There are many paths to world domination.
The 42nd World Open, held earlier this month at the Hyatt Regency in Crystal City, produced a three-way tie at the top, with GMs Ilya Smirin of Israel, Illya Nyzhnyk of Ukraine and Conrad Holt sharing the honors in the Open section with 7-2 scores. Smirin would claim the official title after a playoff.
The three co-champs took very different paths, however, on the way to meeting in the winners’ circle. Smirin bolted from the gate with five wins and a draw in his first six games, and was able to coast home with three grandmaster draws while the field tried to run him down. (His five-move draw with Nyzhnyk in Round 7 was not exactly one of the tournament’s high points.) Nyzhnyk, the onetime prodigy who, at 17, is rounding into a fine player, took a steadier path, conceding an early draw to rising American junior star NM Michael Bodek and catching Smirin only in the eighth round with a win over veteran Czech GM Viktor Laznicka.
Holt, by contrast, was nearly derailed by an upset loss to NM Richard Wang in Round 2, in a tournament where a single loss can prove fatal to one’s chances. But Holt produced one of the best finishing kicks of the tournament, with 3 points in his final four games, all played against grandmasters.
Playing in his first World Open, Nyzhnyk demonstrated his steady-as-she-goes approach with a very professional win over New Hampshire GM and reigning U.S. Open champion Josh Friedel in Round 6. There are no early fireworks in this Bogo-Indian, with the Ukrainian as White enjoying a small spatial advantage and placing an interesting position bet with 23. Bxg7!? Rxg7 24. Nxf4 Bf6 that the knight will outperform the Black bishop in the queenless middlegame.
Friedel challenges the White bind with the provocative 27. bxc5 c6!? 28. d6 Rd7 29. Rf1 Bg7 30. Rc1 Rc8 31. a4, but now might have been the moment to challenge the dangerous White passed pawn with 31…b6 32. cxb6 axb6, as Black appears to maintain equality after 33. Nd5 Rcd8 34. Ne7+ Kh8 35. Nxc6 Rc8 36. Rce1 Bf6! (on 36…Rxc6?, White wins with 38. Re8+ Bf8 39. R1e7!) 37. Ne7 Rcd8 38. Nd5 Rxd6.
Instead, White tightens the noose after 31…Rf8?! 32. Ne6 Rf5 33. a5 h5 (a6 34. g4 Rd5 [Rff7 35. Kg2 h6 36. h4 and White keeps his bind] 35. Rf1 h5 36. Kg2 Rd2+ 37. Kh3 Rd5 38. Kh4 hxg4 39. Kxg4 Rd2 40. Ng5 Rd8 [Rg2+ 41. Kh4 Rxh2+ 42. Kg3 Rh5 43. Re8+] 41. Re7 Rb8 42. d7 and wins) 34. a6!, undermining the Black queenside.
With Black’s rook reduced to baby-sitting the White d-pawn, Nyzhnyk’s rook and knight coordinate beautifully in the final assault: 35. Rb1 Re5 36. Rxe5 Bxe5 37. Rf1 (also good was 37. Rb8+ Kf7 38. Nd8+ Kf6 39. Nxc6 Bxd6 40. cxd6 Rxd6 41. Nxa7) a5 38. Rf8+ Kh7 39. Rc8 Bxd6 40. cxd6 Rxd6 41. Ng5+ Kg7 (the only move, as 41…Kh6 allows the fork 42. Nf7+) 42. Rc7+ Kg8 43. Rxa7, and Black resigns as the ending is hopeless on 43…Rd5 44. h4 Re5 45. Kf2 Kf8 46. Ra6 Rc5 47. Ne6+.
Holt’s pedal-to-the-metal final lap climaxed with a convincing win over talented Filipino GM Mark Paragua in Round 9. Needing a win to catch Smirin and Nyzhnyk, the 21-year-old Kansan exploits a Black tactical oversight to wrap up the point in just two dozen moves.
In a Russian Variation (5. Qb3) Grunfeld, White posts his bishops aggressively in search of a double-edged game. With his rook on e8 and knight on d7 both awkwardly placed, Paragua appears to underestimate the danger in the game’s critical sequence.
Thus: 17. h3 Bxf3?! (more accurate was 17…Bxc3 18. hxg4 [bxc3 Bxf3 19. Qxf3 Qxb5 20. a4 Qa6 21. cxb4 Ne5 is also playable for Black] Qxb5 19. bxc3 Nd3, with equality) 18. gxf3 Qc7? (see diagram; missing a neat little combination, Black had to try something like 18…Ne5 19. Bxe8 Rxe8 20 Be3, with some compensation for the lost exchange) 19. Bxe7! Rxe7 (Nd3 20. d6 Qb8 21. Bxd7) 20. d6, and the pawn fork leaves White with an overwhelming edge.
Black’s game collapses quickly: 20…Qc5 21. dxe7 Qg5+ 22. Kf1 Ne5 23. f4 Qh4 24. Rd8+, and Paragua resigns facing 24…Rxd8 25. exd8=Q+ Qxd8 26. fxe5 Qh4 27. Qg4, and White’s material edge is decisive.
The World Open, annually one of the strongest and most lucrative open events in the country, attracts a strong national and even international field. But there were some good performances by local players in some of the class tournaments.