Philadelphia — GM Tigran L. Petrosian knew if he drew in the final round of the World Open he might have to split first place with half a dozen or so other players.
And Petrosian is not the kind of guy who likes to share — at least not when it comes to big money prizes at chess tournaments thousands of miles away from home.
“I don’t like this idea,” Petrosian, of Armenia, said of splitting the $20,000 prize for clear first with several other players. “I said, ‘OK, forget about draw and go and try to win.”
Even though he only had a few minutes to consult ChessBase to analyze the openings of his final-round opponent — GM Oliver Barbosa, of New York — Petrosian said he reviewed enough of
Barbosa’s openings to feel comfortable going forth.
“Of course it’s hard for professionals but this time I did it,” Petrosian said of the quick analysis.
Petrosian’s analysis and decision to go for a win paid off.
His Round 9 game proceeded as follows:
Petrosian says winning first place in the World Open wasn’t always so clear.
He related that his Round 6 loss to GM Jeffery Xiong forced him to regroup.
“When I lost in Round 6 I didn’t think that I have a chance for clear first,” Petrosian said.
“Then I thought OK, let’s win the rest of the games and let’s try to do it and we’ll see what place I take,” Petrosian said.
Petrosian said the most critical point of the tournament came during his Round 8 game when he found himself playing as Black against GM Jianchao Zhou of China.
“I thought, OK, I’m Black but I have to try to do something,” Petrosian said. “Usually it’s very hard against a strong player to play with Black for a win. I tried and we had some interesting positions and somehow I outplayed him and I won a technical winning end game.”
For Petrosian, the World Open victory is a fitting capstone for a short American tour of sorts in which he also won clear first the National Open in Las Vegas last month, as well as a couple of blitz events in Las Vegas.
“I think it’s enough for this streak,” Petrosian said.
Although Petrosian didn’t want to share first place with too many other players, there’s one particular player that he — and a lot of other spectators — were rooting for to win first place.
Her name is Zhansaya Abdumalik, a 17-year-old IM from Kazakhstan who found herself on Board 1 in the final round, playing against young American chess phenom GM Jeffery Xiong, who is 16.
“I wanted that she would win the last game and maybe we will share (first place) and play on tiebreaks,” Petrosian said of Abdumalik. The two describe themselves as friends.
“She’s young and very talented,” Petrosian said. “I believe she will have a very big future.”
Indeed, many spectators were struck by the sight of the young female player with a long ponytail playing on Board 1 in the final round. She was one of four players to enter the final round with 6.5 points.
Some spectators did double takes, speculated about her age (some thought she was as young as 12), tried to glean hints about her from the pairings and wallboards, and wondered why they had never heard of her before.
“This is amazing,” one spectator said of Abdumalik being technically poised to win clear first in the final round at the World Open.
The general sentiment among many spectators was that they wanted the “underdog” to win. AbduMalik seemed to fit the bill in so many ways. For instance, she is an IM who beat several GMs to secure her place on Board 1. She is also a young girl in a sport — and a particular tournament — that has historically been dominated by men.
Speaking in an exclusive interview after her final round game, Abdumalik told US Chess she was invited to the US by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and came to play chess in the US for a couple of months.
She played three tournaments — namely, the Chicago Open and the 2017 Spring Classic in St. Louis in May, and the National Open in Las Vegas in June (which Tigran also won!) — but says she didn’t really find her “style” until the World Open.
Asked to describe her style, AbduMalik called it a “little bit men’s style.” Asked to elaborate on what exactly is “men’s style,” she said laughingly: “It’s stronger than women’s style” — a statement that will perhaps serve to stir one of the most spirited debates in chess.
“It’s a little bit harder,” AbduMalik said of her style, explaining that — for her — it involves getting good positions in which you then just “push it.”
AbduMalik confirmed that she trains under a GM but declined to reveal his identity or where he is from. Petrosian denied being AbduMalik’s trainer despite their friendship.
Asked if she was thinking about attending college in the US, AbduMalik said she is currently considering Saint Louis University because of its proximity to the Saint Louis Chess Club.
Here is AbduMalik’s Round 9 game against Jeffery Xiong, which ended in a draw and resulted in both players tying for second place along with several other players.
The significance of two youths playing for first place on Board 1 at a signature event like the World Open was not lost on Xiong.
“It’s very special,” Xiong said. “It shows that in the US the young players improve very rapidly. US chess has a lot of promise.”