew Khachiyan (who returned to Los Angeles early), upset Aldama, and had a fighting draw with another young SoCal star, Gabriel Sam, in the last round.
Robert showed great enterprise against the always-dangerous Aldama and reaped the reward after some ups and downs. 12…fxe5!?? should have left White with an edge after first 14.Qb3 and a move later, 15.Ng5 or Bg5. Instead of equalizing with 15…b6 or 15…e4, Robert went for 15.,.g5?!, attempting to put White’s knight to sleep. Aldama was on top until he missed the counterattack 23.Rc7!, and lost all advantage on move 24. In the ensuing complications, 35.Nh2 was the last chance for equality, and after 39.Nh2? Black gets connected passers and wins. In the final position, after 59.Kg1 Kf4 it’s mate in a few moves.
A large group split the remaining places and under 2300 prize money: Costello, Sam, Nicky Korba, Alex Kolay of Northern California, and three more local youngsters: Thomas Diem, Gordon McNeill, and Ming Lu. The Open section totaled 34 players.
In briefly recognizing the class section winners, we’ll focus on the dynamics of last round “money game” pairings. In Under 2200, recent college grad Austin Hughes had 4½, played down a half point, and quickly forced a draw with an Exchange French to share first with Krishan Warrier of Washington State, who had a last round bye.
Local favorite Datris Robinson took Under 2000 honors with his enterprising play. Photo: Jim Woodward
Under 2000 leader Datris Robinson of San Diego also had 4½ and played “down,” but there was one rival who could also reach 5, so he went for the gusto with the Milner-Barry Gambit in the Advance French. The position after 15 moves is known to favor Black – if he’s tactically alert. Alas, he misses the main threat of 16.Rf3, it costs him a piece, and he resigns. Two pawns for a piece, but White still has super attacking chances, and the beast says it’s about +4.
William Wijaya (a re-entrant) and Brent Bennett led the Under 1800 group by a full point going into the last round, and a quick draw was predictable. The next section had a more intriguing story (and a pairing anomaly, as sisters Julia and Elizabeth Wiley, as the only 4-pointers, had to be paired in the last round; Elizabeth won to tie for second). At 1400, Crystal Gu was nationally ranked tenth among eight-year-old girls and seeded 27th among the 40 players in Under 1600. She had 4½ going into the last round and beat the clear leader, taking first and moving all the way up to 1619. A player to watch!
Three players were tied at 4 in Under 1400 after five rounds, San Diegan Sepehr Golsefidy beat Alexander Backues, and the other contender, Roger Shi, played down a point but lost (to Leo Wang, younger brother of WIM Annie Wang, who was playing in a title tournament in North Carolina). And finally, young Sterling Patick led the Under 1200 group and played two points down – but lost, allowing Maricela Valenzuela, whom he had beaten in Round 2, to catch up.
Chuck Ensey did his usual great job of organizing for the tournament, and Bruce Baker and Jim Harrell headed up the TD staff. My thanks to Jim Woodward, Chris Roberts, and Larry Stevens for photography, mostly omitted because of space considerations. Chuck is hopeful that upcoming renovations of the resort will still accommodate the Open for next year.