Each summer, through early August, the U.S. Chess Federation sponsors and organizes one of the major events in its annual calendar, the U.S. Open Championship, a very popular national and also nation-wide tournament in which anyone can play. Originally, it started life as the “Western Open”, with its first edition held in Minnesota in 1900; the latest, the 119th U.S.Open recently concluded, running through July 28-August 5 in Madison, Wisconsin.
What separates this tournament from all the other tournaments is that each year, like a nomadic traveller, it moves around the country to different cities and states. And this indirectly led to one of the most amusing episodes in the U.S. Open’s long and storied history, when, in 1966, during its one and only visit to Seattle, held in what was then the Seattle Center Coliseum (now the Key Arena), part of a large and spiralling complex, as this also clashed with the Beatles returning to perform two shows at the same venue during their second and final U.S. tour.
But when the Tournament Director discovered all the mounting Beatlemania frenzy going on outside, he made the worst possible move he could, by unwisely opting to close all the floor-to-ceiling black curtains across the width of the room, so as not to disturb all those hard-thinking chess players. Trouble was, just as he’d drawn the curtains, the rumour quickly spread among the frenzied fans that John, Paul, George and Ringo had arrived, and they were using that building as their dressing room!
Mayhem soon ensued, as thousands of screaming fans started banging on the windows. The commotion was only cooled by a quick-thinking cop who ran into the tournament hall to hastily have the curtains re-opened again, where it revealed not the Fab Four to the screaming fans, but a somewhat bemused and bewildered room full of chess-heads.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there were no frenzied fans banging on the tournament hall windows this year, but there was certainly lots of frenzied play and mayhem at the board – particularly in the big final round top-board clash between the local hero and reigning U.S. Junior Champion, GM Awonder Liang, and GM Timur Gareyev, aka the “Blindfold King”, who currently holds the World Blindfold Chess simultaneous record.
In a dynamic, winner-take-all encounter that was more than a match for the occasion, Gareyev went on to beat Liang to win the title outright, as he top-scored on an unbeaten 8/9, a half point ahead of the all-GM pack of Ruifeng Li, Illia Nyzhnyk, Alexander Fishbein, Mackenzie Molner and Andrew Tang.
Photo: GM Timur Gareyev receives the winner’s trophy from USCF Executive Director Carol Meyer | © USCF
GM Awonder Liang – GM Timur Gareyev
US Open, (9)
Alekhine’s Defence, Exchange Variation
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.exd6 cxd6 6.c4 Nb6 7.Be2 Bg7 8.h3 The idea behind this is to stop Black from playing the annoying …Bg4 where after ..d5 White’s d-pawn comes under pressure – but it was soon found out that Black, with accurate and active play, has dynamic resources to hand. 8…0-0 9.0-0 Bf5 10.Nc3 Nc6 11.Be3 d5 It looks wrong to move the same pawn twice in the opening – but it is vital here, as it fixes White’s d-pawn and gives Black’s knight a good, active outpost on c4. 12.c5 Nc4 13.Bc1 The tactical justification for 12…Nc4 is soon seen after 13.Bxc4 dxc4 14.Qa4! e5!, as ably demonstrated in several key games by former US champion Lev Alburt, who was one of the first to show the best way for Black to handle this complex position. 13…b6! This is the key counterplay move, first played in the game Janosevic-Hort, Skopje 1968, that was soon discovered to keep Black’s tactical resources alive. 14.cxb6 The point behind 13…b6! is that the obvious 14.b3? gets hit with 14…bxc5! 15.bxc4 cxd4 16.Nxd5 d3! and, when the dust settles, Black will emerge with a material advantage. 14…axb6 15.Qb3 e6 16.Bxc4 Na5 17.Qd1 Nxc4 18.Qe2 There’s no time for 18.g4 as after 18…Be4 19.b3 Nd6, in the long-term, White’s fixed d-pawn will become a liability. 18…h5 19.Bg5 f6 20.Bf4 g5 21.Bh2 Qd7 22.b3 Na3! The knight is best-placed here, as it stops White from playing Nc3-b4-d6, and, in certain circumstances, even …Na3-c2 is awkward for White. 23.Rfc1?! The rook doesn’t ‘look right’ here – but I would imagine Liang was worried that, after 23.Na4, then Gareyev would have no hesitation in going for 23…Rxa4!? 24.bxa4 Nc2 25.Rac1 Qxa4 and the more dynamic prospects with his active pieces. 23…b5 The reason I said the rook didn’t ‘look right’ on c1 was that Black had better with 23…Bh6!, as his active pieces are now threatening to wreak havoc on White’s somewhat awkward position. But rather than this, Gareyev seems to have his mind set on making something of his burgeoning pawn centre. 24.Ne1 e5 25.Qd2 Rfc8 More logical was 25…e4 first followed by …Rfc8, as now White has an added resource with the hit on d5. 26.dxe5 d4 27.Nd1 Better was 27.Ne2!, as now after the somewhat forcing line 27…d3 28.Ng3 Bg6 29.Rxc8+ Rxc8 30.Rd1 Rd8 31.Qa5! the attack on the …Na3 (and potentially the …Rd8) means it all gets a little complicated for Black after 31…d2 32.Nf3 Nb1 33.e6! Qd3 34.Nf1 as it becomes increasingly difficult to defend his d-pawn. 27…fxe5 It’s a good last round gamble for all the marbles, with Black going ‘all-in’ that his central pawns, supported by his bishop-pair, is going to cause White enormous complications. 28.Qxg5 Qe6 29.Nf3 Nc2 30.Bxe5!? Liang wisely calculates that this is his only chance of staying in the game now, otherwise, he’s going to find life more than difficult after …e4 and …d3. 30…Qg6 31.Qxg6 Bxg6 32.Bxg7 Kxg7 33.Rab1 Rxa2 Black may well be a pawn down, but his pieces are all very active, and that d-pawn is far up the board and running. 34.Rb2 Raa8 Simple and much better was 34…Rxb2! 35.Nxb2 Rc3! 36.Ne5 Nb4 37.Rd1 Rxb3 38.Nxg6 Kxg6 39.Rd2 with Black having a big advantage – but in the heat of battle, I imagine that Gareyev, in assessing such positions, would have been concerned that White may well be able to salvage a draw by finding a way to sacrifice his knight for the two Black queenside pawns. 35.Ne5 Bh7 36.f4 d3 The problem for White is that his pieces are all so awkwardly placed – and that d-pawn doesn’t help matters! 37.Nf2 d2 [see diagram] As Aron Nimzowitsch was wont to remind us, “Passed pawns must be pushed!” 38.Rd1 Ne3 Liang is definitely having ‘a hard day’s knight’ of it with Black’s touring steed. 39.Rbxd2 Either way, White must lose material – and the exchange is the lesser evil. If 39.Rdxd2 Rc1+ 40.Nd1 (Certainly not 40.Kh2? Nf1+ 41.Kh1 Nxd2+ winning a whole rook due to the discovered check.) 40…Bf5! and there’s no way to avoid the loss of the pinned Nd1. 39…Nxd1 40.Rxd1 Rd8! 41.Rc1 Rac8! Gareyev’s rooks now dominate the board – and Liang can’t allow a trade, as his knights will never be able to successfully defend b3. 42.Ra1 Ra8 43.Rc1 Rac8 44.Ra1 Rd2?! The doubled rooks look good on the seventh – but easier and simpler was 44…Rf8! 45.g3 Rc3! and the Black rooks are going to easily pick off White’s pawns. 45.g4! Under the circumstances, this is the best practical chance for Liang to try to save the game. 45…Rcc2 46.Rf1 You should never miss the opportunity to activate a rook – and here, Liang could have tried 46.Ra7+ but all it does is prolong the game after 46…Kf8 47.Nd7+ Ke8 48.Nf6+ Kd8 49.Rxh7 Rxf2 50.Rh8+ Ke7 51.Nd5+ Kf7 52.Ne3 Rce2 53.Rxh5 Rxf4 54.Ng2 Rb4 55.Rf5+ Ke8 56.Rf3 and soon the b3-pawn will fall. 46…Re2 47.gxh5 Rb2 If it wasn’t for the fact that all his pawns are crippled, White may well have good drawing chances. 48.h6+ Kxh6 49.Nfg4+ Kg7 50.f5 Kf8 51.Nd3 The mating threats with the doubled rooks on the seventh has to be protected against, and for that reason, there was no tricky salvation in 51.Nd7+ Ke7 52.f6+ Kxd7 53.f7 as after 53…Rg2+ 54.Kh1 Be4! as Black will soon be mating, regardless of the f-pawn queening. 51…Rxb3 The rest is inevitable – all Black has to do, is avoid any potential forking snafus with the knights. 52.Nf4 Reb2 53.Ne6+ Ke8 54.Ng5 Bg8 55.Re1+ Kf8 56.Re5 Rg3+ 57.Kh1 Rd3 0-1 Liang resigns, as after 58.Re1 to avoid one mate, there comes 58…Bd5+ forcing another mate.