Chicago Open excites… OTB in full swing!

The anticipation was high and many eagerly awaited the moment when over-the-board (OTB) chess would return. The Continental Chess Association (CCA) announced that they were be hosting a full slate of tournaments for 2021 year, but for the Chicago Open, there would be restrictions. David Hater mentioned in his report on that were varied impressions on the conditions at the first CCA tournament in over a year.

Wheeling Westin

While most players were appreciative that OTB chess had returned, there was a split between those who felt the event went too far with COVID restrictions, and others not enough. Masks were required and social distancing was encouraged, with most players accepting these as necessary regulations. On the bright side, everyone played at their own six-foot table, so playing conditions were very spacious! (link)

GM Dariusz Swiercz during 2019 Chicago Open. This tournament would turn out much better! Photo by Daaim Shabazz

It is interesting that the 15-month break from OTB chess had cause organizers to implement measures that were long overdue. It would seem that sanitized chess pieces and regular hand-washing would be normal in an activity where germs are exchanged constantly.

Playing one game to a table is yet another improvement, but of course, it is limited because of space. A total of 559 players participated for the $100,000 prize fund. Despite these conditions, several Grandmasters (including winner Dariusz Swiercz) made the trip from St. Louis.

Swiercz (2649), who famously won the 2016 Millionaire Chess Open, started the tournament off with four wins and then +1 in the last five rounds for the victory and 7/9. Following are a few of his wins…

However, the final winner was in doubt as GMs Olexandr Bortnyk (2598) and Christopher Repka (2497) along with International Master Robby Kevlishvili (2495) had a chance to enter the winner’s circle, but none were able to break through. All ended on 6.5/9.

IM-elect Justus Williams
Photo by Justus Williams (Facebook)

Phenom Awonder Liang (2592) stumbled in the second round losing to IM-elect Justus Williams (2328), but got a key win over Alexander Shabalov (2528) to finish 6/9, as did Williams. Here is the Liang-Williams encounter.

Another player to watch was Hans Neimann (2546) who earned the GM title earlier this year, but was long a fixture in top scholastic events. He has now joined the upper echelon of U.S. chess and takes down a legend.

It seems interesting that Shabalov is one of the oldest players on the circuit. It wasn’t long ago that he was a budding star trotting out his Latvian brand of attacking chess. The four-time U.S. Champion later admitted because of computers, it is not possible to play in that style. Today, he has become more universal and has added to his longevity. His 5.5/9 in a pack of young lions was a respectable result.

There were some notable performances for readers of The Chess Drum community. National Master and streaming sensation Jimmy Canty III (2210) got a 50% score in the tough Open section. He was slowed by a series of draws to young upstarts, but got a chance to measure himself in the first round against GM Liang.

In the under-2300 section, Aakaash Meduri (2130) scored a solid +2 result (including a win over Chicago Chess Blitzer teammate Daniel Muhammad), finishing in the prize money. Muhammad (2207) and James Neal (2174) of Iowa both scored +1 or 4/7.

Stephen Jennings (under-1900) and Kameron Tolliver (under-2100) won their sections. Jennings shared joint 1st with Danilo Bucal. Photo by Nathan Kelly from 2018 CCB event.

There were a couple of fantastic results. In the under-2100, Detroit’s Kameron Tolliver (2029) crushed the field with six wins in a row before clinching the section with a draw with Tony Davis (2072) of Arkansas. Davis, a nine-time Arkansas champion, finished 2nd with 6/7.

Tony Davis, 9-time Arkansas champion
Photo by Brian Chilson

Also in the under-2100 section, Jimi Akintonde (2083) also performed well with 5/7. Jessica Hyatt (2058), the highest-rated African-American female player, finished with 4.5/7. In the under-1900, Stephen Jennings (1824) overcame an early loss scored points in his last five rounds. He defeated co-winner Danilo Bucal (1799) in the last round to split 1st and 2nd. In the under-1700, Dominic Johnson (1652) got 5.5/7 for a share of 4th while CCB member Malik Brewley (1690) ended on a respectable 4.5/7.

Winners for the 30th Annual Chicago Open:

U2300: Caleb Denby, 6.5/7
U2100: Kameron Tolliver, 6.5/7
U1900: Stephen Jennings and Danilo Bucal, 6/7
U1700: Mohammad Khan, Theodore Epstein, and Aaron Marian, 6/7
U1500: Louisa Zhang, 6.5/7
U1250: Nathan Melnikov, 7/7
Mixed Doubles: Badakhand Norovsambuu and Max Zinski; Nura Baala and Aditya Gupta,10.5/14
Blitz: FM Aydin Turgut, 9/10

Chief Director: Boyd Reed
Assitant Directors: David Hater, Steve Immitt, Jeff Wiewel, Jeff Smith, Tracey Vibbert, Terry Winchester, Chris Baumgarter, Adam Rubinberg, Harold Scott, Gary Janssen, Danny Rohde, and Steve Plotnick



  1. IM-elect Williams got a nice chunk of fide points. Another performance like that could cross the 2400 fide threshold.

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