Of all the Independence Day celebrations held across the US this past week, the nation’s birthplace in Philadelphia – regarded as the “Cradle of the Revolution” – has the most meaning, with it being the stage for many epoch-making events of the emerging country: originally it was the first capital city of the US, the home of several prominent statesmen, and the site of one of the most famous patriotic symbols in the Liberty Bell.
But for chess-players, the Fourth of July in Philadelphia has another layer of meaning, because, for nearly half a century now, it has almost annually hosted there what’s universally regarded to be the biggest and richest Swiss Open tournaments in the world: the aptly-named World Open. In the 1960s, when Bill Goichberg’s Continental Chess Association big-bucks tournaments – held in hotel ballrooms rather than in chess clubs – began to proliferate in America, Pal Benko was the first Swiss king. He was dethroned by Walter Browne in the 1970s and, after the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, the title was shared by Alex Shabalov and Alex Yermolinsky.
But of all the CCA Swiss Opens, the biggest, richest and most coveted title of all is the World Open. The inaugural event was held in 1973 in New York and won by Browne. The event stayed in NYC for the next three years, and the title won by Bent Larsen, Benko and Anatoly Lein respectively. In 1976, the World Open relocated to Philadelphia and – with the exception of eight further interludes – has become something of a regular Fourth of July tradition for chess-players right in the heart of the Cradle of the Revolution.
With a guaranteed $225,000 prize fund on offer for 11 different rating sections and 18 side events staged at the luxurious Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, the 47th edition of the annual event that ran 2-7 July was assured of a big turnout, with many grandmasters lured by the lucre offered in the marquee event – but like many previous editions, more often or not there’s never a clear-cut winner, and this year proved no different with a two-way tie for first place between GMs Liem Quang Le (Vietnam) and 18-year-old Jeffery Xiong of Texas, both unbeaten on 7.5/11. While the two main cash-prizes were split – both taking home $15,000 each – Le took the bragging rights to the venerable US Swiss title (and a playoff winner’s $500 bonus) after beating Xiong in an Armageddon playoff.
But the World Open did come with an added conciliation prize for the rising star of US Chess. Not only was it the biggest pay-day of Xiong’s career, the Texas teenager was also the youngest player ever to come in first place, and with it, he also turned in a milestone rating performance, gaining 11.5 rating points to become the sixth US player now rated over 2700, as he jumped nine places to world #35 on the unofficial live list.
Video: The Armageddon title playoff between Jeffery Xiong and Liem Quang Le | © Daaim Shabazz / The Chess Drum
GM Aleks Lenderman – GM Jeffery Xiong
47th World Open, (4)
King’s Indian Defence, Fianchetto Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0-0 e5 8.d5 Nb8 9.e4 a5 10.h3 Na6 11.Be3 Nh5 12.Ne1 Qe8 A key move that opens the way for …f5, as from e8 the queen indirectly defends the hanging Nh5. 13.Kh2 f5 14.Bf3 Nf6 15.Nd3 fxe4 16.Bxe4? Lenderman has either made a bad blunder or he has seriously misevaluated the position. Either way, this is strange, as the position was clearly calling out for 16.Nxe4! to be played with an equal game. 16…b5! With just one very accurate blow, Lenderman now finds himself struggling to stay in the game. 17.cxb5 Nxe4 18.Nxe4 Qxb5 19.Nc3 Qd7! White’s position is rapidly falling apart now; the weak link being the d5-pawn. 20.g4 Nb4 21.Nxb4 No better was 21.Nc1 Ba6 22.Re1 e4! 23.a3 (What else is there? If 23.Nxe4? Qf7 and when d5 falls, White’s position is set to implode with it.) 23…Nd3 24.Nxd3 Bxd3 and Black’s bishops dominate the position. 21…axb4 22.Ne4 Bb7 23.Qb3? White is in a bad way, but this move only makes the position worse. Lenderman has to grasp the fact that the d5-pawn is lost, and the only way to offer up resistance now was with 23.Ng5 Ra5 24.Ne6 Rf7 25.Nxg7 Kxg7 26.f4!? Rxd5 27.Qc2 and Black still has work to do to covert the win. 23…Qa4! [see diagram] And with one very precise reply to Lenderman’s blunder, Xiong highlights just how bad his opponent’s position really is. The point is that Lenderman can’t trade queens as d5 still hangs, and then there’s the added threat of doubling rooks on the a-file if White does allow the trade of queens on b3. Faced with this dilemma, Lenderman’s attempts to ‘mix it’ by giving up material, which fails. 24.Qc4 Ba6 25.Qxc7 If d6 falls, all might well not be lost for White. 25…Bxf1 26.Rxf1 b3! Another very accurate follow-up move to threaten the Ne4 and …bxa2, and now Lenderman must have realised that he’s doomed. 27.Nc3 Qa6 And now d6 is secure. 28.Ra1 Rf7 29.Qc6 e4! Xiong isn’t giving his opponent any chance whatsoever in this position. 30.a4 Qxc6 31.dxc6 Bxc3 32.bxc3 With the White queenside pawn structure now crippled, Xiong’s rooks will soon be picking the pawns off. 32…Rc7 33.Rb1 Rb8 34.a5 Rxc6 35.Bd4 Kf7 36.Kg3 Ke6! The simplest route to victory – there’s just no answer to the threat of …Kd5-Kc4. The rest of the game is academic now. 37.Kf4 Kd5 38.Ke3 Kc4 39.Kd2 Ra6 40.Bb6 Rbxb6 41.axb6 Rxb6 42.Rb2 Ra6 43.Kc1 Ra1+ 44.Rb1 Rxb1+ 45.Kxb1 Kxc3 0-1