My Trip to the US Open

By Michael Aigner


A total of 543 players competed in the US Open in Oak Brook, IL (a suburb of Chicago) on August 5-13, 2006.  The three different playing schedules all merged in time for round 6.  I played in the longest schedule: one game a day for nine straight days.  Games took place at 7:00 in the evening daily except that the last round began at 3:00 in the afternoon.  All players competed for the same prizes: overall honors plus categories every 200 rating points for lower rated players.  The time control was classical chess: 40 moves in 2 hours followed by the rest of the game in 1 hour (plus USCF 5 second/move time delay).  Each game could last up to six hours.


The main playing hall.  All photos are from the MonRoi website (


I traveled to Chicago with my teenage student Daniel Schwarz.  He was the 2006 Northern California high school champion and thus was eligible to participate in the Denker Tournament of high school champions.  This prestigious event took place at the same dates and location as the US Open, except that the Denker games started at 11:00 in the morning while the US Open games began at 7:00 in the evening.  Enthusiastically, Daniel played in both tournaments and had a great time.


Daniel Schwarz has the face of a hyperbola (according to his shirt).


Any chess player could participate in the US Open after paying USCF dues and the entry fee. The first round pairings were typically Grandmasters against 1800s.  By the fourth round, the GMs were playing low masters.  Daniel, rated 2217, lost to GM Zviad Izoria from the country of Georgia (rated 2660 FIDE, #50 in the world) on board 2 in round 4.  After starting out 4-0 against lower rated opponents, I was paired with the same GM Izoria in round 5, losing in about four hours with the black pieces using my pet Dutch defense.


GM Zviad Izoria from Georgia (the country).


Despite this setback, I won rounds 6 and 7.  The sixth game against teenage expert Ricky Selzler from Seattle was my most brilliant game (see annotation below).  Amazingly my seventh opponent, Clint Ballard, also from Seattle, was rated only 1914 but had already faced five masters, beating four and losing only to IM Bill Paschall.  The US Open is a great format for such improving players!  I got outplayed for the first two hours of the game, but finally my opponent made one move like a 1900 player and that was enough for me to take the initiative.  This was actually the second time that I snatched victory from the jaws of defeat—my round 2 opponent had a forced checkmate for several moves in a row but lost on time at move 40.


Aigner, Michael vs Selzler, Ricky, 2006 US Open (6)

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 a6 5. Nf3 b5 This setup, played by Kasparov and Svidler, has been popularized in a book by Swedish GM Hillarp-Persson. 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. e5 c5 8. exd6 More aggressive is 8. e6! fxe6 9. Ng5 Bxd4 and now white can choose between Qf3, Nxe6 and Nxh7. exd6 9. O-O Ne7 10. Ne4 Centralizing the knight while threatening a pawn. Nb6? Better is to give up the pawn in order to complete development. 10... O-O 11. Nxd6 cxd4 12. Nxc8 Rxc8 11. dxc5 dxc5 12. Nd6+! A cute shot. The knight is immune due to Bxb5+.  Kf8 13. Nxc8?! Now I miss a chance to simply dominate the board. 13. Be4 Rb8 14. Nxc8 Qxc8 15. Ne5 Rxc8 14. c3 Rc7 15. Qe2 15. Bxb5 wins a pawn after Qxd1 16. Rxd1 Bxc3 17. Bxa6 Rd7 16. Ne5! Rd6 The point is that 16... Bxe5 undermining the defense of the bishop on d3 fails to 17. Qxe5 17. Be3! As Reuben Fine and many other chess teachers have said, develop your minor pieces with threats! Bxe5 18. fxe5 Rxd3 Black has won a piece at the cost of fatally weakening his dark squares. 19. Bxc5 The silicon monster wins back the piece in style. 19. Qf2! Qd5 20. Bh6+ Ke8 21. Qf6 Nbc8 20. e6! Opening three lines at once: the e and f files plus the a1-h8 long diagonal. Black's king has just been added to the endangered species list. Qd5 21. Rxf7+ Ke8 22. Bd4 Rxd4 23. cxd4 Qxd4+ 24. Kh1 Rf8 Black has nothing better. For example 24... Nd6 runs into 25. Qf3 Nxf7 26. exf7+ Kf8 27. Rd1 Qb6 28. Qc3 Kxf7 29. Qxh8 25. Rd1 Qc4 26. Rxf8+ Kxf8 27. Qe5 Nf5 28. Qf6+ 1-0


The “fpawn”, armed with a Sprite and a MonRoi, is ready to pounce on his Grandmaster opponent.


My luck was only beginning.  After round 7, I was the lowest rated player with 6.0/7.  Since the number of players with 6.0 or more was odd, the USCF rules called for the lowest person to be down-floated to the highest player in the next point group.  Thus, I spent half a day preparing for black against GM Gregory Kaidanov (the highest 5.5) only to find out that one player had previously requested a bye. Instead I got white against IM Tim Taylor from Los Angeles, rated nearly 300 points lower than Kaidanov.  The challenge with the new pairing was largely psychological: I had lost to Taylor just three weeks earlier in California.  Fortunately, I won the US Open game after some adventures in the middlegame. I even surprised him and my friends in the opening by playing 1.d4 for the first time in my life against a master.


IM Tim Taylor.


Consequently, I was tied for second place going into the last round.  The Chicago-based GM Yury Shulman had 7.5/8 while GM John Fedorowicz of New York, teenager IM Emilio Cordova of Peru and I had 7.0/8.  Usually you would expect to face a world-class player (e.g. GM Kaidanov) on the top boards in the money round.  Instead, I got white (again!) against the "Fed".  Of course, I would still have to face the power and fury of a Grandmaster with thousands of dollars in prize money at stake.  Not surprisingly, board 1 between IM Cordova and GM Shulman was drawn in about two hours, leaving my game as the featured game on the stage and on the Internet Chess Club.  We both knew that the winner would tie for first and have his name recorded in history next to Bobby Fischer.


The top two boards before round 9.  Foreground: IM Cordova (left) vs GM Shulman.  Background: GM Fedorowicz (left) vs Aigner.


The game lasted a tense five hours (see annotation below).  I was down a pawn for part of the middlegame, but had a bishop pair as compensation.  Later, GM Fedorowicz sacrificed back the pawn for serious threats against my king.  While my computer assured me that the position was objectively drawn, it was by no means simple to play against a strong opponent with much at stake.  I couldn't believe my ears when "Fed" offered a draw.  Of course, I accepted! After the game, I was immediately whisked into an interview live via webcam on the Internet Chess Club, hosted by IM Paschall. 


GM John Fedorowicz showing off his new toy: a MonRoi electronic scoresheet.


Aigner, Michael vs GM Fedorowicz, John, 2006 US Open (9)

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 b6 A rare move in the closed Sicilian as black usually seeks to play Rb8 and b5. No doubt "Fed" was trying to confuse me by taking the game into uncharted territory. 6. f4 Bb7 7. Nf3 d6 8. O-O Qd7 9. Be3 Nh6 The text prepares for f7-f5. However, Fischer pushed his f-pawn right away against Bernstein in 1968. 9... f5 10. Qd2 Nf6 11. Kh1 O-O-O 12. Rae1 Kb8 13. Bg1 fxe4 14. dxe4 Ba6 0-1 in 25 moves. 10. Kh1?! f5 11. Bg1N O-O 12. Qd2 Nd4 13. Nxd4!? cxd4 14. Ne2 e5 15. c3 This move, which destroys black's central pawn mass, was my idea when trading knights on move 13. dxc3 16. Nxc3 exf4 17. gxf4 Rae8 18. Rae1 Re6! 19. Nd5 Rfe8 20. b3 Qf7 Black has gradually improved each of his pieces and now I hardly have any useful moves. For example 21. Bf2 Ng4 22. Bg3 Nf6 only helps black bring his knight back into the game. 21. Qb4! Activating my queen yet sacrificing a pawn. fxe4 22. dxe4 Bxd5 23. exd5 Rxe1 24. Rxe1 Rxe1 25. Qxe1 Qxf4 26. Qe6+! At the cost of a pawn, I have obtained the bishop pair and threats against black's monarch. Kh8 27. Qc8+ Qf8 28. Qd7 Qb8 By this point, both players knew that the winner of this game would share first place with GM Shulman. Understandably, my opponent tried to maintain tension instead of trading into a drawn position. Qf4 29. Qxa7 Bd4 30. Qb8+ Ng8 31. Bxd4+ Qxd4 32. Qf8 Qa1+ 33. Bf1 Qe5 29. Bh3 Ng8 30. Be6 Nf6 31. Qe7 Nh5 32. Bg4 Nf4 33. Qe4 Qf8 34. Be3 Be5 35. Bxf4 Bxf4 36. Qe6 Despite the enormous pressure of the situation, I remembered that opposite bishop endgames favored the attacker. Kg7 37. Qd7+ Kh6 38. Bf3 Bg5 39. Qh3+ Kg7 40. Kg2 h5? More promising is 40... Qe7 41. Qg4 h5 42. Qe4 Qf6 43. Qe6 Qb2+ 44. Qe2 Qa1 when black ends up with almost the same position as the game without losing the a7 pawn. 41. Qd7+ Kh6 42. Qxa7 Be3 43. Qa4 Qf6 44. Qe4 Qb2+ 45. Kh3 Qf2 46. a4 Bg5 47. Be2 Although Fritz calmly says 0.00, I fully expected to blunder and lose this position. Consider the natural looking 47. Bg2? which loses after Bf4 48. Qf3 Qd2 49. Qe4 Be5 50. Qf3 Kg7 51. b4 g5! 52. Qxh5 Qf4 Bf4 48. Qg2 Qe1 49. Qf3 Qd2 50. Kg2 Kg7 51. h3 Be5 52. Kf1 Qc1+ 53. Bd1 My king must stay on white squares. 53. Kf2?? Bd4+ 54. Kg3 Qg5+ 55. Kh2 Qg1#  Qd2 54. Be2 Bc3 55. Kg2 Qg5+ 56. Kf2 Bd4+ 57. Ke1 Qc1+ 58. Bd1 Qb2 59. Kf1 Bc5 60. Be2 Qd4 61. Bd1 Qg1+ 62. Ke2 Qh2+ 63. Kd3 Qe5 Now that my king has escaped its prison and can hide on b5 and c6, the draw is inevitable. 1/2-1/2


US Open champion GM Yury Shulman scored 8.0/9.


At the end, I tied for second place behind GM Shulman's superb 8.0/9 score.  I was awarded the top U2400 prize.  I was the only untitled player (no FIDE title) in a group of seven GMs and two foreign IMs: GM Kaidanov, GM Izoria, GM Alexander Shabalov, GM Giorgi Kacheishvili, GM Joel Benjamin, GM Dmitry Gurevich, IM Cordova, GM Fedorowicz and IM Alfonso Almeida Saenz.  The good news is that I hopefully won't be untitled much longer.  My estimated FIDE rating for the October 2006 rating list is 2299, knocking on the door of the 2300 required for the FM title.


Daniel also did well in Chicago.  He started out 3-0 in both tournaments, but the round 4 defeat at the hands of GM Izoria took the wind out of his sails.  Amazingly, he missed a win in that game!  Due to a combination of strong underrated opponents and fatigue, Daniel struggled in the middle of the week.  Perhaps the low point was the mate in 3 that he missed in mild time pressure during the last round of Denker championship—a win in that game would have meant a tie for second place.  However, Daniel ended up as hot as he started, finishing with three straight wins in the main tournament.  The final round victory left him tied for second U2400 honors, ironically behind his roommate and coach.  Daniel lost a couple of points from the Denker but more than gained those points back in the main tournament.  He returned home content to have gained a lot more experience and even 10 USCF rating points.


Daniel on the stage in round 4 against GM Izoria, armed with “Weapons of Math Destruction”.


While playing chess dominated the agenda in Chicago, I also had the pleasure of chatting with many celebrities in the chess community.  For starters, I met five administrators on the Internet Chess Club for the first time: co-owner Marty Grund (LateKnight), CEO Joel Berez (frobozz), relay specialist Andy McFarland (Zek), capawhite and Cell.  I also spoke with a variety of US Chess Federation politicians, including President Bill Goichberg, newly elected Executive Board member Randy Hough (my round 3 opponent), Executive Director Bill Hall, Chess Life editor Daniel Lucas and webmaster Jennifer Shahade.  The FIDE titled players became increasingly friendly as I kept winning, especially GMs Izoria, Kacheishvili, Shulman and Gurevich plus IM-elect Emory Tate.  I met also a few of the nation’s top juniors, including Michael Lee (#1 age 12), Brian Luo (#1 age 9), Francis Chen (#3 age 15), Joel Banawa (#4 age 16), Eric Rosen, Daniel McNally, Jonathan Hilton and Trevor Jackson.  Last but not least, I want to thank my longtime friend Todd Imada for being a big part of my team over the years.


ICC co-owner Marty Grund (left) and CEO Joel Berez.


Finally, I would like to recognize all the Northern California players who made the trip to Chicago.  Unfortunately, only Daniel and I won prize money in the main tournament.  However, several local players had respectable results, most notably Michael Zhong who drew three straight masters (including IM Justin Sarkar) and beat a fourth master before running out of steam and fading.  Louiza Livschitz had some ups and downs, but she did finish tied for second place in the Polgar championship for high school girls.  The only veteran in our group, Tony Pabon, scored a respectable 50% in a difficult tournament.


Northern California players in US Open:  Michael Aigner (2311) 7.5; Daniel Schwarz (2217) 7.0; Adarsh Konda (2019) 6.0; Drake Wang (2256) 5.5; Louiza Livschitz (1983) 5.5; Michael Zhong (2006) 5.0; Jonathan Soo-Hoo (1799) 4.5; Tony Pabon (1671) 4.5; Elisha Garg (1842) 2.5


Check out the MSA for the complete tournament crosstable.

For more photographs, visit the MonRoi website

Click here to download a PGN game file with all of my games plus a few games from selected other players.