"Super Swiss" in Las Vegas

Chess Life - 1986 - Arthur Bisguier GM

Breakfast at Las Vegas’ Imperial Palace Hotel costs just 99 cents, but the spread of early-morning goodies is so bountiful that you feel as though you’ve already hit the jackpot. But at the National Open, held from March 14 to 16 at the Palace, four players shared a greater jackpot. The tournament’s Championship section finished as a "push" among GMs Walter Browne, Dmitry Gurevich, Sergey Kudrin and FM Joe Bradford. Each of the winners cashed chips worth $1,775. As good as the breakfast buffet looks, you had better leave some room, because lunch and dinner, weighing in at $2.99 and $3.99, would satisfy even the Chicago Bears’ William ("The Refrigerator") Perry. The Fridge would undoubtedly appreciate the National Open, for it is a tournament fashioned on his own Brobdingnagian scale. This year’s event brought 726 players to Vegas, of whom 237 played in the Championship section. Some of the participants were chess hungry and some were merely money hungry, while still others had appetites for the fast times and crazy dreams that the Strop offers, All of them, however, had their minds set on the main chance, the desire that makes Vegas tick. They wanted to win. But not everyone can be a winner. Many fearsome players were knocked off in this crapshoot. Four grandmasters (Larry Christiansen, Yehuda Gruenfeld, Leonid Shamkovich, and this writer) missed out on the big jackpot, as did ten international masters and a woman grandmaster. The tournament’s two biggest stories, in fact, centered on a pair of "also-rans"—namely, IM Kamran Shirazi and WGM Maria Ivanka. Want to see the cards the Dame Fortune dealt them? Read on.

Thanks to the diffusion of opening knowledge, it had become surprising when there are no early-round surprises in a national tournament. Yet that’s just what happened in Vegas. The ten highest-ranked competitors scored 20-0 (counting Shirazi’s first round bye) in the first two rounds. I don’t mean to imply, though, that every game in these two rounds was won by the higher-rated competitor. Seven experts also sported nifty 2-zip tallies, with each having beaten at least one master.

Traditionally, round three is shakedown time at the National Open. Bluffs are called, and those who don’t have winning hands fold. All seven of the 2-0 experts bit the dust, leaving them at 2-1. They were, however, in good company. Joining them at 2-1 were Christiansen, Gruenfeld, and this writer. With no further chance to break the tournament bank, we three grandmasters played on, hoping to recoup our original investments. We were dealt defeats by, respectively, NM Alfred Carlin of Louisiana, WGM Ivanka of Texas, and NM William Orton of California. Carlin’s victory over Christiansen had a poignant sidelight. Although the organizers provided clocks for use on the top boards, Carlin insisted on using his own. Naturally, a tournament director asked why he was being so stubborn. Carlin replied that the clock in question had been given to him by a low-rated friend who had subsequently died. He wanted to honor this friend by using his clock while playing a world-class opponent. Carlin was permitted to use his own clock, and the Louisianan showed his gratitude in striking fashion. One of the most welcome recent developments in world chess is the increasing skill of women. Just a few short years ago, a win by a woman against a grandmaster would have been regarded as a freak occurrence. Today, because of distaff stars such as world champion Maya Chiburdanidze, Pia Cramling, and Susan Polgar, there is respect for the pay of females. In this round, Maria Ivanka struck another blow for her gender. After weathering Gruenfeld’s Kingside onslaught, the lady became a tiger. The leaders after three rounds (3-0): GMs
Browne, Gurevich, Kudrin, Shamkovich; IMs Joel Benjamin, Boris Kogan, Susan Polgar, Shirazi; WGM Ivanka; FM Bradford; NMs Carlin, Orton and nine others.

The previous round was no fluke. That, at least, was what "upsetters" Carlin, Ivanka, and Orton set out to prove. And they came through with flying colors: Carlin drew with Filipino IM Cris Ramayrat, Orton garnered a half point against FM Robert Rowley, and Ivanka produced another ace from up her sleeve, this time in the form of a victory over GM Shamkovich. With husband and children there to cheer her ion, this Hungarian lady put on her own Las Vegas stage show! Only three other contestants kept their scores unmarred: IM Joel Benjamin (the top-ranked participant), Kamran Shirazi, and Walter Browne. Gurevich, on the other hand, was lucky to escape with a draw against 16-year-old Hungarian IM Polgar, while IM Boris Logan, Bradford, and Kudrin were held to half points by IM Nikolay Minev, NM David Gliksman (a star of the 1985 New York Open International section), and NM James Maki. The leaders after four rounds: GM Browne, IMs Benjamin and Shirazi, and WGM Ivanka, 4; GMs Gurevich and Kudrin, IMs Kogan, Minev, Polgar, and Ramayrat, FM Bradford, SM Gliksman, and NMs Carlin, Gliksman, Steve Greanias, Maki, Orton, and six others, 3 ˝. Maria Ivanka’s victim, GM Leonid Shamkovich, completely outplayed her in the opening, but she fought back valiantly, sacrificing two pawns. Finally, in the helter0skelter of time pressure, she downed the renowned attacker. For her impressive comeback in this game, Maria was awarded a Benjamin Hames prize of $100, courtesy of Dr, Ronald Hames.

By dismantling Benjamin in this round Iranian-cum-Californian Shirazi threatened to rake in all the chips. He took a clear lead when Ivanka-Browne concluded peacefully. Ivanka, who had thus far scored 2 ˝- ˝ against grandmasters, was with a 4 ˝ - ˝ tally, in the thick of the battle heading into the final round. Two national masters also found themselves in this lofty position: William Orton, who defeated Cris Ramayrat, and Steve Greanias of Virginia, who mastered Robert Rowley. Could Kamran "the Shah" Shirazi, King of the California Swisses, sweep his way to a Las Vegas jackpot? Would Ivanka continue the best female performance on American soil since Nona Gaprindashvili tied for first at Lone Pine in 1977? One last spin of the wheel would tell all. But, tension was also high during this penultimate round. With prize money merely a chessbeat away. The top contenders became oblivious to anything but their positions. I was playing on the board next to GM Gruenfeld, who was seated on the other side of the table. After a deep middlegame think, the Israeli reached out, made his move, and started my clock! His "blinder was quickly corrected. The leaders after five rounds: IM Shirazi, 5; GMs Browne, Gurevich, Kudrin; IMs Kogan and Strauss; WGM Ivanka; FMs Bradford and Thinnsen, and NMs Greanias and Orton, 4 ˝. An early exchange of Queens often heralds the beginning of the endgame and a short draw. That this is not always the case when an imaginative artist is at the helm can be seen in the following game. Kamran Shirazi created a positional masterpiece which also has a few neat tactical wrinkles. For this fine effort, Shirazi received the $100 Benjamin Hames prize for the best game in the championship section.

The odds were clearly in Kamran Shirazi’s favor. After all, he had been playing like a man possessed, and he was shoeing no signs of weakening. Moreover, his half point lead gave him "draw odds" against Dmitry Gurevich. A victory would give "the Shah" clear first; a draw would clinch him a tie for top honors. But there’s no such thing as a sure bet on the Strip. Shirazi ran out of brilliant ideas and succumbed to the Sicilian Defense of Gurevich, who had dollar sings glinting in his eyes. Meanwhile, Ivanka found that "the big Mo" - momentum - was no match for the "Big Joe" - Bradford, who won with the White pieces. In the other crucial games, Kudrin cleaned out Orton and a resurgent Browne toppled FM James Thinnsen. Benjamin, meanwhile, reached 5-1 at the expense of Greanias, while IMs David Strauss and Boris Kogan concluded a draw, both finishing at 5-1. Tournament leader Shirazi was never really in the game against HGM Dmitry Gurevich. Even though Gurevich missed the win of a Rook (by 39. ... Rc1 + 40. Kg2 Nf4 +) in time pressure, there was little doubt about the outcome. When Joel Benjamin saw Shirazi’s opening travails, he asked ruefully, "Why didn’t I play the Sicilian?"

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