The Chicago Open has become a marquee tournament in the U.S. circuit and since 2008 has taken place in the city of Wheeling at the Westin Hotel. In the 15th edition, Zhou Jianchou won first with superior tiebreaks in a three-way tie with GMs Awonder Liang and Emilio Cordova.
GM Zhou Jianchou at the 2016 Chicago Open
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
While the tournament no longer draws the upper echelon 2700+ players, the tournament had an international flavor including many international students and two players from Cuba. To show how different things were then, Hikaru Nakamura was once a regular and Gabriel Sargissian played and won in 2012 and 2014. Finally, Jeffrey Xiong made his breakthrough in 2015 (repeating in 2022) while Ju Wenjun and Yu Yangyi played in 2016.
By looking at tournament halls today, what has become evident was that the sporting aspect of chess has gotten much younger. An eye test of the large playing hall showed approximately half of the players of school age. These players were literally a “Who’s Who” of the top 100 scholastic players. Awonder Liang is still among this under-21 group, but now as a University of Chicago economics student, he is watching the rise of the new generation of young players.
GM Awonder Liang, a former world under-8 champion
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
As the top-seed (2651) Liang showed them how it’s down by sharing first place with China’s Jianchao Zhou (2555) and Peru’s Emilio Cordova (2543), ending on 7/9. Zhou was once a top-100 player back in 2010 and played for the Chinese Olympiad team that year. He has been spending a lot of time in the U.S. and showed why he is always a threat to compete for top honors.
After four consecutive draws, Zhou went into round eight with 5/7 and faced Illinois scholastic player IM Dimitar Mardov. The Nimzo-Indian turned into a complicated middlegame with Mardov sacrificing material to get to the white king. It may have been a bit too ambitious. Zhou returned material giving up an exchange for a pawn on d7, a proverbial bone in the throat of black’s position. Black eventually had to return massive material to stave off an attack on the exposed king, but it would not be enough and Zhou was able to secure the full point.
In the next round, Zhou played fellow front-ender Fidel Corrales (6/8) in a Sicilian Najdorf into sort of a Rauzer. Below is a famililar Sicilian position with white expansion on the kingside, but where black has castled queenside.
In this phases of the game a few inaccuraces were exchanged. White continued with 14.g5 (which engines frowned upon) and after 14…hxg5 15.hxg5 Qg7 16.Rg1 Be7 17.Kb1 d5 18.exd5 exd5 with tremendous activity and bishop pair. As the game progressed, it was clear that something had gone wrong for white and black started to play for the initiative.
Corrales’ position collapsed after 31.Ng3 Bxd3 when black pieces just started flooding into the white camp the game ended in a mating attack. This would give Zhou 7/9. Both Cordova and Liang won their games over GM Grzegorz Nasuta and IM Liordis Quesada Vera. Cuban national Vera had a solid performance losing only to Mardov and went into the last round with optimism. However, Liang outplayed him in a complicated English Opening.
Cordova arrived at 7/9 using the “Swiss Gambit” after losing to Avi Kaplan in round 1! Not only was the Peruvian shocked in the opening after 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b4!? Cordova seemed to get a comfortable game, but after 17…e5?! he began to slip just a bit. White tried seized the initiative after 20.exf5 Rxf5 21.d4. Cordova tried sacrificing the exchange to blow white’s kingside and succeeded, but there was not enough compensation.
While such an upset is noteworthy, Cordova came roaring back and scored keys wins over and IM Sam Schmakel and previously undefeated GM Grzegorz Nasuta.
With this victory Cordova got a a share for first. In this tournament, there were no blitz tiebreakers, so the order was Zhou, Cordova, Liang.
Faces in the Crowd
There were some outstanding performances including Harshid Kunka‘s IM norm. There was a cadre of juniors playing on the top boards throughout including the aforementioned Mardov. The Chess Drum audience will have read about Brewington Hardaway and Tani Adewumi. Both were playing on the top boards throughout and a poised to secure additional titles.
Brewington Hardaway and Tanitoluwa Adewumi had solid results
Photo by Nathan Kelly
Tani got off to a hot start beating two Grandmasters in the first half including this one against Alexander Shabalov. There was a nice tactic at the end where the former U.S. champion loses a piece.
Brewington played an interesting game here with 32.Rxd4! and a mating attack on the black king in the middle of the board!
Editor’s note: I conducted interviews of Jimmy Canty, Oleiny Linares, and Adia Onyango. From somewhere approaching Japan, stay tuned!