Chess on the Strip

1/10/2005 – Normally you go to Las Vegas for other things than to play chess. But at the end of December about 500 people congregated there, 20 of them GMs, to do just that. Our reporter Ilya Krasik started off with a $500 blackjack debacle and ended his stay at the receiving end of a thoroughly indecent proposal.

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Chess on the Strip

By Ilya Krasik

It is hard to imagine a place on our planet which would be less associated with chess than Las Vegas. There are simply too many appeals that the city in the desert of Nevada has to offer: gambling and strip clubs, cocktail parties and famous shows, boxing matches and of course the prospect of getting married in 60 seconds or less. It was my second time in Vegas in three months, this trip I knew would a bit different considering that the previous time I was out here on a wild bachelor party with eight of my friends. This time at least I intended to play chess.....

I arrived to Vegas on a Friday night; the chess tournament was starting only on Monday morning as I had registered for the three-day schedule. After surprisingly being upgraded to a nice suite with view from my window overlooking the famous Vegas “Strip”, armed with a strategy book on Blackjack I felt confident that I was not only going to win the chess tournament but also cause financial damage to this casino. Three hours and a dozen drinks later I was minus $500 and had to admit that perhaps I better stick to chess.


That's me, Ilya Krasik, in the casino where I shed $500

My chess tournament started off on the wrong foot too, first I got into an argument with one overzealous TD who was giving me a very hard time for taking a picture with a flash exactly 30 seconds after the supposed cut-off time (only the first ten minutes of each round were fair game for flash photography). Then I managed to let my first round opponent off the hook from a virtually zugzwang position, where I could win anyway and anyhow, the resulting draw almost felt like a loss.

After the game, I took a deep breath, sucking in all the Las Vegas “fresh air” (smoking is allowed absolutely anywhere here, in contrast to most US cities, where it is banned everywhere) stopped gambling and other distracting activities and reeled off four straight wins. This brought about the interesting scenario where I had to play someone who had half a point more than I, to decide first place in the expert section.


A beautiful lake in the middle of the desert: Hotel Bellagio

Nothing could prepare me for the fiasco that followed. First of all he of course offered a draw on move five or so, I replied that I want to play on. A few minutes later I had realized that I don’t know what I am doing in this opening line and I am already worse. So I offered a draw, knowing that it suited my opponent just fine. He would get clear first place and some $3.5 grand for his efforts. The reply was a resounding “no way”, but then he motioned for me to come to the side for a chat. It was very strange but I joined him and he said that he understand I wanted to make money and that he would agree to a draw if I would pay him a few hundred dollars from my prize money. This completely blew my composure. I told him off and returned to the board enraged, swearing under my breath and shaking my head in disbelief. There was no sense in complaining, he would simply deny it. I needed to beat him despite my bad position – now it was a matter of principle. Unfortunately it was not to be, and I was unable to accomplish this important task. As a result, declining the initial draw offer had cost me about $1,000. In the spirit of the city I was in, I had declined to take the safe route and gambled!


GM Varuzhan Akobian (right), who tied for first

The Open section was quite strong, and the GMs kept coming and coming. What I mean is that there were three different schedules: two, three or four days. So just when I thought that all the serious players have already assembled I noticed a new bunch of GMs battling it out in the two-day section, which more resembled a rapid then a classical chess tournament.


GMs Alexander Wojtkiewicz and Vadim Milov in the blitz tournament

The grandmasters came from all over the world, most notably GM Moiseenko from Ukraine, who recently won the gold medal with Team Ukraine at Calvià Olympics. Then there was the well-known GM Vadim Milov from Israel, now living in Switzerland. Our local GMs as well as frequent flyer mile visitors were also present: Shabalov, Wojtkiewicz, Serper, Yermolinky, Akobian, Kudrin, Becerra and current US Women Champion WGM Rusa Goletiani.


Round 1, board 1 of the four-day schedule: WGM Rusa Goletiani, US women's champion, vs GM Jan Ehlvest from Estonia. Despite being rated significantly lower than Ehlvest, it was Jan who had to fight for a draw in the endgame.

The top four boards were cordoned off from the rest of the room, and large demo boards were constantly updated for the pleasure of the crowd watching. You could see patzers tapping something in their PDAs, armed with powerful Fritz software. They were getting a kick out of seeing more on their little screens than the GMs sweating over the boards.


GM Moiseenko, at the end of a great tournament

GM Moiseenko (2669 Fide), visiting us from Ukraine, jumped to an early lead, scoring four straight wins and taking sole possession of first place. However, draws in the last two rounds allowed others to catch up. The result was a four-way tie between GMs Moiseenko, Milton, who drew in the last round, Varuzhan Akobian from California, who got into the leader's pack by beating Lev Milman in the last round, and likewise GM Gregory Serper, who overcame GM Nikola Mitkov.


The entrance to Bally's Hotel, where the event was held

Over 500 people in total participated in this tournament, spread out into eight sections. The open section was very strong with some 20 GMs, several WGMs and a number of IMs. The tournament was held in the Bally's Hotel and Casino, located in the heart of the famous Vegas Strip, from December 26 to 30, 2004. The event ran quite efficiently and smoothly, except for a few minor problems with pairings. The playing conditions were excellent. This event was directed by Bill Goichberg and the Continental Chess Association.


Me and my friend Osamu Katsuhara, who was clear first in the under 2300 group, with four upsets against masters. Osamu is only rated 2070.


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