Three Tie in North American Open

Ruifeng Li at the National Open. Photo: Tim Hanks. GM-Elect Ruifeng Li. Photo: Tim Hanks
The three players who tied for first in the top section of the record-setting North American Open in Las Vegas might be termed “two and a half grandmasters.” GM Joshua Friedel of Wisconsin, 30, took the tiebreak point bonus ahead of GM-elect (he has the necessary norms and rating and will receive the title in February) Ruifeng Li, 15, from Texas, and Georgian GM Tamaz Gelashvili, 38. They scored 7-2.
GM Tamaz Gelashvili GM Tamaz Gelashvili
The affable Gelashvili pursued the most difficult path to the top. He has lived in New York for five years and does lots of teaching – perhaps sometimes too much, as he was tired at the beginning of the tournament. By the fourth round, he had yielded a draw to FM Ben Li, a loss to FM Craig Hilby when a sacrificial attack misfired, and a draw (which could easily have been lost) to FM Aravind Kumar. Vegas odds makers would have assigned him extremely long odds at that point – yet Gelashvili stormed to the top with five straight wins. In Round 7, the always-dangerous Mexican IM Dionisio Aldama was unable to justify the weakening 8…h6 and steadily went downhill. Gelashvili’s counterattack left him a piece up.
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.29"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Gelashvili, Tamaz"]
[Black "Aldama, Dionisio"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E67"]
[WhiteElo "2568"]
[BlackElo "2375"]
[PlyCount "93"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. c4 d6 6. O-O Nbd7 7. Nc3 e5 8. e3
h6 9. a4 a5 10. b3 exd4 11. exd4 Nb8 12. Ba3 Nc6 13. Qd2 Bf5 14. Nh4 Bd7 15.
Rfe1 g5 16. Nf3 Bf5 17. h4 Nh7 18. Nd5 Bg4 19. hxg5 hxg5 20. Bb2 Bd7 21. Re2 f5
22. Rae1 Rf7 23. Nh2 f4 24. Be4 Nf8 25. g4 Qc8 26. f3 Qd8 27. Kg2 Ra6 28. Kh1
Na7 29. Bf5 Nc8 30. Bc2 c6 31. Nc3 Ra8 32. Ne4 b6 33. Bb1 Nh7 34. d5 c5 35. Nf1
Qf8 36. Rh2 Bxb2 37. Qxb2 Qg7 38. Qxg7+ Rxg7 39. Rh6 Re7 40. Re2 Ra7 41. Reh2
Be8 42. Rxh7 Rxh7 43. Nf6+ Kg7 44. Nxe8+ Kf8 45. Rxh7 Rxh7+ 46. Bxh7 Kxe8 47.
Nd2 1-0[/pgn]
A win over FM Nikhil Kumar (more on him below) left Gelashvili still a half point behind Friedel and Li. They drew their game quickly (no surprise!) and Gelashvili cashed in when his opponent, a Zimbabwean IM, grabbed a poisoned pawn on move 34 after defending for a long time. It’s mate in three in the final position.
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.30"]
[Round "9.2"]
[White "Gelashvili, Tamaz"]
[Black "Mandizha, Farai"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D75"]
[WhiteElo "2568"]
[BlackElo "2355"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. c4 c5 6. O-O cxd4 7. Nxd4 d5 8.
cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nc3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Qc7 11. Qb3 Nc6 12. Rd1 Bg4 13. Qc4 Qd7 14. Bxc6
bxc6 15. Ba3 Rac8 16. Nb3 Qf5 17. f3 Bh3 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. Bc5 Qe5 20. e4 Qh5
21. Qd3 f5 22. exf5 Bxf5 23. Qf1 Bh3 24. Qf2 Bxc3 25. Rac1 Bf6 26. Bxa7 Qb5 27.
Be3 Ra8 28. Nc5 Ra3 29. Ne4 Be5 30. Bd4 Rf8 31. Nc3 Bxd4 32. Qxd4 Qh5 33. g4
Qg5 34. Rb1 Rxf3 35. Rb8+ Rf8 36. Rxf8+ Kxf8 37. Qh8+ Kf7 38. Rd7+ 1-0[/pgn]
Josh Friedel1 GM Josh Friedel
Friedel, who also does plenty of teaching, played more carefully, not overestimating as he yielded draws to IM Mandizha, Chinese GM Jianchou Zhou, and IM Michael Brown along the way. In the critical seventh and eighth rounds he turned on the heat, beating IM Shinya Kojima of Japan and GM Anh Nguyen from Vietnam. In the latter game, Josh takes the initiative with Black.
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.29"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Nguyen, Anh"]
[Black "Friedel, Joshua"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E32"]
[WhiteElo "2482"]
[BlackElo "2510"]
[Annotator "Randy Hough"]
[PlyCount "92"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 d6 7. Nf3 b6 8. e3
Bb7 9. Be2 Nbd7 10. O-O Ne4 11. Qd3 f5 12. Nd2 Qh4 13. f3 (13. Nxe4 fxe4 14.
Qc2 {appears to be equal, as White can defend his king.}) 13... Ng5 14. f4 Ne4
15. Nf3 Qe7 16. Bd2 h6 17. a4 a5 18. Be1 g5 {Fritz is skeptical of this move.}
19. Nd2 Nxd2 20. Qxd2 Kh7 21. d5 Nc5 22. Ra3 g4 23. Qc2 {When White places his
queen off-center with this move, the initiative grows.} h5 24. dxe6 Qxe6 25. b4
axb4 26. Bxb4 h4 27. Bxc5 bxc5 28. Rb1 Bc6 29. a5 h3 30. g3 (30. Bf1 {was
White's last chance.}) 30... Rxa5 31. Rxa5 Qxe3+ 32. Kf1 Bg2+ 33. Ke1 Be4 34.
Qc1 Qg1+ 35. Kd2 Qd4+ 36. Ke1 Bxb1 37. Qxb1 Qg1+ 38. Bf1 Re8+ 39. Kd2 Qxh2+ 40.
Kc3 Qxg3+ 41. Bd3 Kg6 42. Ra1 Qxf4 43. Qb5 Re3 44. Rd1 h2 45. Qb8 {and White
resigned. After} Qe5+ ({or} 45... Rxd3+ 46. Kxd3 Qd4+ $19) 46. Kc2 Re2+ {Black
wins easily.} 0-1[/pgn]
Ruifeng Li, just 15, is a high school freshman and a product of the vibrant Dallas chess scene. Already ranked 18th in the US and an extremely active player (47 events in 2016!), he looks forward especially to the U.S. Junior Closed, having finished third last time. Having been upset by FM Zhaochi Li (presumably no relation) in round 2, Ruifeng had some catching up to do. His key win was against Brown in Round 8, but his favorite was an extremely attractive piece sac in Round 5. Its merits initially escaped the scrutiny of my silicon chip:
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.28"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Feng, Roland"]
[Black "Li, Ruifeng"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D46"]
[WhiteElo "2340"]
[BlackElo "2557"]
[PlyCount "54"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. e3 Nf6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bd3 dxc4 8.
Bxc4 b5 9. Be2 Bb7 10. O-O O-O 11. Rd1 Qc7 12. e4 e5 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Nd4 Neg4
15. h3 Bh2+ 16. Kf1 Nxf2 17. Kxf2 b4 18. Na4 ({Returning the piece via} 18. Nf5
bxc3 19. g3 {would have kept White well afloat.}) 18... c5 19. Bf3 (19. Nxc5
Qxc5 20. Qxc5 Nxe4+ 21. Ke1 Nxc5 {was the last chance to stay in the game.})
19... Qg3+ 20. Kf1 cxd4 21. Rxd4 Ba6+ 22. Be2 Rac8 23. Bc4 Qc7 24. b3 Be5 25.
Bb2 Bxd4 26. Bxd4 Bxc4+ 27. bxc4 Qxc4+ 0-1[/pgn]
Zhao, Brown, and IMs Akshat Chandra and Daniel Gurevich finished in the fourth place tie a half point behind. Six points gave FM Mendizha Under 2400 honors.
Cameron Wheeler (2nd from the right) with his Amateur Team West Championship team, "The Rainbow Unicorns" Cameron Wheeler (2nd from the right) with his U.S. Amateur Team West 1st place team, "The Rainbow Unicorns". Photo: Kerrie Utsumi
Three FMs earned IM norms. For Cameron Wheeler, 16, of Northern California, it was his third and final one. Vegas appears to be his kind of town, as he had earned the second in the same tournament last year. In this tactical Slav line, 12.Ba3 has scored well, but the GM accepted the piece sac and the game remained roughly equal although interesting throughout.
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.28"]
[Round "6.2"]
[White "Zhou, Jianchao"]
[Black "Wheeler, Cameron"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D17"]
[WhiteElo "2632"]
[BlackElo "2408"]
[PlyCount "92"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]
[WhiteClock "0:58:38"]
[BlackClock "0:21:09"]1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. Ne5 e6 7. f3 Bb4 8. Nxc4
O-O 9. Kf2 c5 10. e4 Bxc3 11. bxc3 Bxe4 12. fxe4 Nxe4+ 13. Kg1 Nxc3 14. Qe1
cxd4 15. Ba3 Nc6 16. Bxf8 Qxf8 17. h4 Qc5 18. Rh3 d3+ 19. Kh1 Qxc4 20. Bxd3 Qb4
21. Bxh7+ Kxh7 22. Rxc3 Rd8 23. Qb1+ Qxb1+ 24. Rxb1 Rd7 25. Rcb3 b6 26. Rc3 Ne5
27. a5 Rd4 28. g3 bxa5 29. Rb5 f6 30. Rxa5 Rd1+ 31. Kg2 Rd2+ 32. Kf1 Nd3 33.
Rxa7 Rf2+ 34. Kg1 Rd2 35. Rcc7 Ne5 36. Rxg7+ Kh6 37. Kf1 Nf3 38. Rh7+ Kg6 39.
h5+ Kf5 40. Ra3 Ke4 41. Ra4+ Ke3 42. Ra3+ Ke4 43. Rh6 Rd1+ 44. Ke2 Rd2+ 45. Kf1
Rd1+ 46. Ke2 Rd2+ 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Perhaps the most attention of any player was elicited by 12-year-old FM Nikhil Kumar of Florida. Coming off a tie for first and 2760 performance in the National Congress the month before, he drew with Kojima and GM Nikola Mitkov in the early rounds, then upset WGM Atousa Popurkashiyan, Vignesh Panchanatham, and IM Gurevich, playing quickly and accurately exploiting positional nuances. Gurevich’s ninth and 12th moves appear suspect, and Kumar makes the most of it.
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.28"]
[Round "6.4"]
[White "Kumar, Nikhil"]
[Black "Gurevich, Daniel"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E46"]
[WhiteElo "2251"]
[BlackElo "2455"]
[PlyCount "117"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]
[WhiteClock "0:04:03"]
[BlackClock "1:32:05"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nge2 d5 6. a3 Be7 7. cxd5 exd5 8.
Nf4 c6 9. Bd3 a5 10. O-O Na6 11. f3 Nc7 12. Qc2 c5 13. dxc5 Bxc5 14. Kh1 Bd6
15. Bd2 Be6 16. Nxe6 Nxe6 17. Rac1 Rc8 18. Qb1 h6 19. Nb5 Bc5 20. b4 axb4 21.
axb4 Bb6 22. Rxc8 Qxc8 23. Nd6 Qd7 24. Nf5 Rc8 25. Qa1 d4 26. e4 h5 27. e5 Nd5
28. f4 Ne3 29. Bxe3 dxe3 30. Nd6 Rf8 31. Bb5 Qe7 32. Bc4 Kh8 33. Qc3 f5 34.
Bxe6 Qxe6 35. Qc4 Qxc4 36. Nxc4 Rd8 37. Nd6 Ra8 38. Re1 g6 39. g3 Kg7 40. Nc4
Bd4 41. Nxe3 Bxe3 42. Rxe3 Ra1+ 43. Kg2 Rb1 44. e6 Kf8 45. Kh3 Rxb4 46. e7+ Ke8
47. Re6 Rb2 48. Kh4 Rxh2+ 49. Kg5 Rc2 50. Kxg6 Rc7 51. Kf6 Rd7 52. Re5 b5 53.
Rxb5 Rd6+ 54. Kg5 Rd3 55. Kh4 Rd1 56. Kxh5 Rg1 57. Kh4 Rh1+ 58. Kg5 Rh3 59. Rb3
1-0[/pgn]
Kumar then drew with Zhou, but ran out of gas in the final rounds, running into another positionally accurate player in the finale.
[pgn][Event "26th North American Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas"]
[Date "2016.12.30"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Brown, Michael"]
[Black "Kumar, Nikhil"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D35"]
[WhiteElo "2452"]
[BlackElo "2251"]
[PlyCount "115"]
[EventDate "2016.12.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceDate "2016.11.30"]1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. Bf4 Nf6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Bd3 O-O 8.
Nf3 c5 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. O-O Be6 11. Rc1 Qb6 12. Be5 Nfe4 13. Bd4 Qd8 14. Bb1
Nxc3 15. Rxc3 Ne4 16. Rc1 Bf6 17. Qa4 Bxd4 18. Qxd4 Nf6 19. Rc3 Qd6 20. Rfc1 a6
21. h3 Rfc8 22. Bd3 Qd8 23. Qb4 Rxc3 24. Rxc3 Rb8 25. Nd4 Ne8 26. Rb3 a5 27.
Qb6 Qxb6 28. Rxb6 Bd7 29. Bb5 Nf6 30. Bxd7 Nxd7 31. Rb5 b6 32. Rxd5 Rb7 33. f3
Kf8 34. e4 g6 35. Kf2 Rc7 36. Ke3 Ke7 37. Kd2 Rc5 38. Rxc5 Nxc5 39. Kc3 Kd6 40.
Kc4 h6 41. b3 Nd7 42. f4 Nc5 43. e5+ Kd7 44. g4 Ne4 45. f5 gxf5 46. gxf5 Nf2
47. h4 Nd1 48. e6+ fxe6 49. fxe6+ Kd6 50. Kb5 Nc3+ 51. Kxb6 Nxa2 52. Kxa5 Nc1
53. b4 Nd3 54. b5 Nc5 55. Kb6 Na4+ 56. Ka7 Kc5 57. e7 Nb6 58. e8=Q 1-0[/pgn]
Though his 5½ points only put him in a big tie for second Under 2400, Kumar achieved the IM norm with a half point to spare. The third IM norm was achieved by FM Nick Raptis of Washington, whose 5½ points included draws with GMs Zviad Izoria and  Magesh Panchanathan; Pourkashiyan; IM Vignesh Panchanatham, and wins over IM-elect Kostya Kavutskiy and, in the final round, FM Roland Feng. Two other GMs are worth mentioning. Jim Tarjan, 64, who returned to play in 2014 after a 30 year absence, conserved his strength with three half point byes but lost to Chandra in the last round. Gregory Kaidanov, now 57, made his first tournament appearance in 14 months. He took four byes, and his last round win over Panchanatham left him only in the big tie for eighth place. Notable players who didn’t make it to the finish line included Izoria (losses to Brown and Aldama), Mitkov (a loss to FM Zhaozhi Li), and IM John Bryant (losses to untitled players in the first two rounds). Another (non-Open) player who pulled the plug after two rounds was wearing an “I’d Rather Be Playing Chess” hoodie (that slogan apparently has a hidden caveat). GM Zhou won the 184-player Blitz, taking two byes and then winning eight games. The mixed doubles were primarily a family affair, as Erkhes Erdenebileg and Enkhjin Erdenebileg, both in the Under 1500 section, scored 10-2 to finish first and Bria Castro and John Castro (Under 1500  and Under 1250 respectively) tied for second a half point behind. The exception was the other tied team, FM Mark Duckworth (Under 2300) and Cindy Zhang (Under 1900). The 26th North American, one of CCA’s “big three,” smashed its turnout record with 791 players. Bill Goichberg’s staff had to cope with some viruses that seemed to be going around, but everything came off on schedule.  CCA hopes to  break the 800 mark next December! For more information, including a complete list of prize winners, visit:

Comments

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Farai Mandizha from Zimbabwe is an IM as can be verified @ ratings.fide.com.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Nikhil Kumar's perfroamnce is beyond amazing, his no-lose streak of 32 games came to an end but he will break Awonder's IM record. Did Awonder ever have such a streak? Kumar's playing so much better than Awonder when he was making his run. 4 months ago Kumar was drawing and losing to 1600's and now he's making IM norms and looking to break Awonder's record. Awesome job.

In reply to by Rajdeep Guha (not verified)

He indeed seems to be playing a lot better than Awonder except for the last half of his game against Gelashvili and his entire game against Brown, in which he didn't even play NM strength. Also, going from drawing and losing to 1600s to beating very strong players like Andrew Hong, Vignesh Panchanatham, and Daniel Gurevich in such dominating fashions to playing such an atrocious final round game sounds strange to me. The fact that you mentioned it took only "4 months" may raise suspicions.

In reply to by Rajdeep Guha (not verified)

I would say the "Kumar Phenomenon" is not about how fast he will break a record but how he managed to reach FM/IM levels from nobody in just four five months. To me it sounds too good to be true and gives people a reason to cast a doubt. Time will tell if he deserves to be a role model for other kids, but comparing him to Awonder now, nah, not so fast. Nevertheless, I wish Kumar to continue his current momentum and reaching higher goals.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

If Nikhil's parents would take him to Europe to play in norm tournaments I think he would break Awonder's record. Caissa willing, they will do it. But you're right maybe he shouldn't be compared to Awonder, he should really be compared to Praggnanandhaa who he shredded at World Youth.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not sure what the obsession is with "role model" but he is a role model. He seems well rounded, he goes to a regular school, started chess relatively late, has been plugging away until things clicked for him, and he is physically fit. Sounds like a role model to me.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Kumar then drew with Zhou, but ran out of gas in the final rounds, running into another positionally accurate player in the finale." If you happen to take a look at the games he played against Zhou and other titled players in early rounds, you'd be stunned how brilliantly and precisely he played at GM level, if not super GM level. But then if you look at the last two rounds he played against another two GMs, you'd be stunned again how horribly he played. It's hard to believe those games were played by the same person. Ran out of gas? I don't buy it. He needs to prove he can consistently playing at IM/GM level.

In reply to by Jane Doe (not verified)

Not when he isn't a GM yet...

In reply to by Jane Does (not verified)

If he was able to consistently pull out a IM/GM level in the last few tournaments, how could he not in the last two games? That last two games simply show he had no clear plan, if not at all, and that not even in par with his FM level. How could his playing strength drop like that!

In reply to by Jane Doe (not verified)

I think the problem is simply inconsistency. Now I'm not sure what the cause may be, but I have the same problem too - I've played some relatively good games, but I've played many terrible ones too, sometimes in the same tournament but more often in separate tournaments. For a junior who has recently been making huge progress, inconsistency is very typical - it's difficult to adjust to the expectations created by a much higher rating. Besides, although his rating and playing strength has increased a lot, he will always be the same person, so surely he's maintained many of the same qualities from the way he played a few months ago. Of course, one also has to consider the negative possibility that he had a few particularly good tournaments and he doesn't usually play as well as he did in those tournaments, but I doubt it although it is very common among players (I'm an accurate example of that.)

In reply to by Sophie (not verified)

Edit: The curse of the last round/general tiredness must have played a big part as well. After having played so many good games against higher rated players, as confirmed by Mr. Stallings below, he ran out of gas.

In reply to by Sophie (not verified)

I think you're right. We shall not be too strict to a 12-year-old whose chess career is just springing. We'll just give him the benefit of the doubts although his recent wild performance raised a lot of suspicions in NAO. We just keep watching him and wishing him the best. Time will tell. Only time will tell!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Congrats to Nikhil Kumar on another amazing performance after his recent successes! However, the game against Michael Brown was absolutely horrible, the worst game he's ever played in the past few months by far. If I was told that the black player in that game made an IM norm with basically three rounds to spare, I would be incredibly shocked. No IM/GM strength player should get easily outplayed like that. While Michael played well to take advantage, he didn't do anything special, and Nikhil basically did the work for him, going from playing IM/GM level strength to playing like a mere 2000 rated player. This was a mere shadow of his brilliant game against Zhou Jianchao, played only one day earlier, when it seemed like Nikhil held a draw with ease with the black pieces. I think such a drastic decrease in level of play may raise some concern.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Fun article. Well done Randy Hough! Yes, Nikhil Kumar may have played at extremely different levels on consecutive days, but don't forget - he is 12 years old. He just finished a semester of school in which he was probably studying chess in every spare moment, and did in fact run out of gas. I remember being 10 years old and maybe 1400 or so in this same event, but in Stillwater, OK. In the first two rounds I earned 1.5 from two A players. In the final (12th?) round of the event, I lost to an 1100. Just worn out and ready to go home. It happens. I look forward to watching Nikhil over the coming years. Good luck young man!

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

According to Nikhil Kumar's opponent stat on MSA. - Prior to 2016, he has played against a 2400+ and a 2500+ rated players. Both were loses. In 2016, he played against 8 2400+, 5 2500+, and 6 2600+ players. His scores against them are 62.5%, 50% and 16.7% respectively.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Looks like the same progress trajectory as this kid from Brooklyn back in the 50's.

In reply to by "Coach Jay" (not verified)

Except that Fischer's play was far more consistent, to say the least.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Another possible explanation is that he got nervous about the prize money and/or a GM norm and fell apart, something far more experienced players have done many times.

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