Sheridan Open Brings Big Chess to Small Town

There’s a bit of a chess boom happening in Sheridan, Wyoming. Nestled at the base of the Big Horn Mountains, Sheridan is a beautiful and generally quiet place, but this spring, the 17,000-member community came to life in support of chess.

From April 30 to May 1, Sheridan, Wyoming hosted its first US Chess-rated tournament in recent memory – the Sheridan Open. Likely the largest tournament in the history of Wyoming, this Grand Prix tournament featured a guaranteed purse of $3,875 and hosted 76 players, including titled players GM Alex Fishbein, IM Justin Sarkar, and masters Sullivan McConnell, Joel Johnson, Richard Shtivelband, James Neal, and Brian Wall. The tournament even attracted four players from the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia.

The events began Friday night with a 26-board simul exhibition featuring GM Fishbein, hosted by the Sheridan Chess Association. When all was said and done, the GM racked up an impressive 25 wins and one draw. For Fishbein, the Open was a bit of a homecoming – he lived in Wyoming as a youth and became a National Master in 1982 by winning the Wyoming state title in 9th grade.

GM Alex Fishbein makes his way around the simul exhibition at the 2022 Sheridan Open. Photos: Sheridan Chess Association

On Saturday and Sunday, the tournament continued at Sheridan College where the players faced off for the top-prize of $1,600. IM Sarkar played inspired chess, securing first place after winning four games and receiving a ½-point, 5th-round bye so that he could make a flight to El Salvador, where he went on to tie for second in the XV Continental Chess Championship of the Americas.

Scenes from the playing hall at the 2022 Sheridan Open. Photos: Sheridan Chess Association

Below is what we, the tournament organizers, called "The Airport Game." On Sunday morning, IM Sarkar needed to catch an 11:11 a.m. flight to Denver to make his connection to El Salvador. Round 4 began at 8 a.m. and with the time control at 90/d5, the game could have lasted at least three hours. With the airport only five minutes from the venue, and factoring in airport security checks, we had calculated that he would need to be done by 10:25 to make his flight.

But at 10:25, Sarkar was still in a pitched battle against McConnell and there was no way we were going to interrupt the game. We contacted the airport to let them know we might be coming in at the last minute and even began looking at rebooking options. Then, at 10:33, a tournament coordinator burst from the hall – IM Sarkar had won! Like a security detail with a celebrity, we physically ran IM Sarkar from the tournament room, down the stairs, and into a waiting truck which sped to the airport. TSA thankfully held open security and Justin made his flight with only moments to spare.

Justin Sarkar at the 2019 US Open. Photo: John Hartmann.
Image Caption
Justin Sarkar at the 2019 US Open. Photo: John Hartmann.

[pgn][Event "Sheridan Wyoming Open"] [Site "Sheridan"] [Date "2022.05.01"] [Round "4"] [White "IM Justin Sarkar"] [Black "Sullivan McConnell"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2406"] [BlackElo "2251"] [Annotator "Brian Kuehl"] [UTCDate "2022.06.10"] [UTCTime "20:46:55"] [Variant "Standard"] [ECO "C03"] [Opening "French Defense: Tarrasch Variation"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 e5 4. dxe5 dxe4 5. Bb5+ { And on move 5, the game is already in new territory. 5.Bb5+ has been seen only once in the Mega Database in Satyapragyan v. Sochacki (2016) which continued 5. . . .c6 6.Bc4 b5 7.Bb3 c5. } 5... Bd7 6. e6! fxe6 { And not... } (6... Bxb5? 7. exf7+ Kxf7 8. Qh5+! g6 9. Qxb5) 7. Nxe4 Qe7 8. Bxd7+ Nxd7 9. Qh5+ g6 10. Qb5 O-O-O 11. Bg5 Ndf6 12. Nf3 h6 13. Nxf6 Nxf6 14. Bxf6 Qxf6 15. O-O Bg7 16. c3 g5 17. Rae1 Qf5 18. Qe2 Rd6 19. Nd2 Rhd8 20. Ne4 Rc6 21. Rd1 Rd5 22. Rxd5 exd5 23. Nc5 { Threatening 24.Qe8# } { [%csl Ge8][%cal Ge2e8] } 23... Qf7 24. Qb5! Rb6 25. Qa4! Rxb2 26. Qxa7 c6 27. Nd3! Rb5? { (27. . . Rd2 28.Qa8+ Kf7 29.Rb1 Qf8 30.Qxb7). } { Better was... } (27... Rd2 28. Qa8+ Kc7 29. Rb1 Qf8) 28. a4 Rb3 29. Nc5 Rb2 30. a5 Bxc3 { Black is up a pawn but is in a losing position. } 31. Na4 Rb3 32. Qa8+ Kc7 33. Nxc3 Kd6 34. Na4 Ra3 35. a6! bxa6 36. Qb8+ Ke6 37. Re1+ { The Rook on a3 is going to fall shortly and the game is lost. } 1-0 [/pgn]

Over the weekend, the community showed its enthusiasm for chess beyond the tournament room. Local businesses posted supportive and welcoming messages to the tournament-goers on their marquees. Curious and inspired residents gathered to watch the simul in action at the local YMCA. Four local elementary schools hosted and welcomed the Kyrgyz Republic team for instructional demonstrations, discussions, photos, and friendly games, introducing chess to more than 700 students.

The chess team from the Kyrgyz Republic visiting four elementary schools over the weekend of the 2022 Sheridan Open. Photos: Sheridan Chess Association

On top of this, the Sheridan Chess Association announced its acquisition of a 1,200-volume chess library from national master and author Joel Johnson – a collection that will serve as a public resource for players and support Sheridan’s scholastic chess programming.

So where does this small town's enthusiasm for chess come from? It's due in no small part to the local club that offers the chance for residents – beginners and experienced – a chance to sit down at a board and enjoy the game. It comes from the businesses and organizations who see chess as a valuable, life-long learning tool. And of course it comes from the support of people who make it possible, like GM Fishbein, IM Sarkar, TD Earle Wilke, and the many others who made the Sheridan Open their choice for chess.

This excitement isn't a one-and-done, however. The 2nd Annual Sheridan Wyoming Open has already been announced for May 5-7, 2023. While the purse and the size of the tournament may get bigger, the Sheridan Chess Association has said it is committed to preserving the small-town feel that will make this event a unique and valuable stop on the United States chess circuit.

Sheridan Open Results

Below are the top finishers. Full results can be found here.

Open Section

1st - IM Justin Sarkar (4½/5)

2nd-4th (tie) - GM Alex Fishbein; Sullivan McConnell; James Neal, II (4/5)


1st (tie) - Kevin Kuehnel; Karl Lehman (4½/5)

3rd-5th (tie) - Michael Muller; Rebecca Herman; James Whitcher (4/5)

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