American Continental Rd3-4: A leader at last

by Albert Silver
5/18/2015 – It took four rounds to reach this point, but at long last a leader has stepped up. Brazilian IM Yago Santiago is the last player with a perfect score, coming through after a grueling double-rounder on Sunday. His was not the only surprise of the day, as GM Julio Granda Zuñiga went down to IM Alan Pichot in an astonishing 16 moves, and it was not the first time. Report, pictures and games.

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The tournament

The tournament is an eleven-round competition played at 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game and a 30-second increment as of move one. The first round is on May 15 with rounds every day until round eleven on May 24, including a double-round on May 17. Play typically starts at 5PM.

Although there are tiebreak scoring systems in place, starting with direct encounter, Buchholz, and more, in the event of a draw at the top, the top four qualifiers will be decided by a rapid tiebreak match or tournament, depending on the number, starting at 15 minutes plus a ten-second increment.

The prizes are US$5000 for first, $3400 for second, $2400 for third with prizes all the way to 20th place. Note that as FIDE events of this caliber, all norms scored count double, thus a player who scores a norm at the end of the competition will be considered to have earned two norms, not one.

Round three

Sunday was a big day in more ways than one. In an already intense and important competition such as the American Continental, it was the only day with two rounds, meaning a long and tiresome day of battle. There was still no point in talking about leaders, since after two rounds they numbered more than made sense to mention, but by the day’s end one lone warrior would stand apart.

The round started at a bright and early 9:30 AM, and while most players were still settling in, and even I was still doing the rounds taking some pictures, a message came in over Skype asking me if there was a mistake in the transmission.

Mistake? Why? The broadcast says top-seed Granda Zuñiga lost in 16 moves. After some checking, and not a little consternation by other players hearing the news and arbiters, it was confirmed. What had happened?

IM Alan Pichot, the reigning World Youth under-16 champion, could not have wished for more:
beating the top-seed in record time. (Click on image for high-res version)

IM Alan Pichot - GM Julio Granda Zuñiga (annotated by IM Luis Rodi)

[Event "Continental"] [Site "Montevideo"] [Date "2015.05.17"] [Round "3"] [White "Pichot, Alan"] [Black "Granda Zuñiga, Julio"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C92"] [WhiteElo "2504"] [BlackElo "2650"] [Annotator "Rodi,Luis"] [PlyCount "31"] [EventDate "2015.05.17"] [EventCountry "URU"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 {The historic mainline of the Ruy Lopez. For a long time it was inconceivable that this position might have any rivals, but nowadays lines with d3 are gaining ground with the elite.} Nd7 {This move is one of the many contributions by Vassily Smyslov to the Ruy Lopez body of theory. It was first seen in Yudovich-Smyslov, Moscow 1943.} 10. d4 Bf6 {The main line.} ({The alternative is} 10... Nb6 {where} 11. Nbd2 Bf6 12. Nf1 Re8 13. Ng3 g6 14. Bh6 Bb7 {was employed in Stein - Geller, Moscow (USSR ch) 1961}) 11. a4 Bb7 12. d5 Ne7 13. axb5 axb5 14. Rxa8 Bxa8 ({Also known is} 14... Qxa8 15. Na3 Ba6 { (Milos - Soppe, São Paulo 2003)}) 15. Na3 Qb8 16. Nxb5 (16. Nxb5 {The point is that after} Qxb5 17. Ba4 $1 Qb8 18. Bxd7 {Black is simply down a pawn.}) 1-0

IM Luis Rodi explains, "Black loses a pawn since Qxb5 is answered by Ba4 and Bxd7. The database contains numerous games with this exact position and disaster, including.... Hou Yifan-Granda Zuñiga (Merida, 2008), in which the Peruvian resigned in the exact same position!

On the stage, the top-seed was stunned after 16.Nxb5 and stared at the board for nearly ten minutes. He finally shook out of it and with a wry laugh resigned. Other top players have also fallen victim to this, such as Smyslov in Moscow, 1950, who resigned one move later against Boleslavsky. Tseschkovsky played 16...Nc5, the most practcal reply, and actualy managed to wring out a draw from Savon in 1975.

What can one say about what happened? Julio's enormous talent is widely recognized, but it can also be his downfall as was the case here. He often seeks to play lines that go off the beaten path, but lines in which he himself is not necessarily well versed. That is apparently what happened here as the Peruvian played a little played variation, choosing logical moves that led to a position the Peruvian simply forgot he had played once before."

Brazilian IM Evandro Barbosa (2438) also got a result drawing GM Ruben Felgaer

American GMs Alexander Shabalov and Aleksander Lenderman drew their game in round three

Peruvian Jorge Cori had a perfect 3.0/3 start. (Click on image for high-res version)

Lunch and games

After round three was over, Gregory Kaidanov and I decided to walk back to the center to grab some lunch during the multihour gap. The day was still incredibly pleasant and it was only a couple of kilometers away.

On the way we saw a beautiful fountain and could not pass up the chance

We found a nice place, had a relaxing lunch and decided to stroll a bit. After a few blocks in a direction we had not really explored yet, we saw a huge congregation of people in front of a building that took us by surprise since until now, the streets had been quite empty on this Sunday afternoon.

As we approached we were astonished to see it was a massive Gamer’s Convention

Much like a Comic Convention or the like, gamers come to play and compete in video and computer
games, and many will go to great lengths to outdo the others as they dress in their favorite characters

The perfect excuse to enjoy Halloween more than once a year! (Click on image for high-res version)

One thing was clear, the kids were having a ball

Still, not all were interested in video games, and this motley crew set up a board for their own entertainment

They were hardly the first or last we would see setting up chess games every which where

Round four

This was the biggie and was possibly an even larger surprise than the previous round. No, none of the GMs were going to resign in fewer moves than Granda's disaster, but by the end of the round, only one player would still had a perfect 4.0/4 score, and it was who that might astonish.

When we arrived in the playing hall, the tables had all been set up, and one could see the arbiters all in deep concentration on one of the computer screens before the round started. They never said a word. What were they up to?

Football! Indeed, two of the country's most important teams were duking it out on the turf,
and since the arbiters are all South American, where football is as much sport as religion, how
could they not be following it until the very last minute? (Click on image for high-res version)

The ever-ebullient WCM Lorena Garcia from Venezuela

FM Roberto Andrade

The definition of Power Play

Brazilian José Pereira Braga is one of many amateurs enjoying the event

The masters

On the top stage, the defining battle took place between IM Yago Santiago and GM Sandro Mareco

IM Yago Santiago - GM Sandro Mareco (annotated by IM Luis Rodi)

[Event "Continental"] [Site "Montevideo"] [Date "2015.05.17"] [Round "4"] [White "Santiago, Yago"] [Black "Mareco, Sandro"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A26"] [WhiteElo "2400"] [BlackElo "2581"] [Annotator "Rodi,Luis"] [PlyCount "117"] [EventDate "2015.05.18"] [EventCountry "URU"] {The Brazilian International Master from Pernambuco, Yago Santiago became the sole leader of the tournament after beating Sandro Mareco in an interesting game with a dramatic finale.} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. a3 g6 5. g3 Bg7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. d3 h6 8. O-O d6 9. Rb1 Be6 {A popular position from the English Four Knights variation, with both players pushing on opposite sides of the board. Although the immediate 10.b4 is more popular, the move from the game is perfectly usual as well.} 10. Nd2 Qd7 11. b4 Bh3 12. b5 Bxg2 13. Kxg2 Ne7 $146 (13... Nd4 14. e3 Ne6 $11 {Bollengier - Bedouin, Saint Affrique 2011}) 14. a4 Nh7 15. Nf3 f5 16. Qb3 Kh8 17. Nd5 g5 18. Nxe7 Qxe7 $13 {Each side attacks as expected, and the game proceeds thematically} 19. e3 Rf7 {Mareco is getting ready to double the rooks on the f-file.} (19... Rae8 {was a reasonable alternative.}) 20. c5 $5 {An interesting pawn sac whose purpose is the weaken the enemy pawn structure and draw Black to defend his pawns with his pieces, notably the e5 pawn. Nevertheless, the position becomes very complicated with chances for both sides.} dxc5 21. Bb2 {Threatening to capture on e5, exploiting the overloaded queen that is trying to protect both e5 and the rook on f7. Black's next move solves this issue.} Kg8 22. e4 fxe4 23. dxe4 Re8 ( 23... g4 $5 24. Nh4 Ng5 {is another possibiity, with the rooks drumming up play on the f-file.}) 24. Rbd1 Nf8 25. h4 Bf6 (25... Ne6 $5 $11 {seemed the more natural choice.}) 26. Rd5 $5 {After this move, the game enters a phase of extreme complications.} (26. hxg5 hxg5 27. Rh1 $14) 26... Qe6 27. Qe3 gxh4 $5 ( 27... Ng6 {was another possibility. An example of how play might continue is} 28. hxg5 Nf4+ 29. gxf4 exf4 30. Qxc5 Qg4+ 31. Kh2 Qh5+ 32. Kg2 Bxb2 33. Qc4 Bg7 $11) 28. Rxc5 (28. Nxh4 c6 $13) 28... Rg7 $6 (28... Ng6 $1 $15) 29. Bxe5 { White fights for the initiative with this idea.} ({An alternate move, recommended by the computer is} 29. Nxh4 {with lines such as} Bg5 (29... Bxh4 30. Rxe5 $16) 30. Qa3 $5 Be7 31. Nf5 Bxc5 32. Qxc5 Rh7 33. Qe3 $44) 29... hxg3 (29... Nd7 30. Bxf6 Nxf6 31. Nxh4 Nxe4 32. Rf5 {and the initiative.}) 30. fxg3 (30. Bxf6 Qxf6 31. fxg3 Qe6 $11) 30... Nd7 $2 {A serious calculation error.} ({ Black needed to play} 30... Bxe5 31. Rxe5 Qg4 32. Qb3+ Re6 33. Ng5 Rxg5 34. Rxf8+ Kxf8 35. Rxe6 Qe2+ $11 {with a perpetual check.}) 31. Nd4 $1 Qb6 (31... Qa2+ 32. Rc2 $18 {is no better.}) 32. Bxf6 Nxf6 33. Nf5 $18 {Black has no cover for his king.} Rg6 34. Nxh6+ Kh7 35. Rh1 Rxe4 36. Qb3 Re2+ 37. Kf1 Re6 38. Nf5+ Kg8 {[#]} 39. a5 $2 {This extremely tempting move is not the strongest nevertheless.!} ({Although there is more than one winning move here, I'd like to draw the reader's attention to the beautiful} 39. Rc6 $3 {with the idea} bxc6 (39... Ne4 40. Rxb6 Nd2+ 41. Kg2 Nxb3 42. Rxb7 $18) 40. Qxe6+ Kf8 41. Rh8+ Ng8 42. Qe7#) 39... Qxc5 40. Qxe6+ Kf8 41. Rh8+ Ng8 42. Qc8+ ({Here} 42. Qxg6 {would allow} Qxb5+ 43. Kg1 (43. Kg2 Qb2+ {transpõe}) 43... Qb1+ 44. Kg2 Qb2+ 45. Kf3 Qxh8 $11) 42... Kf7 43. Rh7+ Kf6 44. Qd8+ Ke5 45. Qxc7+ Qxc7 46. Rxc7 Kxf5 {A picturesque position. White is down a knight, but Black's passive pieces and exposed queenside pawns are what weigh the most. Add to that the advanced white pawns and Black's fate is sealed.} 47. Rxb7 Rxg3 48. Rxa7 Rb3 (48... Nf6 {activating the knight without delay was a decent option.}) 49. b6 Rb5 {Playing with fire} (49... Nf6 50. b7 Ne4 51. a6 Nc5 {planning Nxa6 would achieve a draw.}) 50. b7 Ke4 $2 {After this move, played under extreme time pressure, Black's position can no longer be saved.} ({Black absolutely had to play} 50... Nf6 {(or Ne7)} 51. a6 Nd5 {and if} 52. Ra8 (52. Kg2 Nb4 53. Ra8 Nxa6 $11) 52... Nc7 $1 53. b8=Q (53. Rf8+ Ke4 $11) 53... Rxb8 54. Rxb8 Nxa6 {with a theoretical draw.}) 51. a6 $18 {The cavalry failed to show up and the fort collapses.} Kf3 52. Ke1 Ke3 53. Kd1 Kd3 54. Kc1 Ne7 55. Ra8 Nc6 56. Rc8 Nb4 57. Rd8+ Ke2 58. a7 Na2+ 59. Kc2 1-0

IM Yago Santiago the first to take the sole lead with 4.0/4

Venezulean GM Eduardo Iturrizaga is in the pack right behind with 3.5/4

Standings after four rounds

Rk SNo Ti. Name FED Rtg Pts  TB rtg+/-
1 35 IM Santiago Yago De Moura BRA 2400 4.0 8.5 14.8
2 8 GM Cori Jorge PER 2609 3.5 11.5 4.2
3 22 IM Pichot Alan ARG 2504 3.5 11.0 11.0
4 11 GM Hansen Eric CAN 2580 3.5 10.5 3.2
5 6 GM Iturrizaga Bonelli Eduardo VEN 2613 3.5 10.5 4.5
6 3 GM Bachmann Axel PAR 2636 3.5 10.5 5.4
7 16 GM Hevia Alejano Carlos Antonio CUB 2535 3.5 9.5 3.9
8 19 GM El Debs Felipe De Cresce BRA 2527 3.5 9.5 4.4
9 17 GM Perez Ponsa Federico ARG 2533 3.5 9.5 6.2
10 9 GM Felgaer Ruben ARG 2582 3.5 9.0 3.8
11 21 GM Shabalov Alexander USA 2523 3.5 9.0 10.1
12 5 GM Cordova Emilio PER 2629 3.0 10.5 -1.8
13 2 GM Quesada Perez Yuniesky CUB 2645 3.0 10.5 -5.1
14 4 GM Lenderman Aleksandr USA 2636 3.0 10.5 -1.1
15 32 IM Supi Luis Paulo BRA 2416 3.0 10.5 6.8
16 10 GM Mareco Sandro ARG 2581 3.0 10.5 -2.9
17 24 GM Alonso Salvador ARG 2488 3.0 10.0 0.8
18 38   Escalante Ramirez Brian Sebas PER 2373 3.0 10.0 4.2
19 1 GM Granda Zuniga Julio E PER 2650 3.0 10.0 -3.9
20 20 GM Matamoros Franco Carlos S. ECU 2525 3.0 9.5 -3.7

Click for complete standings

The top eight boards of the event can be followed live at both the official site and on Playchess.

All photos by Albert Silver


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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