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Chess in the US in the eyes of the English

1/11/2012 – The 21st North American Open, 26-29 December 2011, was held in Las Vegas and won by Spanish GM Francisco Vallejo Pons with an undefeated 6/7 score. GMs Varuzhan Akobian, Ivan Sokolov and untitled Roman Yankovsky finished 2nd-4th with 5½/7. British chess teacher Sabrina Chevannes was in the city of lights and sent us her impressions in this pictorial report.
 

Chess in the US in the eyes of the English

Report from Las Vegas by Sabrina Chevannes

The 21st Annual North American Open was held at Bally’s Casino Resort, 3645 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, Nevada, from December 26-29, 2011. I had heard lots of stories about American chess events, but never experienced them myself. Even at a junior stage, their tournaments are bigger and better than the English events. Having read “Kings of New York” by Michael Weinreb, I had a good image of the dedication of teachers and trainers in America, taking them to several National tournaments a year and thereby producing stronger players.


This year’s tournament was held in Bally’s Casino right on the Las Vegas Strip


The building was huge, like every building in Vegas!

It was difficult to find where the chess was actually being held, as there were no signs anywhere, just hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables. The staff had no idea either! When I stumbled upon the Pacific Ballroom, I assumed I had found the correct place, as it was set out in the format for a chess tournament – but no other evidence. This is when I realised, the players bring their own chess sets, boards and clocks! I started to think, this was a genius idea for the organisers – all they had to do was to put out the board numbers, minimal set up required.

The first round was due to start on Boxing Day (December 26) at 18.00 but at 18.20, the tournament hall still looked like this:

Some boards were half set up, some boards weren’t even there, people were everywhere, just gathering and having a chat. It seemed that by arranging things in this manner, the organisers didn’t have any control over when the game could start. At about 18.30, the majority of games finally began, for those that had a clock. If you were unfortunate to have not brought one of your own along, then you would gain nothing from arriving at your board on time, as there was no way of starting your opponent’s time. Just slightly different conditions from that at the Olympiad!


IM Simon Ansell from England struggling to work out how to set the clock

The format of the tournament was also different to those I have played in in Europe. There were two options: the four-day schedule, which meant playing a game on Boxing Day and two games on the others; or a three-day schedule, where three games were played on the 27th December with a shorter time limit. The two tournaments would then be merged after the second round and everyone would compete for the same prizes. So in the initial draw, it appeared that Vallejo-Pons was the clear favourite with his USCF-converted rating of 2778, with his nearest competitor, the Latvian born American Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov rated at 2600.


Even 2700s – Vallejo and Shabalov – aren’t sure how to set the clock!

However, Paco (Francisco) could not relax for long, as strolling in a day later for the three-day tournament were the likes of Sokolov, Akobian and Mitkov, all looking for a piece of the $10,000 prize. With only three of the original top five players on maximum points at the end of round two, Ivan Sokolov was very happy to join Paco, GM Josh Friedel and IM Adam Hunt at the top after the merging of the tournaments.


Ivan is getting impatient due to the late start of yet another round and wants to get
on to make Roman Yankovsky his next victim


FM Robby Adamson vs GM Josh Friedel, both on maximum points after two rounds

Midnight had struck on the 28th December 2011 and there were two games at the top still going and looked like they had a lot left in them! Vallejo Pons was pressing his advantage home against IM Adam Hunt, whilst Shabalov was trying to finish off IM Ricardo De Guzman in style!

The clash of the titans came in round four when Vallejo met his main rival, Ivan Sokolov. The game started as a quiet Queen’s Gambit Exchange, but it quickly seemed that Francisco’s pawn structure was weak and he spent most of the game a pawn down. As they reached the time control, it appeared that Vallejo was doomed but a couple of hours later, despite being two pawns up, Ivan agreed a draw in a frustrating opposite colour bishop ending that he just couldn’t convert.

At this point, the tournament was hotting up with Vallejo, Sokolov, Akobian, Shabalov and Mitkov all on 3.5/4. However, it wasn’t easy to find out this information, as there didn’t appear to be a results board in sight. I then discovered that I had to go on a bit of a trek to another floor to find the list of players and their results, which they had to fill in themselves!! I started to look at the tournament and wondered: did the organisers actually do any work themselves?


The much sought after do-it-yourselves results board

In a seven round tournament, there wasn’t room for error, so each half point lost was a crucial one and cost the players hundreds of dollars. With Vallejo only dropping half points to Ivan Sokolov and Varuzhan Akobian, he was the clear deserved winner of the tournament, winning $9,261 in prize money. This was less than the advertised $10,000 plus $200 bonus for being clear first, but still a worthy prize and worth the flight over! In joint second, picking up $2,633.34 each were Ivan Sokolov, Varuzhan Akobian and Roman Yankovsky, who had a fantastic tournament.

Final top standings

# Name
Rtng
Nat
Pts
Prize
1 GM Francisco Vallejo Pons
2778
ESP
6.0
$9261.00
2 GM Varuzhan Akobian
2698
CA
5.5
$2633.34
3 GM Ivan Sokolov
2676
NED
5.5
$2633.34
4 Roman Yankovsky
2500
CA
5.5
$2633.34
5 GM Alexander Shabalov
2600
PA
5.0
$658.25
6 IM Marc Tyler Arnold
2566
NY
5.0
$658.25
7 IM Adam Hunt
2558
ENG
5.0
$658.25
8 IM Enrico Sevillano
2509
CA
5.0
$658.25
9 IM Mackenzie Molner
2499
NJ
5.0
$1680.00
10 IM Jake Kleiman
2450
TN
5.0
$1680.00
11 GM Nikola Mitkov
2576
MKD
4.5
$363.00
12 GM Mikheil Kekelidze
2545
NY
4.0
$40.34
13 IM Ricardo De Guzman
2495
CA
4.0
$40.34
14 IM Justin Sarkar
2458
NY
4.0
$40.34
15 FM John Daniel Bryant
2454
MO
4.0
$40.34
16 IM Vladimir Mezentsev
2439
CA
4.0
$40.34
17 FM Robby Adamson
2390
AZ
4.0
$40.34
18 FM Teddy Coleman
2374
NY
4.0
$40.34
19 Alexander Chua
2339
TX
4.0
$40.34
20 FM Viswes Kameswaran
2306
IND
4.0
$40.34
  • A full list of the prizewinners can be found here.


View of the chess games in action


A screen was being projected at the back of the hall for spectators


IM Adam Hunt from England, who finished joint fifth, winning $658.25


IM Simon Ansell from England, who unfortunately had to withdraw from the tournament due to illness


Ivan Sokolov vs Varuzhan Akobian


WIM Irenya Zenyuk, the only female in the open, finished on 3.5/7


FM Robby Adamson, known for his big Dr Dre “Beats” headphones that he wore in every game

All in all, my first impressions of a US tournament wasn’t great as it seemed like a very lazy and unprofessional way of running things, but the prize money was pretty decent for such a short tournament. The fact that it was held in the middle of the Las Vegas strip was a good and bad thing – good for the entertainment, bad for my wallet!


Paris Las Vegas is a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip


Two of the most famous hotels in Las Vegas: the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace

About the author

Sabrina Chevannes, 25, is a WFM from Birmingham and has lots of interests besides chess – she is proficient at several sports and has also reached a high level on the violin and the piano. Her extraction: Jamaica and China.

Sabrina has won several national titles and was featured on the cover CHESS for her performance in the UK Chess Challenge.


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