Americans dominate Spring Classic

by Alejandro Ramirez
6/2/2017 – The Saint Louis Chess Club continued its quarterly strong GM invitational with three sections: the lowest with an average rating of 2530, the highest with 2640. These were created so strong grandmasters could test themselves against talent from around the world, and learn from the experience. In the top group, Akobian won convingly, in the C group Sevian cleaned out, but the true story was Awonder's annihilation...

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Photos by Austin Fuller, thanks to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis continues its commitment to empowering chess at all levels. The club is mostly known for its flagship events, the U.S. Championship and the Sinquefield Cup, as well as for its vast chess in the schools outreach in greater Saint Louis metropolitan area. The "Classic" series is not the club's flashiest event, but it is a key part for the growth of young players in the country. The aim of the events are to give members of the Young Stars program, of members of collegiate chess in America, and for the olympic women and open teams to get experience against players they would have to travel far to reach.

As their official website says:

"The Quarterly Strong Tournaments here at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center were created so strong international masters and newly minted grandmasters could participate in strong round robin tournaments in which to test their mettle against players of similar levels and to learn from these experiences. These tournaments are very rare. Generally, organizers are more interested in hosting elite events with big names such as Fabuano Caruana, Wesley So or Magnus Carlsen. These organizers are rarely seeking sponsorship for grandmasters in the 2600 level. "

Two closed tournaments normally run concurrently, the a-group with an average of about 2640, and the b-group with an average in the mid 2500s. Due to scheduling conflicts and the need for practice for some of these young players, a c-group was added nearly last minute! The event attracted top talent from around the world, but the Americans really shone in this edition.

The Young Stars – Team USA program has been sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) since 2012. A group of young and promising chess players are assessed and evaluated by Garry Kasparov himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky. These players are also individually trained by prominent grandmasters and famous coaches, including Alexander Chernin. They were represented in all sections with Jeffery Xiong, Sam Sevian, Ruifeng Li, Awonder Liang. GM Akshat Chandra is an "alumn" of the program.

Group C

Group C was a six player round robin, which had a mix of relatively young players. The oldest and weakest participant was me, with 28 years of age and 2550 of rating! Two players from Webster University participated: Alexander Shimanov and Ilya Nyzhnyk, one from the University of Texas at Brownsville, Andrei Stukopin, and two members of the Young Stars program, a cooperation betwen the Saint Louis Chess Club and the Kasparov Chess Foundation to foster talent in the USA: Ruifeng Li and Sam Sevian.

From the beginning it became clear that Sevian and Nyzhnyk were the frontrunners of the event, at some point they even doubled the amount of points that third place had! However Nyzhnyk towards the end started faltering a bit, allowing Sevian to win the tournament comfortably.

Sam Sevian has been on many people's radar, starting from his amazing performance at the 2015 U.S. Championship. He seems to have made a breakthrough lately. This was his third tournament victory in a row, and he followed it up by winning the Chicago Open only a few days later.

Alexander Shimanov is one of Webster University's strongest students. He finished a respectable third place. Here he is observing the B-group.

Stukopin was quite luckless this event, losing some winning positions, as in this game against Nyzhnyk

The fighting spirit in the C-group was high, and surprisingly many more games were won with black than with white! This is one of them:

[Event "St Louis Spring Classic C"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2017.05.21"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Stukopin, Andrey"] [Black "Li, Ruifeng"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2586"] [BlackElo "2574"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "74"] [EventDate "2017.05.16"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. h3 Be7 9. f4 Nc6 10. f5 Bxb3 11. axb3 Nb4 12. g3 d5 13. exd5 Qc7 14. d6 Bxd6 15. Nb5 Nxc2+ 16. Ke2 {Surprisingly, this craziness had all been played before!} axb5 $5 {Did Ruifeng not know theory or did he just choose to go for a more risky route?} (16... Qc6 {was Sadzikowski-Areschenko from August of last year and Karjakin-Mamedov from Shamkir}) 17. Rxa8+ Ke7 18. Rxh8 Nxe3 {How rare to see this in Chess. White is up two exchanges right now, but will iwn another knight, yet the position is unclear!} 19. Kxe3 Qc5+ 20. Ke2 (20. Kd3 e4+ { could be the subject of a whole article in itself.}) 20... Ne4 21. Qd3 Qf2+ $2 {Perhaps only this move is actually wrong} (21... Nxg3+ 22. Qxg3 (22. Kd2 e4 23. Qe3 Qxf5 $1 $13) 22... Qc2+ 23. Ke3 Bc5+ 24. Kf3 Qxf5+ 25. Kg2 Qc2+ $11) 22. Kd1 Nxg3 23. f6+ $1 {A very important detail, this takes away f6 from the king} gxf6 24. Qd5 $2 (24. Qxb5 {immediately was winning} f5 25. Qxb7+ Kf6 26. Bc4 {White's threats are too strong} Kg5 27. Re1 $18) 24... Nxf1 {Now the game is unclear again} 25. Qxb7+ Ke6 26. Qc8+ Kd5 27. Qa8+ $2 (27. Qc3 {the queen had to return to the defense} e4 $1 28. Rd8 $1 $13) 27... Kd4 28. Qa7+ Bc5 29. Rd8+ Ke4 30. Qb7+ Kf4 31. Kc1 Qe1+ $1 32. Kc2 f5 $1 {Black wants to allow no possibilities of a counterattack on the king. Pushing the f-pawn helps take control of key squares} 33. b4 {The final mistake} (33. Rxf1+ Qxf1 34. Qxf7 Qxh3 $15) 33... Ne3+ $1 34. Kb3 Qxb4+ 35. Ka2 Qa5+ 36. Kb1 Qxd8 {Black has a winning position and a material advantage} 37. Qxb5 Qd5 0-1

Final Standings

Replay Group C games

Group B

Group B was a mix of very young talent, two very strong female players and collegiate players. The tournament had an amazing start, with GM Cristian Chirila and IM Awonder Liang starting with an insane 5.0/5! They faced each other in the sixth round, a game that ended in a draw, but whereas Cristian started drawing here and there, Awonder did not let his foot off the pedal:

[Event "St Louis Spring Classic B"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2017.05.20"] [Round "5.4"] [White "Liang, Awonder"] [Black "Lenderman, Aleksandr"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B11"] [WhiteElo "2488"] [BlackElo "2587"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "2017.05.16"] 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. d4 Nf6 7. Bd3 dxe4 8. Nxe4 Qxd4 {Lenderman isn't the type of player to refuse "free" pawns!} 9. O-O Nxe4 10. Bxe4 Nd7 11. Bf4 Rc8 {White's compensation is obvious. He has more development and the pair of bishops. However Black is rock solid right now and there isn't an easy way to create threats} 12. Rad1 Qf6 13. Rfe1 Nc5 14. Qg3 Qxb2 $6 {The New Yorker is a very brave player!} (14... Be7 {was more sane} 15. Be5 Nxe4 16. Rxe4 Qg6 $44) 15. Bf5 $1 {With the potential threat of sacrificing something on e6!} Qxa2 {That is yet another pawn, but Awonder keeps up the attack} 16. Bd6 Qa5 17. Bxc5 Qxc5 18. Bxe6 {This is the point, White is crashing through} fxe6 19. Rxe6+ Be7 20. Rde1 $6 {not a bad mistake, but an inaccuracy} (20. Re5 $1 Qb4 21. c3 Qa3 22. Qxg7 Rf8 23. Qxh7 {and now there is no threat and with the queen so far away the attack is decisive}) (20. Qxg7 Rf8 {doesn't work as f2 is under attack}) 20... O-O (20... Rf8 21. Rxe7+ Qxe7 22. Rxe7+ Kxe7 23. Qxg7+ {is a bad endgame, but far from easy}) 21. Rxe7 Rf7 {Lenderman is not safe yet} 22. Rxf7 Kxf7 23. Qb3+ $1 Kf8 24. Qe6 $1 { A beautiful regroupoing. With this quiet move, Awonder threatens Re5-f5.} Rd8 25. Re5 Rd1+ 26. Kh2 Qd6 27. Qe8# 1-0

Awonder's amazing performance netted him 33 rating points. That, combined with his performance in the Chicago Open, completes his GM title.

As his father informs us:

"I am happy to report to you that Awonder has fulfilled his all GM title requirements at the age of 14 years and one month. He had earned two GM norms back-to-back in the last two weeks at the Spring Classic Chess Tournament (May 15-24, 2017) in the beautiful Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center (SLCCSC) with a performance of 2785 FIDE. He just needed 6/9 to earn his second GM norm and he actually secured that with an extra half point and two more rounds to spare. At the end, Awonder scored 7.5/9 in the event against a strong field of six GMs and three IMs, of which all the six GMs were higher rated than Awonder and Awonder had to face five out of the six GMs with the black pieces."

Awonder in the STLCC

He won the section by one full point. From every angle, Awonder's performance in the event is nothing but truly impressive! The security check for this event is extremely tight with metal detectors used on every player and spectator plus hand searching, if needed, on every round. The tournament is extremely well organized and well run by the very able director of the SLCCSC, Mr. Tony Rich, and his assistants. Then immediately following that and without a single day of rest, Awonder scored 6.5/9 in the Chicago Open (May 25-29, 2017) to have earned his third and final GM norm. "

Certainly a great future for this young talent!

Two of the highest rated players in the event: University of Texas at Brownsville student Belous and Brazilian Alex Fier, who flew in from his home in Tbilisi, Georgia!

Cristian Chirila gave Awonder a run for his money until the very end

Georgian GM Tamaz Gelashvili checking out some of the A-Group games

17-year-old Zhansaya Abdumalik, rated 2420, is one of the biggest promises in women's chess

Akshat Chandra, a local Saint Louisan, checking out the game between Stukopin and Ruifeng Li

Nazi Paikidze had an awful start, with 0.0/7, but managed to somewhat recover and not lose her last two games

Final Standings

Replay Group B games

Group A

Internationally, this was of course the most interesting section. Talent came from all over the world, with the specific purpose of training the Saint Louis University chess team and the American Olympic team that is headed to the World Team Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk in June.

Two members of the Cuban Olympic team here playing against each other: Quezada vs. Bruzon

Argentinian #1 Sandro Mareco playing a tough Grunfeld against Saint Louis University's #1 board, Alexander Ipatov

After a very successful U.S. Championship, SLU's #3 board Yaroslav Zherebukh came back again with strength and finished second

Varuzhan Akobian started out with a loss, but he recovered magnificently, finished the tournament on +3 and won convincingly. His recent performances have catapulted him to #70 in the world with a 2673 rating.

Here is one of his convincing victories:

[Event "St Louis Spring Classic A"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2017.05.22"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Mareco, Sandro"] [Black "Akobian, Varuzhan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D30"] [WhiteElo "2648"] [BlackElo "2661"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "2017.05.16"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 8. Qc2 Ne4 9. Bf4 c6 10. Nc3 g5 $5 {A move that had already been tried by Nakamura against So earlier this year.} 11. Bc1 f5 12. b3 b6 13. Nd2 (13. Bb2 { was Wesley's choice}) 13... Nxc3 14. Qxc3 Nf6 15. Bb2 Bd7 $5 {An interesting way to develop. Black puts the bishop on d7 so that aggressive ideas on the kingside have a bigger punch, as the bishop can reroute through e8 to the kingside.} 16. Rac1 g4 {In a practical game, sometimes it isn't so obvious to see how to defend against h5, h4 and mate on the kingside!} 17. f3 $6 {a bit of panic that weakens White's position in the longterm.} h5 18. Bh1 h4 19. Qd3 hxg3 20. hxg3 Rf7 {Black is able ot increase the pressure while always having resources against White's break} 21. Rf2 (21. e4 gxf3 22. exd5 cxd5 (22... Qb8 $5) 23. Nxf3 Nh5 {leaves g3 weak}) 21... gxf3 22. exf3 Rg7 23. Nf1 Bd6 24. f4 Kf7 {All of Black's pieces will soon be on the kingside, and White has been unable to generate counterplay.} 25. Re1 Qg8 26. Bc1 Nh5 27. Rf3 Rg6 28. Re2 Qg7 29. Kf2 Rg8 30. Bg2 Nf6 31. cxd5 cxd5 32. Qa6 Ne4+ {Black has total domination of the board, despite this being one of the very few moves he made past the third rank with a piece!} 0-1

Another game that caught my attention was the trap-setting of World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong:

[Event "St Louis Spring Classic A"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2017.05.22"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Quesada Perez, Yuniesky"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B91"] [WhiteElo "2630"] [BlackElo "2652"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2017.05.16"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. g3 e5 7. Nde2 Be7 8. Bg2 O-O 9. O-O b5 10. Nd5 Nxd5 11. Qxd5 Ra7 12. Be3 Rb7 13. Nc3 b4 14. Nd1 Qc7 15. Qd3 Be6 16. b3 Rc8 17. Rc1 Qa5 18. Bd2 Nc6 19. Ne3 Nd4 {The position is roughly equal, according to the computers, but I prefer Black a bit. The pressure on the c-file is annoying and White's bishop on g2 does not have a bright future. Resources exist in all kinds of positions, and White finds a devilish trap. Talking to Yuniesky after the game he said that Jeffery is a great calculator, and there is no way that he missed 20.a3, but he just didn't see anything against it.} 20. a3 $2 {This seems clever, but it backfires.} (20. Rfe1 Qb5 (20... g6 $11) 21. Qxb5 Rxb5 $13) 20... Qb5 $1 {Black's counoter point } (20... Qxa3 21. Ra1 Qb2 22. Rfb1 {is White's point. The queen is trapped.}) 21. Qxb5 axb5 {White has no time to take on b4 because of Ne2+} 22. Ra1 bxa3 23. Rxa3 {Now Black can pick off the c2 pawn whenever he wants. Jeffery converts easily} Bg5 24. c4 h6 25. h4 Bxe3 26. Bxe3 b4 27. Ra6 Nxb3 28. Rxd6 Na5 29. c5 Nc4 30. c6 Rbb8 31. Rd3 Rxc6 32. Rb1 Nxe3 33. Rxe3 b3 34. Re2 Rc2 0-1

Final Standings

Replay Group A games

A very successful week and a half of chess saw great fights, and over $50,000 in prizes distributed. I can't wait until the next edition, which will be held September 5-15.

Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez has been playing tournament chess since 1998. His accomplishments include qualifying for the 2004 and 2013 World Cups as well as playing for Costa Rica in the 2002, 2004 and 2008 Olympiads. He currently has a rating of 2583 and is author of a number of popular and critically acclaimed ChessBase-DVDs.
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chickenpee chickenpee 6/10/2017 05:36
Hint: when you have to use the word "strong," you know the tournament really isn't. The HIGHEST rated player is 2661 which is barely in the top 100. Strong relative to what? A wet tissue?
Miguel Ararat Miguel Ararat 6/6/2017 04:25
Thank you for the report. It is nice to see this kind of tournaments in the US.