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?

My Arbiter Journey: End of the Beginning

Prospective arbiters — read this! For everyone else, it may not be that exciting…

Rekindled Ambition

As recently as two years ago, I did not think I would pursue becoming a FIDE Arbiter or International Arbiter.

I did pass a FIDE Arbiter seminar in 2010, and worked a few tournaments as a Deputy Arbiter in 2009-10. I somehow didn’t get the FA title, however, and over the years didn’t decide to pursue becoming an arbiter.

When I was approached about being Deputy Arbiter for a Grandmaster Norm round robin tournament to be held in August 2019 at the Chess Max Academy in Manhattan (i.e., close to home) my interest in becoming an arbiter returned.

 

A Small Part of History

IA Grant Oen, responsible for FIDE Events in the USA at the time, informed me that I had to become a National Arbiter before I could officially work FIDE events. For this I needed to take and pass a National Arbiter exam with an 80% score. This exam is written and graded by the USCF, and only Senior TDs or above can take it (Associate National TD and National TD are the two higher ranks).

After working on the exam for about eight hours, I sent it back to Grant and I passed with a 93% score (112/120). Now I had to do another FIDE Arbiter seminar and get three tournament norms since my efforts from 2009-10 were long expired.

FA seminar norms are good for four years, and FA tournament norms expire in six years. Since the early 2000s, player norms (e.g. for IM or GM) never expire, and players sometimes achieve norms decades apart.

Abhimanyu Mishra and his dad Hemant with Max Dlugy. I encouraged them to pose for this photo, and I believe I took it with Hemant’s phone!

After a positive experience and earning a norm in the first GM norm event, I assisted in another in November 2019 where I got my second norm. I worked under IAs Eduard Duchovny (USA) and Diana Tsypina (Canada), respectively.

At the end of the second event, I got to meet FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich! Brandon Jacobson earned a GM norm, and Abhimanyu Mishra became the youngest International Master in history by achieving his final IM norm with an ultra-solid nine draws in nine games!

Mishra actually earned his first IM norm in the August event, and in July 2021 he became the youngest GM ever.

These events would actually qualify for International Arbiter (IA) norms, but one must have the FA title before earning IA norms, and you can’t reuse FA norms in an application for IA! C’est la vie.

 

Other Technicalities

We’ve seen that a successful FIDE Arbiter application needs a seminar and passing an exam (with at least 80%), and three tournament norms. But the three norms must include two different types of tournaments (the most common event types are Swiss-system, round robin, or team). A candidate can use only Swiss tournaments if one is a Swiss event with 100+ players, at least 30% of them FIDE rated, and at least seven rounds.

In addition, participants from at least two FIDE federations need to participate, unless the event is a National (adult!) Championship (open or women, individual or team). And I didn’t expect an invitation to assist in the U.S. Championship or U.S. Women’s Championship anytime soon!

Well, those are round-robins anyway. I had two round robin norms, so I needed to find a Swiss to assist in — the requirements for team events are even more strict, and very hard to achieve for US-based arbiters because we are probably the only major country that does not have a National Team Championship.

But first … pandemic!

The world shut down, including over-the-board chess tournaments. In May 2020 I participated in an online FIDE Arbiter seminar and passed the course successfully.

I now needed the Swiss, and I was pretty determined to get it done as soon as things began to reopen. I did not want to let it linger.

 

Not the World Open

A five-round Swiss would have been good enough to complete my FIDE Arbiter title, but with such events it can be unclear in advance if enough players will enter such that the requirements listed in the previous section are met…

Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown, the event site. Photo: visitphilly.com

When the school year ended in mid-June I contacted IA David Hater, who hires TDs for Continental Chess Association tournaments, and got on the staff of the 2021 Philadelphia International. It would be my first CCA event since 2010!

Held directly before the World Open at the same location, this event draws dozens of titled players — FMs and IMs pursuing norms, and GMs playing for prize money and guaranteed cash for participating (as they afford opportunities for others to earn norms by playing them).

I arrived in Philadelphia on Friday night, June 25. The tournament ran from Saturday, June 26 through Wednesday, June 30. Two rounds per day Saturday through Tuesday, and the final (9th) round on Wedesday.

Overall, I had a great experience!

There were no disputes throughout the entire nine rounds. The atmosphere was serious but cordial, and the toughest part of my job was setting clocks and making sure players didn’t leave without submitting their scoresheets (FIDE requires this)! The players were outstanding, too, when it came to respecting the mask-wearing requirement of the event.

FM Vincent Tsay earned his second IM norm, and in fact clinched it without even needing to score in the final round! He ended up drawing tournament winner GM Vladimir Belous anyway. Belous scored 7 points out of 9, along with GM Hans Niemann and IM Andrew Hong, but received a small bonus for having the best mathematical tiebreaks.

At the end, it was appropriate that my final FA norm certificate was issued by one of my long-time mentors, IA Steve Immitt, who was the Chief Arbiter of the event.

The current US Chess FIDE Events Manager, IA Chris Bird, helped ensure all my documents were in order, arranged for me to pay the 50 euro fee to USCF, and sent off my FIDE Arbiter application to Baira Marilova at the FIDE Elista office.

The application now appears on the FIDE titles page, to be hopefully approved at the next FIDE Council meeting, which I believe meets in early August.

After that: my pursuit of the International Arbiter title! Stay tuned!

Chess Tactics: Del Campo — Matros, 2020

Charlotte Chess Center logo
Charlotte Chess Center and Scholastic Academy. charlottechesscenter.org

The Charlotte Chess Center and Scholastic Academy is currently organizing two concurrent 10-player round robin tournaments: a Grandmaster norm event and an International Master norm contest. Unlike in a Swiss, each player in a round robin knows exactly how many points he will need to score in order to secure the GM or IM result.

IA/IO Grant Oen is the Chief Arbiter, and FA Peter Giannatos is Chief Deputy.

Norm events are exciting, especially if one or more players is closing in on the needed score!

FM Balaji Daggupati clinched an IM norm after only 6 rounds! He needs 1.5/2 for a GM norm.

IM Hans Niemann leads the GM norm event with 5.5/7. One win or two draws in the last two rounds will give him his final GM norm, and push his rating closer to the needed 2500 to earn the highest title in chess.

Three players still have chances to earn norms in the IM event.

I’ve annotated the following sharp battle from the very first round of the IM event.

 

Control possible line openings against the enemy king!