Three Norms Awarded at Charlotte Summer OTB Event

We are living in strange times. Fortunately, we strange chess players have proved adaptable, and online chess seems to be thriving – I even read a recent New York Times article about GM Hikaru Nakamura’s Twitch stream! Unfortunately, this explosion of online chess and coverage has brought with it the familiar toxicity of internet anonymity. While I appreciate the multitude of online streaming applications available to follow top-level events, and how the chat features of these programs perhaps entice new players to take up our royal game, I nevertheless am starting to feel “too old” for the chess-related web. The internet is truly an odd place. 

On the contrary, this bizarre behavior is a rare guest at over the board (OTB) events, and I’d even postulate that our wonderful chess community is the self-sustaining force that keeps us banging our heads -- and clocks -- as we toil away at this beautifully stressful and complicated game. With these thoughts, I was simply elated to receive an invitation to play in an OTB chess event – perhaps one of the first in the country since our lockdown period began.  

The Charlotte Chess Center and Scholastic Academy (CCCSA) has been hosting regular invitational norm events since March of 2016. The academy’s tournaments, organized by club founder FM Peter Giannatos and International Arbiter Grant Oen, have become the gold standard for serious chess on the East Coast. Impeccably organized, every round is always on time, spectators are managed, and all the “chess amenities” are provided: water, pens, hoodies, and even electronic boards to show when your opponent has moved. 

I had complete confidence in CCCSA’s ability to pull off a serious event even in the midst of a pandemic, and their tournament protocol should serve as a template for tournament director’s interested in safely organizing OTB play in their areas. Masks were required for all who entered the building, everyone was required to take their temperature upon entry, and hand sanitizer was provided at every board. Additional cleaning and sanitizing practices were observed between rounds. Chess events were already stressful -- without the added paranoia of possible infection -- and these efforts were noticeably appreciated by the players. It was clear from the high standard of play that everyone felt safe and comfortable to find good moves.  

The tournament was organized into both a GM and IM norm section, and three norms were achieved. Both FMs Robert Shlyakhtenko and Jason Liang achieved IM norms, and IM Craig Hilby achieved one toward Grandmaster! 

Charlotte Chess Center GM Norm Standings
Charlotte Chess Center IM Norm Standings

[pgn][Event "Charlotte Summer Norm"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.08.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Shlyakhtenko, Robert"] [Black "Martin del Campo, Roberto"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E90"] [Annotator "Francisco"] [PlyCount "59"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.09.15"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3 O-O 6. Be3 e5 7. d5 c6 8. Nf3 a6 9. Rc1 cxd5 10. cxd5 b5 11. Nd2 Ne8 12. g4 f5 13. gxf5 gxf5 14. exf5 Bxf5 15. Nce4 Nd7 16. Ng3 Bg6 17. h4 Nc5 18. h5 Nd3+ 19. Bxd3 Bxd3 20. h6 Bf6 21. Nde4 Qa5+ 22. Rc3 Bxe4 23. Nxe4 Kh8 24. Rg1 b4 25. Rd3 Qd8 {[#]} {Black's last move was a blunder - it was necessary to attack the rook with Qb5. Shlyakhtenko punishes this mistake mercelessly.} 26. Qg4 $1 Rb8 27. Ba7 $1 Rc8 28. Kd2 $1 { The final finesse, preventing Black from trading a pair of rooks with Rc1+ and preparing the decisive blow on the g-file.} Rc4 29. Rdg3 {Mate is simply unavoidable.} Rxe4 30. Qg8+ 1-0 [/pgn]

[pgn][Event "Charlotte Summer Norm"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.08.23"] [Round "?"] [White "Liang, Jason"] [Black "Tsay, Vincent"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C11"] [Annotator "Francisco"] [PlyCount "49"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.09.15"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 cxd4 { Black chooses the plan with cxd4 and Qb6. This is a risky attempt to solve the opening problems by force. It has been popular at top level recently but demands precise play from the Black side. As we will see, a slight misstep can lead to disaster.} 8. Nxd4 Qb6 9. Qd2 Qxb2 10. Rb1 Qa3 11. Bb5 Nxd4 12. Bxd4 a6 {The modern approach. Black intends to return the b7 to neutralize white's strong position. 12...Bb4 was the old line, but after 13.0-0 White has more than enough compensation for the pawn.} 13. Bxd7+ Bxd7 14. Rb3 Qe7 15. Rxb7 Rc8 16. O-O Qd8 {[#]} {All of these moves are pretty forced (16...Qa3 being the only alternative) and we have reached the modern tabiya. There are many interesting ways to continue here and most moves have been tried in top level play.} 17. Qf2 {Not the most critical move, but one that demands an accurate reply from Black.} Rc4 $2 {Sometimes all it takes is one blunder.} (17... Rxc3 $1 18. Bxc3 Qc8 19. Rb3 Ba4 20. Bd4 Bxb3 21. axb3 Be7 22. c3 O-O) {Led to a draw in every game that this variation occured.} 18. Rfb1 Qa5 19. f5 $1 { All of White's forces are mobilized to the maximum, so White begins opening lines for the final attack.} exf5 $2 {[#] Hastening the end, but who can blame Black for missing (or allowing) White's finish!} 20. Rxd7 $1 Bc5 21. Bxc5 Rxc5 22. Qxf5 O-O {[#]} 23. Rb8 $1 Rcc8 24. Rxc8 Qb6+ 25. Kf1 1-0 [/pgn]
FMs Robert Shlyakhtenko and Jason Liang both achieved IM norms at the CCCSA in August
Image Caption
FMs Robert Shlyakhtenko and Jason Liang both achieved IM norms at the CCCSA in August.

In the GM norm section, only IM Craig Hilby was eligible entering the final round, and he faced a tall order of winning with black. He rose to the occasion and produced a positional masterpiece! 

[pgn][Event "Charlotte Summer Norm"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.08.24"] [Round "?"] [White "Wang, Kevin"] [Black "Hilby, Craig"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B06"] [Annotator "Francisco"] [PlyCount "82"] [SourceVersionDate "2020.09.15"] 1. e4 g6 {Hilby's patented weapon!} 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 a6 5. Qd2 b5 6. f3 Nd7 7. h4 h5 8. Nh3 Nb6 $5 {I won't claim to be an expert on this sytem for either side, but according to my database this is a relatively rare sideline, which it seems has quite some merit.} 9. Ng5 Nf6 10. a4 b4 11. Nd1 a5 12. b3 Nfd7 {[#]} 13. Nb2 $6 {This move seems to be the start of White's problems. Though engines still give White an advantage, it may have been more prudent to play c3 and a later Nxc3 to use the hole on b5, as Black is clearly showing his intention to play c5.} c5 14. Bb5 Ba6 15. Bxa6 Rxa6 {Black is fully equal now and has a position that's easier to play. Hilby is in his element and slowly increases the pressure.} 16. O-O Qc7 17. Rad1 cxd4 18. Bxd4 Bxd4+ 19. Qxd4 Qc5 20. Qxc5 Nxc5 21. Nd3 Nbd7 22. Nxc5 Nxc5 23. Rfe1 {[#] If White were able to play e5 next move he would have a tenable position. Now Black is able to take control of the dark squares and anchor a powerful knight on d4. My engine said it was already time to begin searching for the famous 'engine drawing tactics' after 17.e5 dxe5 18.Rd5 Rc6 19.Ne4!? aiming to hold the pawn down rook endgame.} f6 $1 24. Nh3 e5 $1 25. Nf2 Ne6 $1 {The plan is complete - the knight on d4 will be a monster while it's counterpart on f2 is still 3 moves away from the c4 square.} 26. Rd2 Nd4 27. Nd1 Rc6 28. Ne3 Ke7 29. Red1 Ke6 30. Nc4 Rc5 31. Kf2 Rhc8 32. Rd3 {[#]} Rxc4 $1 {The decisive, grandmasterly breakthrough. Black will get two pawns for the exchange and a monster protected passed pawn on b4.} 33. bxc4 Rxc4 34. R1d2 Rc6 35. g3 Nxc2 36. Rd5 b3 37. Rxa5 Rb6 38. Rb5 Rxb5 39. axb5 b2 40. Rd1 Na3 41. b6 Kd7 $1 { Accuracy to the end. Congratulations, Craig on your well-deserved GM norm!} 0-1 [/pgn]

Much thanks to the CCCSA for hosting a perfect event under difficult conditions. I am excited and honored to be participating in their next installment in early October!