The 29th North American Masters chess tournament was held at the North Shore Chess Center in Skokie, IL from May 28th through June 1st. The event was sponsored by Artmill – www.artmill.com
North American Masters tournaments are designed to assist top flight chess players who are seeking international titles. Short of becoming world champion, the highest two titles in chess that can be acquired are International Master (IM) and Grandmaster (GM). To reach those titles a player must raise their rating to a certain level while also achieving three “norms,” which are earned based on performing at a high level. Once the player has earned all three norms and achieved the required rating, the title is then granted to them by FIDE, the governing body of international chess.
This series of tournaments was launched by event organizer, Sevan Muradian, nine years ago to little fanfare. Competitions of this nature were almost unheard of in the US, and it was typical for American masters to be forced to travel to Europe to have a chance at reaching the top levels of the game. These days things have changed and one can find a strong norm event almost every month somewhere in the country.
Sevan has been organizing chess events since 2004. His first invitation-based international title tournaments brought relief to a 20 year drought in the Chicago area. Since then he has organized numerous other events including the World Amateur Chess Championship, the America’s Continental Chess Championship, and multiple US National Championships. Asked why he chose to establish the North Shore Chess Center Muradian said that his goal was “The desire to integrate the traditional chess communities with that of the casual chess community, with a long term goal of establishing a sustainable network of partners to grow chess at all levels.”
Each norm event requires the participation of at least three titled players along with the other competitors. The 29th event in the series featured IM’s Vitaly Neimer, Angelo Young, and Florin Felecan, along with norm seekers Tom Bartell, Eric Rosen, Viktorija Ni, Adithya Balasubramian, Gauri Shankar, Kostya Kavutskiy, and Awonder Liang.
A few of the title hopefuls are well known in the local chess scene. Viktorija Ni from Chicago, IL just finished competing in the US Women’s Chess Championship for her second time. Eric Rosen, currently residing in Skokie, is a freshman at the University of Illinois. Eric has won a national high school title and recently made the Final Four of the NCAA’s team chess championship. Awonder Liang from Madison, WI is a former World Champion for players eight years old and under and recently became the youngest chess master in US history just short of his 10th birthday.
There are two types of norm events; open and closed. Anyone can enter an open tournament, but a player needs a lot of luck to go along with strong play in order to make a norm. This is due to the FIDE regulations which require a certain number of the opponents faced to have titles, a certain number to be foreigners (to prevent collusion), and for a specific average opponent rating. So there is no guarantee that a norm can be earned at all regardless of an individual’s performance.
In a closed tournament the organizer invites specific players to ensure all requirements are all met. The players then play one another in a round robin format. Going in to the tournament each title seeker knows exactly what score they need to wind up with in order to make their norm. In the 29th North American Masters a score of 6.5 points out of a possible nine would be needed. In chess a win is worth one point, a draw worth a half point, and a loss worth zero.
Heading in to the final day of play with only two rounds to go both Tom Bartell and Eric Rosen still had hopes of making the grade as both had scored 5/7, meaning that they each needed 1.5 points out of their final two games.
In Round Eight Tom Bartell was held to a draw by Adithya Balasubramian while Eric Rosen also was unable to score the full point against Kostya Kavutskiy. That put both gentlemen in a position of needing a win in their final game.
Asked about his frame of mind heading into the last game Mr. Rosen said “I’m not really thinking about the IM title, I’m just taking it one step at a time.” Although he was quick to add that “It does give you some perks such as free entry to certain tournaments and invitations [to more prestigious events].” He also said that he had had a nightmare that he was playing his final round game and had a winning position, but couldn’t figure out how to actually win.
When posed the same question Mr. Bartell remarked “What happens, happens. If I don’t get [the norm] there’s always another tournament.”
Neither of the two plan on becoming a full time chess professional, but both do say that they’re going to continue to play for as long as they enjoy the game. Eric said that one of his future goals is to “be able to play in the US Championships someday.”
For Tom this was his third and final norm. As he has also met the rating requirement he will officially be granted the International Master title. For Eric this is his second norm. After this performance he is certain to get more invites in the near future.
The North Shore Chess Center is located at 5500 West Touhy Avenue Suite A Skokie, IL 60077 and welcomes players of all ages and abilities. They may be reached at (847) 423-8626.