Cherry Blossom Co-Champion GM Elshan Moradiabadi. Photo: Paul Swaney
If Memorial Weekend is meant to kick off the summer tournament circuit, then one of the best places to get started was the 6th Annual Cherry Blossom Classic, held May 25-28 in Dulles, Virginia. The 51-player open section featured 7 GMs and 1 IM and offered 150 Grand Prix points; there were 252 players overall vying for a $15,500 prize fund. GMs Elshan Moradiabadi and Fidel Corrales Jiminez tied for first with a score of 6/7. They kept pace with each other by each winning their last round games, respectively, against me and against GM Nikola Nestorovic. Going into the final round 7, Moradiabadi and Jimenez were already a half-point over the rest of the field, with 5/6, while Nestorovic, GM Jesse Kraai, IM Ron Burnett, and I each had 4.5/6. In round 7, Burnett held the draw against Kraai, so they both emerged with 5/7 and a tie for third place.
Cherry Blossom Co-Champion GM Corrales Jimenez. Photo: Paul Swaney
The two victors had incredibly parallel results throughout the event: both players won their first three games, then Jiminez drew with Kraai while Moradiabadi drew with GM Alder Escobar Forero; then in round 5 both Moradiabadi and Jiminez defeated the player that the other had drawn with in the previous round; in round 6 they drew with each other, setting up the round 7 finale described above.
GMs Jesse Kraai, Alder Escobar Forero, and Moradiabadi. Photo: Paul Swaney
The Cherry Blossom Classic comes on the heels of a 2-section invitational event, the 2nd Northeast Masters, held in the same location the weekend before. That confluence generated the presence of many strong players who played in both the Northeast Masters and the Cherry Blossom, including Escobar Forero and fellow Colombian GM Alonso Zapata, and Serbian GM Nestorovic, and his student 14-year-old Californian FM Josiah Stearman. This summer‘s jam-packed summer schedule afford players many options; Cherry Blossom competes by offering top players hotel rooms if they reached out in advance. I chose the CBC partly because I did well here last year and found it to be a good warm-up in the transition period from focusing on scholastic chess to participating in some of the big summer opens.
Esobar Forero. Photo: Paul Swaney
In round 5, Fidel Corrales-Jimenez, a recent graduate of Susan Polgar’s program at Webster University, took the battle to Alder Escobar-Forero’s Philidor’s Defense.
In the other key round 5 game, Elshan Moradiabadi turned in a positional masterpiece against Jesse Kraai (although Kraai would avenge this loss in the very next round by winning against Elshan’s wife Sabina Foisor).
In preparing for his critical 7th round game against Jiminez, Nikola Nestorovic assumed from his own colors that he would be Black. With limited time left, Nestorovic found out that in fact he would be White. Good news to be sure, but what about the preparation?
Author GM Michael Rohde. Photo: Paul Swaney
My game against Moradiabadi in round 7 could have been a real donnybrook – until a crazy endgame came to an abrupt finish.
In its six years, the Cherry Blossom has increased its prizes every year, and is now recognized as a Virginia Chess Federation VCF Cup event. THe event was directed by NTD and IA Anand Dommalapati, assisted by Greg Vaserstein, Andy Rea, Sathish Nath and Maggie Luo. Organized by Dommalapati and Jonathan Kenny (who also provided all of the equipment), the Cherry Blossom runs smoothly with 10 DGT boards broadcasting the top six boards in the Open and top four boards in the U2200 section. Live viewing of the action was possible via followchess.com and game replay is available on livecloudchess.com. Credit goes to Grishmeshwar Sinha who helped set up the DGT Boards and handled the technical challenges as well as making sure the games were live on Follow Chess App. In addition to the main event there were 3 side events – Friday night Open Rapid, Saturday Night Open FIDE Blitz and the Saturday Scholastic that had a total of 107 players. Thanks are also due to VCF President Adam Chrisney for his support, book vendor Todd Hammer, and photographer Paul Swaney.