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On Chess: Classic series brings strong grandmasters to town prior to U.S. championships

2017 U.S. Junior Champion Awonder Liang who will be playing in the 2018 Spring Chess Classic.
Austin Fuller | Saint Louis Chess Club

The time for strong round-robin tournaments at the Saint Louis Chess Club (STLCC) is about to restart!

The U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship are the traditional big tournaments in the spring, but players are looking for other strong tournaments to sharpen their skills, openings, tactics and repertoires against strong opposition. We have mentioned in previous columns how difficult it is to find strong tournaments for 2600-level grandmasters, and that is where the Classic Series at the STLCC comes in. The first edition this year starts next week, with the Spring Chess Classic.

As usual, there will be two sections in the tournament, one that averages about 2650 in FIDE rating, while the other is closer to 2550. The events are single round robins (all play all) with the standard FIDE time control of 90 minutes + 30 seconds per move, with an additional 30 minutes added on move 40, which is the same as the U.S. Championships. The lower section, or the B-Group, will be comprised of new talents and veteran players.

The youngest players are well known to St. Louis chess fans: Awonder Liang and Akshat Chandra. Liang will be participating in the U.S. Championship, a spot that he earned by winning last year's U.S. Junior Championship. Despite being the youngest participant, he also comes in with the highest rating. Chandra, a St. Louis resident and 2015 U.S. Junior Champion, is taking a year off after finishing high school to focus on chess, and is trying to reach new rating levels.

Three collegiate players are in the field, as well: From Saint Louis University, there is Cemil Can Ali Marandi; from Texas Tech University is Jack Shtembuliak; and from Webster University is Priyadharshan Kannappan. Interestingly, all three players will be involved in an incredibly important event only two weeks after this event concludes: the Final Four of Collegiate Chess to be held in New York on March 30.

Andrey Gorovets and Alexandr Fier are world travelers dedicated to chess. Gorovets is Belorussian but based in America, and Fier is Brazilian but based in Tbilisi, Georgia. The old guard comes in the shape of a lot of experience. Victor Mikhalevski is a known theoretician, and a bronze medal Olympic winner playing for Israel in 2010. Melikset Khachiyan, now a known chess coach in California, was one of super-GM Levon Aronian's first serious trainers. Last, but not least, is James Tarjan, who finished third in the 1984 U.S. Championship and then took a three-decade break from chess. He returned just a couple of years ago, and, in his path, has since defeated former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik in Isle of Man last year.

The A-group has five U.S. Championship hopefuls: Sam Shankland, who helped the U.S. win their Olympic Gold in Baku two years ago; Varuzhan Akobian, who is a new St. Louis resident; Alexander Onischuk, last year's second place finisher at the U.S. Championship; the young and extremely talented Jeffery Xiong; and SLU's Yaroslav Zherebukh.

Their international challengers are former World Junior champions Alexander Ipatov and Dariusz Swiercz, also SLU students; Surya Shekhar Ganguly, part of Team Anand in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 World Championships; Lazaro Bruzon, who is Cuba's number two player; and French grandmaster and former World Youth Champion Romain Edouard. A very strong list, even for grandmasters!

The games will be highly intense, and there will now be abbreviated commentary for the tournament each day at 3:30 p.m. Make sure to tune in on uschesschamps.com, or come down to the Saint Louis Chess Club to see these powerful grandmasters battle it out March 6-14, starting at 1 p.m.


Alejandro Ramirez earned his grandmaster title by the age of 15. That achievement set Ramirez as the first Centro-American to earn the elite GM title. Ramirez is the new coach of the Saint Louis University Chess Team and a regular live broadcast commentator, in both English and Spanish, for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.