Alex Yermolinsky wins US Senior Open

by Alex Yermolinsky
8/1/2017 – After years of eligibility to participate in the US Senior Open, GM Alex Yermolinsky finally 'caved in' and added his name to the roster when it coincided in date and location with a summer chess camp he was teaching at. This event came down very much to him and coleague GM Dmitry Gurevich, as they dueled for the title, but they were not alone. Still, it was not just a chance to compete, but also to catch up with old friends.

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I could have done it some time ago, since the age of 50 is eligible, but only this year I finally decided to act my age and participated in the U.S. Senior Open. A big part of that decision was the convenience. This year's venue was the St. Olaf College in historic Northfield, Minnesota.

Northfield earned its place in American history when the notorious gang led by famous bandit Jesse James met more than their match in ordinary citizens of a small town. A gunfight that ensued after a bank robbery claimed the lives of two of the bandits, while others were later hunted down by a Northfield posse. Only the James brothers, Jesse and Frank, were able to escape. A great example of an Average Joe's bravery and the reason why, to this day, we have very few bank robberies here in the Upper Midwest. It happened in 1876, but St. Olaf College was founded two years earlier.

Today St. Olaf is a four-year liberal arts school with a strong academic reputation. It is also the host of a yearly Ole Chess camp, run by NM Kevin Bachler and his team of merry men and women. Together with my wife, we have been fortunate to serve as instructors at Ole Chess for the past few years, and this year it was immediately followed by both the U.S. Senior and U.S. Junior opens. Seeing that I wouldn't even have to move out of my room I figured I'd give it a shot.

The Senior attracted only two Grandmasters, but the overall field of 95 players was an impressive turnout. After three days and six rounds of play this is how it stood.

The first thing you notice is your favorite author in clear first. That makes it two out of two this year so far check out my report on the Larry Evans Memorial in Reno in April — but it was anything but easy.

Having surrendered a draw to the New York National Master Dexter Thompson, I found myself trailing GM Dmitry Gurevich by half a point with two rounds remaining. The stage was set for the following critical game in Round 5.

Two veteran grandmasters, veteran rivals, meet up to decide yet another event in their careers | Photo: Alex Yermolinsky

Alex Yermolinsky - Dmitry Gurevich

[Event "US Senior Open"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.07.23"] [Round "5"] [White "Yermolinsky, Alex"] [Black "Gurevich, Dmitry"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C00"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "135"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] {Over the years Dmitry and I have played each other very many times. It was nice to do it one more time.} 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. d3 c5 6. Nbd2 Nc6 7. e4 O-O {A Kings Indian Attack tabiya, known since the 1940's.} 8. Re1 ({Most games in this line follow the path laid down in the famous Fischer-Myagmarsuren game from the Sousse Interzonal, 1967, the tournament Bobby chose not to finish. It went} 8. e5 Nd7 9. Re1 b5 10. Nf1 b4 11. h4 a5 12. Bf4 a4 13. a3 $1 bxa3 14. bxa3 {[#]} Na5 $2 {Today's players won't repeat this mistake. The black knight has to stay put to keep pressure against the e5-pawn, and be ready to jump to d4 on a moment's notice.} (14... Ba6 15. Ne3 Rb8 {Svidler-Karjakin, 2014 and Yu Yangyi-Jakovenko, 2016}) ({or} 14... Re8 15. Ne3 Bb7 16. h5 Bf8 17. Rb1 Rb8 {where Giri-So, 2017 went} 18. c4 dxc4 19. dxc4 Qc7 20. Qxa4 Nd4) 15. Ne3 Ba6 16. Bh3 d4 {I guess, Black's plan was to keep the white knight off c4, but R.J. calmly retreated,} 17. Nf1 {waited for yet another Black piece to leave the K-side,} Nb6 {and then launched what is now considered a thematic attack:} 18. Ng5 $1 Nd5 19. Bd2 Bxg5 20. Bxg5 Qd7 21. Qh5 Rfc8 22. Nd2 Nc3 23. Bf6 $1 {culminating in checkmate after} Qe8 24. Ne4 g6 25. Qg5 Nxe4 26. Rxe4 c4 27. h5 cxd3 28. Rh4 Ra7 29. Bg2 dxc2 30. Qh6 Qf8 31. Qxh7+ $3 {Many similar games followed that script, until Black learned to take better care of his king.}) 8... Qc7 9. e5 ({In light of what happened in our game White might want to try to disguise his intentions a bit by first playing} 9. Qe2 {but then comes} Re8 $5 10. e5 (10. Nf1 {intends Bf4, but having seen the white knight move away from c4, Black might want to close the center,} d4 11. e5 Nd5 {and the direct} 12. Ng5 h6 13. Bxd5 exd5 14. e6 { yields not more than a draw:} hxg5 15. exf7+ Kxf7 16. Qh5+ Kf8 17. Qh8+ Kf7 $11 ) 10... Nd7 11. Nf1 f6 $1 {which is essentually the same plan Dmitry had in this game.}) 9... Ng4 {I saw this one coming, and didn't have a lot of confidence in my ability to deal with it.} 10. Qe2 f6 11. exf6 Bxf6 12. c3 ({ I didn't feel like misplacing my knight, particularly since} 12. Nb3 b6 13. c4 Qf7 14. Bf4 Bb7 15. Qxe6 Qxe6 16. Rxe6 Nb4 {would provide Black with ample activity.}) (12. h3 {on the other hand, was tempting:} Nd4 $6 (12... Nge5 $142 13. Nxe5 Bxe5 14. c3 Bd6) 13. Nxd4 Bxd4 14. hxg4 Rxf2 15. Qxf2 Qxg3 16. Ne4 Bxf2+ 17. Nxf2 Bd7 18. Re3 Qc7 19. Bd2 $14) 12... Bd7 13. h3 Nge5 14. Nh2 $5 { [#]} Ne7 $6 {Dmitry didn't read my intentions correctly.} (14... Rae8 $1 15. f4 {I wasn't keen on doing that.} Ng6 16. Ng4 Be7 17. Nf3 (17. h4 $2 Bxh4 18. gxh4 Nxf4 {with strong attack.}) 17... h5 $1 {planning to undermine White's position with h5-h4!}) 15. Ndf3 $1 {Now White is happy. He's getting the g4 square for the other knight, while clearing out for his DSB development.} Nxf3+ 16. Bxf3 Ng6 17. Ng4 Be7 18. h4 Bd6 $5 {True to his active style Dmitry prepares counterplay.} (18... h6 19. h5 Nh8 20. Ne5 $16) 19. h5 Ne5 $1 20. Nxe5 Bxe5 21. h6 $1 ({Going after the e6-pawn with} 21. Bg4 $2 {was not a good idea on account of} Bxg3 $1) 21... Bd6 ({I wasn't sure how to respond to the natural } 21... g6 {I guess} 22. Bg2 {would have been my choice} (22. Be3 b6 23. d4 Bd6 24. Bg4 Rae8 25. f4 cxd4 26. cxd4 (26. Bxd4 e5 $1 27. Bxd7 Qxd7 28. Bxe5 Qh3 $132) 26... b5 27. Rac1 Qb6 28. Kg2 Rf7 {Without knights on the board it would be hard for White to improve.}) 22... Bd6 23. Bg5 Rae8 24. Qd2 $14 {White does best by not rushing f2-f4 in. He doesn't have to because his LSB is keeping an eye on d5.}) 22. hxg7 Rf6 {[#]} (22... Kxg7 23. Be3 Rf6 24. d4 Raf8 25. Bg2 $14 ) 23. Bg5 $1 {White takes necessary measures to protect his king from attacks.} Rg6 24. Bh4 Rxg7 25. c4 Rf8 $6 {Perhaps, a bit too much. Dmitry was looking for attacking chances, but his own king is too weak, and a pawn is always a pawn.} (25... d4 {Looks all gloomy, but it would take a great amount of work from White to increase his advantage.} 26. Qe4 Rf8 27. Qxb7 Qxb7 28. Bxb7 Rb8 29. Be4 Rxb2 30. Kf1 Rf7 31. Re2 Rb6 32. Kg2 $14) 26. cxd5 exd5 27. Bxd5+ Kh8 28. Rac1 Bg4 $138 29. Qe3 b6 30. Bg5 $1 {Going after the exchange.} Rg6 31. Bh6 Rd8 32. Qe8+ Bf8 {[#] I kept staring at this position, looking for a clean putaway, but couldn't find one.} 33. Bf4 {I played this to bail out of possible time trouble, but it extended the game for a good 30 moves.} (33. Bd2 $1 $18 {was the simplest, but the idea never occured to me.} Bf3 34. Bc3+ Rg7 35. Qf7) ({I did look at} 33. Bxf8 Rxe8 34. Rxe8 Qd7 35. Rce1 Qxd5 {and here I failed to follow through in my calculations:} 36. Bd6+ Kg7 37. R1e7+ Kf6 (37... Kh6 38. Bf4+ Rg5 39. Re5) 38. Rf8+ Kg5 39. Bf4+ Kh5 40. Rxh7+ Rh6 41. Rxh6#) 33... Rxe8 34. Bxc7 Rc8 35. Be5+ Bg7 36. Rc4 Bxe5 37. Rxe5 $16 h5 {Dmitry was down to the increment alone.} 38. d4 h4 39. dxc5 hxg3 40. fxg3 $2 {Sloppy.} ( 40. f3 $1 Bd7 41. Re7 $18) 40... Rxc5 41. Rxc5 bxc5 42. Kf2 {[#] Call it experience, but I didn't care for quick wins. My plan was to keep my clock over 5 minutes, stay out of forced lines and look for a technical win.} Kg7 43. Be4 Rf6+ 44. Ke3 Be6 45. a3 (45. Rxc5 Bxa2 46. Ra5 {would have won me a second pawn.}) 45... c4 46. Ra5 Rf7 47. Ra6 Re7 48. Kd4 $18 {I preferred this because Black cannot get around to attack my b2-pawn.} Rd7+ 49. Ke5 Bf7 50. g4 Re7+ 51. Kf4 Bg8 52. Rd6 Rc7 53. g5 Bf7 54. Rc6 Rd7 55. g6 (55. a4) 55... Bd5 56. Bxd5 Rxd5 57. Rxc4 a5 (57... Kxg6 58. Rc6+ Kh5 59. b4 Rd7 60. Kf5 Rb7 61. Rc4 $18) 58. Ke4 Rb5 (58... Rh5 59. Kd4 Kxg6 60. Rc5 Rh2 61. Kc3 a4 62. Rc4 $18) 59. b4 axb4 60. axb4 Kxg6 {Down to one pawn only, but it's a simple win as the pawn gets to b5 with the black king cut off.} 61. Kd4 Kf6 62. Rc6+ Ke7 63. Kc4 Rb8 64. b5 Kd7 65. Kc5 Rb7 ({White is just in time to meet} 65... Rc8 {with} 66. Rxc8 Kxc8 67. Kb6) 66. Rh6 Kc8 67. Rh8+ Kc7 68. b6+ 1-0


A satisfying result, but the work wasn't done yet. Before the last round I was tied for first with NM Mark Dejmek, with a large group of players following just a half-point behind. To make matters worse, I was served with my fourth Black in the tournament. See for yourself how tense a last-round battle can be in American Swiss events.

Mark Dejmek - Alex Yermolinsky

[Event "US Senior Open"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.07.23"] [Round "6"] [White "Dejmek, Mark"] [Black "Yermolinsky, Alex"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B57"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "132"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 {For the last round money game I turn to my old trusted Classical Sicilian.} 6. Bc4 Qb6 {I have relied on this move for 35 years to avoid the Velimirovic attacking lines after White castles long.} 7. Nxc6 {I never considered this line dangerous.} ({Obviously I have seen a lot of} 7. Nb3) ({a bit of} 7. Ndb5) ({and some} 7. Nde2 {as well.} ) 7... bxc6 8. O-O {[#]} e6 ({I don't like the Dragon so much, so} 8... g6 { never appealed to me, particularly since people started playing} 9. Qe1 ({ instead of} 9. e5 dxe5 10. Qe2 Qd4 11. Be3 Qd6 12. Rad1 Qc7 13. f4 Bg4 14. Qf2 e4 {Topalov-Kramnik, 1997.}) 9... Qc7 (9... Qc5 10. b3 Bg7 11. Bb2 O-O 12. Na4 Qh5 13. f3 {I prefer White here.}) {One line I'm concerned with is} 10. f4 Bg7 11. e5 $1 Nd5 12. Bxd5 cxd5 13. Be3 Bb7 14. exd6 Qxd6 15. Nb5 Qc6 16. Bd4 { It may be true that Black still have to fight for equality, but I think after this I will abandon 8...e6 and switch to 7...g6.}) 9. Bf4 $1 {This one came as a big surprise.} (9. Qe2 {I used to answer with} Nd7 {One game I remembered was Christiansen-Yermolinsky, 1998 where Larry tried} 10. Qh5 (10. Na4 Qa5 11. b3 Ne5 12. Bd2 Qc7 {Hernandez-Yermolinsky,1997}) 10... Qc5 11. Qxc5 Nxc5 12. b4 {but after} Ba6 $1 {I held a draw.}) 9... Qxb2 {After a short think I decided I had to bite. Clearly, the tournament situation called for a win, which would give me clear first, while a draw would have ended the event in a six-way tie. Meh.} (9... d5 $2 10. exd5 cxd5 11. Nb5 dxc4 12. Bc7) 10. Qd3 {[#] After the game I asked my opponent if his pawn sac was some kind of theory. To my genuine surprise, he said Fischer (!) played it. I replied with complimenting him on his knowledge of "modern" theory.} e5 ({Indeed, a database search pulled up Fischer-Byrne, Manhattan Blitz, 1971, which ended in demolition of Black's position after} 10... Qb4 11. Rab1 ({I also worried about} 11. Rfd1 Nd7 (11... e5 12. Bxe5) 12. Rab1 Qc5 13. Bb3 Ne5 14. Bxe5 Qxe5 15. Ba4 Bd7 (15... Qc5 16. e5 d5 17. Ne4) 16. Rb7 $36) 11... Qc5 12. Rfd1 e5 13. Bg5 Be7 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Ne2 (15. Nd5 Bd8 16. Ne3 $16) 15... Be6 $2 16. Bxe6 fxe6 17. Rb7 {etc. }) 11. Bg5 Qa3 {Played in a true Poisoned Pawn Variation fashion. The black queen must remain active to interfere with White's plans.} ({On principle I hated the looks of} 11... Qb8 12. Rab1 Qc7 13. Bxf6 gxf6 14. Ba6 Be7 15. Bxc8 Qxc8 16. Nd1 $16) 12. Rab1 (12. Bxf6 $1 gxf6 13. Rab1 {was much stronger. I hoped to answer it with} Bg7 {but} 14. Rb3 $1 Qc5 15. Nd5 $1 O-O 16. Nc7 { puts Black's ideas to rest.}) 12... Be7 13. Rb3 Qc5 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Nd5 $1 Bd8 {[#]} 16. Nb4 $1 {I didn't see this one coming. White is after the c6-pawn that can hardly be protected.} Bd7 $6 {I knew I was taking insane risks, but such is the life in American Swisses.} (16... Bb7 17. Bxf7+ $1 Kxf7 18. Qf3+ Bf6 19. Nd3) (16... O-O $1 {was the best, but I didn't rate my winning chances too highly after} 17. Nxc6 Bd7 18. Nxd8 Raxd8 19. Bd5 Rc8 20. c4 Bc6 $11) 17. Na6 Qd4 18. Qe2 d5 {The only way to save the queen.} 19. exd5 O-O $6 {[#]} ( 19... cxd5 20. Bb5 $18) (19... Bg4 20. Qd3 Qxd3 21. cxd3 cxd5 22. Bxd5 Rc8 23. Rb7 O-O 24. Nb4 Rc7 $11) 20. dxc6 $2 {His first mistake, and it lets Black off the hook} (20. c3 $1 {was the right way.} Qf4 21. g3 Qh6 22. Nb8 $1 Bh3 23. Rfb1 $16 {The trapped Ra8 is going to cost Black plenty.}) ({but not} 20. Rd1 $2 Bg4 21. Rxd4 Bxe2 22. Re4 Bxc4 23. Rxc4 cxd5 24. Rc5 Bb6 25. Rxd5 Rac8 $15) ({Mark simply missed the idea of a knight invasion, which he could have also tried right away:} 20. Nb8 $1 cxd5 (20... Bg4 21. Qd3) 21. Nxd7 dxc4 22. Rd1 Qxd1+ 23. Qxd1 cxb3 24. Nxf8 bxa2 25. Qa1 Kxf8 26. Qxa2 Bb6 $14) 20... Bxc6 21. Rd1 Qe4 22. Qxe4 Bxe4 23. Bd3 (23. Bd5 Bxc2) 23... Bxd3 24. Rdxd3 Rc8 {[#] I have won countless games on the black side of my Sicilians that followed the same pattern: White misses his chances in the middlegame to arrive in a slightly worse endgame he duly proceeds to lose, mainly due to frustration aand time trouble. I hoped this one would add to the list.} 25. c3 Bb6 26. Kf1 e4 27. Rd7 Rfd8 (27... f5 28. Nb4 Rfd8 29. Rxd8+ Rxd8 30. Ke2 g6 31. c4 Rc8 32. Nd5 Rxc4 33. Nxb6 axb6 34. Rxb6 Rc2+ 35. Ke3 Rxa2 36. Rb7 $11) 28. Rxd8+ Rxd8 29. Ke2 $2 {So far, so good.} ({After the game Mark wasn't happy with his missing} 29. c4 {Once the white pawn gets to c5 he'd be out of danger.}) 29... Rd5 30. Nb4 $1 ({Under no circumstances White should go passive:} 30. c4 Ra5 31. Nb4 f5 32. a3 Bc5 33. Nc2 Ra4 $15) 30... Rf5 31. f3 exf3+ 32. gxf3 Rh5 33. Kd3 g6 $2 {My turn to miss something simple.} ({I had} 33... Rxh2 34. Nd5 Rh6 $1 35. c4 Rd6 {holding the c-pawn back and preparing to push my K-side pawns forward.}) 34. c4 Rxh2 35. Nd5 Rxa2 36. Nxb6 axb6 37. Rxb6 {[#]This has to be a draw now, and for a while Mark Dejmek plays it well.} Ra3+ 38. Kd4 $1 Rxf3 39. Rb8+ $1 {Preventing the black king from getting in front of the c-pawn is the most reliable solution.} ({although} 39. c5 Kf8 40. Rb7 Ke8 41. c6 Kd8 42. Kc5 Kc8 43. Kd6 {would have done it too.}) 39... Kg7 40. c5 Rf1 41. c6 Rc1 42. Kd5 Kf6 43. Kd6 Rd1+ 44. Kc7 $2 {In computer-speak this move is OK, because White still has a draw, but in terms of human chess it's the kind of error that sets White on the wrong track. There was no need to put the king in front of the pawn} ({when} 44. Kc5 Rc1+ 45. Kd6 $11 {was there.}) 44... h5 45. Rd8 Rc1 {[#]} 46. Kd7 $2 ({The white king will have to return to stop the pawns, so why not} 46. Kd6) 46... h4 $2 {In mutual time trouble I instinctively wanted to push the most remote pawn first. In this particular case it's wrong.} (46... g5 $1 47. c7 g4 48. c8=Q Rxc8 49. Rxc8 g3 50. Rg8 h4 51. Kd6 Kf5 $19 { The difference is, the black king can support the g-pawn without leaving the protective shadow of the f-pawn.}) 47. c7 g5 48. c8=Q Rxc8 49. Rxc8 h3 {[#]} 50. Rc6+ $2 {White's final error in this nerve wracking game.} ({A draw was still within his reach after} 50. Rh8 g4 51. Kd6 Kf5 (51... Kg5 52. Ke5) 52. Ke7 Kf4 53. Kxf7 Kg3 (53... g3 54. Rxh3 ({or better yet,} 54. Rh4+ {first, a useful technical trick in such cases.}) 54... g2 55. Rh4+ Kg3 56. Rh6 $11) 54. Kf6 Kf2 55. Rh4 g3 56. Rxh3 g2 57. Rh2 $11) 50... Ke5 51. Ke7 g4 52. Kxf7 { As the last resort Mark tried to defend the notorious Q vs R, but I'm quite well versed in it.} (52. Rh6 f5) 52... h2 53. Rh6 g3 54. Ke7 Kf5 55. Kf7 Kg5 56. Rh8 Kg4 57. Kf6 g2 58. Rxh2 g1=Q 59. Rh7 ({White doesn't even get to set up a stubborn defense with his rook on the 3rd (here the 6th) rank:} 59. Rh6 Qd4+ 60. Kf7 Qd7+ 61. Kf6 Qd6+ 62. Kg7 Qe7+ 63. Kg6 Qg5+ 64. Kh7 Kf5 65. Rh1 Qg6+ 66. Kh8 Qg2 67. Rh6 Kg5 $1 68. Ra6 Qb7 {and it's over.}) 59... Qd4+ 60. Kf7 Kg5 61. Rg7+ Kf5 62. Rh7 Qd7+ 63. Kg8 Qe8+ 64. Kg7 Kg5 65. Rh1 Qe5+ 66. Kg8 Qb8+ {Next is Qb7+ and Mark shook my hand.} 0-1

The other favorites in the last round match-ups duly won their games to finish in a massive tie for second place. Among them was my old friend from the San Francisco Bay Area NM Mark Pinto.

The US Senior was more than just a chance for players past their prime to enjoy some competition, it was a chance to meet up with old buddies as well | Photo: Alex Yermolinsky

The event was ably run by Chief Organizer Glenn Panner and TD Maret Thorpe. The latter was so busy that I was only able to catch her “at work” profile.

Chief Organizer Glenn Panner | Photo: Alex Yermolinsky

Tournament director Maret Thorpe (above) was never away from her work and exemplary. A $1,300 check and a nice plaque (below) was my reward for three days of hard work. | Photo: Alex Yermolinsky

Plaques were given to the winners in different age groups, incremented by five years. Now I have five years to make an attempt at the 60-64 plaque.

There's also a question of going to the World Seniors next year. I haven't decided yet. I'd like to play a few more tournaments in 2017 to see where my chess is. (Ed: I think it safe to say we all hope you go!)

Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.
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koko48 koko48 8/2/2017 01:50
@treetown True, that game was a good example of many master vs. GM games. The master can outplay the GM and get winning positions, but that's the easier part. The hardest part is finishing them off. GMs know how to mix up, confuse, and find hidden resources and the best chances throughout the game

Then the master makes technical mistakes in the endgame, losing the draw on several occasions....And the finishing Q vs R ending, 'Every Russian Schoolboy Knows'
treetown treetown 8/1/2017 11:26
Congratulations! I had the pleasure of hearing GM Yermolinsky speak many years ago at a chess festival and it was educational and entertaining.

His second game, as Black, really brought home a key point - what separates the really top players is often the end game. His opponent was actually in good shape in the opening and there was a critical point in the middle that he could have won the game.
koko48 koko48 8/1/2017 03:50
Congratulations Yermo! Good games