Thrilla in Santa Clara: Fighting Chess Reigns at Best of West Class Championships 2018

Perhaps, it was the heat wave that inflamed the 311 players who came out over Memorial Day Weekend to contest BayAreaChess’ Best of the West Class Championships 2018 because there was plenty of feisty chess going on inside the Santa Clara Marriott.

Forget cautious, final-round draws – there were clear winners in all five prize money sections, who each took home hefty slices from the $11,684 pie.

GM Melikset Khachiyan

Besides the large prize fund, there were plenty of rating points at stake, as both the Open and A sections were FIDE rated. 200 players contested the Class Championships (with another 111 in the Kids tournament), including top local veterans, rising juniors, world-class visitors, and one chess journalist coming out of a 28-year retirement.

Bold-faced names in the 60-player Open section included top seed and BayAreaChess 2017 tournament MVP, GM Conrad Holt, Los Angeles-based Armenian GM, Melikset Khachiyan, perennial local champion and contender IM Vince McCambridge, WIM Ashritha Eswaran, and National Masters Jack Qijie Zhu, Siddharth Banik, Michael Aigner, and brother-and-sister duo, Sijing and Rochelle Wu.

IM Vince McCambridge (center) versus GM Conrad Holt in round 4.

As is customary for BAC’s Open Championships, the Best of the West offered players two or three day schedules, with rounds 1-3 played separately with different time controls, and rounds 4-6 for the combined sections played at the slower time control – in this case, 40 moves in 120 minutes followed by Sudden Death/30 with 5 second delay.

Probably the biggest upset in the Open before “the merge” was Milind Maiti’s round three defeat of Jack Zhu, 300+ points higher-rated than him. Seeds prevailed in the other major round 3 games, as Holt defeated Banik, while Khachiyan used the King’s Indian Attack to take out the 17-year-old Eswaran in a tidy 27 moves that ended in a fork.

More heavyweights did battle in round 4. Holt was forced to overcome the 3rd-seeded McCambridge, while Khachiyan defeated candidate master, Archit Dasika. That left Holt and Khachiyan the only undefeated players before round 5. They drew, leaving them again the co-leaders before the final round with 4.5, with three other players close behind with four points: Banik, Sijing Wu, and junior candidate master, Eric Yuhan Li.  

Holt needed a win in his round 6 game vs. NM Sijing Wu (both above) for clear first and the $1,456 first prize. Fireworks ensued in the tactical gem, which featured multiple sacrifices and a pawn promotion foot race won by Holt.

Khachiyan drew with Li, leaving him second and the $883 prize. Tied for 3-7 with 4.5 points were Li, Zhu, Banik, Eswaran and Henry Wang. Each took home $287.

Of note is that two games in the final round came down to endgames between King, Bishop and Knight versus King. While Eswaran executed that esoteric and difficult checkmate over Evan Ai, the other endgame between Pranav Senthilkumar and Dimitri Dobrynin ended in a draw. BAC coach and US Chess Championship upset king GM Zviad Izoria will be recording a video lesson on how to master the Bishop and Knight checkmate – look for it coming on our Facebook page soon!

As noted earlier, fighting chess led to clear winners. In the A section, FIDE candidate master Aghilan Nachiappan, fresh from helping lead Mission San Jose Elementary to shared first in the K-6 section at the National Elementary Chess Tournament, went a perfect 6-0 to win $1,104, 1.5 points ahead of Leo Jiang. The B section’s $1,104 first prize was won by Vekantagi Acharya with 5.5, ahead of Supanay Nagpal and Chelsea Zhou with 5. The C section’s first prize of $736 was won by Enoch Martinez with 5 points, ahead of Ryan Wang, Jacob Chiang and Thomas Zhu with 4.5. Meanwhile, Nicklaus Lo won the DEunrated section with 5.5 points and $589 in prizes, ahead of Kyle Chang with 5.

Final results and ratings here. View more pictures from the Open tournament in our Facebook album.

The Best of the West Kids tournament on Saturday drew a healthy 111 players over 4 sections. It also featured clear winners in all but one section. Congratulations to:

– Ashwin Punaroor, 5-0 in the Under 1200 section;

– Aaron Tian, 5-0 in the Under 900;

– Ajay Govindarajan, 4.5 and first in the Under 600, and

– Joshua Matthew Wu and Kenta Itami-Wolf, who tied for first with 4.5 in the Under 300.

Weibel Elementary School and Liu Chess Club won the school and club team trophies, respectively. Rated results here. Pictures of the Kids tournament posted here.

Organized by BAC Executive Director Dr. Judit Sztaray, the Best of the West was played in a large, quiet tournament hall in the Santa Clara Marriott with plenty of space for players and parents to lounge and in-hotel restaurants. All of the rounds ran smoothly, and the relaxed pace (1 hour between rounds for 3-day players) and other logistics were praised by F-Pawn blogger Michael Aigner as “quite comfortable” and “truly enjoyable.”

Thanks to the wonderful TD crew. John McCumiskey was chief TD for the Best of the West tournament, assisted by Abel Talamantez and Judit Sztaray, while Reka Sztaray was chief TD for the Kids section, assisted by Michael Joseph D’Alfonsi and Judit Sztaray.

If you enjoyed the Best of the West, you have these major local tournaments to look forward to this summer (besides the regularly-scheduled Swiss and Quad tournaments):

  • The Father’s Day tournament on June 17th at the Santa Clara Convention Center, now with 3 rated Kids’ sections and two sections (rated and unrated) for the dads!
  • The GM Walter Browne Memorial Championship June 22/23-24 at the BAC San Jose office, with $5,000 in prizes and FIDE ratings for Open and AB sections;
  • The 43rd Annual People’s Tournament in Berkeley in July 20-22. Six round tournament for the same price as last year. Final info coming soon.
  • The Rauf Mamedov Championships July 27/28-29 at the BAC San Jose office, with the same prizes and ratings as the Browne.

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