Li and Dragun divvy up Southwest Open

by Ruifeng Li
9/14/2017 – The Southwest Open is an annual held in Dallas, Texas, over Labor Day weekend (USA). This year for the first time, and International section took place with around 30 strong Masters, IMs and GMs. The young American and newly minted Grandmaster Ruifeng Li was among them, and ended up in shared first with Polish GM Kamil Dragun, who is studying in Texas. Ruifeng sent us this personal account of his exploits. | Photos: James Stallings (Below: WIM Mariam Danelia and unknown photo-bomber)

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My adventurous path 

From August 31st to September 4th, I played in the International section of the 83rd Annual Southwest Open, held in Dallas, Texas, at the Sheraton DFW Airport hotel. Of approximately 300 people who showed up at the event, there were not more than 30 participants in the International section, but it was quite strong, with only a tiny handful not at least IMs. Thanks to the initiative of the Texas Chess Association, it was also the first time the tournament provided norm chances.

The Sheraton DFW Airport

Nevertheless (and pardon my frankness) these are some of the lesser reasons why the event will always remain memorable for me. Of course, personally, the most important reason was my adventurous path to a tie for tournament victory with Polish GM Kamil Dragun.

Ruifeng LiThe first round occurred Thursday evening at 7:20 PM (yes, the round times were a bit odd) and saw me paired with white against John Bartholomew, a strong IM of 2440! Unless you are playing in the Aeroflot Open or something, such a formidable opponent (a mere 100 rating point difference) is usually not met in the first game of a Swiss tournament. Not expecting this turn of events, and admittedly a bit tired from a long day at school, I went berserk in a Closed Sicilian after solid play from my opponent. Suffice it to say that a two-rook deficit was insurmountable.

The second day started at the more reasonable time of 11:30 AM, and my second round game started just as reasonably. However, after outplaying my 2120 rated opponent in another odd Sicilian — this time with black — time trouble took its toll in the endgame (the time control was 90 min + 30 sec with no second time control). I missed one win, two wins, three wins, some more, and eventually the game was drawn, though I tried to conjure some tricks in a R+N vs. R endgame.

Stuck with only half a point out of two, I expected another lower rated opponent, but due to strength of the field, I instead was to play GM Holden Hernandez! Thoroughly disappointed, and not really caring anymore, I opened the game with 1.a3! By some luck I managed to win this topsy-turvy game. Here it is to satisfy your curiosity.


Having recovered some of my spirits, the next morning I played a “sane” opening against IM Titas Stremavicius — although, I suspect modern theoreticians don’t consider the Benoni quite “sane.” It was a decent-quality win, and the game is given here with annotations.


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Titas Stremavicius hails from Lithuania and earned his IM title in 2016 | Photo: James Stallings

The evening round had me playing IM Prasanna Rao, who confused me by manufacturing a KID setup against the Italian Game. While I conducted the early part of the game with a level head and obtained a sizable positional advantage, the clock started bothering me again. Consequently I sacrificed a rook (as usual), which was rather unsound, but this time the risk paid off by confusing my opponent, and I crashed through with a mating attack.

GMs Razvan Preotu, Denis Kadric, and IM Prasanna Rao

IM Prasanna Rao (right), with GMs Razvan Preotu and Denis Kadric (seated)

With this three-win comeback, I found myself faced against the top seed, GM Kamil Dragun, in the sixth round. This game was important for the tournament standings, but having no less weight were the next two games against GMs Vladimir Belous and Bartlomiej Macieja, both of whom led the event at some point. Here are all three games with my notes:


IM Andrey Gorovets has consistently maintained his 2500+ rating for approximately two centuries, yet he hadn’t gained enough GM norms. But in the last round, that all changed as he earned his third and final GM norm with a pretty peaceful draw against me. Congrats to the grandmaster-elect!

When the top game (Andrey Stukopin — Kamil Dragun) was also shortly drawn in a bizarre Dragon Sicilian, the tournament positions were decided. Tied for 3rd to 5th places were Macieja, Stukopin, and Gorovets with 6 points, while Dragun and I split first and second with 6.5.

The International tournament was unique in many ways and very well organized for its inaugural edition. It is rich ground not only for norm hunters but also for any chess enthusiasts. I’m sure the event will be continued next year, and hopefully producing GM-elects will become a tradition!



Ruifeng is one of the top junior players in the world. He received his IM title in 2016 and the GM title in 2017. 2016 was one of the best years in his chess career. He won the North American Junior Championship, National Open, and Philadelphia Open, also tied for first at 26th Annual North American Open.


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