GM Jianchou Zhou won the 49th annual Continental Open (August 14-18, Sturbridge) with a score of 7-2 to take the first place prize of $6200. Zhou faced a very strong field of six GMs, two IMs, and 1 FM, winning 6 games and drawing 2. His only loss was to GM Illia Nyzhnyk who, along with fellow second place finisher GM Victor Mikhalevski, completed the tournament without a loss.
The competitive nature of the event started in round one as two GMs were upset and two more surrendered draws. The big shock of the round was FM Eugene Yanayt’s defeat of second seeded GM Sam Sevian. Sam played a very nice game and handled complications very well and had an advantage at various points. Unfortunately, a bit short of time, he missed a tactic which Yanayt capitalized on.
The position is equal due to Black’s counterplay with the advanced g-pawn. For instance: 53. Rd3 Rxf4 54. Rxg3 or 53. Nh3 Rh5 54. Ng1 Rh1 55. Rd1 Nf5 56. a4 Ne3 57. Rc1 and black still has a lot of resources.
Instead, Sevian started to move his king to b2 and then realized too late after he touched his king the tactic of … Rxf4.
Praveen Balakrishnan (photo Hanks)
Round two had a very surprising result on board one. Top seeded GM Illia Nyzhnyk had White, but was not feeling particularly ambitious and offered a draw on move 11 to IM Praveen Balakrishnan. When I asked Nyzhnyk about the short draw offer with White against a lower-rated opponent, he explained that it was due to several factors: there was some fatigue from his busy tournament schedule, he felt like he had not been preparing as much as he would like, and given those two issues he did not want to risk a bad result and lose some of his recent hard earned rating gains.
With Nyzhnyk’s quick draw, GM Yaroslav Zherebukh moved up to first board. That game ended in a fighting 70 move draw where Zherebukh missed a win. After 55. Ne2+, Zherebukh can win a piece, but he may have been concerned that Mikhalevski could escape into a rook and minor piece vs rook ending. Perhaps this led to selecting a different line that ultimately led to the draw.
Instead, Zherebukh tried to win with the a-pawn, but this allowed Mikhalevski to draw.
With Zherebukh’s draw, GM Jianchou Zhou (the only perfect score at 3—0) advanced to board one. Zhou played safe and drew with GM Kamil Dragun in 22 moves. This draw marked the end of the perfect scores, but still allowed Zhou to remain in clear first. After four rounds, Zhou had 3.5 and he was closely followed by GMs Illia Nyzhnyk, Yaroslav Zherebukh, Kamil Dragun, Sergei Azarov, Victor Mikhalevski, Hedinn Steingrimsson, Alexander Stripunsky, Alexander Ivanov, and IM Keaton Kiewra, all at 3-1.
Nyzhnyk defeated Zhou on board one to retake his seat at the top board. Nyzhnyk was playing very fast and surprisingly used almost no time while Zhou was in time pressure with a difficult position to defend.
After round five there was a three way tie at first between Nyzhnyk, Zherebukh, and Mikhalevski, all with 4-1. Just half a point back were GMs Sevian, Zhou, Dragun, Azarov, Stripunsky, Ivanov, IMs Joshua Sheng, Michael Mulyar, FM Eugene Yanayt, and SM Lev Paciorkowski.
Eugene Yanayt (photo Tim Hanks)
Yanayt was having a great tournament. After defeating Sevian in round one, he drew with GM Emilio Cordova and beat IM Brian Escalante. Yanayt was still competitive for a GM norm and looked like he would easily make an IM norm.
In round six, Nyzhnyk and Zherebukh played a quick draw on board one. Sevian pressed Mikhalevski on board two but eventually drew. Draws between the leaders opened the door for others to catch up. Zhou took advantage of the opportunity by defeating Ivanov. Sheng defeated Azarov, and Paciorkowski defeated Stripunsky.
GMs Nyzhnyk, Zherebukh, Zhou, Mikhalevski, IM Sheng, and Paciorkowski topped a crowded leader board going into round seven, with each player at 4.5–1.5. Nyzhnyk defeated Paciorkowski and Sheng defeated Zherebukh, but Zhou and Mikhalevski drew. This narrowed the leaders to two: GM Nyzhnyk and IM Sheng both had 5.5 points.
Because Nyzhnyk had already defeated Sheng in round four, both leaders were paired down to the 5 point scoregroup. Nyzhnyk, having already defeated Sheng in round four, took a quick draw with Black versus Steingrimsson, while Sheng lost to GM Mikhalevski. Zhou defeated Kiewra to join Nyzhnyk and Mikhalevski at 6–1.
In the last round, Nyzhnyk drew with Mikhalevski on board one, but Zhou defeated Zherebukh, finishing at 7-2 in clear first place and winning $6200. IM Sheng won his last round against Steingrimsson to tie for second with. Nyzhnyk and Mikhalevlski. Each won $3000.
Balakrishnan was paired down by score to GM Cordova and drew to finish at 6-3 to win clear 5th and $1500. IM Kiewra won his last round against Paciorkowski to also reach 6-3, but since he was Under 2400 FIDE, he won clear first U2400 and took home $2000.
Yanayt lost in rounds six and seven to GMs Azarov and Ivanov, ending any chance at a GM norm. His final round win did give him an IM norm.
The section winners were:
Matthew Meredith & William Schreefer, 5.5-1.5, $1500
Stephanie Ballom, 6.5-0.5, $2000
Aaron Li & Brian Santiago, 6-1, $1500
Kurt Amber, Shouri Mosaliganti, & Ian Hulle, 5.5-1.5, $933.34
Robert Campbell, 6.5-0.5, $900
Stephanie Ballom & Shriniket Sivakumar and Suhavi Tiruveedhula & Kurt Amber, 10 points, $750 each team
Ruizhong Wang 7-1, $140
NTD Bill Goichberg directed for Continental Chess assisted by David Hater, Bob Messenger, and Harold Stenzel.