GM Ruifeng Li Wins 12th Philadelphia Open

Ruifeng Li at the US Junior Championships. Photo: Austin Fuller

GM Ruifeng Li won the 12th annual Philadelphia Open held from March 28 to April 1 at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.  His undefeated score of 7-2 was good for $6879.  He also paired with his sister Rachael who tied for third in the Under 1800 section to tie for first mixed doubles which gave each of the Li siblings another $358.25.  The slightly odd dollar amounts are the result of a based-on prize fund.  The tournament drew 573 players which was almost enough to cover the entire $80,000 in based on prizes. We had more than the requisite number of 20 FIDE rated foreign players, but lacked the 10 foreign titled (GM, IM, WGM, WIM) needed to avoid the requirements that to make a norm, a US player must face at least four non-US opponents and a foreign player three.  Even with minimum guaranteed prizes for foreign players, we could not draw the required 10 foreign title holders.  Because of this, no norms were achieved.  IM Vignesh Panchanatham had a GM performance, FM Carissa Yip had a WGM performance and FM Andrew Hong had an IM performance, but none of the player played enough foreigners so there were no norms.  IM Christian Pedersen did have the required foreigners and was on course for a GM norm after leading the event for several rounds.  However, he needed a last round draw against Ruifeng Li and he lost that game and fell ½ point short.

In the first round, most of the higher rated players dispatched their opponents.    There were a few notable draws as GM Alex Shabalov surrendered a draw to FM Arthur Guo and GM Andrey Gorovets drew with NM Jianwen Wong.  The big upset of the round was FM Eugene Yanayt defeating IM John Daniel Bryant when Bryant missed a tactic.

There were no significant upsets in round two on the top boards, but many of the top players gave up draws.  Second seeded GM Jianchao Zhao drew with FM Andrew Hong while third seeded GM Ruifeng Li drew with IM Alexander Katz.  IM John Michael Burke drew with IM Venkat Saravanam and GM Gil Popilski drew with FM Hans Niemann.  Top seeded GM Sam Sevian defeated WIM Jennifer Yu to remain at a perfect 2-0.

In round three GM Li again drew, this time with IM Vignesh Panchanatham.  Ten players entered round 3 with perfect scores, but due to a draw only four would emerge:  GMs Sam Sevian defeated IM Praveen Balakrishnan, GM Sergei Azarov defeated IM Christian Pedersen, GM Alexander Stripunsky defeated IM Atulya Shetty and the upset on the top board was FM Balaji Daggupati defeating IM Andrew Tang.  Daggupati finds a nice combination that nets him a winning advantage.

Daggupati vs. IM Tang

White to move and win.

With only four perfect scores remaining, round 4 promised to be quite tense.  Sevian sacrificed an exchange against Stripunsky and had an edge, but Stripunsky was able to hold in an 87 move marathon.  Azarov defeated Daggupati to emerge as the only perfect score at 4-0.  GM Li drew his third consecutive game this time against FM Alexandre Kretchetov.  He looked as though he was falling out of contention as he stood at 2 ½ out of 4.

As the highest rated 3 ½ pointer, Sevian was still able to occupy board 1 against Azarov who was the only 4-0.  Sevian won to re-take the lead.  There were 3 other players who entered the round at 3 ½ points: GM Stripunsky, IM Nicholas Checa and IM Joshua Sheng.  Checa and Stripunsky drew on board two and Sheng was paired “down” to GM Jianchao Zhao who had taken a half point bye in round 3 and drawn with Hong in round 2.  Zhao did beat Shen to join the four point scoregroup.  This left Sevian as the only player at 4 ½ out of 5 being chased by GMs Zhao, Azarov, & Stripunsky, and IMs Checa & Pedersen and FM Hong all at 4-1.   GM Li did win this round against FM Christopher Yu-Shuo Shen and now stood at 3 ½, but would clearly have some work to do to join the leaders.

In round six the top two seeds met on board one and a relatively quick draw ensued between Zhou and Sevian.  IM Pedersen defeated GM Stripunsky to catch Sevian as the tournament leader, but Checa and Azarov drew to remain a half point back.  In round seven, Sevian would face Pedersen on board one as the only players at 5-1.  They were being chased by GMs Zhou, Li, Shabalov, Azarov & Popilski and IMs Checa, Bryant, David Brodsky, Panchanatham and NM Jianwen Wong.

Round seven saw Pedersen upset his second GM in a row as Pedersen played the black pieces and beat Sevian to emerge as the clear tournament leader at 6-1.  Of the remaining 10 players, there were five GMs.  The five GMs played the IMs and the GMs scored quite well with the lone exception being GM Shabalov drew with IM Panchanatham.  The other four GMs won as GM Zhou defeated IM Checa, GM Li beat IM Bryant, GM Azarov defeated NM Wong and GM Popilski beat IM Brodsky.

In round 8, the top two boards ended in draws, but that doesn’t tell the full story.  On board one, Pedersen had a clear edge against Popilsky and was pressing to beat his third consecutive GM.  However, Popilski did eventually hold the draw.  Board two was much more peaceful as Zhou and Li drew relatively quickly.  On board four Shabalov was a ½ point back of Azarov but did win to stay within striking distance of the tournament leaders.  There were three other games involving players at 5-2 and all were somewhat surprises. IM Vignesh Panchanatham defeated GM Sevian.  I have seen Sevian play in quite a few CCA swisses and do not ever recall him losing two games in a row to non-GM opponents!  On the other two boards, FM Hong drew with GM Stripunsky and FM Carissa Yip drew with IM Burke.

The last round would feature a number of interesting games.  Pedersen led the event at 6 ½ and just needed a draw for a GM norm.  Five players trailed Pedersen by a half point and could tie for first if Pedersen drew or lost.  The players at 6-2 were GMs Zhou, Li, Shabalov & Popilski and IM Panchanatham.  Li defeated Pedersen to secure at least a tie for first place and deny Pedersen the GM norm.  The winners of the Panchanatham – Zhou or the Popilski – Shabalov  games could catch Li and tie for first, but both games ended in draws so all four players would tie for second with Pedersen and FM Yip who defeated GM Stripunsky in the last round to reach 6 ½ points.  The second place winners (Panchanatham and Yip brought in the Under 2400 prizes) all received $1719.67

The section winners were:

Under 2200

Oscar Tan, 6 ½ – ½, $4777

Under 2000

Matthew Martello & Nicole Zlotchevsky, 6-1, $3583

Under 1800

Alain Diaz, 7-0, $4777

Under 1600

Brice Huang & Malcolm Adams, Max Hao, 6-1, $2866.50

Under 1400

Xiang Cui, 6 ½ -1/2, $1000 (prize limited due to having a provisional rating)

Timothy Callahan, 6-1 $2866

Under 1100

Godwin Wilson-Livingstone, Jason Cheung & Mahmoud Sobh, 6-1, $726.34

Linh My Do, 6-1, $300 (prize limited due to being unrated)

Mixed Doubles

Rachael Li/GM Ruifeng Li and Nikki Khmelnitsky/GM Sergei Azarov, 10 ½ – 3 ½, $716.50 each team

Blitz Tournament

Akshay Malhotra 7 ½ – ½. $210.

NTD David Hater directed for Continental Chess Association assisted by Bill Goichberg, Harold Stenzel, Brian Yang, Jabari McGreen, Bob Messenger, Andy Rea and Harold Scott.

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