Winning the World Open

Winning the world open: Strategies for success at america’s most prestigious open chess tournament

Winning the World OpenAuthors: GM Joel Benjamin and Harold Scott
343 Pages. New In Chess, 2021
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An Uniquely American Phenomenon

There is no chess event quite like the World Open.

The first thing that stands out is the massive prize fund, and chess hopefuls from around the world show up hoping to win their share. For example, the 50th edition (Summer 2022) will guarantee $225,000! First prize in the Open section is $20,000. First prize in most of the class sections (Under 2000, Under 1800, etc.) is $10,000.

A few other events have popped up over the years offering huge prizes, but none have lasted.

Many players only play this tournament and a few others each year; the World Open has the toughest competition most players will ever face. Many players relish that challenge.

It’s not cheap, either: there are no sponsors, and the prize fund is made possible entirely by the entry fees collected from players. The lowest entry fee for the upcoming edition was $308; if you enter on-site, you’ll pay $350! Factor in travel, hotel, and food as well…

In some ways, I think this boosts the popularity of the event! The 2019 edition (the last before COVID-19) drew 1,348 players.

 

A Fruitful Collaboration

Readers of NYSCA‘s Empire Chess already know that Harold Scott is one of the best chess journalists we have in the United States currently. He is also a chess Expert and an experienced tournament director.

GM Joel Benjamin hardly needs an introduction; the three-time U.S. Champion (1987, 1997, 2000) reached the Top 25 in 1987 and has been writing chess books and magazine columns for decades.

What’s the result? High-quality writing and analysis! You get insightful prose commentary, and not an endless stream of computer lines.

The first World Open was held in New York City in 1973, and the book has a chapter on each decade of the tournament’s existence. It also features one chapter for each of 16 previous winners, including Larry Christiansen, John Fedorowicz, Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Shabalov, Alex Yermolinsky, and co-author Benjamin himself.

The last two chapters of the book contain 30 quiz positions from critical World Open battles, and their solutions.

 

I Almost Forgot…

The World Open is infamous for players attempting to cheat in various ways to win prizes: human and electronic assistance, intentionally mis-marking results and doctoring scoresheets, even hiding or changing their identity…

The book contains an amazing chapter recounting some of the skulduggery attempted over the years. I was present for the 2006 incident but didn’t deal with it directly, as I was chief of the Under 1400 section…though I did get an anonymous phone tip(!) about a player in my section!

Yeah…welcome to the World Open!

 

Winning the World Open is a must-buy for anyone interested in this most unique chess tournament. You get important historical background on Bill Goichberg and the Continental Chess Association; the World Open itself decade-to-decade; fascinating interviews with more than a dozen winners; and a selection of well-annotated games.

Highly recommended.

SwissSys 10: Essential for USCF Tournament Directors

The Mark of a Professional

Swiss-Sys
Thad Suits’s software has been a key TD tool for over 30 years. Image: SwissSys.com

I’ve talked in the past about becoming a USCF Tournament Director. At first you’ll be running small club or classroom tournaments, or assisting more experienced TDs at larger events.

If you decide to get into the TD game long-term, you’ll need the tools of the professional: laptop, laser printer, and SwissSys!

 

What Does SwissSys Do?

SwissSys is tournament management software created by Thad Suits that, as the name suggests, helps tournament directors run Swiss-System events smoothly. Often … very large events with multiple sections and hundreds of players! The computer TDs at the World Open, for example, use SwissSys.

Not only can it make pairings, it prints them neatly for posting as well as other items like standings, wallcharts, and so on.

[A brief rant: Experienced TDs hate the term “pairing software,” as it suggests we are not responsible for the pairings the computer spits out. On the contrary, we are responsible for understanding the pairings, being able to explain them, and overriding them if we think an error has been made.]

SwissSys can also handle round robins, such as quads, and team events.

 

Learning Curve?

Very small. The menus are intuitive and if you tinker with SwissSys for half an hour, you’ll get the hang of it. It’s very user-friendly and non-tech-savvy friendly.

The toughest part? Learning the process for downloading and installing new rating supplements. This is important in order to quickly enter players without having to go to the USCF website to look up every player individually.

It’s also possible to import tournament entries from an excel spreadsheet or other database.

You can use SwissSys for FIDE-rated events, too (remember to turn on FIDE pairings, and you cannot alter pairings once made in norm events!).

 

Don’t Go Without

pairing card
Yep, this used to all be done by hand! Image: Kansas Scholastic Chess Association

In the past, way before I began TDing in 2002, directors paired by hand using pairing cards and needed to handwrite pairings, standings, and so on! I can only imagine how time-consuming this would be.

Merely having a laptop, printer, and SwissSys can earn you directing gigs. Many organizers run small, almost-informal events in schools and just need someone to pair and print the charts. These tournaments aren’t always USCF-rated, either.

If you’re efficient, friendly and, most of all, reliable … you’ll keep getting invited back. Also, a good reputation spreads quickly in the TD World.

 

Cost

A new version of SwissSys 10 is $99.00. Best money you’ll ever spend as a TD … but don’t forget that laser printer! I care for my old HP 1020 like a newborn baby, even though it’s now well into adolescence …

You’re not a professional TD until you have your own software. So what are you waiting for?

Italian Game: Which Defense?

Italian Game
The starting position of the Italian Game.

The Italian Game begins with the sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, and is extremely popular at all chess levels.

It is named for “Il Calabrese,” Gioachino Greco (c.1600-1634) who analyzed the opening in the early 17th century. I definitely recommend playing through Greco’s many instructive games and analyses.

Now, how should Black meet the Italian Game?

Like a lot of things in life — and chess — that depends on many factors.

 

Three Main Choices

We can meet the Italian Game with 3…Nf6, 3…Bc5, or 3…Be7. In 20 years of coaching, I have recommended all three moves based on the needs of the student I was working with.

Coaching is an individual endeavor. Never forget that. No cookie-cutting!

Now, I’ll give a breakdown of each defense to the Italian from a coaching perspective.

Two Knights Defense: 3…Nf6

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6

We get the most combative choice against the Italian.

As is often the case, “most combative” also means “most complicated!”

To play the Two Knights, you must be okay with a (possible) early tactical melee and be willing to memorize some lines. Otherwise, stay away!

If my student doesn’t show an appetite for learning how to deal with 4.Ng5, or keeps forgetting one of the key lines, the defense is not for them. And that’s not even getting into the Max Lange Attack (4.d4 exd4 5.0-0 Bc5 6.e5), etc.

GIUOCO PIANO, 3…Bc5

With 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5

We get the big practical advantage of not allowing 4.Ng5. For many beginners, this is reason enough to recommend the move.

I believe most gambits are dubious, but after 3…Bc5 White has one of the very best in chess available to him: the Evans Gambit (4.b4).

In addition to having a plan against the Evans (there are a number of ways to deal with it, but you must study a little!); Black must also be ready to handle stuff like the Canal Variation (and Canal Trap), Møller Attack (4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3), etc.

Have you studied your lines?

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE, 3…Be7

Now we get to my controversial pick: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7:

I’m not a crusader for this line, but I think it has its place.

Not every student wants to study openings the way some need to be studied.

3…Be7 cuts out all the tricky lines White has against 3…Nf6 and 3…Bc5. The first player simply doesn’t have anything to aim at.

Higher-rated players understand that the Hungarian is dubious because of the space it cedes, but this isn’t a concern below 1400…and probably higher!

Once a player gains some experience, and confidence, you can consider switching them to other lines.

CONCLUSION

Players should not just choose the Giuoco Piano or Two Knights because “everyone else” does…or at least right away. Do those openings suit your needs?

I have students who do well with these lines; but they either have the temperament required to play them, or are willing to put in the work to get good at them.

Some kids just want to play chess a little, not study too much, and spend time on other activities. Don’t force them to be something they don’t want to be.

I’ve had many students do very well with the “passive” Hungarian Defense. Their opponents couldn’t use the aggressive schemes they were accustomed to against it, and got outplayed.

Know your student, and create an opening repertoire that suits them.

No Playoffs for Round Robins!

Why do we need them?

I’m not necessarily against mathematical tiebreaks for Swiss-System tournaments, especially scholastic events with trophies.

For decades and longer, a high-level round robin would be held over multiple weeks, and at the end one or more players would emerge with the highest score. End of event.

Only when indivisible prizes were at stake — such as qualification to a future event — some kind of classical playoff would be held, either immediately or at some point in the future.

Otherwise, an event could have two, three, or more co-winners. No big deal.

The London 2013 Candidates Tournament would have benefitted from a playoff, but instead “most wins” was used to decide a Challenger for the World Championship! Completely asinine.

 

Endangered Traditions

Of course, I bring all this up in light of the recent controversy surrounding the conclusion of Tata Steel Chess 2021, the 83rd annual Wijk aan Zee tournament.

I won’t wade into the events surrounding Firouzja, Wojtaszek, and the arbiter. But I will say this: the organizers should have reconsidered the importance of having a playoff when they saw the possibility of disturbing a last-round classical game!

When the playoff did happen, between Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest, it was not decided by brilliant play. To say the least.

An armageddon game decided a prestigious event after 13 rounds of classical chess where the two Dutchmen finished ahead of Carlsen, Caruana, MVL, and other rising stars. Seriously…why??

The few traditional tournaments we have left like Wijk aan Zee should not feel pressured to give into the rapid/blitz chess mob.

I would love to hear the thoughts of others in the chess community on this issue.

Norway Chess 2020

Supertournaments Return Over-the-Board

Altibox Norway Chess
Norway Chess: a supertournament fixture since 2013.

Altibox Norway Chess will be held from October 5-16, 2020; the latest edition of the Norwegian supertournament held in Stavanger since 2013. It will also be the first major over-the-board tournament since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Magnus Carlsen has only won two of the seven editions of his home tournament (2016, 2019), the same amount as Sergey Karjakin (2013, 2014). Many players find it tough to perform their best with the hometown glare squarely on them.

Veselin Topalov (2015), Levon Aronian (2017), and Fabiano Caruana (2018) are the other winners. Carlsen has won the companion blitz event three times, however — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has two victories, while Karjakin and Wesley So have one each.

Altibox Norway Chess 2020

This year Carlsen (Norway), Aronian (Armenia), and Caruana (USA) are joined by young stars Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland) and Alireza Firouzja (FIDE). Aryan Tari (Norway) completes the six-player double round robin. Firouzja defected from Iran last year and has yet to declare which country he will represent in the future.

In a sign of the times, the official player photos were taken with each man wearing an Altibox Norway Chess mask!

Over-the-board round robins are making a comeback in the latter portion of 2020, including norm tournaments and the National Championships of several countries … not including the USA, unfortunately.

In November, FIDE will restart the Candidates Tournament, another round robin that had to be suspended after the first half in March.

Small Swiss tournaments and round robins will return sooner than many expect. Large tournaments will be a concern for awhile, and I predict it will impact scholastic chess the most.

Thank goodness we have real chess again, and not only a bunch of online events! They’re better than nothing, but far from adequate in my opinion.

Who do you think will win Norway Chess in 2020? Post your predictions below!