Winter Wrap-Up: Sitges, SPICE and Everything Nice

A number of high-profile tournaments took place around Christmastime both domestically and internationally. Between the holidays and coverage of FIDE's rapid and blitz world championships, it's time to catch up on some of the biggest names and news items from the previous month.


Chessable Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival

The holiday season kicked off with the 10-round Chessable Sunway Sitges International Chess Tournament, featuring 329 players in the “A” group, in addition to a number of side events and tournaments. Taking place from December 12 through 22 in Sitges, Spain, Indian GM Abhimanyu Puranik claimed outright first with an impressive 8½/10 score.

American GM Brandon Jacobson finished second on tiebreaks with an 8/10 score ahead of GM Aravind Chithambaram (IND), GM Volodar Murzin (RUS), and IM Ernesto Fernandez Guillen (CUB), thanks to his last round over an Indian IM:



A series of blitz tiebreak matches decided the placement, with Jacobson winning both games from promising positions, although one was more eventful than the other:




American IM Bryce Tiglon was in the group of players tied for sixth with 7½/10, earning a 2630 performance rating and boosting his official FIDE over 2500 (to 2506) to start the new year. This should be good for his third and final GM norm. Tiglon played seven consecutive grandmasters to end the tournament, going undefeated with five draws and two wins, including this convincing attacking gem:



The biggest story of the first half of the event, though, was the last-minute entry of GM Leinier Dominguez, entering as the top-seed in order to make a push ahead of GM Wesley So in the live ratings with a candidates spot on the line. Dominguez eventually withdrew after five rounds with a 4/5 score, as draws would continue to dent his rating. Indeed, he was lucky to escape with a draw in round five:



Full results available here.


17th Annual SPICE Cup

The 17th Annual SPICE (Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence) Cup featured nine rounds of fighting chess from December 17 through 22 in St. Louis. With six GMs and 11 IMs among the 38 participants, the event was competitive from the first round. At the end, IM Andy Woodward emerged in sole first with a 7/9 score (earning $5,000) thanks to grinding down GM Christopher Woojin Yoo in the final round:



GMs Aram Hakobyan and Yasser Quesada Perez tied for second along with IM Safal Bora on 6½/9, each splitting second-through-fourth place and earning $2,166.67 apiece. GM Ilya Nzyhnyk and IM Justin Wang tied for fifth with 6/9 scores, earning $500 each. IM Anna Sargsyan won the $1,000 prize for top woman with her 5½/9 score. IM (it's official) Alice Lee and WGM Annamaria Marjanovic earned $350 each with 4½/9 scores.

Full results are available here.


33rd Annual North American Open

The 33rd Annual North American Open, in Las Vegas, was held December 26 through 30 and featured a $130,000 prize fund across all sections.

In the open section, GM Grigory Oparin claimed clear first (and $10,300) with a 7½/9 score. Oparin began the event with six straight wins before cooling off with three consecutive draws. His final win, over GM Richard Bitoon, was enough to keep him out of reach in the home stretch:



The three Under-2400 prizes were split five ways. GMs Richard Bitoon and Denes Boros were joined by FMs Sean Vibbert, Dhanush Bharadwahj, and Jacob Furfine with 6/9 prize to earn $1,200 apiece. Corrales had secured his share of second with a nice endgame finesse over GM John Michael Burke in round eight:



Balakrishnan and Chatterjee each had to earn their share of second with wins in the final round:




Excitingly, Furfine also earned an IM norm along the way, outplaying a grandmaster in his must-win last-round game:



Results in all sections are available here.


1000GM Winter GM and IM Norm Scheveningen Invitationals

The 1000GM Chess Charity of course joined in on the holiday spirit, offering a GM and an IM invitational tournament from December 26 through 30 in Sunnyvale, CA. Both events were held as modified Schveningen tournaments, allowing the norm-seekers to play more established players rather than compete against each other as in a traditional Round Robin.

Shelev Oberoi, with a rating just over 2200 FIDE, earned an IM norm with a 5½/9 score in the GM section. Thanks to tough pairings, a 5/9 score was sufficient for an IM norm, but with a final-round pairing against IM Yiping Lou looming large, Oberoi played for a win in the penultimate round to lock in his norm:



Oberoi did manage to draw Lou in the final round, meaning that Lou finished with “only” eight points out of a possible nine. Full results are available here.

In the IM section, Rose Atwell earned a WIM norm with her 5/9 score, exhibiting fine fighting chess along the way:



Results from the IM section are available here.

A second batch of IM and GM norm events are currently halfway completed in Sunnyvale, featuring several of the same competitors. At 3½/5, Atwell is already within a half-point of another WIM norm in the IM norm section. In the GM norm section, FM Isaac Wang is on pace for an IM norm, needing only a point-and-a-half out of his final four games.


15th Rouen Open

The most-covered post-Christmas event is usually the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz championships. But this year, French GM Alireza Firouzja withdrew to play the 15th Rouen Open closer to home. Like Dominguez, Firouzja was making a late push in the ratings race to overtake So for the final Candidates spot.

Unlike Dominguez, Firouzja first played in a series of matches, ultimately falling short before the matches were retroactively removed from FIDE’s page.

This left Firouzja playing a local open tournament in Rouen, facing several opponents rated under 2000 before eventually playing GM Li Min Peng in round five and American ex-pat GM Gata Kamsky in the sixth round. His win over the rock-solid Kamsky was particularly impressive:



The pair of victories were enough for Firouzja to overtake So in the live ratings list, and with a win over veteran IM Kamran Shirazi in round seven, it was settled: Firouzja is in the 2024 Candidates over So.

Editor's note: Do you want your tournament covered on Chess Life Online? For norm invitationals, competitive opens, or anything else that you think deserves coverage, email JJ Lang.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Woodward as a GM, not an IM. This has been corrected.