Norm Galore at the US Master's

9/8/2013 – The US Master's tournament in recently finished in North Carolina with a rare display of excellent organization in an America event. Many norms were earned in the championship including a GM norm by Sarkar and an IM norm by Abrahamyan. Another norm winner and newly titled IM-elect Sabrina Chevannes brings us a full report of the event as well as some key annotations.

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U.S. Masters 2013

By Sabrina Chevannes

Most of you will remember my article from a couple of years ago on my first experience of an American chess tournament. It was the North American Open in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was not a good experience and many American organisers were concerned that I would not return due to this ordeal. However, I have come back each year and played in at least one tournament and feel that my faith has been restored in American chess organisers.

My latest American chess tournament was the U.S. Masters, which was part of the Carolinas Chess Festival taking place in Greensboro, NC. This was definitely the strongest tournament I have ever played in, with a line-up of 21 GMs, 11 IMs and 19 other titled players. The tournament was so strong and had enough countries to make it a “Super Swiss”, meaning that there was a high chance of norm opportunities and players didn’t need to worry about the country requirement part for norms. I was one of those going for norms: my last WIM norm.

The tournament was held at the Embassy Suites, part of the Hilton hotel chain. It was a moderately impressive hotel but with ample meeting room space to host the event. The rooms we stayed in were a lot more spacious than other hotels as the standard room was a two bed suite, with a big living area, making the organisers able to give conditions to more players. Previously, I had heard that no American organisers gave conditions to players and that even top GMs pay all of their expenses to go to chess tournaments, so I was pleasantly surprised upon speaking to several of the top players when I heard how generous the organisers were.

GM Diamant from Brazil studies at Webster University, and had to content
himself with a draw against the author of this article in the first round

One of the biggest complaints about American chess tournaments is the lack of professionalism; this is due to the fact that it is their norm to ask players to bring their own equipment to the game. If neither player has equipment, then, well, that is an issue they have to deal with themselves! An interesting concept that has many repercussions. Another major issue is the punctuality, or lack thereof. So it was definitely a great start, when I walk into the tournament hall to see all the boards set up with clocks ready and starting pretty much on time.

There was no acceleration of pairings so there were plenty of games with large rating differences in the first round, perfect for upsets, of which many there were. It was a good opportunity to see which GMs were on form and which underrated players were going to cause problems throughout this tournament. One of the games which caught my eye was Myers v Paikidze, in which Black outrated White by 340 rating points. It was an absolutely crazy game, where White showed such courage and even impressed GM Shabalov so much that he demanded to analyse it in the skittles room post-game.

[Event "US Masters 2013"] [Site "?"] [Date "2013.08.29"] [Round "1"] [White "Myers, Dominique"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B81"] [WhiteElo "2037"] [BlackElo "2377"] [PlyCount "79"] [SourceDate "2013.09.07"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 {This is not one of the most popular replies and may seem like a mild move, but White's idea is that he plans to launch a quick attack. Quite a bold choice of opening against someone 340 points higher rated.} e6 7. g4 Be7 8. Bg2 Nfd7 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qe2 Qc7 ({Perhaps better is} 10... Nxd4 11. Bxd4 O-O) 11. O-O-O Nce5 {and Black makes the decision to leave her king in the centre of the board.} 12. Kb1 Rb8 $6 {Black's plan seems rather slow, although it is difficult to find a better one!} 13. Rhe1 (13. f4 $5 {Just get on with it!}) 13... b5 14. f4 Nc4 15. Nf5 $1 {and the sacrifices begin... White eyes up the fact that Black's king is on the e-file and tries to open up some lines to attack.} exf5 16. exf5 $2 (16. Nd5 {Much better is this intermezzo, putting more pressure on e7.}) 16... O-O { A bold decision. Now, White's forces are much better placed for an effective attack that Black's.} (16... Nxe3 {It may have been more sensible to get rid of one of White's attacking forces.} 17. Qxe3 Nb6 $11) 17. Nd5 Qd8 18. Ba7 $5 { Looks impressive, but since Black is already material up, this move is not as scary.} (18. g5 {may keep the tension in the position and gets on with it.}) 18... Bh4 19. g5 $1 {So bold! White does not care about his material. He is playing a top player, but this does not phase him! Perhaps it is not so sound, but it certainly is brave!} Bxe1 {Black does not believe this nonsense.} 20. Rxe1 Bb7 21. Ne7+ {Still not taking the material (the rook on b8), White continues to attack} Kh8 22. f6 $1 g6 {Black does not want to oblige} 23. h4 $5 Bxg2 24. h5 $5 {Wow!!! White is just ignoring every one of Black's moves!! He does not care and will just plough through} gxh5 (24... Qa5 {may be more trying }) 25. Qxg2 Qa5 26. Rh1 Qb4 {and Black wants to have some fun} 27. c3 Nd2+ 28. Ka1 Qe4 29. Qh2 $1 {Again, White just goes super aggressive. He goes for the fear factor as they both reach time trouble} Qf3 (29... b4 $1 {would almost cause White to resign} 30. Qxh5 bxc3 31. b3 Nxb3+ {Black has everything under control since h7 is covered.}) 30. Rg1 Nf1 $1 {with threats of Qd1} 31. Qc2 Ne3 $2 {Unnecessary. Black could play almost anything. Perhaps just Rb7, to preserve the material.} 32. Qd3 Nc5 33. g6 $1 {Still attacking} hxg6 34. Nxg6+ fxg6 35. Qxg6 Nf5 $4 {Final blunder} (35... Nc2+ $3 {would guarantee a draw!} 36. Qxc2 (36. Kb1 Na3+ $1 {and White has to shake hands since Kc1 is not possible due to Nd3+}) 36... Rg8 $1 {and Black has too much material}) 36. Bxb8 Qb7 37. Qxf5 ({Even more decisive is the pretty} 37. Bc7 $3 {Deflecting the queen away from being able to enter White's back rank} Qxc7 38. Rg5 $1) 37... Qh7 38. Rg6 Rxb8 39. f7 Nd7 40. Qe6 {and Black resigned. Not the most sound of games, but a spectacular show by Dominque who showed no fear against the Georgian WGM.} 1-0

After two games, three of the top seeds were nowhere to be seen. Mamedov, Meier and Macieja were all on one out of two after drawing both games to significantly lower players. Meanwhile, it was the younger crowd who were leading the tournament; the likes of GM Alex Lenderman and IM-elect Alex Ostrovskiy who were on 2/2.

The Friday evening saw the arrival of the entrants of the North Carolina Open and along with it, some chaos. Several participants of the U.S. Masters came down to the original playing hall to find it empty and were a tad confused. We had been moved to the main ballroom; a bigger, brighter, but warmer function room. However, there was a lack of communication for this move, which led a few chess players astray. No one missed time off their clock, however, as the game was delayed significantly. I had a bad feeling that the tournament was going to go downhill, like in my previous experience. It was getting on for 7.30pm and I could foresee a 1am finish for my game. I discovered that the delay was not only due to approximately 300 extra people arriving, but also complaints about the pairing and demands for them to be changed. I could not imagine what the organisers were going through at this time! We were thankful to finally get on the way with our games, and needless to say, I finished around 1am! Typical! Thankfully, I won my game against an IM, so was at least tired but happy!

Things were back to normal by round four and just after half way, Mamedov was still nowhere to be seen with only 3/5. Incidentally, this was the same score I had but I was performing way above my rating, with the chance of an IM norm if I kept it up. I was a little frustrated after having draws against Bodek and Ostrovskiy, from positions which felt very winning. I was determined to start converting games into those much needed wins. The other 2600s were also not leading, but it was the locals again in the lead. Both Lenderman and Sarkar were on 4/5 and would battle it out in round 6. Justin Sarkar had just beaten GM Shabalov in a tense match on the top boards, which put him in a great place for a GM norm. He admitted to being slightly lucky, but he felt that karma had come back around as he had lost to Shabalov several times, where he probably shouldn’t have done.

[Event "US Masters 2013"] [Site "?"] [Date "2013.08.31"] [Round "5"] [White "Shabalov, Alex"] [Black "Sarkar, Justin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2546"] [BlackElo "2437"] [PlyCount "88"] [SourceDate "2013.09.07"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nc3 e6 5. g4 Bg6 6. Nge2 Nd7 7. Be3 Ne7 8. f4 h5 9. f5 exf5 10. g5 f4 11. Nxf4 Nf5 12. Qd2 Nxe5 13. dxe5 d4 14. Bxd4 Qxd4 15. Qxd4 Nxd4 16. O-O-O Nf3 17. Bg2 Nxg5 18. h4 Ne6 19. Nxg6 fxg6 20. Bh3 Nf4 21. Bd7+ Ke7 22. e6 Rd8 23. Rde1 g5 24. Rhf1 Rxd7 25. exd7+ Kxd7 26. hxg5 Bd6 27. Rd1 Ke6 28. Ne4 Bc7 29. Nc5+ Kf5 30. Rd7 Bb6 31. Rf7+ Kg6 32. R7xf4 Bxc5 33. Re4 Rf8 34. Re6+ Kxg5 35. Re5+ Kg4 36. Rh1 Bf2 37. Rhxh5 Be3+ 38. Rxe3 Kxh5 39. Re7 g5 40. Rh7+ Kg6 41. Rxb7 a5 42. Ra7 Rf5 43. Ra6 g4 44. Rxc6+ Kh5 0-1

Going into round 9, there were plenty of norms up for grabs as there were several players who performed exceptionally well compared to their ratings. You could see the nerves in their faces as they played their games hoping for the result they required. My IM norm chance had been lost in round 8 when I threw away a +3 position against GM Fishbein, losing my first and only game of the tournament. My final WIM norm was already in the bag, but a win against my opponent would give me a WGM norm. My opponent was also performing around 200 points above his rating, so it proved to be an interesting match. Since I already was guaranteed a WIM norm, I was not so dependent on winning this game and relaxed a bit more. I believed that WGM was so far out my range anyway, so just played the game for fun. However, to my amazement, I won the game and thereby giving myself the best performance of my life. I took away a WGM norm, my final WIM norm and took my rating over 2200, therefore gaining me the WIM title! I was ready to celebrate! It seemed that almost everyone else got norms too. Just missing out on an IM norm was 9 year old Awonder Liang! He drew to GM Larry Kaufman in the last round, securing a performance above 2400, but not quite making it to the 2450 mark. If he is achieving this result at such a young age, I am sure it is only a short amount of time before we see him gaining the full title.

Christian Ioan-Chirila is a regular contributor to ChessBase and a
top GM at the strong University of Texas at Dallas chess team

Meanwhile, Mamedov was shocking everyone with his 4/4 finish, taking his total to 7/9 and making it to first place and clinching the prize of $5000! In joint second was Meier and Macieja, recovering from their slow start, plus GM Ramirez and IM Sarkar, who had just secured his GM norm with his last round win against Denis Shmeliov (2417).

Top female scorers were IM Irina Krush, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (who made an IM norm during the tournament) and myself (!), all scoring a very respectable 5/9. This tournament saw a great selection of strong female players, which is always encouraging.

Inna Agret hails from Sweden and is now a student in America

Irina Krush continues to work towards her 2500 and her grandmaster norms

Tatev Abrahamyan had yet another amazing tournament. She picked up 30 points in China
in the China-USA match and picked up another 28 here plus an IM norm.

Viktorja Ni has been a stable member of the US Team for years

Overall, I think the U.S. Masters was a really well run tournament and thy handled the difficulties of running a large Open alongside it very well. The strength of the tournament was fantastic and this was seen by the amount of norms obtained. They picked a good venue with great rooms and it was an overall friendly event. 

I know that the organisers worked hard at making each and every individual player feel special in the hope that they will return next year. They are also grateful to the support they have received from The City of Greensboro and High Point University. They hope that the U.S. Masters will be the tournament that all the strong players want to go to next year. So, I would like to thank both Walter High and Gary Newsom for running such a wonderful tournament and helping me become England’s newest Women’s International Master.


Sabrina Chevannes

Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, the Women’s FIDE Master now lives in London where she is the managing director of the Chevannes Chess Academy. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK.

Sabrina is still an active chess player competing in Division 1 of the British Chess League (4NCL) for Cambridge University and Division 1 of the London League for Wood Green. She has represented England Ladies’ team on two occasions, including the Olympiad in Istanbul in 2012. She started playing chess at eight and has ten British chess titles to her name. She is famous in England for her exciting teaching technique and specialises in junior coaching. She tailors all her lessons to the needs of her students and is the creator of her own chess teaching system – the Chevannes Chess Course. She is also an active tournament organiser, running the National Girls’ Chess Championships, the English Women’s Rapidplay and the Richmond Rapidplay – three well respected tournaments in England.

Sabrina has had 13 years classroom teaching experience and now works full time managing her academy into a successful teaching agency. She has also coached the English national junior team at the FIDE World Schools Chess Championships and is preparing to coach the Welsh national junior team at the European Youth Chess Championships this summer in Prague.

Order Chess for Novices Vol. 1 + 2 here

Sampler from Chess for Novices Vol. 2 by Sabrina Chevannes


Topics US Masters
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