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On Chess: the old guard and the new

The winners of the 2018 Spring Classic tournament. Group A (left) winner, Jeffrey Xiong, and group B winner, Victor Mikhalevski.
Austin Fuller | Saint Louis Chess Club
The winners of the 2018 Spring Classic tournament. Group A (left) winner, Jeffrey Xiong, and group B winner, Victor Mikhalevski.

The 2018 Spring Chess Classic has come to an end, and we had two thrilling tournaments – both newsworthy in their own way. When analyzed, both tournaments could not be more different.

Chess legend Victor Mikhalevski won in Group B with an amazing 7.0/9. Although he hails from Israel, it's always hard to pinpoint where exactly in the world Mikhalevski is, as he is one of the most active grandmasters, constantly participating in different events. As a former Olympic representative for his home country, Victor's peak rating of 2632 is of no surprise to anyone. He had some absolutely crazy games in this tournament — perhaps most notably his game against Melikset Khachiyan (who was super grandmaster Levon Aronian's first serious chess coach) — where he came out with guns blazing. Mikhalevski took the bull by the horns and counterattacked furiously. The game ended in an unbelievable king march and the victory for the Israeli player.

This section was simply full of games in that style: attacking and counterattacking, sacrifices and risky play. The field was full of sharp players, and they made their mark. Making a comeback to the Saint Louis Chess Club was Andrey Gorovets, who put an impressive series of results to finish in second place, one point behind the winner. A local player took third place: Priyadharshan Kannappan from India, who currently attends Webster University.

Despite the excitement of Group B, most of the chess news was captivated by young Jeffery Xiong's performance in Group A. Unlike the bottom group, Group A was incredibly close. Several rounds featured fierce battles that somehow fizzled out into draws. With such a similarly leveled group of players, it was difficult to say who would win the fight for second place; I say "the fight for second place" because the tournament simply belonged to Xiong.

The Group A field was extremely strong, with a 2652 average rating; it is the strongest Classic tournament we have organized, and it's only 30 points shy of the strength of the upcoming U.S. Chess Championship. Last year's second-place finisher in the championship, Alexander Onischuk, finished seventh, which gives an indication of how strong the field was.

Xiong, from Texas, is a player that everyone has been keeping their eyes on for a while. He is very likely the best chance for our next homegrown 2700 player; that would fill out our ranks at the Olympiad in an amazing fashion. Xiong scored wins against Saint Louis University's Yaro Zherebukh, India's Surya Ganguly, U.S. Olympic team member Varuzhan Akobian, and, in the last round, Xiong defeated Onischuk – one of the most solid players in the circuit.

This is Xiong's first 2800+ performance, and it is considered quite a breakthrough. With this result, he wins a massive 22 rating points, putting him very close to the Olympic team that will represent the U.S. in Batumi, Georgia, later this year. It will all come down to the wire between him, Sam Shankland, Alexander Onischuk, Ray Robson and Varuzhan Akobian to join our three powerhouses: Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura. The official team will all be determined at the Championships in April.

Speaking of Caruana, he is currently leading in the Candidates Tournament, so cheer him on to become the next challenger to dethrone world champion Magnus Carlsen.

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.