There’s Something About Reno …

by admin on October 26, 2009

I don’t know what it is, but something about Reno seems to bring out my best chess. Is it the thin mountain air? Or is it the gambling, risk-taking spirit that pervades the place? Anyway, all of my best results in recent years have come there:

2005 Far West Open: I go 5.5-0.5 in the Expert section, winning first place. That is the last time that I entered the Expert section, because I felt after this that I had earned the right to test myself against masters.

2006 Western States Open: I go 4-2 in the Open section and win the under-2300 prize, thanks to my last-round victory with a Queen sac over IM David Pruess.

2009 Far West Open: I go 3.5-2.5 in the Open section. In this tournament the Open and Expert sections were combined, and I won the prize for top under-2200.

And just last weekend,

2009 Western States Open: I again go 4-2 in the Open section, and again take home the under-2300 prize!

This tournament was actually better for me all around than the 2006 Western States, because I played masters all six rounds. I also won my largest cash prize ever. Kay says that I shouldn’t say in public how much, so let’s just say that I had to fill in a tax form. (U.S. tax law requires that prizes over $600 have to be reported to the IRS.)

How did I do it? It was a combination of luck and good moves. In the Sunday morning round, I was paired against Daniel Naroditsky. Wouldn’t you know it … After editing his book last month, I get to face him across a chess board. He definitely got a better position out of the opening, and finally on move 29 he had a chance to win a pawn. But he had two ways to take it, and he chose the wrong way. He saw his blunder immediately, and buried his face in his hands. The problem was that I would win the exchange for the pawn. He still had great, active pieces, so when he offered a draw two moves later I accepted. Perhaps I could have played on for a win, but I was in big time trouble (5 minutes to make 10 moves) and felt that there was a good chance I might blunder right back. Plus, I am friends with Danya now, and I felt no need to rub it in. It was fine with me to split the point. No regrets over this decision.

In the last round I was paired against another 2300-plus player, Jake Kleiman. Just like three years ago, I saved my best chess for the last game. I played an opening novelty in the Alekhine’s Defense, which involves a pawn sac for White. (I have to give Fritz credit for finding it.) White probably has no more than compensation for the pawn, but Black has to face some tough and unfamiliar decisions. Jake obviously went wrong, because he ended up with his king caught in the center and facing a murderous onslaught. I played a very pretty combination where I gave up a rook and two knights to win his queen. More importantly, his king was totally exposed and I was able to use my two remaining pieces, the queen and a rook, to set up a mating net.

I will show some highlights from my games this weekend in future blog posts. Actually, I will probably do a ChessLecture on the Kleiman game, because it was really sweet.

My luck, as it turned out, was not yet over. Two players rated under 2300 had gone into the final round ahead of me at 3.5-1.5 (Andrew Karklins and Steve Greanias), but both of them succumbed to higher-rated opponents. Also, four people had been tied with me at 3-2, but one of them lost, one of them drew, and two of them took half-point byes! So I ended up as the sole winner of the under-2300 prize.

Okay, so that’s my news. I should also, of course, report on the outcome of the tournament, especially because Randy Hough’s article for Chess Life Online has not been posted yet. Going into the final round there was a seven-way tie for first at 4-1. Of those seven, only Melikset Khachiyan and Ildar Ibragimov managed to win, and so they had a blitz playoff to determine the winner of the tournament.

As readers of my blog and listeners of my ChessLectures may know, I am not a big fan of blitz playoffs. Why should $1000 (the difference between $3500 for first and $2500 for second) depend on whose reflexes are faster or who makes the worst blunder? Nevertheless, I have to admit that the second playoff game featured a really beautiful attack by Khachiyan. He sacked a piece, then he sacked the exchange, and finally he played one more rook sac that could not be accepted because it would have led to immediate mate. But the only other option for Ibragimov was losing his queen, and Khachiyan’s attack was still overwhelming. From the spectator’s point of view, it was a much more exciting game than the cautious struggle that you would have gotten if they played a regular slow game. So I guess that there is an argument in favor of blitz playoffs after all. (But not Armageddon playoffs! I will never agree that they are a good idea.)

Thus Khachiyan won, and Ibragimov was second. As for the hero of my previous post, Steven Zierk went into the final round as part of the seven-way tie for first, but unfortunately Ibragimov steamrollered him. So Steven finished at 4-2, which must have been a little bit disappointing to him. However, he should not feel too bad, because it was still an amazing tournament for him. Aside from the first round, when he was paired down, I think that all of his opponents were GM’s, and a plus score against that kind of opposition is fantastic for a teenager. And the win against van Wely was a classic. So I think you will definitely hear more from Mr. Zierk in the future.

I will close with a couple of photos that I took before round three. By the way, the pictures clearly show that I made a mistake in my previous post: Daniel Naroditsky was on board one and Darwin Yang was on board two. That was the high-water mark for both of them, as they both ended with 3.5 points.

Daniel Naroditsky, soon-to-be-published chess author.

This isn’t scholastic chess any more, Darwin.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Chessperado October 26, 2009 at 10:22 pm



Ernest Hong October 27, 2009 at 7:32 am

Congratulations, Dana! I’m glad you’re enjoying your tournaments here.

I wanted to correct one fact, though. The G/10 playoff for first and second is over a stake of $100. The prizes are distributed normally except with $100 deducted from the top pool of cash. So Ibragimov and Khachiyan would each get $2950 before the playoff and Khachiyan would get an extra $100 for first. At least that’s how I think it gets done. But I’m certain that the stake isn’t more than $100.


admin October 27, 2009 at 8:16 am

Hi Ernie,

Thanks for the correction. I should’ve known that, but when I wrote this entry I was going on the basis of the prize distribution that was posted on the walls, which didn’t explain about the $100.

Were you helping with the tournament this year? I didn’t see you there. If you’re still on sabbatical, who is going to put together the games bulletin?


Andres D. Hortillosa October 27, 2009 at 11:17 am

I cannot wait to see your game against Jake. I still believe your best days (or years) are yet to come.


Ernest Hong October 27, 2009 at 12:42 pm


I hate to be nit picky, and perhaps you’re purposefully using a more recent reference, but the “do or do not” quote above is one I would have attributed to Yoda lecturing Luke Skywalker in “Empire Strikes Back” when Luke doubted the Force could lift the sunken X-wing fighter out of the swamp.

I only helped relieve one demo board person for four hours in round 3 and I post info on the website. I’m afraid my retreat from chess has been on many fronts including tournament directing, club organizing, and games bulletin editing. The task goes to my friend Grant this year with me in a technical advisory role.

Looking forward to your game annotations.


Ashish October 27, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Congratulations, Dana!


thadeusfrei November 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Nice job Dana I’m impressed.


Cesar Tamondong November 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm



My apologies for introducing myself, since we’ve played in the same tournaments – I’m in the B section and played in the Western States and scored 4.5/6 – I hope to make my push to 1800 next year!

Please let me know if there are going to be any upcoming tournaments in Santa Cruz! I grew up in Salinas and played at the Monterey Chess Center back in the 1980s! After a hiatus due to work and law school, I finally returned to tournament play while balancing work at Townsend and Townsend and Crew, LLP.

I had a game against Pablo Pena when I was in high school at the Monterey Chess Center – he had me busted and I got him on a dumb cheapo for my first win against and expert. I ended up 3-1 in that tournament. What is your email address – I’ll send the pgn to you:)

Hopefully our paths will cross in the Bay Area.

Keep up the great work with the blog! Perhaps you can set something up on Facebook?

Best regards,



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