Roadtrip to Reno

4/26/2017 – Celebrating 20 years of participation in tournaments in Reno, Nevada, GM Alex Yermolinksy made the trip this year to play in the 6th Larry Evans Memorial, where he met other grandmasters such as Nick De Firmian and Elshan Moradiabadi. Caissa smiled warmly at the author as he took clear first. In this report/travelogue by Alex Yermolinsky, you will read what brings him back year after year to the 'Biggest Little City in the World'. Enjoy!

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Roadtrip to Reno - the Biggest Little City in the World

By Alex Yermolinsky

“You take me on 80,
Along a California trail,
To Reno,
I know you're waiting there...”

"The Biggest Little City in the World." That's what the sign over Virginia Street says, and Hollywood loves it. Reno has been featured in many movies, from Marylin Monroe's “The Misfits”, to Clint Eastwood's “Pink Cadillac”, all the way to a 2006 shoot 'em up “Smoking Aces”, albeit the latter was actually set at Lake Tahoe, which is about an hour away by car.

The usual plot often involves main characters being on the run from both the law and the mob, driving fast on desert highways, and eventually, holing up in some run-down desert motel for the final showdown with the bad guys. If you're into this kind of cinematic experience (I am), then take my word, you will enjoy “Kill Me Again” with Val Kilmer and his former wife, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. It's the ultimate Reno movie.

“I passed the Sierra Nevada,
Like a Holy Grail,
You beckon a beacon,
There you are”

Located just across the state line, Reno has long served as an attraction for the San Francisco Bay Area visitors. Anything from being able to smoke indoors to getting married (or divorced) in one day is a stark contrast with the over-taxed and over-regulated Golden State. Many a California resident liked Reno so much that they ended up moving there.

The statue known as the Burning Man Butterfly represents the yearly music festival known as Burning Man that takes place in the Nevada Desert. It is a unique festival that encourages participation and inclusion by all (not just performers).

A great backdrop of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains (Donner Pass on Interstate 80 hits 7,000 feet) and the Truckee River that streams through downtown provide the unique Western feel for this town of some quarter of million people. It's not just the casinos. Reno boasts the University of Nevada campus, a burgeoning art scene, and the World's coolest River Walk.

“Magnetic, seductive, attractive, like no other love.
Reno, silver and gold”

It's only fitting that chess found a place for itself in such a wonderful city. Full credit for making it happen goes to the local chess enthusiast Jerome “Jerry” Weikel, who started the tradition in 1983 with the Reno Open and kept it going ever since! It takes a big man to pull it off, but even Jerry couldn't do it alone. It is truly a family-run tournament. Meet the Weikels.

Right of Jerry: wife Fran, granddaughter Lucy, daughter Dana, son-in-law Adam, grandson Thomas

Sometime in the 1990's the main event, which takes place in October, was renamed into the Western States Open and found its permanent home at the Sands Regency Casino and Hotel. Then around 2005 a sister tournament, originally called the Far West Open and held over Easter Weekend, was added to the calendar. From 2012 onward it carries the name of Larry Evans, a famous American Grandmaster, who spent his sunset years in Reno and died there in 2010.

Jerry's contributions to the US chess scene are widely recognized and appreciated

The events of 2004 and 2005 were graced by the appearance of Boris Spassky, who would have made it again in 2006, but health issues forced him to cut his visit to San Francisco short. Boris's lectures and simuls, and even more, his stories and great personal touch, are fondly remembered by us, the Weikel Tournament regulars.

“You break me, you take me,
Into the valley of the Sun.
I'm helpless, no power, in your spell”

I debuted at the Western States Open back in 1994, played there practically every year when I lived in California, made it back a few times after moving to South Dakota, and this year celebrated my 20th chess tournament in Reno. And what a way of celebration it turned out to be!

Final Standings

1. Alex Yermolinsky   5/6
2-4 Elshan Moradiabadi, Nick De Firmian, Enrico Sevillano  4.5/6
5-6 Melik Khachiyan and John Daniel Bryant 4/6.... (35 players in Open Section, 227 total).

The game that put me on the winning track is here.

Andy Lin vs Alex Yermolinsky

[Event "Larry Evans Memorial"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.04.15"] [Round "4"] [White "Lin, Andy"] [Black "Yermolinsky, Alex"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2095"] [BlackElo "2482"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "48"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. O-O Nc6 5. c4 e5 {I learned to play the Botvinnik System from my old friend and teammate Nick De Firmian.} 6. Nc3 d6 7. a3 a5 $5 {A risky move, but I had tried it in the past.} ({The purpose is to avoid White's prepared pawn sac after} 7... Nge7 8. b4 $1 {although Nepo and others obtained decent results after} e4 9. Ne1 f5) 8. Ne1 Be6 9. d3 Nge7 10. Nc2 ({If White puts the wrong knight in the middle} 10. Nd5 O-O 11. Nc2 {then} Rb8 $1 {initiates b7-b5. This is what I saw in Nick's games}) 10... d5 { Black wants the Maroczy structure bad, nevermind the dangers of unfinished development.} (10... O-O 11. Ne3 Qd7 12. Ned5 {is very comfortable for White, particularly with the a-pawn moves included.}) 11. cxd5 Nxd5 12. Ne3 ({I have a good track record in this position. One memorable encounter went} 12. Ne4 b6 13. Ng5 Bc8 14. Ne3 Nde7 15. Qa4 Bd7 16. Qh4 Nd4 $1 {Kraai-Yermolinsky, Las Vegas 2002 0-1 (33)}) 12... Nde7 13. Nc4 O-O {My young opponent played all this fairly quickly. Here he stopped for a minute or two and uncorked a new (to me) move.} 14. Qa4 $6 ({Perhaps, he simply messed up the move order, as in the theoretical line} 14. Bg5 f6 (14... h6 $6 {looks insane:} 15. Bxc6 bxc6 16. Be3 Bh3 17. Re1 Nd5 {no one ever wanted to try this for Black.}) 15. Be3 b6 { the same move} 16. Qa4 {is played two moves later. Black is facing some defensive chores after} Qc7 17. f4 $1 {Clearly, the move f7-f6 did not improve his position.}) 14... Rb8 15. Bg5 Nd4 $1 {I firmly decided to disperse with f7-f6.} 16. Qxa5 {Give my young opponent credit for not backing down.} (16. Bxe7 Qxe7 17. Nb6 Qc7 18. Nbd5 Qd8 {and White cannot stop b7-b5.}) 16... b6 17. Qa7 Re8 {The key moment of the game.} 18. Be3 $2 {What a relief.} ({I mostly worried about} 18. Ne4 {which turns out to be a dud after the cool} Ndc6 $1 ( 18... Nxe2+ 19. Kh1 h6 20. Bf6 Nd4 21. Nxe5 {is messy.}) 19. Qa6 Bc8 20. Qb5 Nd4 {Now White has no choice but follow the path laid down for him:} 21. Qa4 b5 22. Qa5 bxc4 23. Qxd8 Rxd8 24. Bxe7 Rd7 25. Nf6+ Bxf6 26. Bxf6 Nxe2+ 27. Kh1 cxd3 28. Bxe5 Rb6 29. a4 Ba6 {This isn't going to end well.}) ({The only move to continue to fight on equal terms is} 18. e3 $1 {with the idea of} Nb3 19. Ne4 $1 Nxa1 20. Rxa1 {the invasion on d6 is threatening,and Black would be tempted to escape with a draw:} Qxd3 21. Ncd6 Ra8 22. Qb7 Rab8 {etc.}) 18... Nef5 {From this point on I felt firmly in control.} 19. Bxd4 Nxd4 20. Ne3 (20. Nd2 b5 21. e3 Re7 22. Qxc5 Rc7 23. exd4 exd4 $1 ({not} 23... Rxc5 24. dxc5 { with counterchances.}) 24. Nce4 Rxc5 25. Nxc5 Bd5 {with marginal chances for White to hold.}) (20. Qa6 Nxe2+ 21. Nxe2 Qxd3 $17) 20... b5 21. b4 ({White could have struggled on:} 21. Qxc5 Nb3 22. Qb4 Bf8 23. Qe4 {but the endgame after} f5 $1 24. Qh4 (24. Qxe5 Bd6) 24... Qxh4 25. gxh4 Nxa1 {looks lost.}) 21... Nb3 {I found this to be a practical decision.} ({Perhaps,} 21... e4 { was the most resolute.}) 22. Rad1 Re7 {Now the a5-square is cut off, and White is going to lose his queen.} 23. Qa6 Bc8 24. Qc6 Bb7 0-1

Map showing where the players are from (click for high-res)

As life in open tournaments goes, a lot depends on the luck of draw. This was a magical event for me, as the two short draws I made with Elshan and Melik not only provided the much-needed rest, but also set me up for a favorable last round encounter.

Alex Yermolinsky vs Ray Kaufman

[Event "Larry Evans Memorial"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.04.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Yermolinsky, Alex"] [Black "Kaufman, Ray"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O d6 7. Re1 Nbd7 { By emplying this clever move order Black intends to economize on his K-side development in favor of attacking the white pawns on c4 and e4 as soon as he can.} (7... Be7 8. e4 a6 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Qc7 11. Be3 Nbd7 12. f4 O-O 13. Rc1 {is a modern tabiya, where White intends to proceed the Sicilian style with g3-g4.}) 8. e4 a6 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Qc7 {[#] Here it is. Unfortunately for Ray, I was very familiar with the intricacies of this variation.} 11. Nd5 $1 {The authorship of this great move belongs to my dear old friend, Alex Wojkiewicz, who departed this world eleven years ago.} (11. Be3 Rc8 12. Rc1 Qb8 13. b3 Qa8 14. f3 {significantly slows White down. In my experience I have learned to avoid such scenarios in tense last round money games. I am much better off just going for it, to take my mind away from practical considerations.}) 11... exd5 12. exd5+ Kd8 $6 ({My only experience in this line, aside from Wojt demonstrating his brilliant wins over a few glasses of wine, was a tense battle with Alex Shabalov in the US Championship Play-off in 1994. It goes without saying that Shabba would not think of groveling, so he gave back the piece immediately.} 12... Ne5 13. f4 O-O-O 14. fxe5 dxe5 { The time control in that important game was only 15 minutes with no increment. No wonder that we both largely relied on intuition, and weren't able to avoid mistakes.} 15. Nf5 ({This time I was going to try} 15. Nf3 {although whatever analysis I made years ago were quite fuzzy in my head.}) 15... Bc5+ $2 ({ I suspected} 15... Qxc4 {was the right move, and indeed, Naumann-Durarbeily, 2007 confirmed that assessment.}) 16. Be3 g6 17. Bxc5 Qxc5+ 18. Ne3 h5 19. Qd2 h4 $4 (19... a5) 20. b4 Qd4 21. Rad1 {and I went on to win and grab the last qualifying spot for the inaugural World Championship Knockout Tournament, althought at the time we didn't know that. We thought we competed for the Interzonal.}) (12... Be7 13. Nf5 Ne5 14. Nxg7+ Kd7 15. Nf5 Bf8 16. c5 $3 bxc5 17. Bg5 {is a typical Sician ride from which Black will never return.}) 13. Nc6+ Bxc6 (13... Kc8 14. b4 Ne5 15. Bh3+ Nfd7 16. b5 {leaves Black in a terrible bind.}) 14. dxc6 Nc5 15. b4 Ne6 16. c5 $1 {All this was played by Wojt, and not once.} bxc5 (16... Be7 17. cxb6 Qxb6 18. Be3 Qxb4 (18... Qc7 19. a4 d5 20. b5 Bb4 21. Bxd5 $18) 19. Rb1 Qc4 20. c7+ Kd7 21. Rc1 { Wojtkiewicz-Kalesis, 1993} Qxa2 22. Bc6+) ({The most stubborn seems} 16... Rb8 {but then comes} 17. cxd6 Bxd6 (17... Qxd6 18. c7+ $1 Nxc7 19. Bf4 {is crushing }) 18. f4 Kc8 19. Qb3 a5 20. Bb2 {and White will enjoy his "positional" compensation.}) 17. bxc5 d5 $2 (17... Be7 18. Rb1 Rb8 {Wojtkiewicz-Oei, 1996 and here} 19. Bd2 $1 {threatening Ba5 is most convincing.}) (17... Nxc5 18. Be3 Ne6 19. Rb1 Rb8 20. Rb7 Rxb7 21. cxb7 Nd7 22. Ba7 {Black is very unlikely to survive this.}) 18. Bxd5 Nxd5 19. Qxd5+ Ke8 20. Bf4 Qd8 {This gave me a chance to show off a flashy winning idea, borrowed from some lines of the Catalan.} ( 20... Rd8 21. Qxe6+ fxe6 22. Bxc7 Rc8 23. Bd6 Rxc6 24. Rxe6+ Kd7 25. Rae1 { with easily winning endgame in Wotkiewicz-Meinsohn, 1992.}) 21. Rxe6+ fxe6 22. Qh5+ (22. Qxe6+ Qe7 23. Qd5 Rd8 24. Bd6 {was also there.}) 22... g6 23. Qe5 $1 {White gets his rook back, and it's all over.} Kf7 (23... Bg7 24. Qxg7 Rf8 25. Bg5) (23... Rg8 24. Qxe6+ Qe7 25. Qxg8) 24. Qxh8 Bg7 25. Qxd8 Rxd8 26. c7 Rc8 27. Rd1 1-0

In the meantime, on Board 1 Moradiabadi couldn't overcome veteran Sevillano; while on Board 2 Khachiyan was getting outplayed by De Firmian, who made a surprise appearance in Reno. 

Nick, pictured above playing a visitor from Duluth, Minnesota, Dr. Okey Iwu, doesn't play much these days

It was nice to see Nick back in the saddle, and the following game shows he hasn't completely lost his touch. Thanks to Melik Khachiyan for providing the notes, it's really classy to be willing to do this when you lose a heartbreaking last round game.

Nick De Firmian vs Melik Khachiyan (annotated by Melik Khachiyan)

[Event "Larry Evans Memorial"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.04.16"] [Round "5"] [White "De Firmian, Nick"] [Black "Khachiyan, Melik"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C63"] [Annotator "Melik Khachiyan"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. d3 fxe4 5. dxe4 Nf6 6. Nc3 $2 (6. O-O $142 Bc5 7. Qd3) 6... Bb4 7. O-O Bxc3 8. bxc3 d6 {Now Black gets very comfortable position.} 9. Qd3 O-O 10. Bxc6 {After making his move, Nick offered a draw, but entering the last round I had really wanted to play for win, and also, I really hate to accept a draw proposal when I only have one move to play and nothing else to think about.} bxc6 11. Qc4+ Kh8 12. Qxc6 Rb8 13. Re1 {First deviation from theory which I knew. 13. Qc4 is more common, on which I had planned to play 13..Rb6.} Bg4 {Trying to use the moment of having the white queen being away from the kingside} 14. Bg5 (14. Nd2 Bd7 15. Qc4 Ng4 {is way too dangerous,white has to accept the fact of breaking the pawn structure.}) 14... Bxf3 15. gxf3 Rb6 16. Qa4 Qb8 17. Be3 c5 18. Kf1 $1 {Great move! White shows his great sense of danger by trying to leave the kingside area.} Qb7 19. Ke2 Qf7 $2 {I made this move very quickly by believing my opponent had missed it. Apparently, it was me who underestimated white's play. I shouldn't lose control of b-file, and the best move was simply Nh5 first,and then if needed, Black can play Qf7.} 20. Rab1 Nh5 21. Kd2 Qxf3 22. Qxa7 Rxb1 23. Rxb1 Nf6 24. Rb8 Nxe4+ {In my calculations I thought this would be better for me, but I was wrong.} 25. Kc1 Nxc3 26. Rxf8+ Qxf8 27. a4 h6 28. a5 Qf3 29. Qb8+ Kh7 30. Qb3 Qh1+ 31. Kb2 Nd1+ 32. Ka2 Nxe3 $2 {Getting close to time trouble, I wasnt' able to to figure out the best move Qe1. Black should be definitely try to keep the knight in the game.} 33. fxe3 Qc6 34. Qa3 c4 $4 {Blunder in time trouble.} ({Instead,} 34... d5 35. a6 d4 36. a7 Qd5+ 37. Qb3 c4 {would still be enough for a draw}) 35. a6 $18 c3 36. Qa5 Qc4+ 37. Ka3 Qf1 38. a7 Qc1+ 39. Kb4 Qb1+ 40. Kc4 Qf1+ 41. Kd5 1-0

So, when it was all said and done, I stood alone on the winners podium, which in Reno means standing by the cashier's cage.

Sorry, no oversized check for me, but I'll take the cash

.“Your beauty, temptation, they tell me that you are the one.
Reno, silver and gold”

Obviously, there are pros and cons of holding a chess event in a casino. Chess players are notorious of trying their luck outside of the chess table, and having the other kinds of tables readily available is a dangerous temptation for some. From David Janowski to Alex Wojtkiewicz and many others in-between, there are sad stories about them dropping their tournament winnings - the modest compensation for days of work at the chessboard – at the green clothed tables in a matter of few short hours.
Yet, there are certain advantages, such as having food and drinks available round the clock. Sometimes, after a tough late night game, it is simply impossible to fall asleep when chess variations keep swarming in your head. In such circumstances, a 2 o'clock breakfast of steak and eggs, followed by a drink or two, while dropping $20 at a video poker machine, may actually help to salvage your tournament. It wasn't needed for me in this visit, but who can tell what will happen in October at the Western States?

“So Reno, you will not completely ever set me free.
Reno, silver and gold”

(Lyrics by Asia)

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nimzo5 nimzo5 6/5/2017 03:31
Played there in 2004 - fun tournament!
Miguel Ararat Miguel Ararat 4/26/2017 07:28
Nice and fresh tournament report. Thank you
TraderGio TraderGio 4/26/2017 02:31
Reno has a wonderful Chess club.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 4/26/2017 01:41
i am reminded of lone pine masters!
GrahamB GrahamB 4/26/2017 08:19
Nice report. :)