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On Chess: Fighting chess leads to exciting battles and playoffs at the Summer Chess Classic

Kamil Dragun (left) won Group B and Vasif Durarbayli won Group A in the 2018 Summer Chess Classic
Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

The Summer Chess Classic has come to an end. After 10 long days, nine grueling rounds and one exciting playoff, the winners for Group A and Group B were crowned. Before we discuss the winners and their grand style, let’s review the tournament’s purpose, format and fields.

The 2018 Summer Chess Classic is part of the St. Louis Chess Club's seasonal classic series, which aims to provide a spotlight and valuable experience for strong international grandmasters whose ambition is to reach elite status. The event consisted of two 10-player round-robins and featured chess professionals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and the hosting country, the United States. All these international grandmasters battled for a chunk of the $36,000 prize purse.

Polish grandmaster Kamil Dragun won in Group B with an impressive performance and score of 6.5/9. After starting the tournament with two long-fought yet important wins, he gained the leading role of the group and sustained his position until the very end.

His wins followed a similar fashion; after playing a rather risk-free opening, Dragun set up a comfortable position, gained small positional advantages and, with precise play, transferred it into an overwhelming advantage, and consequently to a full point. Only the last round match against Russian grandmaster Sergei Matsenko seemed shaky for Dragun, but he was able to find the best defense, forcing Matsenko to a draw an agreement.

There was certainly a lot of diversity in Group B’s games, illustrating attacking and counter-attacking styles, positional chess and endgame battles. One player whose games were especially instructive was the international master and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador from Kazakhstan, Dinara Saduakassova, who made sure her debut on American soil was noted.

Her fighting style, sharp attacks and precise pawn breaks, quickly removed her from second-to-last rank and produced three significant wins. Saduakassova’s loss in the last round put an end to her hopes for a grandmaster norm and also a medal standing. The second place went to the solid, undefeated UTRGV team member, Russian grandmaster Andrey Stukopin. The third place was shared between St. Louis resident and Saint Louis University student, grandmaster Cemil Can Ali Marandi, and the undefeated player and coach of the American Chess Academy, grandmaster Robert Aghasaryan.

Despite the excitement of Group B, there were even more hard-fought battles in Group A, leaving all players with at least one loss. The Azeri grandmaster and recent Webster graduate, Vasif Durarbayli, started with a perfect 4/4 score, clearly stating his tournament intentions. However, the top seed of the tournament, the U.S. Olympic Team coach and American Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian, closely chased him with another a great start of 3.5/4. These two players remained in excellent shape for the rest of the games and tied for first place after the regular ninth round, forcing a playoff.

The playoff format of two, 10-minutes games suited Durarbaily’s aggressive style better than Akobian. He won the first game with the black pieces without much trouble. In the second game, Durarbayli’s constant checking of the king confused Akobian and resulted in an illegal move. This mistake gave Durarbayli an extra two minutes and consequently secured his playoff and tournament win. For Akobian, these first tournament losses broke his undefeated performance and led to a second-place finish. Third place went to the young American junior, grandmaster Sam Sevian, who is almost certainly satisfied with his performance in such a high-quality tournament.

The next classic series tournament will be the Fall Chess Classic, set to take place Sept. 6-16. Based on the increased interest in these tournaments and the rising competitive spirit of players, it is sure to be a tournament to see.

Nemcova is a Prague-born, Czech chess champion who learned to play at age 4. She won the national youth championship, topping out in 2008 as the Czech Women’s Champion and earning the title again in 2010. Nemcova graduated from Webster University and was a member of their elite chess team. She now plays under the United States Chess Federation and is a reoccurring member of the Chess Olympiad team and competitor in the Women’s Chess Championship.