Google “Chess” and “Chicago” and invariably you’ll find details of the legendary blues record label that was active in the 1950s and 60s created by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess. Chess Records’ luminous roster read like a who’s who of the blues. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter all recorded there. It was also a giant in the formative days of early rock ’n’ roll, with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley also signed to the label.
And as a fan of rhythm and blues and early rock ’n’ roll, I am certainly aware of the city’s music heritage. But today, it’s another sort of ‘chess record’ we’re interested in, as last week’s 24th Chicago Open witnessed ten American’s scoring title norms that led tournament organiser Bill Goichberg to comment “This may be a record number of norm-earners for an Open tournament held in the U.S.”
And leading the charge was 14-year-old IM Jeffery Xiong from Coppell, Texas, who had a stunning breakthrough performance by not only scoring his third and final grandmaster norm, but doing so in style by breaking a record in becoming the youngest-ever outright winner of the tournament - and he did it with a wonderfully mature final round victory over the very experienced top seed GM Lázaro Bruzón Batista of Cuba, who is a leading member of the Cuban Olympiad squad and one of the strongest players in the continent.
And with a string of draws on the top boards in the final round, Xiong was rewarded for his bravery in going all-out for the win against the Cuban GM, as he top-scored on 7/9 for clear first to take home winnings of $10,300! And in the process, with his final GM norm (and passing the 2500 FIDE rating requirement level), he now becomes America’s youngest grandmaster after Sam Sevian.
Jeffery Xiong -Lázaro Bruzón Batista
24th Chicago Open, (9)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 The 'Berlin Wall' ending was covered in our recent column, Chinese Whispers. Here, the Cuban GM is looking to take the young 14-year-old into a endgame struggle, where he hopes his greater experience will tell. As it turns out, age and guile proved no match for youth and exuberance, as Xiong shows maturity that belies his age. 9.Rd1+ Ke8 10.Nc3 Ne7 11.h3 Ng6 12.b3 Bd7 13.Bb2 Nf4 14.Rd4 Ne6 15.Rd2 Rd8 16.Rad1 Be7 17.Ne2 c5 18.Nc3! No, not a wasted move - now the outpost on d5 for the knight is a strong option. 18...Bc6 19.Nd5 h5 20.c4 Rd7 21.Rd3 Bd8 22.Nd2 h4 White has all the space in the game, and the 14-year-old doesn't ruin it all by rashly pushing further forward. Instead, he calmly manoevers his pieces to better squares - and its the experienced GM who instead panics. 23.Nf1! Bg5 24.Nh2 Rh5 25.Ng4 Kd8 26.Bc3 White rightly sees that - with the knight on g4 now supporting e5 - if he can exchange off the dark-squared bishop, then a future push of f4 to further support e5 and put a big clamp on Black's position will be easier to achieve. 26...Kc8 27.Bd2 b6 28.Bxg5 Rxg5 29.Kh2 Rh5 30.f3 a5 31.Kg1 a4 32.Kf2 axb3 33.axb3 Kb7 34.Nde3 Re7?! This looks like the wrong plan. Black really has to exchange pieces off to help ease the pressure. He had to go for 34...Rxd3 35.Rxd3 Nd4 36.b4 and take his chances in this ending. But now, as the game opens, the White rooks dominate. 35.Nd5 Re8 36.b4 cxb4 37.Nxb4 Rhh8 38.Ne3 Not only re-inforcing a knight outpost on d5, but also giving access to f5 where the knight can target Black's weak pawns. 38...Ba4 39.Ra1 Ra8 40.Rda3 Nc5 41.Nbd5 Rhe8 42.f4 g5 43.fxg5 He may lose the strong e5 pawn, but long-term Black's weak h-pawn will give Xiong a totally winning endgame. 43...Rxe5 44.Nc3 Nd3+? (See Diagram) Bruzon is feeling the pressure, as this is nothing more than a mistake. He would have been better going for 44...Rae8 45.Nxa4 Nxa4 46.Nd5 b5 and taking his chances here. 45.Ke2 Rae8 46.Nxa4 Rxe3+ It all looks threatening, but in reality it simply leads to further liquidation of pieces and an easy win for Xiong. 47.Kd2 Re2+ 48.Kxd3 R8e3+ 49.Kd4 c5+ If 49...Re4+ 50.Kc3 Rxg2 51.Kb4 Rxg5 52.Rf3 with a big material advantage. 50.Nxc5+ bxc5+ 51.Kxc5 Rxa3 52.Rxa3 Rxg2 53.Kd6! Black can't take the pawn on g5, as c5 threatening c6+ wins easily, because if he plays Rg6+ then Kd7 and there is no more checks and White now threatens Rb3+ winning. 53...Rg3 54.Ra5 Rxh3 55.Rf5 Rd3+ 56.Ke7 h3 57.Rxf7 h2 58.Rh7 Rd2 59.g6 Rf2 60.g7 Re2+ 61.Kd6 Rd2+ 1-0 Black resigns as there's no more checks as White's king shelters in front of the c-pawn - and Black can't play Rg2 as it allows g8(Q) with the rook on h7 giving a fatal discovered check.