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Open Season

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Open tournaments, where the real fighters of the chess world battle to the death round after round, winner take all. Appearance fees are rare, hospitality tables rarer, and the players are packed in row after row, Grandmasters and amateurs alike. The need to play for a win in every game, the cliche about opens, is countered by the many short tactical draws. Two of the most powerful open tournaments of the year just finished and the strongest is in progress in Moscow.

The Gibtelecom Open in Gibraltar keeps getting stronger. This year they had one of those train-wreck finishes at the top that are the bane of all big open tournaments. An incredible 10 GMs tied for first with 7.5/10. Last year both Svidler and Milov scored 8 points. This year's winners included heavyweights like Adams, Kamsky, Bacrot, and Movsesian, as well as Gustafsson, the leader much of the way. Lenderman and Koneru made the big 10 by winning in the final round, Lenderman in a sharp battle with Fridman and Koneru by, well, apparently slipping something into her opponent's drink. I don't see a report on it, but I guess the poor guy flagged with an extra pawn in a drawn rook endgame. Probably cost him a pile of money. Strange. They play tiebreaks in Gibraltar by a complex system developed by the famous local monkeys. The top four players by formula play KO blitz. Adams came through, beating Gustafsson and then Vallejo to get the trophy.

As is often true of open tournament games, many of them are notable for having a certain air of desperation to them. Players know they have to go to great lengths to avoid draws, so you see curious moves that avoid simplification and quasi-suicidal maneuvering to keep winning chances alive. When both players go at it like this the results are entertaining. Fridman-Lenderman isn't really of that breed, but the finish is very pretty. Javakishvili-Sandipan is a wild slugfest.

The Moscow Open was the usual, a field with some second-tier stars and a litany of strong Russians you've never heard of. Konstantin Chernyshov was one of the four winners, for example. He's hardly an up-and-coming prodigy at 43, but he used the power of his mighty mustache to finish with 4.5/5 including wins against heavyweights Najer and Motylev. (Eastern Europe recently took the mustache title away from long-time champ Latin America.) He even took first on tiebreaks on 7/9 despite playing the Swiss Gambit and losing a game in the early rounds.

Many use the Moscow as a warm-up for the big kahuna, or the big blintz, the Aeroflot Open. It's currently underway with dozens of names you'll recognize battling a terrifying array of citizens of the country once known as the Soviet Union. I'd say that the American GMs who complain about the foreigners coming to the US and making things too tough should see how things are back in the motherland. I'd say that, except several Americans have done just that. Alexander Shabalov is there, as are Ehlvest and Kamsky. True, they are some of the ones who led to the complaining, not doing the complaining, but my point, if I had one, stands. Vietnam's Le Quang Liem, who tied for first at the Moscow Open, is the current leader with 3/3. Oddly, only three players have 2.5, Cheparinov, Timofeev, and Le's countryman, Nguyen. Young Kalmykian Sjugirov beat Naiditsch in a wild one, the black king getting executed on c1. For a wonderful, if tragic and doomed, kitchen-sink attack, check out Vasquez-Shabalov. Wow. For collectors, Le Quang Liem's win over Bu Xiangzhi has the merry middlegame "check met by check." Savchenko-Yudin is a cute miniature.

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The life of a chess professional is a hard one. Imagine having to fight seasoned pros like Adams, Bacrot and Kamsky, as well as several strong unknowns for a few hundred euros each time. And they must try to end up in profit after costs? It is truly a great sacrifice for our art.

No problem for those superbrains: after breakfast they can make a quick profit trading complex derivatives online from their hotel room, then settle in to a leisurely chess game against a fellow titled player.

"...[Konstantin Chernyshov] used the power of his mighty mustache..."

Unfortunately never heard of him and googled to find his picture; mighty mustache indeed.

In terms of excitement, of any tournament local or super, the Aeroflot Open has risen to 2nd on the annual calendar, behind only Corus, IMO.

They always have the following:
1. the powerful Russian locals
2. youth up-and-comers (lots of Top-20 juniors; many U-14, U-12, and U-10 world champs.)
3. the national-teams of India (Anand aside), China, Philipines, Vietnam, and Iran... they seem to regard Aeroflot as a training ground

I'd guess many play for the fun or training, rather than cash.

Also seeing for the first time many near-famous "mystery men" such as Le Quang Liem (a big name on Playchess server) in bigtime action.

This year, not so many juniors as in previous years unfortunately.

The other day on ICC, Le Quang Liem was playing, like a machine (of course that's not an accusation, it's praise).

The highest rated mustache of all time: Emanuel Lasker's, with John Oates's (of Hall and Oates fame) a close second.

I think I've seen Chernyshov quite frequently in the last few years:


Mig --
Glad you mentioned Quang Liem Le. He's one to watch, or at the very least noted that he is on fire in this tourney! He's got a good game going right now against Cheparinov, who was also leading the tournament, and you didn't mention that he beat Bacrot in the first round! That ain't hay, man!

By the way, the French occupied Vietnam in the 1950s. Does that mean that Kamsky is Le's next victim! Heh.

No one can beat the power of the porn stache!

He beat Bacrot in the 2nd round not 1st.

I stand corrected. Thanks.

I should also have added that Le is at this moment looking for a miracle to save his position after Chep's last natural move. Ouch. I don't see a way out.

Le - Cheparinov just drew. Nguyen won over Timofeev.
That put the two young Vietnamese in an unusual situation - sharing first.

Well, Mig, you did sort of have a point about foreigners coming to the U.S. Strangely you used a
Latvian, an Estonian and a Tartar to illustrate it.
(Yes, I know that two of them are now U.S. citizens,
but Jaan Ehlvest is not.)

The basis of the complaining, some of which came from Benjamin, Fedorowicz and Christiansen, was that
a few of the visitors were buying and selling games
in the bigger prize fund open tournaments. Such
cheating practices indeed make things "too tough"
on all the participants who play fairly.

Regrettably, the practice continues to this day.

The basis of the complaining, some of which came from Benjamin, Fedorowicz and Christiansen, was that
a few of the visitors were buying and selling games
in the bigger prize fund open tournaments. Such
cheating practices indeed make things "too tough"
on all the participants who play fairly.

Wrong! Wrong!
The basis of the complaining was that the strong foreigners were winning prizes and diluting the pool of money available for the locals. Just your routine knee-jerk xenophobia.

The basis of the complaining, some of which came from Benjamin, Fedorowicz and Christiansen, was that
a few of the visitors were buying and selling games
in the bigger prize fund open tournaments. Such
cheating practices indeed make things "too tough"
on all the participants who play fairly.

Wrong! Wrong!
The basis of the complaining was that the strong foreigners were winning prizes and diluting the pool of money available for the locals. Just your routine knee-jerk xenophobia.


No...their criticism has a valid point.

If your national federation (USCF) does not devote the same level of resources to player development that state-subsidized federations do...then the open events are (in effect) the subsidy.

And if the subsidy is diluted, then the local player development program is off-track.

That is/was their beef.

I've never heard one of them express any anti-player sentiments. I always took this argument to be along the lines of "Hey, I can't go to Russia and be trained at the Botvinnik school...why is so-and-so coming here and training at the World Open?"

It is a fair point.

And because USCF devotes its resources to keeping the amateur chess network alive in the US...only a fraction of its resources can (or should) go into professional development. It is not state-subsidized.

I can certainly understand why younger US talent would object to a mass infusion of non-US players into their only source of funding. Not xenophobia at all.

Saying that...doesn't mean that the players are anti-non-US players at all. Quite the opposite.

My reading of the undercurrents and actual complaints is different from yours then. It was some home-grown Americans complaining about recent immigrants (not foreign players 'training in US opens) diluting the scanty prizes around. And the moans definitely had a xenophobic slant at the time.

I remember when it was a huge deal that Shamkovich and Lein moved to the US. I guess Alburt and Dzindzi followed soon after?

Wow I am old.

To wit, Open tournaments are just that, Open. If players native to the country where the Open is being held, or tranplants, or anyone for that matter doesn't like it, don't play in Opens. Beat the other players and you will win the money. Lose and it's only your own fault. Facts is facts...

Just to point out that there are various well-known tournament wins in American open events involving former Soviets where it was clear that the players had colluded to make a financially favourable result.

That's not that great a mustache (at least not the googleimage I got) mine's better.

Elephant Memory is exactly right. I could give chapter and verse examples of thrown games. Some
would involve the names of dead grandmasters. Some
would involve players still alive.

Several years ago I personally witnessed, I believe
it was at the Foxwoods Open, before the last round
game, Nakamura loudly scolding his opponent, an
eastern European GM, to never have his friends ever
again approach him with a "deal" or "proposal" to
arrange the outcome of a chess game (with Nakamura).

There were dozens of witnesses. Nakamura proceeded
to win the game.

Anyone who doesn't believe that there are chess games that have been bought and sold in many, many
American swiss system opens is naive. Xenophobia
has nothing to do with the criticisms leveled against SOME of the foreigners who have played
in U.S. tournaments in the past and cheated.

There are also many ex-Soviets such as Lein, Shabalov, Alburt, Yermolinsky, Gulko, Gurevich
(both Dimitri and Ilya!) etc. etc. who have spotless reputations for playing fairly. Furthermore, there are many foreigners who have
visited the U.S. and won money fair and square.

There were some complaints about the USCF altering
the eligibility requirements for participation in
the U.S. Invitational Championship. These were
directed at Tony Miles and Boris Gulko.

I'll let others characterize the "slant" of those
complaints. I'm not a mind-reader.

Um... Shulman too as spotless! And yea I've heard Shabalov is not spotless.

So no native born American has ever arranged a result, I take it.

They probably have but it is something else if some strong foreigners come and start throwing games as it were. My question is how much different is throwing a game to "just giving" or arranging a draw? Which is usually done in the last round too.

That's a crappy way to make a good point, Quibbler.

The prize structure of big tourneys give ample incentive for last-round "deal-making". Two players can maximize their expected payment, increase it by many thousands with a under-the-table deal. Problem with illegal act is legal enforcibility - how do you ensure the other guy pays you afterwards?

Btw, big difference with Nakamura.

The ex-Soviets do it for food (at least in the 1990s), whereas Naka is not cash-strapped, AFAIK.

I'm not gonna look up the Foxwood tourney in question, but the other player surely was leading going into the last round (with opportunity to secure the top prize), with Naka a half point behind (and thus not able to take clear 1st.)

In any case, it may be worthwhile to state what should be obvious: you cannot finish at or near the top just by dirty tricks, you also have to play well. hcl is right that the prize money structure encourages or invites last-round deals. Like it or not, it may be common, and for me it is irrelevant whether native Americans, immigrants or visitors from abroad are involved.

However, @Elephant Memory and diogenes: You would have to come up with strong evidence for collusion - unless the players talked about it openly. I once witnessed a last-round game between two Eastern European IM's which _seemed_ completely even, but only a winner would qualify for prize money. Eventually the game was decisive, there are three possibilities:
- They made a deal before or during the game
- My amateur assessment of the position was wrong
- One or both kept on trying, and one player lost his nerves and blundered (unfortunately I missed the decisive [time trouble?] part of the game).

Bottom line: Along with Hardy Berger, I think the main issue is that native Americans didn't like the idea of strong competition for "their" prize money all of a sudden. Not surprisingly, it is/was the same story in Europe, particularly Germany which is geographically closest to Eastern Europe.
In Germany, an additional issue is that money can be earned in team competitions (Bundesliga but also lower leagues). Eastern European players also compete for those spots, and may be happy with less than local wannabe semi-professionals - after all, they need less to earn a living and even raise a family in their home countries. And they are willing to drive many miles by car and stay in cheaper hotels or private places, whereas other foreigners would insist on a flight and a hotel with more stars?

Again, the enforcement aspect: if Player A takes a dive, how can he trust Player B to pay him after the prize handout?

You'd recall from your Law 101 class that Illegal Contracts aren't enforceable.

IMO, this high barrier posed by game-theory prevents most cheating from happening. Strangers cannot easily strike an enforceable arrangement.

In GM Vermo's Blog some years ago he denounced GM Kudrin for throwing a last round game and waitng around anxiously for his cut. Kudrin even demanded cash instead of a check for the prize money. Vermo's disgust for kudrin was unforgettable.

"Strangers cannot easily strike an enforceable arrangement. "
Ah, but when there's dollars involved and they know each other from the circuit, friendship sprouts like blooms in a well-manured rose bush garden.

I mean Yermolinsky and his blog at Mechanic's Institute (San. Francisco, Ca.) website. Sorry about the misspelling.

And the player on the receiving side may be on the donating side next time and vice versa - if not against the very same person, then against one of his friends.

Mafia deals also aren't legal, thus not legally binding and enforceable. (Some) professional chess players probably won't use the same methods to make sure that deals are respected and/or the same punishment if not [not that I have inside information or first-hand experience from either field!] - but I think hcl is a little bit naive.

Indeed. When wielded with malice aforethought, those weighted Staunton chessmen can be a formidable weapon in the hands of a duped co-conspirator.

Not to mention wooden chessboards => see, Kasparov G., Moscow incident.

I hope these guys don't expect us to make any effort to learn to pronounce their names, when they play 14 move draws. I don't mean the top 2, but all up and down the boards was lame today. There were 6-7 such short, short draws. Disappointing.


Have you ever been in the running for a prize? My impression is a "no". Because although the temptation always exists prior to the last round, an actual arrangement near-impossible for reasons given previously.

OK, you invite me to tell some stories I omitted for the sake of brevity. In German blitz tournaments, last-round deals are (or at least were) fairly common - quite often a potential prizewinner meets a midfielder or tailender, and there is only (some sort of) friendship involved, no bribery [other than paying a beer for the other guy]. I was (at least possibly) on the receiving side once, and could have been on the donating side:

1) At one occasion, I told my opponent (a regular visitor at our club) before the game "I need the point". He left to check the tournament standings, then returned saying "let's play". In a complicated position, I won with a knight fork - even now, more than ten years later, I don't know if he had missed it on purpose ... .

2) At another occasion, a clubmate got quite mad at me because I beat him in the final round and he was out of prize money (he was about 300 points higher-rated, but I was a difficult opponent for him). I merely said "you should have told me before the game", several people just nodded in approval.

The (arguably) funniest story is from a rapid team event including the first team of my club. They arranged a 2-2 in the last round [so far so common] but in a way to maximize board prizes for both teams, talking about it openly: "According to plans, Martin has lost and Claus has won. Kai now has to find a blunder, Michael has an even rook ending which he will win on time." No arbiter interfered, and the other competing teams could only helplessly watch ... no guarantees that the deal will be respected, but teams and players will meet again in the nearby future, "nuff said"!?

These are somewhat different situations, win-win and win-not much to win or lose - but I have some own experiences after all ... . Such deals may be illegal (but which court would accept the case?) or immoral, yet they are or were fairly common. You still have to be lucky with the pairings, not every opponent will cooperate.

Consider the base case of a STRANGER. Someone who might simply disappear with the entire $2000 prize check without cutting you half. And who lives 2,000 miles away in Seattle. At an address unknown to you.

Thomas is assuming away the entire coordination & enforcement problem by citing friends & German clubmates with whom Reciprocity and Trust are already PRE-ESTABLISHED.

I can't complain about this 20 move game - today's Bacrot, Etienne - Bareev, Evgeny game features an exchange sac followed by a Bxf7+ 1-0

Two older (not teens anymore) players familiar with each other, who might have drawn, and we get fireworks!

Okay, before Thomas corrects me (smile), it wasn't a 'real' exchange sac, but a 'temporary' exchange sac, or maybe two minor pieces for a a rook and pawn.

One very very poisonous pawn.

No I won't discuss whether it was a "genuine" exchange sacrifice or not ... . Bacrot has a reputation as a solid, positional, drawish player - but he showed before that he can "bite" and hit hard when the opportunity arises, e.g.
Bacrot-Leko, Elista 2008, 1-0(31)
Bacrot-Sargissian, Antwerp 2009, 1-0(18)

Another remarkable game from Aeroflot today is Mamedov-Naiditsch: Mamedov used the same pawn sacrifice in the Scotch that Carlsen played to beat Leko at the start of his Nanjing run ... and lost in 27 moves.
Leko played 13.- 0-0 14.Nc3 Qf5 15.d5! splitting the board in two.
Later Grischuk deviated against Nakamura with 13.-Bh3 and drew in 18 moves.
Now Naiditsch plays the immediate 13.-Qf5 14.Nc3 d5.
Is chess that simple??

Aeroflot seems again in the shadow of Linares, this year they don't even have a scandal for media attention: Mamedyarov doesn't participate (wasn't welcome?).

Still worthwhile mentioning: With one round to go, those who still have a chance for shared first are Le Quang Liem, Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, Nepomniachtchi, Grachev and Korobov. [I have heard of Nepo and Grachev, I may have read the Vietnamese names before but don't remember, who is Korobov?]. One of them will play Dortmund this year.

Too far behind are (for me) more familiar names as Vachier-Lagrave, Bacrot, Motylev, Sargissian, Bu Xiangzhi, Cheparinov etc. .
Even further behind are, among others, Kamsky, Naiditsch and Van Wely.

Yeah Kudrin is a known slimeball from players I have spoken too.

Benjamin? Complaining of cheating?

Well let's see, there was his involvement in the Deeper Blue match vs. Kasparov in 1997...

Yeah, Benjamin lives in a glass house so he should not be throwing stones. Kamsky's father was sure he was cheating or trying to cheat his son many times. Maybe he was right once or twice????? Others have said he assisted his students during games in the past which has been witnessed by spectators, but when your father or friends are the TD just do it.

The finish is very pretty. he is a wild slugfest.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on February 12, 2010 1:16 AM.

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