Yermo's Travels: Land of Sky

by Alex Yermolinsky
6/3/2018 – The Land of Sky is a traditional tournament in Ashville, North Carolina. ChessBase contributing Grandmaster ALEX YERMOLINSKY made the treck, and (belatedly) tells the tale as part of his ongoing "travelogue" series of stories. A figurative snapshot of open tournament life in the USA, plus an actual snapshot of the 'Yermomobile', Yermolinsky's car!

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A winter flashback

This year saw the 31st edition of the traditional Land of the Sky tournament in Asheville, North Carolina. There's something interesting about the site.

When people hear North Carolina they mostly think old coastal towns with colonial architecture, Cape Hatteras — the Graveyard of the Atlantic, and, of course, the hurricanes.

Else, they might recall that Charlotte is a city approaching a million inhabitants that happens to be one of the largest banking centres in the United States.

Some would mention the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area with their gigantic Research Park? Over the past few decades, a great many companies have moved down South to enjoy year-round golf and low taxes.

All that is undoubtedly true, North Carolina is the ninth most populous State in the Union, and for many good reasons. None of the above, however, has much to do with the city of Asheville:


Asheville Downtown Panorama (click or tap to enlarge) | Photo: AbeEzekowitz CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Range, Asheville offers a different layout of a mountain town.

Asheville is known for its art scene, music, college life, and a general hippy-dippy attitude. They even brew their own beer in 29 different microbreweries no less!

Relatively high elevation — some 650 meters above sea level — provides for cooler nights in the summer, but surprises with an occasional blizzard in the winter time.

I remember dealing with snowy mountain roads more than once during my earlier travels to Asheville. This year luck was on my side, as the temperature stayed well above the freezing point.


Rainy outside the hotel | (All remaining) photos: Alex Yermolinsky

The Crowne Plaza Hotel has long been the home for the Land of the Sky tournaments. It's comfortable enough in both rooms and playing conditions, while the bar keeps on serving food until late at night. Being primarily a golf resort, the hotel is not exactly a bustling place in late January, which helps to keep the room rates low.

Crowne Plaza

With all that positive vibe, why hasn't the Land of the Sky grown into a bigger tournament? Indeed, the attendance hasn't increased in near thirty years since my first visit there, and neither has the prize fund.

I guess, what's attractive for a seasoned traveller, as I am, is not exactly what young players and their parents are looking for. Airfare can be expensive, and nobody seems to have the time for long car trips anymore. Why bother when there are tournaments going practically non-stop in New York and Philadelphia?

The 2018 edition attracted three Grandmasters, but no other players above 2400. The Open section had just 18 participants, and the total number across all section reached 178. Not all of them, however, were full-paid entries, and that necessitated a reduction of the prize fund.

The top seed, GM Elshan Moradiabadi started off with two confident wins.

Cremisi vs Moradiabadi

Cremisi vs Moradiabadi

When the visitor from Boston, GM Alexander Ivanov, surrendered a draw to Land of the Sky regular, NM Peter Bereolos, the fight for first place came down to the following encounter in round three.


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I was pretty disgusted with my play, and, in all honestly didn't have a restful night, but there was a tournament to be continued.


Ivanov's draw was a setback for the Boston-based veteran GM


This win brought me to three points after four rounds, while Ivanov and Moradiabadi drew a very quick Berlin.

Here's the moment when I'm supposed to treat my dear readers to an extensive coverage of the key battle for second place, Yermolinsky vs Ivanov. Sorry to disappoint you, but it didn't happen. Seeing Moradiabadi with the white pieces against FM Sanjay Ghatti (2189), I figured there was no way Elshan would stumble, and, indeed, he won the game to get to 4½ points, which left us, two old horses, with the dubious proposition of spilling blood over the negligible difference between second and third places.

Alexander and I battled each other in various tournaments, spanning four decades and different continents, and I hope we will do this again one day.

Final standings

1. Moradiabadi 4½ — $840

2-3. Ivanov and Yermolinsky 3½ — $350

4-6. Ghatti — $180

Biernacki and Zhu 3 (These last two guys shared the Under 2300 prizes, good for $220 apiece.)

I can almost hear the usual lament about prizes being small and the life of a chess professional being such a pitiful existence. Indeed, $350 is rather a modest compensation for a 2600 miles round-trip by car, not counting the expenses. I'll leave that subject aside because at this stage my well-being hardly depends on tournament winnings. I should be paying for travelling, that what folks like me do.

So, instead of getting on a Caribbean cruise ship to bore myself to death or going to Vegas (been there, done that) to gamble away a few hundred dollars, I went to a chess tournament. How bad is that? I get to see old friends, maybe make a few new ones, shake a few hands, have my picture taken with some youngsters while seeing the country along the way.

Long distance driving doesn't bother me at all, as I get to catch up on audiobooks, music and recorded talk shows.

Yermo's car

A little rain here and there presented no challenge for the 'Yermomobile', a Dodge Challenger

And there are stopovers. This time I went through Lexington, Kentucky, to pick up my old friend, former USCF Executive Director Frank Niro. Frank's rating has seen better days, but his love for the game is undying. His final score in the under 2100 section was the respectable 50%

Frank Niro

A tough Sicilian for Frank

On our way back we continued to Louisville, which is the largest city in Kentucky, now blessed with a fully functioning chess club, thanks to the generosity of Eric Yussman.

Yussman Chess

There's a traditional Monday night Rapid tournament there, so we caught up with a few members for a little chat before the action [rapid chess] began.

Rapid chess tournament

Action at the Yussman

Meanwhile, I was back in my hotel room in time for my next live webcast. Life goes on.


Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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