2019 Missouri Class Championship
The tournament begins! Round 1 action at the Missouri Class Championship.

2019 Missouri Class Championship


The 2019 edition of the Missouri Class Championship was held June 22-23 in Springfield, Mo.  The Missouri State University Chess Club hosted the two-day event in the spacious Plaster Student Union building.  The Class Championships have been held as an annual tournament since the 1980's, and according to Chief TD Bob Howe, they have always produced exciting chess and tough competition.  This year would be no different as 76 players competed in five rounds over two days for the state title in their respective class.  The competition included many players from all over Missouri, but also several players from states like Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa and even Nebraska!  As it turned out, all of the class championships would be in contention right to the end of the tournament, making the excitement and tension palpable.

The tension in Round 4 could be cut with a knife!

Unlike the other sections, the Novice section was only four rounds long, but the tension was evident throughout the event.  As the end approached, two players were making their presence known.  Both Faith Collins (1003) and CJ Elam (1010) were on a perfect 3-0 score and  would eventually decide things in the fourth and final round.  In their game, Collins was able to grab a free pawn on the queen-side after an oversight by Elam on move 23.  This would allow Black's b-pawn to be pushed, and ultimately promoted, on move 44.  Though in something of a time crunch at the end, Collins was able to make her massive material advantage pay off with a win and the Novice title.  

Round 1 in the Novice section. | Photo by: Martin Stahl

After winning the title Collins said she had to work hard in all the rounds to secure victory as her opponents put up serious resistance in every game.  When asked about the moment she thought the title was hers, she replied, "I was not sure until the end, when I had my rook on the 8th rank and a pawn on the 7th rank, ready to queen."  If that's not a winning set-up, what is?  Her favorite player, Josh Waitzkin, couldn't have done it better. 

In the Class D section, several players were vying for the title on the final day.  The first round on Sunday (Round 4) resulted in four players having a legitimate shot of winning the Class D title.  The group was led by Sirvan Salehzadeh (1254) and Edison Zhou (1249), both at 3.5/4.  Chengxi Li (1282) and Grant Johnson (1225) had respectable 3/4 scores going into Round 5.  The final round match ups, Johnson-Li and Zhou-Salehzadeh, were lively from the outset, all players keenly aware of what was at stake.  None of the players could rest on their laurels and play for a draw, as that might not be enough to take home the crown.  In fact, after Grant Johnson won his game it was clear a draw in the other game would produce a three-way tie for first.  Thus, the pressure was on both Salehzadeh and Zhou to push hard for a win without losing - never an easy task, especially with the championship on the line. 

Sirvan Salehzadeh wins the D Class championship in style!
| Photo courtesy of the MCA Facebook page 

For the first ten moves everything was more or less equal, though our engine friends give White a slight advantage.  However, Black's eleventh move (11. ...Nh5) swung the advantage decidedly in White's favor, but Zhou was unable to find the critical continuation and his advantage vanished.  Zhou would go on to make several inaccurate moves that gave Salehzadeh a decisive edge.  Following a serious blunder on move 33 it was clear Zhou would be unable to salvage a draw from the position.  Salehzadeh would finish the game in fine style, delivering mate with his h-pawn!  Coupled with his checkmate win in Round 2 against eventual second-place finisher Grant Johnson, Salehzadeh has the unique distinction of putting together a championship run by delivering checkmate to his two most serious challengers.  A truly dominate way to win the Class D Championship for the MSU Chess Club member! 

After winning his Class, Salehzadeh indicated that he was not quite sure of victory in Round 5 until late in the game when his pawn continued to encroach on White's position, reducing the White King to a state of utter passivity.  Despite delivering checkmate in two games, Salehzadeh says the competition was keen, especially from some of the younger players.  He plans to play in next year's Class Championship, telling the author, "I liked this tournament since it was classified based on the ratings of the chess players, which means anyone has a chance to compete.  It was the first time for me to be in such a tournament."  A regular at the MSU Chess Club, Salehzadeh will no doubt continue to improve for next year's tournament - channeling his favorite player, Kasparov, as he tries to best the other MSU Club members during the upcoming Fall and Spring semesters! 

Players in the Class C section had to contend with Robert Talbot (1500) who was on fire in the first four rounds, posting a lofty 4/4 and setting himself up nicely for the Class C title going into Round 5.  Close on his heels was Riley Shoaf (1520) whose 3/4 score was enough to give him a chance to tie for first if he won and Talbot lost in their Round 5 match-up.  As it turned out, however, the Shoaf-Talbot  showdown in the last round was a fairly standard draw.   Talbot won his class with the very impressive score of 4.5/5. 

Robert Talbot receives the Class C Championship plaque from Chief TD Bob Howe. Victory!
| Photo courtesy of Joplin Chess Club's Facebook page.

Below is Talbot's win from Round 4 against Matthew Manley (1515).  Going into the round Manley only trailed the leader by a half point, so he knew a win would be crucial to preserve any likelihood of winning the tournament.  Talbot had other ideas however, not wasting his chances when opportunities were presented.  Whether the irregular opening chosen by White directly led to a win is debatable.  What can be said for certain is that Talbot made more out of his opponent's mistakes than his opponent did his missteps.  Despite losing this game, Manley would go on to tie for third place. 

The Class B Championship produced some very hard fought battles, several of which were the last games to finish in different rounds.  Going into day two there were four players sitting on 2.5/3, including Behrooz Vakil (1781), Brian Rude (1769), Daniel Todd (1738) and Max Xu (1596).  They key match ups in Round 4 were Rude-Vakil and Xu-Todd.  Xu would emerge victorious in his fourth round game after a sound game by both players.  In the Rude-Vakil match-up (see game below), several instructional themes popped up, like the importance of establishing/preventing outposts, gaining space in the center and restricting the mobility of the opponent's Bishop. Vakil made better use of his opportunities and once his Queen dove deep into White's position Rude was obliged to acknowledge defeat.  Other players in the B Class had not given up hope.  A Round 4 victory pushed Caleb Taylor (1766) closer to the lead, putting him only one-half point behind Vakil and Xu after their Round 4 wins.  As in the other sections, Class B had an exciting Round 5 in store.   

Vakil and Xu would ultimately win their 5th Round games, but not without some serious resistance from their opponents.  Vakil faced Caleb Taylor in the final round, unfortunately for Taylor, he would not be able to pull out another win like he did in the previous round.  Vakil's piece and pawn play with White was too much and Black would eventually be forced to resign.  

Xu faced off against Brian Rude in Round 5.  After another well-contested game, Xu would emerge victorious and secure a tie for first with a strong 4.5/5 score.  A very impressive performance considering Xu's rating at the start of the tournament placed him in the middle of Class B pack. 

For Class A players, both days of the tournament were filled with long struggles, tough draws and several key wins.  At the close of the first day of competition, no fewer than six players had reasonable chances of winning the championship!  Leading the "A-team" at 2.5/3 was Jared Bray (1891), Ankith Sheshappa (1860), and Sameeth Sheshappa (1753).  Three other players were clustered in second place with scores of 2/3 - Troy Curfman (1808), Ethan Stech (1792), and David Slayer (1756).  In Round 4, Bray put up very stiff resistance with the White pieces against A. Sheshappa, but would ultimately be bested as the game came to an end. The other leader, S. Sheshappa, won a good game in the fourth round against Stech.  Thus, the Sheshappa brothers would go into the final round as co-leaders.  

In the deciding Round 5, A. Sheshappa won his game against Aidan Johnson (1728).  His younger brother would not be so fortunate.  Though he played a good game, the best result he could get from his contest with Troy Curfman was a half point.  A. Sheshappa won his section with the very strong score of 4.5/5, but since he is not a Missouri resident the plaque was given to the highest scoring A Class player from Missouri, which was Jared Bray.

Jared Bray claims the Class A plaque! Awesome!
| Photo courtesy of the MCA Facebook page

*The author is attempting to secure the moves for some of the games from the A Class and will post them here once they are received. 

The Master/Expert section was comprised of some very strong, solid players and produced several instructive games.  After the first day, two players sat atop the field with scores of 2.5/3 - Tim McEntee (2200) from Iowa and Isaiah Gadson (2136), from Missouri.  Trailing by only a half point was Ronald Luther (2221) at 2/3, with John Peterson (2142) a full point off the leaders at 1.5/3.  The fourth round, so crucial in many of the other class sections, was also important in the M/X section.  After the first game on Sunday, there was a shuffling of the leaders that would hold through the fifth and final round.  The Round 4 match-up Peterson-Gadson eventually fizzled out to a draw, but Peterson was able to win his Round 5 game against Oscar Wang (1916) from Oklahoma and end the tournament at 3/5 and tied for second place with McEntee.  As for Gadson, he would draw his fifth round game against Tim Blaco (1911), but the draw was good enough to keep him in a tie for first place once the dust settled.  

Isaiah Gadson tied for 1st in the M/X section. Congrats!
| Photo courtesy of the MCA Facebook page

The other player to tie for first in the M/X section was Ronald Luther.  After losing his second round game against Gadson he would have to work hard if he wanted a shot at first place.  On top of that, he was taking a bye in Round 5, so grabbing full points was the only option.  Luther proved to be up to the task, winning his game in Round 3 against Oscar Wang and his Round 4 game against the very dangerous Tim McEntee.  Despite losing his game to Luther, McEntee would go on to tie for second with John Peterson at 3/5. 

Fortunately for readers, USCF Life Master, 11-Time and current Missouri State Champion, Ronald Luther, graciously agreed to share not only the moves of his game with Tim McEntee, but also to provide analysis of the game.  All notes and variations in the game listed below come from Luther's brain. 


At the conclusion of the tournament, Chief TD Bob Howe handed out the prizes and plaques to the deserving combatants, ending a fun, smooth and very well-run class tournament.  Incidentally, this year's Class Championship drew about three times as many players compared to the last time the tournament was in Springfield.  A very good sign for chess in Missouri!

The Missouri State Chess Club would like to thank all those who participated, as well as the tournament directors, and offers a most hearty congratulations to all the 2019 Class Champions!  


"Action Shots" at the 2019 Missouri Class Championship

Mathew Hammons and Michael Pugachev fought to a draw in this game.  The other Class C and D players at the table were fighting for the advantage in the important fourth round.

Rd. 3 at the 2019 Missouri Class Championship. | Photo by Matt Hammons

Riley Shoaf had the Black pieces against Laurence Coker in Rd. 4. Shoaf would go on to win the game.

The Sheshappa brothers had a strong performance in the Class A section. Sameeth Sheshappa (front left) took 2nd Place and Ankith (seated to Sameeth's left) finished in 1st Place.

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