I just wanna call you GM: US Chess Opens with norm opportunities

by Alexey Root
7/18/2020 – The National Open in September and four other norm-opportunity Opens between December of 2020 and July of 2021 appear ready for offline chess competition. In this article, WIM Alexey Root and her son William share success stories from past Opens and dreams of norms to come.

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Grandmaster dreams

While many grandmaster norms are achieved in tournaments restricted to high-rated players, a handful of norm-opportunity Opens in the United States allow entries from low-rated and unrated chess players.

If you have been dreaming of the grandmaster (GM) title while racking up online rating points during the coronavirus pandemic, these Opens are for you! Beginning with the National Open, September 16-20, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada, five Opens scheduled during the next 12 months offer norm opportunities to any chess player. As Juga sings, in Thinking MVL, “I just wanna call you GM.” 

Juga di Prima

‘Thinking MVL’ by Juga on YouTube

Juga’s song is “Dedicated to all chess players working hard on improving their ELO rating.” Of course, chess players aren’t the only ones working hard. Arbiters strive for the FA (FIDE Arbiter) and IA (International Arbiter) titles. The upcoming Opens also offer opportunities for arbiters to pursue their dreams.

The stories in this article are from norm-opportunity Opens scheduled in the United States during the next 12 months: the National Open, North American Open, Chicago Open, and World Open. The Foxwoods Open, March 31-April 4, 2021, is also scheduled within 12 months and offers norm opportunities. However, in 2019 and in the two previous Foxwoods Opens of 2014 and 2009, players did not earn norms. So, we did not include stories from it.

The Continental Open is August 11-15, 2021, more than a year away. In 2019, FIDE Master Eugene Yanayt made an International Master (IM) norm in the Premier Section of the Continental Open. Each of the six Opens listed above allows low-rated and unrated players into its norm-opportunity top section. Except for the National Open, all the Opens mentioned are run by the Continental Chess Association.

National Open

The 2020 National Open, rescheduled from June 24-28 to September 16-20, is a 9-round, norm-opportunity Open. Its organizers, Alan and Janelle Losoff, said that the parents of talented young players asked them to change the National Open from seven rounds (in 2018) to nine rounds (in 2019). With nine rounds, GM and IM norms are possible.

At the 2019 National Open, Annie Wang made a Woman Grandmaster (WGM) norm and Aleksey Sorokin made an IM norm. The Losoffs noted that the change from seven rounds to nine rounds also improved attendance in the top section, from 65 players in 2018 to 107 players in 2019.

One goal that International Organizer and FA Alan Losoff plans to achieve is his IA title. When my son and I interviewed Alan and his wife Janelle over Zoom, Alan told us that he had three previous IA norms: two from North American Opens and one from the Foxwoods Open.

In non-pandemic years, the National Open is part of the Las Vegas International Chess Festival, which has over 20 other events. Thus, being Chief Organizer is normally Alan’s full-time job. The 2020 National Open has only a handful of side events. Therefore, Alan will perform two jobs: Chief Organizer and Chief Arbiter. The latter job qualifies him for his last IA norm. Because the top three sections of the National Open are FIDE rated, arbiters pursuing FA norms often contact the Losoffs, hoping to join their staff.

The Losoffs said that free disposable face masks will be provided to each player and all staff members. Additional safety measures are listed on the tournament’s “Covid-19 Health & Safety Protocols” webpage.

Janelle Losoff, Illia Nyzhnyk, Alan Losoff

Janelle Losoff, Illia Nyzhnyk, the winner of the National Open Championship, and Alan Losoff | Photo: Tim Hanks

North American Open

The archives of the North American Open (NAO) reveal the names of many players who have achieved norms in past years. The 2020 NAO is scheduled for December 26-30.

International Master John Daniel Bryant got all three of his GM norms in Opens: the 2012 World Open and the NAOs of 2012 and 2017. Over Facebook, Bryant explained, “I’ve never even played a classical tournament outside of the U.S. I have stories from both the NAO 2012 and NAO 2017. Before I played GM Jon Ludvig Hammer in the last game in 2012, his tournament roommate and close friend GM Sam Shankland asked me if I would make the norm even if I lost the last game. I immediately answered, ‘I don’t intend to lose.’ Since I was playing Black against a 2650 player, you might think that my losing is a foregone conclusion. However, it seems like the wrong mentality to think that you will lose. And, in fact, I won with Black! In 2017, I was Black against IM Bryce Tiglon in the last round. I thought I wasn’t even in the running for a norm. When I won the game, a TD informed me that I got a GM norm.”

Bryant offered the following advice to norm-seekers: “It seems to me that norm motivation can be a boon for players before the tournament, but during the tournament it tends to be a bane, because it distracts players from thinking about chess. I’d recommend not thinking about the norm during the game, just like one should avoid any extraneous thoughts.” He shared his favorite game from the 2017 NAO, a win as White against IM Michael Lee, in this YouTube video.

[Pictured: John Daniel Bryant | Photo: Chris Roberts]

Chicago Open

One of the biggest Chicago Open success stories, in terms of GM norms and later accomplishments, is Grandmaster Jeffery Xiong. Currently 19 years old, Xiong is ranked #32 in the world in FIDE Classical ratings, 25th in Rapid, and 30th in Blitz.

Xiong earned all six of his norms (three IM norms and three GM norms) from Opens in the US. Two of his three GM norms were achieved at the 2014 and 2015 Chicago Opens. At the 2015 Chicago Open, by the end of penultimate round, there was a 9-player tie. Among the tied players, Jeffery was the lowest rated and the youngest. Jeffery’s father, Wayne Xiong, emailed, “The other tied players probably didn’t know that Jeffery had the strongest desire to win the last game, because Jeffery needed the full point to score his final GM norm. GM Lázaro Bruzón Batista played ambitiously for a win, since facing a young IM 200 rating points lower than him, he had the best chance to break out of the big crowd to win the tournament. People started to pile up next to the board when the game got heated. Jeffery took advantage of a mistake Bruzón Batista made late in the game and took it to the finish line. Jeffery won $10,300, not bad for a 14-year-old boy.”

After that exciting last round of Jeffery’s fourth time playing in a Chicago Open, Wayne recalled, “The congratulations and support from the fans and his fellow players poured in after he left the board, especially the current and past members of the three Texas university chess teams, who have played with Jeffery for many years at the Dallas Chess Club and in other Texas tournaments.” An alumnus of The University of Texas at Dallas, Grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez, wrote, “I personally have had the pleasure of playing against Jeffery many times, and have seen him grow from someone who could barely play chess to a full strength grandmaster.” In his ChessBase article on the 2015 Chicago Open, Ramirez annotated the Xiong-Bruzón Batista game.

Jeffery Xiong, Wayne Xiong

Jeffery and Wayne Xiong in 2016 | Photo: Alexey Root, taken at the North Texas Chess Academy 

World Open

While the 2020 World Open will be August 7-9, played online via the Internet Chess Club, the 2021 World Open is scheduled for June 30-July 5 in Philadelphia. Since the 2021 tournament is offline, with a 9-round Open section, norms are possible.

At the 2009 World Open, Aleksandr Lenderman got his third and final GM norm and, since his rating also went over 2500 FIDE, he got the GM title. Spectators insisted that he perform the Lenderman Dance, see 2:40 into this YouTube video. Lenderman recounted the history of his dance at 27 minutes at 40 seconds into this podcast, while he was being interviewed by National Master Evan Rabin, CEO of Premier Chess.

Just as the Chicago Open players and spectators congratulated Chicago Open mainstay Jeffery Xiong, the World Open fans cheered on Lenderman, one of their own tournament regulars. Nowadays, gmlenderman is a Twitch affiliate and plays chess online.

The World Open also figures into our Root family chess history. Doug Root earned his third IM norm at the 1987 World Open. For this article, he annotates a win from that tournament’s last round (round 10), played on Board 8. Since one of Doug’s previous IM norms had expired, later on he made a fourth norm and got the IM title.

 

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Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.

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