National Master Gopal Menon made his USCL debut in spectacular fashion Wednesday night as he extracted a win, from what many in the crowd thought was a drawn position, to clinch the Blaze win and extend the team's perfect record to 4-0. Menon, known for his one minute bullet chess prowess (he was #1 on the ICC one minute list earlier in the year), came out of the opening in typical fashion, with an advantage and up the exchange against 10-year old whiz kid Albert Lu.
Menon comfortably played the Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense with the white pieces. At some point, Menon got a bit too comfy and his young prodigy opponent reclaimed a position with equal material. "At that point I realized I might have relaxed too soon, but I had to win my game. Mesgen had won his game, Yuri drew his. Jim Dean looked like he might be in trouble," Menon remarked. "If I drew my game, we would end up with a draw. I knew I couldn't let that happen". With nerves of steel, Menon rapidly maneuvered his queen around the board, and eventually pounced on an opportunity to to bring home the decisive point.
As with last week's match, Grand Master Mesgen Amanov was the first Blaze player of the evening to finish his match, this time with a gorgeous win over IM Zhanibek Amanov (no relation) on Board 2. Mesgen played a variation of the Modern Benoni where he gave up his queen in return for two active knights and a strong bishop that dominated play. "This was a very theoretical variation," Mesgen said. "I knew this line very well." Many observers at the North Shore Chess Center thought this game should be a strong candidate for the coveted USCL Game of the Week award. GM Amanov annotates the game here.
The second game of evening to finish was GM Yury Shulman with the black pieces against the formidable GM Melikset Khachiyan. Shulman played the Winawer Version of the French Defense, an opening he is known for, but the game ended in a draw on move 22 by repetition. When that game concluded, the prospects for both Gopal Menon and Jim Dean looked quite promising. However, both of those games ended up to be tough battles fought to the end.
The final game of the night to conclude featured a scorched-earth battle on Board 3 between FM Jim Dean, a four time Indiana State Champion, who was also making his Blaze debut, and virulent attacker Tatev Abrahamyan. Dean came out of the Advanced Variation of the Caro-Kann opening with a slight edge. As the game progressed, the advantage shifted to Abrahamyan. In the endgame Dean had a Knight and a Bishop against Abrahamyan's Rook and two pawns. Tatev pushed hard, but Dean, often in severe time trouble, fended off her attack and earned the draw to reach a final 3-1 score in favor of the Blaze.
With Jim Dean making his first USCL appearance, Blaze fever is now spreading to our neighbors in the Hoosier state. Some of the faces in the crowd last night included:
- Craig Amaker, and avid chess player and fan from Fort Wayne, Indiana who studies with FM Dean
- Michael Jones, a chess player and fan formerly from Indianapolis, who now makes his home in Chicago
- Patrice Connelly, a frequent player at the South Suburban Chess Club, and Bulletin Editor for the Chicago Industrial Chess League
- NM Len Weber, chess organizer and avid Blaze fan
- Larry Cohen, a fixture on the Illinois chess scene
- Blaze team members Angelo Young and Eric Rosen were also on hand to lend support, both moral and photographic
A special thanks also goes out to this week's celebrity TD, Chris Wood. Chris played chess at Glenbrook South High School during the early years of the century. He is an expert level player and partakes in tournaments around the Chicagoland area from time to time. Thanks again to Chris!
GM Dmitry Gurevich (who annotates Menon's match here) recapped the the evening's events quite well: "It was a spectacular match!! A brilliant win by Mesgen! Jim and Gopal fought like tigers!" … Go Blaze!!" And from Skokie, Illinois, that's the way it was.