Chicago Open

Greetings to all chess fans out there! The World Championship just concluded with a hard-fought victory for Vishy Anand, and I felt inspired to write a bit on my recent tournament experience in the Windy City.

I played in the super-strong Chicago Open from May 24-28. Outside of the World Open the Chicago Open is the biggest annual Swiss in the United States, and it's not uncommon for the tourney to draw some big names. This year GM Michael Adams and GM Gabriel Sargissian were the top guns, along with a constellation of US Championship participants, visiting foreign Grandmasters, and norm-hungry IMs.

To put things in perspective, a FIDE rating of 2445 only earned me the 25th seed!

The crew was REALLY well-represented in this tournament: GMs Hess and Ramirez, GM-elect Holt, IMs Yang, Pruess, Rensch, and myself, plus FM (very soon to be IM, I believe!) Kayden Troff. There was also a certain affable video producer who had an absolutely KILLER event...more on him later!

My event was par for the course: 3 wins (all against lower rated players), 5 draws, and 1 loss (to the tournament winner Sargissian). It's tough to get things going in these tournaments if you don't have a really stellar start, as repeatedly getting paired down is the kiss of death when you're out for a GM norm. This happened to me in the middle stretch (rounds 4-7) when I got bogged by a few draws. I did play some decent games though, and I came away from the event reasonably pleased with my play.

Round one was a victory against the talented Chicago-area junior, Sam Schmakel. He confused ideas in a rare Grunfeld line and pretty much gave me a free pawn with 8...c5?. I was glad to find a critical consolidating idea with 20.Ne3 and 21.Kb2, diffusing the threat of 20...b6.

The next game I faced GM Sargissian on first board (Kayden had held Adams to a draw in round one!):

Have you ever played a game where you felt like you were just never in it? Well, that's what this shellacking felt like :) I did some research, and it seems this line is just bad for Black. The position after 12.Qf4 had been previously reached four times with Black scoring a big donut, 0/4 (even the fantastic GM Boris Avrukh couldn't salvage Black's position). I'm not sure what caused me to choose such a speculative line, but it's clear that players like Sargissian will readily punish such decisions.

Round three saw me win a nice bounce-back game in the Samisch King's Indian:

Black is completely paralyzed in the final position.

Round four initiated a series of draws. First I had the better side of a middlegame against IM Angelo Young (he told me he missed 19...Rd4), but didn't make the most of my chances (I think 22...e4 and 24...Rc2 would be more challenging).

Next I played my buddy Kayden Troff. This was a well-played game on both sides. I sacrificed a pawn (22.d5!?) for a small positional edge in the endgame, but Kayden defended well. Then he slipped with 33...d5?!, after which White has chances in the rook ending. The ideal plan for White roundabout move 37 is f2-f3, Kd3-d4, a3-a4, and b4-b5, creating the big threat of Rc6+. In time pressure Kayden found an excellent way to disrupt this (37...g5!, 38...h5!), keeping my advantage to a minimum. I tried for awhile after time control, but a draw was inevitable.

Round six was a theoretically important game in the Scandianvian:

I've played Gopal online quite a bit and found him to be a tough opponent (definitely somewhat underrated - he doesn't play much over-the-board). He made a well-timed draw offer in the final position as things are pretty unclear and we both were getting low on time. I saw the continuation 19...Kb8 20.c5 Qxd5 21.cxb6 cxb6 22.Rc7! (diagram) when it appears that Black is in big trouble:

For example, 22...a5? 23.Rc6 is losing, while 22...Kxc7 23.Qxa7+ Kc8 24.Rc1+ Qc5 25.Rxc5+ bxc5 gives White plenty of tempting possibilities against the exposed king. However, in the post-mortem we found the remarkable defensive move 22...Qa8! after which 23.Rbc1 leads to a weird, dynamically equal position. The computer, for what it's worth, gives an evaluation of '0.00' from the position in which we agreed a draw.

I finally notched a win in round seven on the White side of a QGD Exchange. This was a pleasurable game to play because I got to execute a number of key positional concepts: the minority attack, play on both wings, the positional exchange sacrifice, targeting isolated pawns, etc.

This set me up for a Monday showdown against a pair of Grandmasters. The first was a full-scale battle to stalemate against GM Shabalov:

I played pretty terribly in the opening and burned a massive amount of time trying to reach a playable position. He kinda let up the pressure in the middlegame, and I actually quite liked my position around move 30. After time control, though, 42.Rd4! would have put me a really tough spot (my king is surrounded!). As it was I was happy to find an accurate way to transpose into a theoretically drawn R+2 vs. R+3 endgame.

My final round was a quick draw against GM Akobian:

This opening is probably a little incorrect for Black, but it's solid enough. I don't have many other plans in the final position other than  preparing a2-a3 and b3-b4 (Akobian said he didn't think I could achieve much with this), but even still I probably should have played on in the final position .

So I finished out of the money with 5.5/9 (it turns out 6/9 would have netted me $500).

Norms were scored by IM Daniel Ludwig (his second GM norm) and FM  Kayden Troff (his second IM norm). Both played excellent chess from what I saw. Ludwig especially threw the gauntlet down, beating Adams, Shulman, Holt, and Friedel. Well done!

I also want to especially congratulate David Petty - aka "PinkHamster" on - for going 6.5/7 in the U2100 section! David is the very capable video guru and all-around cool guy. He took home $5,000 for his efforts! Awesome job, David!!

Finally, I want to leave you with an insane game I witnessed in the Open section between NM Joshua Colas (an outstanding talent from New York) and IM Farai Mandizha. I had a good time analyzing the complexities with the participants after the game.

Questions to think about:

  1. What did Black miscalculate when he sacrificed his knight with 19...Nf4?
  2. Where did Black miss a win in the middlegame?
  3. Would you have settled for a perpetual as Black did at the end?


  • 4 years ago


    nice article

  • 4 years ago

    IM Fins0905

    Thanks, guys! @dpruess - Fixed now, thanks for pointing that out.

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for the info John, it's very helpful to all chess player to read all of this. All the best!

  • 4 years ago

    GM KaydenTroff

    Nice article:) It was fun seeing you there:)

  • 4 years ago

    IM dpruess

    John, it was a pleasure to play through your games, especially with your guidance as to what's going on in each. thanks! it's probably just a typo, but the Under-xx00 sections were all 7 rounds rather than 9.

  • 4 years ago


    I looked at the last game and agree that it's certainly insane Tongue out


    I think 19..Nf4 is a mistake coz Black's original idea might be 20.gxf4 gxf4 and 21...Rg8 creats a mating net or gain White's queen. Perhaps Black missed 21.Bf2 Rg8 22.Bg3? And followed by 22...fxg3 23.hxg3 Rg3 24.Kh2 Rg2 25.Qg2 Bg2 26.Kg2, White's rook+knight pair has enough compensation against Black's queen and even stronger than the queen.


    Maybe around move 22, Black should have played ...g4 and open g-file to start a strong attack? His rook, bishop pair and queen can all join in the battle and White's king can be in big trouble soon.


    At the end of the game, I think Black could probably go for a win instead of a draw. Black can push the pawn to f2 and follow by Qe1 creats promoting threat. Black's light-square bishop does great job to stop White pushing his pawns. Also Black's bishop pair promises Black safe king so far and enables Black creats threats quickly enough. 


    Not sure about how my answer works, but that's all I can seeSmile. Yet, I enjoy this insane game anyway coz so many moves there showed some great middle game play ideas of two masters. A good lesson post, John :)

  • 4 years ago

    IM Fins0905

    Thanks, Lui! :)

  • 4 years ago


    The third game is such fabulous play by White! Black has nothing to do in the final position rather than wait for White's king steps into 7th rank to help the c7 pawn promote :D

  • 4 years ago


    Great games John, Thank you for a great article. I do not get to play OTB chess often so it is great to watch the games that you post!!

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