The Magic of the World Open Chess Tournament

What makes The World Open such a different tournament? Well… in New in Chess (2002, No. 6), GM Jonathan Rowson gave his view on what makes it different… his words were biting, but bore a bit of sarcastic humor. Nevertheless, it is evident that the World Open means different things to different players.

For many players, it is a chance to travel and compete against the best in the world; for others, it is a nice vacation in an idyllic city in the peak of summer; for the rest, it is a place to make money in a variety of activities: hustling blitz, selling books, t-shirts and other wares.

If one looks at the Adam's Mark hotel (above right), it sits majestically  on a perch and is always manned by courteous employees who all appear to be striking in appearance.  As a player, one must do a bit a strategizing and make sure that a room on a low floor is requested incase the stairwell is needed. Elevators are not practical in the rush before the round. 

The Adam's Mark Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia's Adam's Mark

The playing site is a literal festival as players and their guests are milling about. The electricity can be felt from excitement. Many reunions are made between players who have not seen each other since the last World Open or perhaps many years. There is always smile, laughter and excitement… at least in the beginning of the tournament.

Right before the round, players rush to the pairing room in anticipation of the posted charts. This room is a friendly place of fellowship and of healing because players become reacquainted and are often discussing games or openings. Amidst all the pleasantries, one can hear the most common phrase, "I had a won game, but…" This statement is uttered ad nauseum, but there are many players from whom one can get a sympathetic ear. We've all been there.

Finally… the Tournament Director enters the room, posts the pairing chart. Adrenaline begins pumping as the players push, jostle and  crane their necks to get a better view. They feverishly jot their opponent's name down and bolt out the door for the ensuing battle. The week of trial and tribulation begins!

As one walks past the skittles room, there is the constant staccato of chess clocks being punched during blitz encounters. There is also the acrid smell of cigarette smoke wafting about the room. The skittles room is a popular spot at the World Open because it's where the fierce blitz and bughouse battles take place.

There is always something happening in this room and players have been known to play through the night on nothing more than pizza, beer and soda. Trash-talking is rampant and dollars bills can be seen floating back and forth during fierce blitz battles.

Strong players enter the room offering all types of odds which gives rise to an entertaining spectacle. This year,
GM Hikaru Nakamura (pictured left), IM Greg Shahade, FM Daniel Fernandez were a few who astounded onlookers with their lightening reflexes… last year it was 1-minute champion, GM Roland Schmaltz.

Lull before the Storm… the Pairing Room
Blitz Battle in Progress!
GM Hikaru Nakamura giving 5:1 blitz odds!

During this nine rounds of chess, a constant reassessment is made of what chess means to us. Some of us may decide after a couple of losses that we are not as strong as we thought. In fact, the World Open seems to make mincemeat of legendary street hustlers who feel that their blitz skills and reputation will net them thousands of dollars. Not so! Certainly we may have won a few tournaments back home, or have won hundreds of dollars on the street, but at the World Open, nobody fears you! This fact brings a certain dose of reality and forces each player to play hard or suffer humiliation at the bottom of the wall chart. It's no wonder that so many brilliant games are produced at this tournament.

During the tournament, there is the usual "star-gazing" at some of the world's best chess players. It is interesting to see Grandmasters enter the skittles room to analyze a game in full view. This type of accessibility is usually not afforded to the average player, but the conditions of the hotel make it possible. The food vendors  outside the playing area also add to the informal atmosphere as all types of players fill up on hotdogs, pizza, chips and soda in between rounds. After the tournament last year,
GM Maurice Ashley took off his suit and was seen playing hacky-sack with a group of his fans. He then played a round of pickup soccer outside the hotel! At what other U.S. tournament can you have this type of atmosphere?

The Open Section The stars are out: GM Zsuzsa Polgar made a cameo appearance.

The Open Section

The stars are out: GM Zsuzsa Polgar made a cameo appearance.

Not all is rosy at the Adam's Mark. Of course, last year's controversies are well-known by now. This year another cheating allegation was made by a player who claimed his opponent was helped by guys who set up their position on a board within sight. The accused player did not know the offenders, but stated that the basis of the allegation was that he and the offenders were Black… therefore the assumption is that there must've been something going on.  A heated argument ensued, but it simmered down without further incident or penalty.

Another incident involved
Erez Klein and GM Hikaru Nakamura when Klein claimed "insufficient losing chances" in a N+R vs. B+R ending. Tournament Director Carol Jarecki set a new clock for time delay and deducted half of Klein's time after which he summarily hung his knight. Klein went into an emotional tirade and vowed to appeal Jarecki's ruling. He also made some other not-so-nice comments at Nakamura. In a place with 2000 people (players and guests) and such high intensity, there is bound to be some type of human conflict.

What is perhaps most interesting is that the World Open provides a sheltered environment for one week from the rest of the world. A world that could never understand why 1500 players are excited about a "board game" with strange-looking pieces.  It's truly a different world. In this 23-story building, dreams are realized and crushed. Friends are made, as well as a few enemies. After the week of competition, everyone leaves the Adam's Mark to return to their own world… miles apart from each other in distance and perhaps in lifestyle.

It's interesting to note that players who are recognized stars at the World Open, become ordinary humans as soon as they step into the taxi and leave the hotel. On the other hand, some players who serve as  weekend punching bags at chess, return to their world of influence and power as lawyers, doctors, scientists, professors, managers and diplomats. Quite a paradox! What is magical about the World Open is the hope it gives players both over the board and to a lesser extent, hope that a better fortune awaits them in life. See you next year!

Back to World Open Information Center

Posted by The Chess Drum: 11 July 2003