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On Chess: International tournament brings strong competition to St. Louis Chess Club

GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan, 23, at the Fall Chess Classic in St. Louis in October 2018.
Eric Rosen
GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan, 23, at the Fall Chess Classic in St. Louis.

The St. Louis Chess Club hosted an elite field of 20 chess players for the second annual Fall Chess Classic  Oct. 10-18. 

For many players who competed, it was the strongest tournament they ever played. Such invitational events can be quite rare for players ranked outside of the elite group of super grandmasters (those with ratings over 2700).

The Fall Classic is the third event of a quarterly series of tournaments designed to give strong players an opportunity to face formidable competition and reach even higher levels. The event featured two 10-player round robins.

Group A was the highest-rated event in the Classic series to date and exhibited a strong lineup of international chess professionals who are ranked in the top 200 in the world:

  • GM Ray Robson, United States, 2682
  • GM S.P. Sethuraman, India, 2673
  • GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, Norway, 2662
  • GM Dariusz Swiercz, Poland, 2656
  • GM Yuriy Kuzubov, Ukraine, 2655
  • GM Làzaro Bruzòn, Cuba, 2653
  • GM Aleksey Dreev, Russia, 2649
  • GM Varuzhan Akobian, United States, 2641
  • GM Eric Hansen, Canada, 2629
  • GM Aleksandr Lenderman, United States, 2626

With a prize fund of $22,000 in Group A, hard-fought battles were seen in every round. As there was no significantly large rating gap between any two players in the field, each player had the potential to take home first prize.

GM Aleksey Dreev at the Fall Chess Classic in St. Louis in October 2018.
Credit Eric Rosen
GM Aleksey Dreev, 49, at the Fall Chess Classic in St. Louis.

In the end, grandmaster Aleksey Dreev outclassed the competition. As the oldest player in the field at age 49, he was the only competitor not to lose a single game. He finished the tournament with four wins and five draws to capture clear first place.

In the penultimate round, Dreev took down GM Ray Robson in a highly complex bishop versus knight endgame. Dreev mentioned that he is in the process of writing a book on endgames and plans to include that victory in his book.

An abundance of exciting and fighting games were also seen in Group B. The field included:

  • GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan, Armenia, 2592
  • GM Sergey Azarov, Bulgaria, 2565
  • GM Conrad Holt, United States, 2561
  • GM Elshan Moradiabadi, United States 2534
  • GM Steven Zierk, United States, 2506
  • GM Ashwin Jayaram, India, 2494
  • GM Akshat Chandra, United States, 2471
  • GM Denes Boros, Hungary, 2439
  • IM Brandon Jacobson, United States, 2412
  • FM Christopher Yoo, United States, 2410

The top seed, GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan, proved to be the most dominant player. He started with an astonishing 4.5/5 points and appeared to be unstoppable. Despite losing his round 8 game to GM Akshat Chandra, Gabuzyan had a large enough lead to clinch first place. He understandably had mixed emotions after losing the game, but winning the tournament.
Although the tournament winner of Group B was decided before the final round, the drama was not over. In round 9, Gabuzyan faced off against the youngest player in the competition, FIDE master Christopher Yoo. 

If Yoo had defeated Gabuzyan, he would have become the youngest international master in U.S. history at 11 years old.

With the black pieces, Yoo put up a very tough fight. He secured a pleasant advantage out of the opening, but Gabuzyan found strong counterplay later in the middlegame. Towards the end of the game, Yoo blundered in time pressure and Gabuzyan scored yet another win to finish the tournament with 7/9 points.

Christopher Yoo, 11, at the Fall Chess Classic in St. Louis, October 2018.
Credit Eric Rosen
IM Christopher Yoo, 11, at the Fall Chess Classic in St. Louis.

Even though Yoo missed his chance at getting a norm in this event, he clearly has a very bright future ahead. Such an event provides invaluable experience and facilitates further growth for players of Yoo’s caliber. He still has time to break the record for youngest IM in U.S. history, which is currently held by Sam Sevian who was awarded the title at age 12.

Over the course of the event, games were broadcast daily on uschesschamps.com. Chess fans may find the archived daily broadcasts of the event on the St. Louis Chess Club YouTube Channel and catch the Winter Chess Classic, starting Nov. 5.

Eric Rosen is an international master, chess instructor and digital freelancer. Having received a bachelor's degree in interactive digital media from Webster University in 2017, Rosen spends his time coaching, producing online educational content, building websites, taking photos and traveling.

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