Vitiugov and Zierk win Artist Point Grandmaster Tournament

by Awonder Liang
9/17/2020 – With 7.0/9 Nikita Vitiugov and Steven Zierk shared first at the strong Pacific Northwest Chess Center Artist Point tournament, a 9-round Swiss online tournament with an almost classical time-control of 60 minutes for the whole game and a 5-second increment per move. Awonder Liang reports and takes a close look at interesting games. | Photos: Xuhao He

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The PNWCC Masters - Artist Point

While rapid and blitz grow ever more popular, one area of chess which has declined recently is the classical portion. With over the board tournaments on a temporary hiatus, it was the perfect time for an online classical event with a beautiful name, Artist Point,  which was organized by the Pacific Northwest Chess Center (PWNCC) located in Kirkland, Washington State. The event was originally planned as an OTB tournament. Due to the pandemic, the organizer decided to  run it online with the same fund and attracted a super strong field that included 37 grandmasters from around the world, including yours truly, in no small part due to the impressive $10,000 prize pool. The time control was played at 60 minutes with a 5-second increment, practically a snail’s pace time control online, but somewhere between rapid and classical in real life.

Picture Lake with Mt. Shuksan and its reflection sits by Hw 542 that leads to Artist Point, after which the event was named.

Probably the first question on everybody’s mind is: how would a tournament like this even work? The answer lies in strict rules on how people could play during the game. Every player was required to share their screen in zoom, play with an angled camera showing themselves and their computer, and there were limited bathroom breaks. Although no anti-cheat system can be 100% perfect, these deterrents helped ensure that the tournament ran smoothly.

Our new “playing hall.” It must be said that the experience is not quite the same.

The tournament started off a little rough for me, as I logged onto the zoom meeting barely awake. Although I would normally be wide awake by 10:00 am, during these days it is harder and harder for me to maintain a rigorous sleep schedule. In a marathon affair spanning 102 moves, I finally managed to put away my vastly lower rated opponent, despite getting into some losing positions along the way:


I wasn’t the only one struggling in the first round, as top seeds Jeffery Xiong, Illia Nyzhnyk, and Maxim Matlakov were all held to a draw. But matters quickly became a little bit ironic because while I faced a GM in the next round, it was my quickest game of the event in a strangely lopsided affair. One reason for this might be that most players are used to playing blitz and bullet online, and it is often difficult to switch mindsets into playing a longer time control. Whatever the reason, I was glad to get a quick win and move on to the next game.


With 2/2, I found myself facing GM Brandon Jacobson, a very talented player who has improved a lot in the past few years. For some strange reason, I have always been white against Brandon, and this time I was white yet again. I decided to repeat a line in a double fianchetto/Queen’s Indian hybrid, and soon reached a very promising position. However, some horrible technique landed the game into one of the most complicated positions I have ever analyzed and it was an absolute joy to see all the hidden ideas and resources. To just give you a taste of some of the positions which could have arisen from this game:


Black simply ignores the threat to the queen and plays Ne4!!


In this position, black plays the chaos-inducing move Rc5!!


Unfortunately, just as the moment of the great battle arrived, time trouble befell Jacobson and he ended up blundering and I took home the victory. The game reminded me a little of the fight in Hero (2002), where two warriors envision a fantastic battle, which in reality is ended in a few blows.

Wanting to preserve some of my sleep, I took a bye for the next two morning rounds. I can’t say whether or not this was the right decision, but it felt better knowing that I was on 3/3 going into a bye. Meanwhile, the tournament had a surprising leader after four rounds: Steven Zierk, of California who played all nine rounds, even the ones starting at eight in the morning! Despite the early start time, he scored a nice miniature vs Baadur Jobava.


Feeling a little refreshed for the next round, I found myself facing Vladislav Kovalev, a strong 2600 GM. We exchanged queens early in the opening to enter a queenless middlegame.Yet again, time trouble decided the game as we both made mutual blunders in the unbalanced knight+bishop vs rook+pawn endgame. Although it’s tough to analyze the endgame knowing that time pressure influenced the outcome of the game greatly, I still think the lines are instructive in this relatively common material imbalance.


Although this stage of the tournament saw some more draws than the last day, I still found this game by Sam Sevian very interesting. While the opening is a little shaky for Sam, I found the ending of the game particularly amusing as both kings are coerced into forced marches across the board:


After a sharp but quick draw against Samvel Ter-Sahakyan in which I ran into some prep, the stage was set for the final day. I was (surprisingly!) in the lead with 5/6, along with Yuriy Kuzubov of Ukraine. However, with everyone fighting for the top spots, nothing was set in stone, and the games were about to get quite bloody.

In another game with white my preparation went awry, and the opening turned out quite badly for me. However, Matlakov had to find a stunning resource to maintain the advantage, and after he failed to do so we agreed to a draw a few moves later.


In the final round, I found myself on the top board playing none other than Nikita Vitiugov. He had barely escaped the previous round, in a complicated exchange french position. I’m not sure if the words “complicated exchange french” have ever been used before, but this game was definitely crazy.


Perhaps this game prepared Vitiugov well for the final round, in the decisive game against yours truly, where we had a position with mutual attacks.


It was an unfortunate end to the event, as the game went completely wrong and I was summarily crushed. Although nothing should be taken away from Vitiugov, who was the deserving winner of the game and the event, it was a little disappointing not to be able to put up a bigger fight. But as every chess player knows, it is bound to happen time to time.

In the other games, an absolute bloodbath occurred, with 15 decisive results from the top 16 boards! To be quite honest, I’ve never seen such a result before, and it is a welcome change to the many draws that we normally see in top level tournaments. From these games I’ve selected two that drew my attention.


All told, Vitiugov and Zierk ended up tying for first with 7/9, receiving a cool $3000 dollars each. GMs Jeffery Xiong, Grigori Oparin, Sam Sevian, Manuel Petrosyan, and Vitaliy Bernadskiy finished just a half point behind with 6.5/9. I finished with 6/9, which overall I can say I am satisfied with; the opportunity to play interesting chess and sit down for some longer games made the experience well worth it.

Normally, we are used to photographs of players pondering in front of the chess board, but now (nearly) everyone is staring at a screen instead! Chess is chess, whether in two dimensions or three, but one must wonder whether it makes a difference.

An example of a shared screen watching a game between Baadur Jobava and Sam Sevian.

Some players used boards to follow along…

While I just played from the computer. Deep in thought, although I can no longer remember which game this is!

Eventual winners Nikita Vitiugov and Steven Zierk. Zierk has a dual monitor setup with the second one shows the ZOOM meeting video and chat. His desktop background is a position from Topalov-Shirov Linares 1998

I would like to give a big thanks to the PWNCC for organizing this event, which once again ran smoothly despite being played entirely online. Another thanks goes to Xuhao He, one of the organizers who also provided the screenshots to use for the article. While most people are probably still a little apprehensive about playing a classical time control online, the aftermath of this tournament only leaves me hungry for more!


Awonder Liang (born April 9, 2003) in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, was twice World Champion in his age category: in 2011 he became World Champion U8 and two years later, in 2013, he became World Champion U10. In May 2017, at the age of 14, Awonder became a Grandmaster, at that time the tenth youngest Grandmaster of all time, and the second youngest American (after Samuel Sevian) to win the title.


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