Inspired Chess in Vegas

You are driving through the desert at night. Two headlights are all you have to illuminate a small, two-lane road. On each side of you, there is only a faint outline of mountains in the darkness. You can feel the car sway from the force of the evening desert wind. Other cars speed past you like 90 miles per hour is the norm. The road begins to elevate. There’s a break in the blackness, a light in the distance. As you advance through the mountainous roads, the beam grows. Before you know it, the entire desert is illuminated. This is the moment I look forward to on the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas: that first sight of the gleaming Vegas casinos and how they flicker even from many miles away.
Believe it or not, Las Vegas often proves to be the ideal location for a chess tournament. The hustle and bustle of the Vegas atmosphere makes it easy to relax in between intense tournament rounds. I’ve always found that I play better in an environment where I’m enjoying myself, and I was refreshingly surprised to find that even strong grandmasters feel the same way. Grandmaster Gata Kamsky has this to say about the locale: “The National Open is always and foremost the fun tournament for me. The party atmosphere makes me relaxed and play better overall. Big thanks to the organizers for creating it in such a way.”
This is the moment I look forward to on the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas: that first sight of the gleaming Vegas casinos and how they flicker even from many miles away.
Tournament Champions
Aleksey Dreev, Photo Tim Hanks Aleksey Dreev, Photo Tim Hanks
Kamsky tied for first place with along with GM Aleksey Dreev, GM Axel Bachmann, and GM Illia Nyzhnyk. By tiebreaks, Dreev received the coveted Edmondson Cup. In the last round, Dreev and Nyzhnyk ended the game peacefully on board one. Kamsky and Bachmann, on the other hand, each had to win critical games to share first prize.
GM Gata Kamsky and tournament organizer Alan Losoff, Photo Tim Hanks Gata Kamsky and tournament organizer Alan Losoff, Photo Tim Hanks
Suited for the tournament’s casino surroundings, Bachmann benefitted from taking chances: “I decided to take some risks in the middlegame that ended in the full point. I think my opponent had good chances to hold the position, but it was extremely complicated. I guess that the fact that he was close to time trouble didn’t allow him to find the best defense.”
[pgn]
[White "Dlugy, Maxim"]
[Black "Bachmann, Axel"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D30"]
[WhiteElo "2507"]
[BlackElo "2626"]
[PlyCount "74"]
[EventDate "2015.06.19"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "6"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.06.26"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 c6 4. Qc2 dxc4 5. Qxc4 Nf6 6. g3 b5 7. Qb3 Bb7 8. Bg2
Nbd7 9. O-O Be7 10. Ne5 Nxe5 11. dxe5 Nd7 12. Nc3 a6 13. Bf4 Qc7 14. Ne4 c5 15.
Nd6+ Bxd6 16. exd6 Qb6 17. Bxb7 Qxb7 18. h4 O-O 19. h5 c4 20. Qc3 h6 21. g4
Rac8 22. Rfd1 f5 23. g5 hxg5 24. Bxg5 f4 25. h6 gxh6 26. Bxh6 Rf6 27. Bxf4 Kf7
28. Bg3 e5 29. Qd2 Ke6 30. f3 Rg8 31. Kf2 Qb6+ 32. e3 Qc6 33. Qe2 Nc5 34. d7
Ne4+ 35. Ke1 Nxg3 36. Qg2 Qxf3 37. Qh3+ Qf5 0-1[/pgn]
“The National Open is always and foremost the fun tournament for me." -Gata Kamsky
Contrastingly, Kamsky preferred to play “very solid chess”. His pivotal last round victory was most interesting from the opening aspect: “I used to play the position as black. During the opening, I was trying to remember all of that outdated analysis! Luckily for me, my opponent underestimated my position and blundered, allowing 24. Re6 after which white was much better.”
[pgn]
[White "Kamsky, Gata"]
[Black "Molner, Mackenzie"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A10"]
[WhiteElo "2669"]
[BlackElo "2499"]
[PlyCount "57"]
[EventDate "2015.06.19"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "6"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.06.26"]

1. c4 g6 2. e4 e5 3. d4 Nf6 4. Nf3 exd4 5. e5 Ne4 6. Qxd4 Bb4+ 7. Nbd2 Nxd2 8.
Bxd2 Nc6 9. Qf4 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 Qe7 11. O-O-O b6 12. Bd3 Bb7 13. Be4 O-O-O 14.
Rhe1 f6 15. exf6 Qxf6 16. Bd5 Rhf8 17. Re4 Ne7 18. Bxb7+ Kxb7 19. Ng5 Qg7 20.
Qe2 Nc6 21. f4 h6 22. Nf3 Qf7 23. g3 d5 24. Re6 dxc4 25. Rxc6 Rfe8 26. Qxc4
Rxd1+ 27. Kxd1 Qd7+ 28. Nd4 Rd8 29. Ke2 1-0[/pgn]

Up-and-Comer: FM Vignesh Panachanatham

Beyond the top four, one of the most impressive results of the tournament was by FM Vignesh Panchanatham. At the beginning of the event, Panchanatham’s rating was 2367. Even though he was eligible for the top under 2400 prize, he tied for the top under 2500 prize as well. His performance rating was well above 2600, drawing against one grandmaster and defeating another.
FM Vignesh Panchanatham FM Vignesh Panchanatham
Panchanatham attributes his strong performance to his preparation and time management: “[To prepare] for this tournament, I spent a lot of time working through complex positions and critical moments. The point of this was to recognize more patterns and realize when I needed to spend my time.”
In his best game of the tournament, his victory over GM Michael Rohde, this played a significant role: “During my attack, there were many critical moments, and GM Rohde eventually messed up in time pressure, allowing me to win—even a rook down.”
[pgn]
[Round "?"]
[White "Panachanatham, Vignesh"]
[Black "Rhode, Michael"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D36"]
[PlyCount "57"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Nc3 c6 6. Qc2 g6 7. Bg5 Be7 8. e4
dxe4 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 10. Qxe4+ Kf8 11. O-O-O Be6 12. h4 Nd7 13. Ne5 Bxe5 14. dxe5
Qa5 15. Bc4 Bf5 16. Qd4 Qxe5 17. g4 c5 18. Qd2 Bxg4 19. Rhe1 Qd4 20. Qh6+ Qg7
21. Qg5 Bxd1 22. Qe7+ Kg8 23. Rxd1 Nb6 24. Ne4 Qf8 25. Nf6+ Kg7 26. Qe5 Nxc4
27. Qc3 Nb6 28. h5 Qe7 29. Nd5+ 1-0[/pgn]
“[To prepare] for this tournament, I spent a lot of time working through complex positions and critical moments." -FM Vignesh Panachanatham
American Chess Icon: Grandmaster Walter Browne
On a more somber note, two days after competing in the National Open, GM Walter Browne passed away in his sleep. GM Browne has been an American chess legend for decades, winning the U.S. Championship six times and winning more open Swiss tournaments than any other American player. He was highly involved with this year’s Las Vegas Chess Festival: playing a 25 board simul, giving lectures, and teaching at the chess camp. He will be missed, but not forgotten.
GM Walter Browne, Photo Tim Hanks GM Walter Browne, Photo Tim Hanks
Here is Browne’s last victory.
[pgn]
[Round "4"]
[White "Niemann, Hans"]
[Black "Browne, Walter"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E15"]
[WhiteElo "2180"]
[BlackElo "2433"]
[PlyCount "70"]
[EventDate "2015.06.19"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "6"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.06.26"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. Qa4 Bb7 6. Bg2 c5 7. dxc5 bxc5 8. O-O
Be7 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Rd1 d6 11. Bf4 Qb6 12. Rab1 Bc6 13. Qc2 Rd8 14. e4 Qb7 15.
Ne1 h6 16. a3 a5 17. Qe2 a4 18. e5 dxe5 19. Rxd8+ Bxd8 20. Bxe5 Bxg2 21. Nxg2
Nc6 22. Nb5 Nxe5 23. Qxe5 Ne4 24. Nd6 Nxd6 25. Qxd6 Qe4 26. Rd1 Bf6 27. Qxc5
Bxb2 28. Ne3 h5 29. Rd7 g6 30. Qe7 Rf8 31. Qb4 Bd4 32. c5 e5 33. Qxa4 Rb8 34.
Nf1 Bxf2+ 35. Kxf2 Qxa4 0-1[/pgn]

My Last Round

Vanessa West in Las Vegas, Photo Tim Hank Vanessa West in Las Vegas, Photo Tim Hanks
 As for the finish of my own tournament, I found myself in a critical position in the final round: down two pawns, trying to gain counterplay against the opposing king. Can you find the move I played to save the game?

Daniel He vs. Vanessa West

Black to move.

When visualizing this position a few moves earlier, I was stumped: White threatens checkmate with all checks (Qxf7+ and then Rh1+) . I have no piece that can defend the f7 square except my rook, but 43…Ra7 would doom a key piece to passivity. White's king wouldn’t be under enough pressure, and he could start pushing his passed b-pawn and devising a plan to win. Then, I realized that what matters most is making sure that 44. Qxf7 isn't with check---so that I have time for counterplay. Show Solution
[pgn]
[Round "?"]
[White "He, Daniel"]
[Black "West, Vanessa"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "6k1/5p2/3p2p1/4b1P1/1PP1P3/rP3Q2/1qNK4/5R2 b - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "7"]

1... Kh8 $1 (1... f6 {with the same idea also works.}) 2. Rh1+ ({After} 2. Qxf7
{there's a perpetual check with} Qc3+ 3. Kd1 Ra1+ 4. Nxa1 Qxa1+ 5. Ke2 Qb2+ 6.
Kf3 Qc3+ 7. Kf2 Qd2+ 8. Kf3 Qd3+ {since he gets checkmated if he ever tries to
run to the kingside:} 9. Kg2 Qg3+ 10. Kh1 Qh2#) ({His best bet to play for a
win is} 2. Rb1 Qxb1 3. Nxa3 {but after} Qg1 {, I get one of my pawns back.
Though he can try to play on, my pieces are active, and his king doesn't have
much cover.}) 2... Kg8 3. Rf1 Kh8 4. Rh1+ Kg8 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Las Vegas Chess Festival: "The Chess Event of the Year!"
The Las Vegas Chess Festival is an event I’ve been to many times over the years, and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been. Every aspect of the main tournament and side events are well-run. The organizers pay attention to the details that make competing enjoyable.
Here are a few of the top players' thoughts on the festival as a whole:
GM Bachmann:
“What I like most is the environment. Everyone (tournament staff, players, etc.) is very friendly.”
FM Panchanatham:
“The punctual rounds were the best part. Unlike most other tournaments, every round started on time, even the first one of the G/10!”
GM Kamsky:
“I liked everything: the stage, the side events, the usually serious players all in smiles, great music nearby along with casinos going about their business, great arbiters, and, of course, the organizers, Alan and Janelle. You could feel that at this event, they are doing everything to make the players to feel welcomed.”
I’m looking forward to next year’s event. To conclude, here are GM Kamsky’s inspiring words on his future endeavors:
“What’s next for me? The great life of being a chess player: moving from one location to another almost like the flying Dutchman, destined to travel and see new places, meet new and old friends, always looking for a challenge. Life is short; have fun.”
Winners of the US Women's Open: Ramya Krishna Inapuri, Simone Liao (winner on tiebreak) and Uyanga Byambaa. (Joanna Liu not pictured), Photo Tim Hanks Winners of the US Women's Open: Ramya Krishna Inapuri, Simone Liao (winner on tiebreak) and Uyanga Byambaa. (Joanna Liu not pictured), Photo Tim Hanks
Find full standings of the National Open and side events at the Las Vegas Chess Festival website.

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