Ehlvest, Shabalov win Chicago Open

Amidst stormy weather and floods in the surrounding Chicago area, approximately 700 players braved the conditions to play in the Chicago Open. Traditionally held on Memorial Day weekend in the suburban enclave of Oakbrook, Illinois, top guns came to battle it out for a $100,000 prize fund and a possible qualification to the U.S. Championship.

After six rounds of play, six players had 5-1 scores which meant that games would be hard fought.  The final round pairings were:
Jaan Ehlvest (2701 USCF) vs. Vitali Golod (2788 USCF); Alexander Shabalov (2701 USCF) vs. Hikaru Nakamura (2632 USCF); Varuzhan Akobian (2604 USCF)  vs. Alexander Goldin (2701 USCF).

Shabalov vs. Nakamura (forefront)
Ehlvest vs. Golod (background)

Akobian vs. Goldin

While Akobian and Goldin reached a truce, the top two boards were decisive. On board two, Shabalov and Nakamura featured two of America's favorites among chess fans… both are admired for their exciting style of play. At the 2003 U.S. Championship, Shabalov had praised Nakamura at the closing ceremonies and joked that he has already become one of his victims. However, on this occasion, the defending U.S. champion rode to victory.  On the top board, Ehlvest's nerves of steel outlasted the top-seed from Israel. Both Shabalov and Ehlvest ended with 6-1 and played a blitz tiebreak to determine the winner. Ehlvest accepted the black pieces and a 7-5 time disadvantage and won the tiebreaking game. He was declared the winner.

In surprising news, second-ranked
GM Igor Novikov (2726 USCF) exited the tournament after two losses to Belarus IM Stanis Smetankin (2526 USCF) and FM Daniel Fernandez (2342 USCF). While IM Benjamin Finegold (2611 USCF) and 17-year old FM Joshua Friedel (2436 USCF) qualified for the U.S. Championship, perhaps the biggest story of the tournament was the qualification of Armenian-born Chouchanik Airapetian (2066 USCF). After scoring only one point in the first three rounds, she defeated NM Shivkumar Shivaji (2279 USCF), NM Marc Esserman (2294 USCF), IM Justin Sarkar (2396 USCF) and IM-elect Stephen Muhammad (2420 USCF) to qualify. There are four spots, including one for the women's highest scorer, However, Airapetian's score was good enough for an overall qualification.  According to a press release found at

"If Airapetian is considered an overall qualifier, the women's spot would go to Tatiana Vayserberg (2036), who lost her first three games but then matched Airapetian's 4-0 result in the last four rounds, beating Tsyganov (2290) and Betaneli (2250) in the two final games. If Airapetian is considered the women's qualifier, the fourth overall spot would go to IM Dmitry Schneider.  Presumably the sponsor of the US Championships, America's Foundation for Chess, will decide."

In the Expert section, another story rocked the chess halls as 1897-rated Tony Cao was devastating the field with 5˝-˝ before losing to eventual winner Victor Lipman (2198 USCF) in the final round. The 13-year old scholastic star beat five experts including the top seed in Movses Movisisyan (2199 USCF) and Dr. Okechukwu Iwu (2174 USCF). Cao would finish with a 2349 performance and add over 100 points to his rating.

Lawyer Times took clear 2nd with 6-1 after re-entering and playing in the quick schedule. Attempting to reclaim his Master's rating, the Boston native beat Martin Nilsson in the final round to win at hefty $3000.00.  Times, who is not a lawyer by profession, was in a melancholy mood as he talked about the enjoyment he gets from the various lawyer jokes he has had thrown at him. 

The ever-personable Times also brought up a nostalgic point by mentioning that he was a high school team mate of 
IM Sandeep Joshi when they won the national title in 1983. Besides Joshi's spectacular scholastic career, Times mentioned the huge amount of tournament winnings (in each section) that Joshi collected in his junior days. While Joshi no longer competes in tournaments, Times has apparently learned something from his old friend.

13-year old Tony Cao

Lawyer Times (maroon shirt)

Standings (all sections)

Photo Gallery

The Chess Drum, "Nigeria's Adu blazes Chicago field!" 1 June 2004.
The Chess Drum, "Scholastic Stars flood Chicago Open! " 2 June 2004.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 2 June 2004