Return to Foxwoods

For several months before the 13th Annual Open at Foxwoods, held April 17-21 at Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, chatter had been building among chess players about the big return to Foxwoods. Well, it’s not really annual, as for the previous 4 years, CCA had held its Easter / Passover holiday tournament in Philadelphia (calling it the Philadelphia Open). The 12 previous Opens at Foxwoods were actually in the years 2003 – 2014. In my mind I pictured that “everyone” would be going to Foxwoods for the big reunion and celebration.

But chess players are creatures of habit, and since the last Foxwoods event was five years ago, the momentum for attendance has to be rebuilt. Entries in the event did not surpass the amount needed to generate prizes over the minimum guarantee of 75% of projected prizes. Still, this meant that the prize fund totaled $75,000 across the different sections.

I have always found big open tournaments in gambling settings to be particularly attractive. When I noticed that the Open at Foxwoods was offering two good prizes for the FIDE u2400 class within the open section, I decided to compete.

Foxwoods was also a norm-eligible event, given that it was 9 rounds over 5 days. It is important to remember that only for the 9-rounders does CCA use FIDE ratings for prizes and pairings (although still using USCF ratings to compute mixed doubles eligibility). I have noticed that several other tournaments this spring (Cherry Blossom, National Open) are following suit and going to the 9-round norm format.

17-year-old GM John Burke played fantastically and captured another major open title by winning the tournament clear, powered by a very impressive streak of late-tournament victories. It turned out that Burke had extensive coattails in effect, as, following in his footsteps, the winners of every section but one were also teenagers, or younger! So this spring and summer, I am expecting to see young players out in force at the upcoming major open events.

A nice delegation from University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley competed in the Open, several weeks after their successful title defense of the National Collegiate Championship. The school pays for them on some trips which they can designate, typically the US Masters in August, and at least one other big open during the year. Coach Bartek Macieja competed, along with Hovhannes Gabuzyan, Kamil Dragun, Vladimir Belous, Guillermo Vazquez, Carlos Hevia Alejano, Joshua Ruiz, and Yannick Kambrath.

I took two byes for the first two rounds of the Foxwoods Open because I couldn’t get there until round 3 on the Thursday evening. By that time, Hans Niemann had already jumped out to another good start with two wins, and in round 3 faced the highest-ranked player in the event, Vasif Durarbayli:

I won in round 3, and decided that I had enough time to open another revenue stream. So I headed to the poker room. For chess players who are at least partially poker-addicted, the gambling-setting tournaments can be particularly difficult due to the risk of doing badly at poker, which would then distract from playing good chess. During the course of the event, I would have a chance to play poker with a number of chess players, including one of my actual opponents during the event, and one of the tournament directors.

When I first sat down at the tables, I was minding my own business at a 1/2 No Limit Hold ‘em game, hoping that nobody would notice that I was playing like a total locksmith, when someone called out “Grandmaster”. I used to not like being outed as a chess player while playing poker (feeling that it would make the opposition more cautious and circumspect when battling against me), but really there were so many chess players in the poker room that it didn’t matter. A much bigger problem was that I was virtually card-dead (never having any really good hands to play) almost the entire tournament, making the hours spent in the poker room just a waste of time and energy while trying to do well in the chess tournament.

John Burke started the tournament with a forfeit win in round 1 and a draw in round 2, but by round 4 it was full steam ahead.

David Brodsky’s nice round 5 win established him among the leaders.

One of my most interesting games was in round 6.

After 6 rounds, 5 players were tied with 5/6: John Burke, Alexander Shimanov, Kamil Dragun, Hovhannes Gabuzyan, and Vasif Durarbayli, while 4 players had 4.5: Hans Niemann, me, Dean Ippolito and Yannick Kambrath. Ippolito, Kambrath and myself were eligible also for the 2 prizes for FIDE 2250-2399, adding to the suspense. Meanwhile, given that Burke was the lowest-rated player with 5 and Niemann was the highest-rated player with 4.5, two of America’s top teenagers were destined to tangle in round 7.

An interesting fighting game between two UTRGV players took place in round 7.

Burke’s round 7 victory propelled him into sole possession of first place, and in round 8 he went for the clincher.

With Burke setting a blistering pace, it became clear that it would take a last round victory for anyone aspiring to tie for second place.

John Burke won the event convincingly with 7.5/9. Alex Shimanov and Kamil Dragun tied for second with 7. Gabuzyan, Durarbayli, Vazquez, and Ruiz tied for fourth with 6.5. And many players (including myself) ended up with 5.5 to share in the class prizes within the Open.

The “under sections” were 7-rounders, played as a 4-day or 3-day schedule. So the tournament did not seem to reach critical mass until Friday, April 19, when those sections filled up. In the U2200 section, 12-year-old Peter Boris won clear first with 6 points out of 7. In the U2000 section, 15-year-old Daniel Zhou and 12-year-old Nura Baalla tied for first with 6/7. In the U1800 section, 12-year-old Tianna Wang and 14-year-old Saniya Sandeep Savla tied for first with 6/7. In the U1600 section, Mohammad Khan won with a perfect 7-0. In the U1400 section, 8-year-old Bobby Qian won with 6/7. Teenager Wyn Veiga won the U1100 with 6.5/7.

Bill Goichberg served as chief TD for this CCA event, assisted by David Hater, Brian Yang, Al Losoff, Robert Messenger, Andrew Rea and Harold Stenzel.

Full details on the event, including an extensive pgn file of games played at the Open at Foxwoods, can be found at:


  1. There were no norms earned at Foxwoods. Two players – David Brodsky and Qibiao Wang had chances going into the last round, but both lost in round 9 and narrowly missed making a norm.

  2. Eric Mason didn’t have a FIDE rating going into the 2019 Foxwoods Open. his result(in his first USCF event in over 20 years)was good enough to make him Connecticut’s newest FIDE-rated player. This was the first FIDE-rated event in Connecticut since August of 2016.

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