Bai Jinshi Tops North American Open

GM Bai Jinshi 

The 28th Annual North American Open, with a guaranteed $120,000 prize fund drew 817 players, up from 2017’s 802 turnout, to Bally’s in Las Vegas in the days after Christmas. The 114 player Open section featured ten GMs, 14 IMs, one WGM, and four WIMs. Form prevailed, with the top seed, GM Bai Jinshi of China, emerging on top with a 7 ½ - 1½ score. He’s been a GM for three years and the Cannes Open 2016, with a strong field of GMs, was his previous best result. Bai, 19, playing in only his third US event, is considering higher education options and has visited several US colleges. He held a clear lead from round 4 on, and after beating IM Teddy Coleman in the sixth round he was able to hold first by drawing with IMs Advait Patel and Dionisio Aldama. Bai then faced his only GM opponent, Ruifeng Li of Texas. Li tried an unusual gambit, but didn’t get what he wanted. Stockfish says Black’s a bit better after 10.Nxc3 Qxd1 11.Rxd1 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Bg4, so needing a win, Li tried 10.Qa4, but fell victim to a devastating piece sac which led to an early mate – with White’s pawn still sitting on g7.

[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2018.12.30"] [White "Li, Ruifeng"] [Black "Bai, Jinshi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C24"] [WhiteElo "2559"] [BlackElo "2568"] [PlyCount "42"] [EventDate "2018.12.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nf3 Bb4+ 5. c3 dxc3 6. O-O O-O 7. e5 d5 8. exf6 dxc4 9. fxg7 Re8 10. Qa4 Nc6 11. bxc3 Bg4 12. cxb4 Bxf3 13. gxf3 Nd4 14. Qd1 Qf6 15. Kh1 Re2 16. h3 Qxf3+ 17. Kg1 Rd8 18. Be3 Qxh3 19. Bxd4 Qg4+ 20. Kh2 Rxd4 21. Nc3 Qh5+ 0-1[/pgn]
Two IMs won last round games to reach 7 points and a tie for second.

GM Robert Hess vs. IM Dionisio Aldama at the 2017 North American Open

The 2017 co-winner, Dionisio Aldama, had yielded a first round draw to FM Guannan Song and later lost to FM Edward Song; more on that game below. But in the final round he uncorked a mating attack against a Polish GM after the ill-advised 16…Bg6. 24…Ra8 or 24…Qc7 would have kept Black in the game; the last chance to prolong things was 27…Rce4 28.Nxe6 Rxe4 29.Nxd8 Rxg4. The Black king hoped to escape the coffin after 30…Rd8, but 31.Rf1 slammed it shut.

[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.12.30"] [White "Aldama, Dionisio"] [Black "Pakleza, Zbigniew"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B07"] [WhiteElo "2412"] [BlackElo "2506"] [PlyCount "61"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 c6 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 6. Bd3 e6 7. Qe2 d5 8. O-O Be7 9. Rd1 O-O 10. a4 Nbd7 11. e5 Ne8 12. Nb1 c5 13. c3 Nc7 14. Be3 Rc8 15. Nbd2 a6 16. b3 Bg6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 18. dxc5 Nxc5 19. b4 Nd7 20. b5 axb5 21. axb5 Na8 22. c4 Nab6 23. cxd5 Nxd5 24. Ne4 N7b6 25. Nfg5 Nc4 26. Qg4 Ncxe3 27. fxe3 Qb6 28. Qh4 Qxe3+ 29. Kh1 Bxg5 30. Nxg5 Rfd8 31. Rf1 1-0[/pgn]
After a shaky start with 1½ /3,  IM Zhaozhi Li, also known as George, of Illinois stormed back with 5 ½ of the last six, downing GM Steven Zierk in an unusual Najdorf-Dragon hybrid in the final round.  

[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [White "Zierk, Steven"] [Black "Li, Zhaozhi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2510"] [BlackElo "2399"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "2018.12.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 g6 7. Be3 Bg7 8. Qd2 b5 9. Bh6 Bxh6 10. Qxh6 e5 11. Nb3 b4 12. Nd5 Nxd5 13. exd5 Bb7 14. Be2 Nd7 15. O-O Qb6 16. Rfd1 Ke7 17. Qh4+ Nf6 18. Nd2 Bxd5 19. Bf3 Bxf3 20. Nc4 g5 21. Qh6 Qc5 22. Nxd6 Rhg8 23. Nf5+ Ke6 24. Nd4+ exd4 25. Re1+ Kf5 26. g4+ Nxg4 27. hxg4+ Bxg4 28. f3 d3+ 29. Kf1 Bxf3 30. Qh3+ Bg4 0-1[/pgn]
The engine much prefers White after 18.c4; the inferior 18.Nd2 allows Black to finally capture the d5 pawn. The combination initiated by 19.Bf3 simply fails; 20.Qxg5 would answered by 20…(either)Rg8. Black remained a piece up, and his king easily survived some checks. Li, 18, thus tied for second. Two young stars, 16-year-old IM Advait Patel of Oklahoma and Mika Brattain of Connecticut (rated 2411, but without a title!), 20, both scored 6½ to split fourth and fifth places. Jack Qijie Zhu, 20, of the Bay Area earned Under 2400 honors, also with  6  ½  points. He also earned his first IM norm, though he hasn’t applied for FM and hasn’t studied the norm-seeking process. Going 5-0 with White was central to his result, and he seems to like long endings with an active king! Here’s the final portion of his final round upset of IM Michael Mulyar. Stockfish gives equality after 60…g5+ or 61…g6; the effort to advance the c-pawn toward promotion is easily handled. After 61…g5+, 62.Ke3 should win easily. Instead, after the en passant capture it’s equal again, with Black’s knight activated, and 66…Rf3 would have kept it that way. But after 66…c3? 67.Rh7, the potential x-ray on c8 ends Black’s queening hopes. In the final position, e6-e7 is unstoppable.
[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2018.12.30"] [White "Zhu, Jack"] [Black "Mulyar, Michael"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C26"] [WhiteElo "2364"] [BlackElo "2398"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2k4/1R2n1p1/3p1p1p/r1pP3P/4PKP1/8/4B3/1R6 w - - 0 59"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2018.12.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] 59. Bb5 R5a7 60. Bd7 c4 61. Be6 g5+ 62. hxg6 Nxg6+ 63. Kf5 Ne5 64. Kxf6 Rxb7 65. Rxb7 Ra3 66. Bf5 c3 67. Rh7 Rb3 68. Ra7 Nd3 69. Rg7 Ne5 70. Rg8+ Kc7 71. Rc8+ Kb7 72. Ke7 Nf3 73. Kxd6 Nd4 74. Rc4 c2 75. e5 Rb6+ 76. Kd7 Rb5 77. Be4 Ka7 78. e6 Rb7+ 79. Kd8 Rb8+ 80. Ke7 Rb4 81. Rxc2 Nxc2 82. Bxc2 Kb6 83. Bf5 Rb2 84. d6 Rd2 85. d7 Kc7 86. Ke8 1-0[/pgn]
Ruifeng Li led the group of 15 (!) six-pointers. It included FM Edward Song, 19, of the University of Michigan, who notched his second IM norm. He upset Li in Round 4, but it is his aforementioned win over Aldama in the next round that he graciously offered to annotate. It vividly illustrates the ups and downs (both on the board and emotionally) of competitive master chess.
[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2018.12.28"] [White "Aldama, Dionisio"] [Black "Song, Edward"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2412"] [BlackElo "2355"] [Annotator "edson"] [PlyCount "172"] [EventDate "2018.12.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. h3 Bb7 9. d3 d6 10. a3 Qd7 11. Nbd2 Rfe8 12. Nf1 h6 13. Ne3 Bf8 14. a4 g6 15. Nd5 Nxd5 16. Bxd5 b4 17. a5 Nd8 18. Bb3 Ne6 19. Be3 {White may have a little pressure here but not much.} c5 $2 {An awful positional blunder, completely missing his next move.} (19... Kh7) 20. Nd2 $1 {Maneuvering the knight to b6. Here I realized that I was losing the battle on the queenside.} ({For some reason I had only considered} 20. Qd2 Kh7) 20... Bc6 21. Nc4 Qd8 22. Nb6 Rb8 23. Bc4 Nc7 24. Qg4 Qf6 25. Rf1 h5 26. Qg3 Ne6 {Necessary to stop f2-f4, so I had to give up the a6 pawn.} 27. Bxa6 Nf4 28. Qf3 d5 29. exd5 Nxd5 30. Qxf6 Nxf6 31. Bc4 Kg7 32. c3 bxc3 33. bxc3 Rb7 34. Rfb1 Reb8 35. d4 cxd4 36. cxd4 exd4 37. Bxd4 Rd8 38. Bc3 Bc5 39. Rd1 Rdb8 40. Nd5 Bxd5 41. Bxd5 Ra7 {It's hard to imagine White losing this position! Extra passed a-pawn, two bishops, unpleasant pin on the a1-h8 diagonal: what more can White get?} 42. Ra4 Rd8 43. Bb3 Rb8 44. Ba2 Rc8 45. Rd3 Rac7 46. a6 Ba7 47. Be5 Re7 {I felt that I had defended well and White has to make a concession in misplacing the bishop as it must relinquish the pin.} 48. Bd4 Bxd4 49. Rdxd4 Ra7 50. Bc4 Nd7 51. Ra5 Nc5 52. Rd1 Rc6 53. Bf1 Ne6 54. Rad5 Rcc7 ({It's rather hard to say if} 54... Rcxa6 55. Bxa6 Rxa6 {is a better defensive attempt. I felt that a R v N endgame with pawns on the same side should be losing, so I decided to keep the Exchange with a murkier game.}) 55. Rd6 Kf8 56. g3 Ke7 57. Rb6 Nc5 58. h4 Ne6 59. Re1 Kf8 60. Kg2 Nc5 61. Kf3 Nd7 62. Rd6 Nc5 63. Bb5 Ne6 64. Red1 Ke7 65. Ke3 Rc3+ 66. R6d3 Rcc7 67. f3 Nc5 68. Rd6 Kf8 69. Kf2 Ke7 70. Kg2 Kf8 71. g4 hxg4 72. fxg4 Kg7 73. g5 $6 Ne4 $1 {Heading towards c3.} 74. Rd7 $2 {Giving up the big advantage that White had tried to grind toward victory for the past several moves.} (74. Rb6 {and white can still press, although after} Nc3 75. Ra1 Nxb5 76. Rxb5 Rc6 {the exchange of the bishop and the knight may ease things a little bit.}) 74... Nc3 {It's amazing how strong black's knight is. White cannot avoid losing material here, and it's also notable that the knight both covers c7 from b5 and also controls the queening square from c7. From here Aldama was visibly unsettled and collapsed very quickly.} 75. R7d5 ({During the game I wasn't sure about} 75. Rxc7 Rxc7 76. Rd7 Nxb5 77. Rxc7 Nxc7 78. a7 { It's possible that this is a draw if white can create enough threats to either head towards the queenside or attack the kingside pawns with the king.}) 75... Nxd1 76. Rxd1 {Unsure about how big my advantage was or if it even existed, I decided to put both rooks behind the pawn and also create threats against the enemy king.} Rc2+ 77. Kf3 Ra2 78. Rd6 Ra5 79. Be2 Ra4 80. Kg3 Rc7 81. h5 $2 { The final blunder, leading to essentially a mating attack.} Rc3+ 82. Kf2 gxh5 83. Bxh5 Ra2+ {White will lose the bishop due to mating threats.} 84. Kf1 Rh3 85. Be2 Rh1+ 86. Kg2 Re1 0-1[/pgn]

Edward Song

The third IM norm recipient is a veteran, 35-year-old Eugene Yanayt of Pasadena, California. A member of the strong CalTech teams of early in the century, his FIDE rating is only 2143. But he began with three straight wins and played up every time to finish with 5½. Zhaozhi Li was the first victim. Yanayt omitted the …f5-f4 that is characteristic of many King’s Indian, and his effort to play on both sides of the board might have failed had White played 16.Bc2. Instead, the grab of the a-pawn on the next turn led to complications favoring Black, and White’s king was eventually caught in a crossfire.39…Re2+ and 40…Re4+ both win more quickly, but there’s no need to gild the lily!

[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open"] [Site "Las Vegas"] [Date "2018.12.26"] [White "Li, Zhaozhi"] [Black "Yanayt, Eugene"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E92"] [WhiteElo "2399"] [BlackElo "2122"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2018.12.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. Be3 Qe8 8. d5 Ng4 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bh4 f5 11. Nd2 Nf6 12. f3 a5 13. a3 a4 14. Bf2 b6 15. Bd3 Bd7 16. Nb5 Na6 17. Qxa4 fxe4 18. Nxe4 Nxd5 19. cxd5 Nc5 20. Qc2 Nxd3+ 21. Qxd3 Bxb5 22. Qd2 Bc4 23. Be3 Kh7 24. Rc1 Qb5 25. h4 Rf7 26. h5 g5 27. Bxg5 Qxd5 28. Be3 Qxd2+ 29. Nxd2 Bb5 30. Rh4 d5 31. Rc2 c5 32. Rg4 Bd3 33. Rc1 Rf5 34. Rh4 e4 35. fxe4 dxe4 36. Nxe4 Re5 37. Nxc5 bxc5 38. Kd2 Rd8 39. Bf4 Bg6+ 40. Kc3 Rxh5+ 0-1[/pgn]
The class sections, with seven rounds, all had clear winners, with youth frequently prevailing. But in Under 2300, it was a 29-year-old, Vijay Krishnamoorthy of San Diego, who emerged on top with 6 points. He’s a hardware engineer at Qualcom and chess is strictly a hobby for him.

U2100 winner Roshen Nair with his Mixed Doubles partner Sophie Velea

Under 2100 saw a 6½ point winner, Roshen Nair of Portland, Oregon. He got a nice bonus when he and Sophie Velea tied for first place in Mixed Doubles. Roshen played on the gold medal winning US team in the Panamerican Youth Championship last year. One other player in that section deserves special mention: Rachael Li of Texas, who gained 57 points and at 2048, appears to be the highest eight-year-old in the US – period! And a Happy Birthday to Rachael, who turns 9 on January 6th! No more mixed doubles prizes for her and brother Ruifeng; their average was already over the 2199 limit. But she and Joseph Levine did tie for third.

Rachael Li

Under 1900 victor Michael Higgins is 32 and works with at risk youth and people with disabilities in Cincinnati. He started 6-0 (a score that frequently intimidates opponents) and then drew. Michael started tournament chess at 16, but has had periods of inactivity…let’s hope that this great result spurs him on to greater heights. 6½ also earned honors in Under 1700 for Atharva Gorantiwar, 14, of Wayzata, Minnesota, who began tournament chess only eight months ago! He’s a freshman at the high school from which GM Andrew Tang recently graduated. Atharva needed to win his last game to reach 6½, and it’s imperfect as one would expect, yet instructive. 17…g5 is much too ambitious; 17…a5 or 17…Qd8 would have maintained an edge. But fortune favors the bold, and when White played 25.Kh2 he got mated. 25.Kh1 Nd2 26.Nd7 Nxf1 (not check) 27.Nf6+ would have reversed the result.

[pgn] [Event "28th North American Open 1700"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.12.29"] [White "Daigan, Froilan"] [Black "Gorantiwar, Atharva"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D01"] [PlyCount "56"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 Be7 4. Nc3 d5 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 O-O 7. O-O c5 8. Re1 a6 9. a4 b6 10. h3 Bb7 11. dxc5 Nxc5 12. Bf1 h6 13. Bh4 Kh8 14. Ne2 Nfe4 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 16. Ne5 Qf6 17. f4 g5 18. b4 gxf4 19. exf4 Qh4 20. Qd4 Kh7 21. bxc5 bxc5 22. Qb2 Rab8 23. Nd7 Rg8 24. Nxb8 Qf2+ 25. Kh2 Nd2 26. Kh1 Nxf1 27. Ng3 Nxg3+ 28. Kh2 Nf1+ 0-1[/pgn]
Sixto Alfonso Butron Haro, 38, of Tijuana followed the “6-0 and then a draw” pattern to win the Under 1500 section.  He plays in some San Diego tournaments and is a student of IM Aldama. The only perfect score was achieved in Under 1250…by a seven-year-old! Jayden Qu is Canadian national champ in his age group. He learned chess at five in his local library. Jayden topped all his rivals by a full point.

Jayden Qu

We mentioned one of the teams that tied for first in Mixed Doubles with 11 of 14 points. The other was comprised of Jiayang Yang and Xuhuii Yang.  There were a total of 76 teams. And the Blitz, with 184 players, saw GMs Julio Becerra and Karthik Venkataraman atop the Open section at 9-1 (a full point and a half ahead of their pursuers). Benjamin Yang and Shreyas Nayak took the Under 1900 group, also with 9-1 scores. Any tournament in Las Vegas is bound to generate a couple of anecdotes. We mentioned that GM Bai was the top seed…but he wasn’t always the top-rated player in the room! French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, currently sixth in the world, was in town and dropped by several times to spectate. Then there was the player who talked his way into a comped suite. When management discovered he was playing chess rather than gambling, he was unceremoniously evicted and presented with a bill. Fortunately, he won a good-sized prize. Chief TD and Continental Chess honcho Bill Goichberg looks forward to another successful NAO next December at Bally’s.

For final standings, prizewinners, and game file, see For post tournament ratings, see the tournament's MSA.  

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