Elegant Senior Open celebrates chess art in many forms
By Humberto Cruz
Florida CHESS
Summer 2008

In an elegant and artistic setting, their hands literally reaching out and touching chess art, 78 players including 37 Floridians battled it out for the 2008 U.S. Senior Open championship in Boca Raton this past spring. The annual open championship for players 50 and over, played at the customary senior-friendly rate of one game per day, attracted participants from 17 states and three foreign countries (based on players’ listed FIDE country). The field included U.S. Grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich of Illinois, four international masters, four FIDE masters and eight other players rated 2200 or higher.

The tournament was held in conjunction with the 13th biennial convention of Chess Collectors International (CCI) at the Boca Raton Marriott at Boca Center the week of April 28. CCI is a worldwide organization for players and non-Players alike who enjoy the art, history and beauty of chess sets as well as postage stamps, books, pins and other memorabilia. Steve Livingstone, a CCI member from Florida, provided gorgeous Staunton-design, hand-carved wooden sets for the Senior Open that were veritable works of art.

With 78 players competing in a five-round Swiss, the likelihood of a firstplace tie – possibly between two players with 5-0 scores – was high. Event organizer Don Schultz of Highland Beach had prepared for that eventuality with a novel “modified Armageddon” unrated playoff game if needed. In such a game, Black would get draw odds and as little time on the clock as the player would agree to accept. White would get two hours. Before the game, the players would “bid” to see who was willing to play with the least time on the clock as Black.

But while many spectators and players not in the running looked forward to witnessing such a playoff, IM Larry Kaufman of Maryland made sure none was needed. Larry, a former resident of Parkland, Fla., swept through the tournament with five straight victories, including a 28-move last-round win against IM Igor Foygel of Massachusetts, the only other player with a perfect 4-0 score up to that point.

“I seem to be in good form now,” deadpanned Larry, who had tied for first with 4.5 points out of 5 in the Maryland Open the weekend just before the Senior Open. With his victory, Larry won the $1,100 first prize and qualified for a spot in the Frank Berry U.S. Championship in May (where he scored 3.5 points out of 9). Meeting the minimum age requirement of 60, he also qualified to be the U.S. representative in the FIDE World Senior Championship scheduled for Bad Zwischenahn in Lower Saxony, Germany Oct. 28 through Nov. 8.

Larry will receive a $500 stipend as an additional Senior Open prize if he commits and registers to play in the world event. Germany, as the host country, will supply room and board. IM Albert Z Kapengut, formerly of Belarus and now the United States (New Jersey), finished clear second with 4.5 points. Six players -including Gurevich, who was held to two draws, and Bill Kramer, a Florida expert, tied for third place with 4 points.

Bill, rated a relatively modest 2018 when the tournament began, was the top finisher among Floridians. He won four of five games, including three against masters, with his lone loss coming against IM Foygel in the fourth round. His victims included Aavram Pismennyy of Russia (and Massachusetts), rated 2268; Leonid Balmazi of Massachusetts, rated 2271 and popular Chess Life journalist and veteran tournament player Jerome Hanken of California, rated 2200.

Overall, 30 players split $4,909 in prizes, including those awarded to winners in age and rating groups. With his impressive showing, Bill raised his rating to an unofficial 2074 and took home $400. Besides tying for third place overall (he was fourth on tiebreaks), Bill, 51 years old, tied for the top score among players in the 50-54 age group and among players rated under 2300, and was first on tiebreaks on both groups.

Other prize winners from Florida included Charles Musgrove, Boris Veksler and Wayne Ballantyne, 3.5 points and $34 each for tying for second among players rated under 2300; Constantine Xanthos, 3 points and $100, first in 60-64 age group (as others that age received higher overall prizes); Antonio Angel and Dennis Dunn, 3 points and $34 each, tied for second among players rated under 2000.

Also, Frank Redway, Juan Dominguez, Hans Schuschel, Robert Mitchell and Janusz Gromnicki, 2.5 points and $38 each, tied for first among players rated under 1800; David Jacoby and Joe Diskin, 2 points and $100 each, tied for first among players rated under 1600, and John Saunders and Daniel Arnold, 2 points and $125 each, tied for first among players rated under 1400.

Even players who took home no prize money (like me) enjoyed a memorable experience. All Senior Open participants got to play their games on the beautiful sets supplied at no charge by Livingstone, owner of TheChessPiece.com, a family business in Stuart, Florida. In more than 40 years of attending chess tournaments, I have never played with such stunning sets. The “New American” set I had in my first-round loss against Igor Foygel (list price for set and board combined was $599) featured magnificent pieces in boxwood and ebony, including life-like Knights with a protruding mane, all designed by Livingstone and handcrafted in India. The pieces were triple weighted (King measured four inches and weighed 3.8 ounces). The ebony chessboard measured 21 by 21 inches, with 2 1/8-inch squares.

The sets were so gorgeous that players were asked to bring their own sets to a separate, one-day blitz tournament the afternoon of the final Senior Open round (You don’t want those fine pieces banged around or slammed against the board in speed games!) Kaufman wanned up for his U.S. Senior Open victory by also winning the blitz event (this one in a tie with Leonid Balmazi and Leonid Bondar). The unrated blitz tournament, open to players of all ages, featured a version of Schultz’s “modified Armageddon” time control in which colors were not assigned with the pairings but rather agreed upon by the players. White had 10 minutes for the entire game and Black had draw odds and as little time as the player was willing to accept to play Black.

Other fun chess-related events at the Senior Open included the collectors’ exhibit and an auction at the Auction Gallery of the Palm Beaches and online on eBay, and a visit to the World Chess Hall of Fame & Sidney Samole Museum in Miami-Dade County. During our visit, U.S. grandmasters Joel Benjamin, Nick deFirmian and Larry Christiansen were inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, and grandmaster and former world women’s chess champion Susan Polgar gave a simultaneous exhibition (I was one of the losers).

Polgar – who with her husband Paul Truong flew to Florida at their own expense – also spoke at the tournament’s awards banquet and presented Kaufman his championship trophy. That too was a work of art. It looked like a wooden book that, when opened, revealed an engraved plate on the left and a clock on the right. (All tournament awards, except for the engraving, where the same).

The banquet, open to both chess players and collectors, was a fun, music-filled event, with Igor Foygel for one making as many brilliant moves on the dance floor with his wife of 28 years, Larisa, as he’d made on the chessboard during the week. “She is the real dancer,” the Russian-born Igor said. “My dancing rating is much, much lower than my chess rating.” (I think he is too modest). Also during the banquet, former USCF executive board member Joel Channing of Palm Beach Gardens, who donated $2,500 to put together the Senior Open, was presented an award by Schultz and wrongly claimed he did not deserve it. Erik Anderson, founder and chairman of AF4C (American Foundation for Chess), also was a major donor, contributing $1,000.

The Samole family and Excalibur Electronics, the major patrons of the Hall of Fame and Museum, donated Game Time II digital chess clocks that were given away at the beginning of each Senior Open round to the first player answering a chess trivia question. The questions tended to be tricky, such as who was the first French grandmaster. It was Pal Benko, who was born in France although most of us think of him as Hungarian since he was raised in Hungary and won the Hungarian championship at age 20. If nobody could answer the question, a drawing was held for the clocks.

Before concluding the formal presentations at the banquet, Schultz asked whether anybody had anything to say. I didn’t then so I’ll say it now. The organizers (let’s not forget Don’s wife, Teresa, who often worked late into the night) and the tournament director staff of Bill Snead, Jon Haskel and John Dockery did a terrific job of running a fun and smooth tournament, and they all deserve the players’ thanks.

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