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On Chess: Viva Las Vegas

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 14, 2011 - I spent the last week in Las Vegas for the annual National Open Chess Championship, held at the South Point Hotel and Casino. As usual, the tournament was well attended, with more than 600 players in the big event.

Actually, I shouldn't call the event a tournament. It was really a full-on chess festival! Most chess tournaments are, well, chess tournaments. The National Open is a chess festival in the truest sense of the word. There is a chess camp, blitz tournament (five-minute games), quick tournament (10-minute games) and the aforementioned regular tournament (which lasts three days), as well as a big scholastic event, which draws more than 150 scholastic players. In addition, two or three other Grandmasters and I teach a day-long chess camp for adults and kids.

The main tournament has sections for each category of player, and I played in the Open section, where first prize was more than $6,000 and there were more than 100 participants. This year's event was won by Dutch superstar Loek van Wely and the strong American player Var Akobian, from California. Van Wely, the highest-rated participant, had a scare in round two, as he lost to International Master (one level below GM) Andranik Matikozyan. Luckily for "Lucky Loek" he was able to win his final four games to tie for first place.

I did not fare as well, although I guess I can be somewhat happy with my score, considering I played three of the five highest-rated participants! I drew against GMs Tamaz Gelashvili from Georgia and Suat Atalik from Turkey. Unfortunately, I lost to Uzbek GM and UT-Brownsville student, Timur Gareyev. Gareyev has been on fire lately, as the reigning champion of the National Open and the winner of this year's super strong Chicago Open. My score of 3.5 points from 6 games was not good enough to win a prize, but I had fun at my favorite non-St. Louis tournament.

I guess I'm not a good example of the "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" saying, because I have a few tips to share from my experience there:

  • Get enough sleep at night before an important chess game.
  • Be confident of victory, no matter the opponent.
  • No alcohol during a chess event.

Numbers one and three are especially important for a tournament in Las Vegas, and I can state with all sincerity that I followed number three to a tee - but I could improve on the other two!
Ben Finegold is the grandmaster in residence at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis..

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.

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