American tour part 2: Van Wely wins in Berkeley

RobertRis
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American tour part 2: Van Wely wins in BerkeleyOur co-editor IM Robert Ris spent a few weeks in the United States, where he participated in two open tournaments. In his second and final report Robert tells about the Berkeley International Open, held in the famous university city on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay in Northern California and won by Dutch GM Loek van Wely.

By IM Robert Ris

After a short break in Los Angeles, visiting Staples Center for a Lakers game, the next stop (and unfortunately the last, for the moment) of my American tour was Berkeley, where the Berkeley International was scheduled to take place from 2-8 January.




Berkeley is a quiet town in the San Francisco area, where around 30,000 students attend university. As you’d expect from a real student city the town centre caters for a wide range of different cuisines. Going uphill you get a wonderful view over the Bay and its impressive skyline, weather conditions permitting. I went there on one of the free mornings, but due to the thick fog in the Bay Area I couldn’t spot any of the three huge bridges.

Berkeley, California and the University of California, Berkeley as seen from Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve | Photo Stephen Lea

Berkeley, California and the University of California, Berkeley as seen from Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve | Photo Stephen Lea



In the last few years the strength of the event has grown, reaching its latest peak in the current 4th edition. With a total of 58 players, of whom 11 were GMs and 13 IMs, the tournament is extremely attractive for norm seekers. Having a rating floor of 2100 (with a few exceptions made for talented youngsters) this event is without doubt one of the strongest tournaments ever held in California. Given such a small field it's noteworthy that 20 different nationalities featured, explained by the fact that numerous foreigners enjoy the privilege of a scholarship.

Berkeley Chess SchoolSuch an impressive field of participants doesn't come about without organization that is at least as impressive. The Berkeley Chess School was founded in 1982 by Elizabeth Shaughnessy, former Irish Women's Chess Champion and someone who has represented her country on several occasions. Since then, the BCS has been growing constantly and nowadays it provides over 5000 boys and girls in over 150 schools throughout the San Francisco Bay Area with chess instruction. A campaign has just been launched to establish the Berkeley Chess Education Center, with the aim of promoting chess as an educational tool and illustrating how our game can help us in other aspects of life. Having witnessed the immense pleasure with which the lessons are received by the kids, such an initiative must be embraced as a means of increasing the popularity of chess in our society.

During the event several other activities were arranged by the BCS as well. Simultaneous exhibitions were held by Kayden Troff (World U-12 silver medalist) and Uzbek GM Timur Gareev (2605), while trainer IM Daniel Rensch provided a 1-hour lecture for anyone interested on one of the free mornings. For the real chess fans, who still wanted more after 10 intense games, a blitz tournament was also organized after the final round.

After a 'mouse slip' in the first round, GM Van Wely (2676) broke away from the rest of the field by winning five consecutive games. The Dutchman was evidently delighted with his game against GM Josh Friedel, whose knight sacrifice on b5 in a Sicilian was instructively refuted. Van Wely also seemed pretty satisfied with his other games, even though luck was on his side when Indian GM Magesh Panchanathan (2537) blundered away a draw horribly with 67.Bd5?, while GM Robert Hess (2572) strangely refrained from 29...hxg4. He was soon left to regret his decision, as Van Wely gratefully exploited the presence of an extra pawn to open the kingside by 32.h6! followed by 33.c5!

Van Wely vs Hess, an exciting and crucial game

Van Wely vs Hess, an exciting and crucial game



After that setback, Hess didn't return to the top tables. America's hopes were based on local favorite and former World U-18 Champion Sam Shankland (2498). Having already passed the 2500-border, he only needed one more GM norm to fulfill all the requirements for obtaining the title. Remaining undefeated in the first seven rounds, his dream was almost destroyed by the efforts of Israeli GM Sergey Erenburg (2600), who gradually outplayed him in a rather tame line of the Najdorf. In the ninth round a draw wouldn't spoil anything, though he still needed to deal with... yes, Van Wely. Nightmares must have been spinning through his mind, as last May in Chicago the same opponent ruined his last norm chances in the final round.
Sam Shankland

Sam Shankland



According to Van Wely, he didn't want to hurt him another time and accepted a draw proposal on move 6. Shankland, seemingly relieved after two other norms had been declared invalid, believed that in the chosen line Black's chances of playing for more than equality aren't that high. However, when his opponent proposed resuming the game the request was quickly declined by America's newest GM!

Two other GM-norms were completed by the little known FM Keaton Kiewra (2337) and the title-less Denys Shmelov (2357). In the first round Kiewra rather easily withstood the pressure of Van Wely, while in the later rounds he managed to beat GMs Anatoly Bykhovsky (2510) and Robert Hess, amongst others.

Shmelov played on the top boards for the whole event and faced several heavyweights along the way. In the 4th round yours truly fell victim to a nasty opening trap:


Shmelov-Ris Berkeley 2011 Shmelov-RisHaving failed to remember the ins and outs of this tricky side-line, I chose the wrong way to regain the knight. 14...O-O-O? A theoretical mistake. Correct is 14... Rd8 15. e3 e5 16. Qe1 exd4 17. exd4+ Kf8 18. d5 Bxd5 19. Rxd5 Rxd5 20. Qe7+ Kxe7 21. Nxd5+ Kd6 22. Nxb6 axb6 with a drawish ending. 15. e3 e5 16. Nxc6! Rxd2 17. Ne7+ Kb8 17... Kd7 doesn't work in view of 18. Rxd2+ Kxe7 19. Nd5+. 18. Rxd2 and White's material advantage proved decisive.

In subsequent rounds he impressively demolished Croatian IM Davorin Kuljasevic (2545) and Erenburg, who failed to grab his chance to overtake Van Wely to lead the rankings. Going into the final round Van Wely led with 7 out of 9, and was trailed half a point back by a group of four pursuers. To avoid calculating which tiebreak system would suffice for tournament victory his task was pretty straightforward, and only a win against Shmelov would be acceptable. Steel nerves and experience guided KingLoek through a strategically complex Queen's-Indian and allowed him to claim unshared first place, which was rewarded with a cheque for $3,000. In a direct battle for silver, Erenburg won a tense endgame against Timur Gareev in the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez. Without having investigated all the nuances, I dare say both sides seemed to commit some mistakes under pressure. Fresh food for endgame experts!

Daniel Naroditsky

Daniel Naroditsky

Besides the three GM norms, others norms were also achieved. 14-year-old FM Daniel Naroditsky, who like GM Dejan Bojkov had just participated in the Groningen Chess Festival, scored a convincing IM-norm with 6.5 out of 10, as did his two year older compatriot FM Conrad Holt. For Roman Yankovsky, 6 out of 10 was just enough, due to the higher average rating of his opponents.

Woman's National Team member Tatev Abrahamyan started slowly, but in the final three rounds added wins against two IMs and local GM Jesse Kraai to her collection to secure a WGM norm.

And at the moment of writing, the author of these lines is already back and trying to overcome jetlag. I'd like to thank and congratulate the organizer, Arun Sharma, who is also a decent player in his own rights, as was confirmed in Las Vegas where he claimed the U2500 rating prize. Despite the heating system in the playing hall working overtime, the conditions were pretty good. During the rounds the players were provided with beverages and little snacks, which seemingly stimulated the fighting spirit of the players. Let's see what the future of this tournament will bring when enough support for the Berkeley Chess Education Center can be generated!

Berkeley International 2011 | Final Standings (top 30)
Berkeley International 2011 | Final Standings (top 30)


Selection of games, several briefly annotated



Game viewer by ChessTempo


Van Wely vs Hess, an exciting and crucial game

Tournament winner GM Loek van Wely and his girlfriend WIM Lorena Zepeda chatting with the author of this report



Photos © Wim Ris & Inga Gurevich



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