GMs Kayden Troff and Alonso Zapata Victorious at ALTO: Full Recap!
The playing hall during the spring 2024 ALTO tournament.

GMs Kayden Troff and Alonso Zapata Victorious at ALTO: Full Recap!

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One of the Charlotte Chess Center's signature events, the ALTO tournament, took place at the Southpark Hilton Garden Inn from April 19-21, 2024. ALTO stands for At Least Twenty-One, so only players 21 years of age or older were eligible to play in the tournament and compete for the guaranteed $6,000 prize fund.

The tournament featured three sections of USCF standard-rated chess, with the top two sections also FIDE-rated. Alongside the tournament, there was a "social night" hosted by CCC founder and FM Peter Giannatos, with a free drink for every participant!

Championship Section

Our big winners in the Championship section were the two Grandmasters: GM Kayden Troff and GM Alonso Zapata. The two co-champions never faced each other, instead drawing one game each against other players in the field and winning the remaining four to finish on 4.5/5. For shared first place, the two GMs took home the top prize of $750 a piece.

Charlotte Chess Center Kayden Troff

GM Kayden Troff tied for first place in the Championship section.

GM Kayden Troff was on a perfect 4/4 score heading into the last round, when he made a draw against IM Levan Bregadze. He and fellow "ChessShark" Antonio Padron streamed their games live on Twitch on the ChessSharkz channel. VODs of the games are still viewable in the archive.

Here is Troff's round three victory against NM Victor Sawhney-Duran:

For GM Alonso Zapata, an early draw against NM Jeffrey Quirke put him a half-point behind the leaders for most of the event, meaning he needed to win on demand in the last round to clinch a share of first place. He accomplished this by defeating WGM Sabina Francesca-Foisor. The latter was a bit unlucky with pairings this tournament: her first opponent forfeited, and on the last day she was paired against both GMs consecutively, losing in a long, tough battle each time.

Charlotte Chess Center ALTO Alonso ZapataGrandmaster Alonso Zapata, deep in thought!

Another player who streamed the event was WGM Dina Belenkaya, who ultimately split with IM Levan Bregadze and CM Alexandre Houhou for third-through-fifth place with 4/5. Belenkaya and Bregadze each received $250, while Houhou netted $300 for finishing first among players with a listed rating under 2200 USCF.

Belenkaya streamed the games on her Twitch channel, with commentary from several strong players broadcasted to the live audience. After starting 2/2, Dina faced off against the aforementioned CM Houhou. In a fascinating game, the two players reached this critical position on move 40:

Houhou lost to GM Zapata in the fourth round but defeated Gary Cote in the last game to clinch his prize. Meanwhile, Dina won both of her games on the final day, including a victory over NM Zubin Baliga.

Charlotte Chess Center ALTO tournamentThe playing hall during ALTO's final round. If you look closely, you can see the cameras for the two Twitch streams!

The other player finishing with 4/5 in the Championship section was IM Levan Bregadze, who went undefeated with draws against GM Troff and FM James Canty. Here's his victory from the fourth round against CM Joseph Wan, where he turned a Nimzo-Larsen opening into a type of King's Indian Attack:

Numerous other titled players participated in the event, including NM Anthony Parker, CM Han Schut, and NM Roy Weaver. One of the most successful was Jeffrey Quirke, a National Master from Pennsylvania who finished second behind Houhou for the Top U2200 prize (winning $150 for his efforts). Quirke was the only player to hold GM Zapata to a draw, but he did suffer a loss in the fourth round to FM James Canty, who also scored 3.5 points:

It wasn't all smooth sailing for the titled players. In the second round, CCC Coach Jay Garrison pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament against NM Sam Copeland of South Carolina. When discussing the game afterwards, Jay made a point to emphasize the countless times he's reached the position after 11...b5 before as black, helping him to equalize quickly. Familiarity with a position or structure can be very useful, especially when facing a much higher-rated opponent!

In addition to the aforementioned prizewinners, a total of five players (Dan Bock, Steffen Thieme, Shawn Bale, Gary Cote, and Garrett Allen) split the U2000 prize, each scoring 3/5 and receiving $90. Full standings with prizes from the Championship section can be viewed at this link.

U1800 Section

While the two GMs in the top section took shared first with a "mere" 4.5/5 points, the winners of both the U1800 and U1400 sections were less compromising, each scoring a perfect 5/5. In the U1800, the dominant performance came from Ishaan Ballal, who gained 101 points of USCF rating and won $600 for his clear first place finish.

Charlotte Chess Center Ishaan BallalU1800 winner Ishaan Ballal with his first place plaque.

Ballal clinched his 5/5 result with a win over Madhur Menghani in the last round. After a quiet opening, Ballal suddenly found play against his opponent's offsides bishop on a6. One inaccurate move by Menghani (24. Rc1) was all it took for black's position to become completely winning, as white soon went down a piece for very little compensation:

Geoff Charles and Jason Collett split the second/third place prize with 4/5. They each took home $250, while Will Howell won $300 as the top U1600 finisher. Zachary Smith and Kyle Barry tied for second among players rated under 1600, receiving $75 apiece.

Full standings with prize results from the U1800 section can be viewed here.

U1400 Section

With a perfect 5/5 score, Eldar Gabidoff took home the $600 first place prize in the U1400 section, gaining a whopping 154 USCF rating points in the process to earn a new peak of 1363. Gabidoff faced a gauntlet in this event, as four of his five opponents finished with at least three points. In the final prize standings, he scored victories against the players who finished in third, fourth, eighth, and tenth place.

Eldar Gabidoff Charlotte Chess CenterEldar Gabidoff celebrates his first place finish in the U1400 section. 

The only unfortunate part, from a spectator's perspective anyway, is that Gabidoff didn't get a chance to face off against second place finisher Charles Cameron. Cameron scored 4/4 in the games he played, but due to taking a half-point bye in the second round, he had to settle for runner-up with 4.5/5 overall. Still, with the $300 second place prize and over 100 points of USCF rating gain, it was a good weekend for Charles!

The last round matchup between Gabidoff and Alec Pickup decided first place. Despite the loss, Pickup's 4/5 score was good enough for third place and $200, while Nathaniel Blanquel also scored 4/5 and won $300 for finishing as the top U1200 player.

Our other winners in the U1400 were Wayne Walker and CCC Coach John Ratledge, who each scored 3/5 and tied for the top U1000 prize, earning $75 each. Full standings with prize results from the U1400 section can be viewed here, while the full USCF rating report is available at this link.

Congratulations to all winners, and a big thanks to Daniel Schipper for the photographs in this recap. We hope to see you all at future Charlotte Chess Center tournaments!


For upcoming Charlotte Chess Center tournaments, bookmark our Events Schedule. The CCC hosts nearly 8 events a week at our facilities in North and South Charlotte, along with bi-monthly major events such as the CCC Club Championship and the Carolinas Classic.

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NM Dennis Norman

Chess Coach - Club Journalist