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Ukrainian Takes Over Space Coast Open

April 26-28, 2019

A beautiful spring day on Cocoa Beach, Florida in front of the festival venue [Photo: Kolcz]

Springtime, sun, sand, surf. Yes, it must be time for chess on the beach at the Space Coast Open Chess Festival in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The Space Coast Open brings you the most chess you can pack into a weekend at a beachfront resort location.

“This tournament is the Jewel of Florida Chess… My two teenage daughters INSIST that I go, because they want the weekend at the beach!” - Paul Leggett, Class B Co-Champion

As the players began to trickle in on Friday, I met first-time competitor Braedon Hart, his mom, and younger brother, visiting from Ohio. Mrs. Hart told me they planned their spring vacation around the Space Coast Open. Perhaps the best move played off the board!? Braedon, now a H.S. student, only started playing tournament chess 4 years ago and has already attained an Expert rating. At the Space Coast Open he turned in a respectable 2.5 points in the Master section and gained another 22 rating points.

Ukrainian Triumph. On the top boards it was just another weekend at the office for recent émigré GM Olexandr Bortnyk (2634) as he cruised to a first-place finish. Even a game where he looked like he might be in trouble he not only converted to a win, but also parlayed the game into a brilliancy prize with his aggressive play and impeccable technique.

"Chess is my life!" - GM Olexandr Bortnyk

GM Bortnyk shows off his Crystal Teardrop [Photo: Haskel]

As the top ranked player Bortnyk could be considered the pre-tournament favorite. However, with a strong field including number 2 seed GM Julio Becerra (2592) along with two IMs among a baker’s dozen of Masters, nothing can be taken for granted. After the first 3 rounds only the two GMs had a perfect 3-0 score, leading to their round 4 matchup. As Black, Bortnyk responded to Becerra’s 1.e4 with the Alekhine's Defense, with possible fireworks afoot, thanks in part to the modified Sofia rule (no draw offers permitted before move 30 insuring against a short GM draw). The battle migrated to the Queenside but remained level and by move 30 a Rook and Knight endgame was reached with no winning prospects for either player.

The all-Grandmaster matchup in Round 4 teased at possible fireworks when GM Bortnyk (right) defended with the Alekhine's Defense in response to GM Becerra's 1.e4, but the game remained level throughout. [Photo: Koretsky]

This draw allowed another Ohio player, Scott Ramer (2347), to catch the GMs, leaving these 3 players leading the event with 3.5 points. As Ramer’s reward, his last round pairing was as White vs. GM Becerra while Bortnyk would have White vs. FM Cesar Valido Bouza (2332). In the Ramer-Becerra game, the first new position was reached at move 27, and with a slight edge for White, peace was declared 3 moves later. This was perhaps slightly surprising since up to that point only a single pair of pawns had been traded. This left Bortnyk - Valido Bouza as the remaining big money game, with Bortnyk delivering a brilliancy-level performance to win the game and claim clear first place.

"A very sophisticated and daring sacrifice..." - IM Javad Maharramzade, commenting on GM Bortnyk's win

GM Bortnyk (white pieces) faces FM Cesar Valido Bouza, winning in brilliant style to finish a half-point ahead of his closest competitors [Photo: Kolcz]

Bortnyk sacrificed two pawns for what appeared to be somewhat dubious compensation. The game entered an endgame with Bortnyk having a pair of Rooks and pair of Bishops vs. Black's Rooks plus Knights. But White also had pushed Black's forces into some disarray, with the Black King stuck in the center disconnecting his Rooks. In spite of this, Black briefly obtained the better prospects due to the extra material, but under pressure, made some inaccuracies. Bortnyk was relentless with his Rooks and Bishops, eventually hoovering up three pawns as first the minor pieces and then one pair of Rooks were exchanged. In the process Bortnyk went from two pawns down to being a pawn up. Bortnyk then gave a master class on the Rook and pawn endgame to bring home the full point. In selecting this game for a brilliancy prize, our games judge, IM Javad Maharramzade had this to say, “A very sophisticated and daring sacrifice of two pawns in the opening by the winner of the Masters section, that led to a complex endgame with the Black King stuck in the center and Rooks disconnected. Black correctly returned one of the pawns to somewhat simplify the position, but he should have tried to hold on to the second pawn (23... Nfd5!? instead of Ncd5). Instead the game transitioned into a Rook endgame with an extra Pawn for White, in which the grandmaster showed an impeccable technique to earn the full point.”

Meet GM Olexandr Bortnyk – a man of few words and a whole lot of chess power. Q: How did it feel to win clear first place? A: It was not the first tournament which I won, but I was happy. Q: How long have you been in the U.S.? A: I came to USA in January 2018. I live in Miami (Aventura). Q: Is chess your career or do you have a career outside chess? A: Yes, chess is my life! Q: What are your impressions of the Space Coast Open? A: I liked. Q: What would you most like the readers of the article to know about you? A: I am Grandmaster from Ukraine who opened chess school in Miami!

More Master Section Mayhem. Entering the last round only two players, IM Yunier Leyva Rivera (2481) and SM John Ludwig (2450), a student at nearby Florida Tech, stood on 3 points and thus had a chance to join the leaders. They faced each other in this key matchup where only a win would take a share of the top prizes. As the game transitioned from the middlegame to endgame, Leyva Rivera won a pawn. A long Rook and Pawn endgame ensued where Ludwig’s Rook was passive and Leyva Rivera pressed home for the full point. As the dust settled this win enabled Leyva Rivera to join Becerra and Ramer in the 3-way tie for second place. Thanks to the Under 2400 prizes, Ramer was the big money winner in this group. His prize was well deserved as he drew both Becerra and Leyva Rivera. Be sure to check out the game Ramer – Leyva Rivera where Black is on course to take the full point, but a couple slips allow Ramer to sacrifice a Rook and secure a draw by perpetual check. Exciting stuff.

IM Yunier Leyva Rivera (right) did not get to test his mettle against the GMs due to draws in rounds 2 and 3, but he overcame his slow start with wins in the last two rounds, including this key Round 5 game vs. SM John Ludwig, to join the tie for second place. [Photo: Kolcz]

Scott Ramer had a very successful event. His Houdini-like escape in Round 3 allowed him to go undefeated and tie for second place overall, claiming Top Under 2400 honors. Here he bears down in his 5th Round game vs. GM Becerra where the players traded only a single pair of pawns before declaring peace at move 30. [Photo: Kolcz]

The 2nd Under 2400 prize was claimed by local master Nick Moore (2239). Moore had a fine result, with his only loss coming against Bortnyk. The top Under 2200 prizes were claimed by young stars Benjamin Chen (2092) and 10-year-old Bach Ngo (2088). They both won in the last round to join Moore in a 3-way tie for 5th place and were awarded the larger Under 2200 prizes.

NM Nick Moore (left) made it to the Top Board in Round 2 where he suffered his only loss to GM Bortnyk.

10-year old Bach Ngo (left) convincingly demonstrated he is a chess-force to be reckoned with, tying for Top Under 2200 honors, including a Round 2 draw with IM Justin Sarkar. Here he faces Ryan Hamley in the key 5th Round game that Ngo won to cement his strong result. [Photo: Kolcz]

After winning his first game, Benjamin Chen faced two IMs in a row (drawing IM Leyva Rivera but losing to IM Sarkar), and then finished strong with wins in his last 2 games to climb up the standings and join Ngo in the tie for Top Under 2200. [Photo: Kolcz]

With prizes going down to 4th place overall and multiple Under 2400 and 2200 prizes, nearly half of the players in the Master section won some prize money. As Jim Walker (2023) excitedly reported to someone on his cell phone as he collected his prize check, it paid for his entry fee.

On route to his tie for 3rd Under 2200, Jim Walker (right, and extremely focused) made it to the top boards (Board 2 in Round 3) where he was handed his only loss of the event by GM Becerra.

There was one player in the Master section who finished out of the money on the place prizes, but still took home a $200 prize and a lot of glory by winning the first Brilliancy Prize. This achievement was accomplished by many-time Space Coast Open participant Eric Cooke (2254). Cooke had a tough start to his tournament. He was paired down against Experts in his first 3 games and had only a half a point on the cross table. But Cooke came back with a vengeance in Round 4 as he demolished Jose Hernandez’ (2169) Dragondorf with a ruthless sham sacrifice and a series of hammer blows that brought the game to a swift conclusion. In selecting this game for top brilliancy prize honors IM Maharramzade wrote, “[a] very imaginative and powerful game by Cooke. White offered a pawn sacrifice with 13.e5!, which Black wisely declined. That left behind the scenes the true beauty of White's design - 13... dxe5 14. Ne6!!. After a very strong 15.e6!, driving a nail into Black's position, it became clear that White came out of the opening with excellent attacking prospects. Then followed a small moment of hesitation 16.Kb1?! - a prophylactic move that was not really necessary, but White then picks up the pace again with 18.Qg1!, 20.Rh3!, and 21.Bxb5!".

When he learned of his selection for first Brilliancy Prize, Cooke wrote, “I am glad that I won the brilliant prize!! … I played [at the] Space Coast many times and enjoyed playing there .... I am glad that I played well at the end of the tournament!! [It was a] great comeback; it helps my confidence that even [if] I don't play well in a game I could play well in my other games!!” Well said, Eric. Words for any chess player to live by.

Class Sections. The Class A section Luis Ares (1947) achieved the only perfect 5-0 score of the tournament which earned him one of the biggest prize checks of the weekend. This section was unique in another way, as there were no ties for the next two places either. Phillip Durand (1945) was nicked for a single draw on his way to 4.5 points and clear second place. The draw was versus 3rd place finisher, Alan Wang (1900) who was the only player on 4 points. That left a 4-way tie for the 4th place money with 3.5 points among local youth talent Vincent Stone III (1964), Samarth Bellayaru (1911), Jerry Yao (1841), and Michael Guan (1810). Another notable result, while out of the money, was achieved by Matthew Kolcz (1625), who managed an even score while playing up a section, and also taking a number of the photographs included in this article.

Luis Ares delivered the only perfect 5-0 score of the weekend to convincingly claim top honors and the coveted Crystal Teardrop in Class A [Photo: Haskel]

In Class B it took a couple tries to figure out the prize payouts because the 4-way tie for first also included the Top Senior player. This slightly boosted the prize payouts for this group and pushed some prize money down to the players on 3.5 points. Tying for first place with 4 points each were Paul Leggett (1756), winner on tie-breaks of the crystal trophy, Nate Ziegler (1601), Nicholas Weisberger (1673), and Janusz Gromnicki (1625), who was also Top Senior. Of note, the youngest player in this group, Nate Ziegler, also scored 4 points last year and tied for first. But last year he was in the Class C section!

Paul Leggett took the Class B Crystal Teardop on tiebreaks in the 4-way tie among the Class B winners. Paul added to his winnings by also claiming the 3rd Brilliancy Prize for his Round 1 win, which came vs. section co-winner Gromnicki. [Photo: Haskel]

Paul Leggett Interview Q: What are your thoughts about the event? You have played previously at Space Coast. What do you like the best? A: It is at a relaxing venue by the beach, and my whole family enjoys it. All the players also seem more relaxed and friendly- like it brings out the best in people. Q: Do you like any of the side events? A: Sometimes the lectures, but mostly I am at the pool or beach between rounds. Q: The location? A: My family loves it. I know the rooms have been questionable in the past, but they have made a concerted effort to improve them. Sometimes we just get a regular room, and sometimes a Loft, which are nice, and worth the extra dollars in my opinion. Q: Do you come as part of a group or with family? A: With my family. My two teenage daughters INSIST that I go, because they want the weekend at the beach! Q: Anything else you would like to share with the readers? A: This tournament is the Jewel of Florida Chess. This one and The US Amateur Team South are the two tournaments I encourage EVERYONE to play in. They are the essence of Florida Chess in a nutshell. Q: You tied for first place in your section (Class B). How does this compare with your past successes? A: I swing between Class B and Class A. I have won the B Class at least once before, but this was my first trophy win. I have not yet placed in the A section. Q: How did you feel about your result? A: I was happy overall but would have been happier with 5 good rounds instead of 4! Q: You and Gromnicki were the only players on 4 points going into the last round (he re-entered after his loss to you). You both stumbled in the last round allowing your respective opponents to join you in a 4-way time. Any comments about this? A: I partly ran out of gas, but mainly miscalculated badly in the last game, and there is no room for hiccups in the last round. It was a competitive and hard-fought section, so I was pleased to go home with the trophy on tiebreaks!

Leggett took another honor in addition to his first place finish by winning the Third Brilliancy Prize. That game was played in Round 1, where his opponent neglected development and omitted castling until it was too late. Leggett capitalized in exciting fashion, offering a pawn to pry open lines for his Rook, Bishop, and Queen. Black spurned the pawn but four moves later, immediately after he managed to castle, Black was facing unstoppable mate in one. In selecting this game for a brilliancy prize IM Maharramzade commented, “This is to pay tribute to the fighters of the lower sections. A very nice tactical finish by the winner of Class B tournament - 19.d6!, 20.Rxe5!, 22.Qf6!"

This game also proves that sometimes it is a good strategy to reenter after a bad start. Leggett’s victim in this game was none other than his co-winner, Gromnicki! After his round 1 setback Gromnicki reentered and stormed to a 4-0 score, entering the last round tied with the only other player on 4-0, Paul Leggett! Since they had already played, they were both paired down to their nearest rivals who were players with 3 points. These players happened to be the very determined Weisberger and Ziegler, both winning against the leaders to play catch up! An exciting last round indeed.

Thanks to the Top Senior prize being claimed by Gromnicki, the players tied for 5th place also collected some winnings. And since one of these players tied for the Second Place Senior Prize, that prize was pulled in as well and collected by Bill Langford (1644). Tying with Bill and sharing the 4th place money were two players who were playing up a section: Ethan Tal (1553) and Sritej Sattaru (1534).

In Class C, Matthew Elliot (1514) entered the last round with 3.5 points, a half point clear of three players on 3 points. This section saw a big shuffle at the top as all three of the chasing pack won and Elliot lost to Joseph Disken (1587). Thus Natahja Graddy (1470), winner on tie-breaks, and Maxwell Yang (1264), who was playing up a section and lost only to Graddy, tied with Diskin for first place with 4 points. It should be mentioned that Disken also tied for Top Senior but was awarded the larger place money. Meanwhile two players with 2.5 points won their games to leapfrog over the players with 3 points. These two, Greg Engl (1464) and Tim Bowler (1402), thereby tied with Elloit for 4th place. Since Engl also tied for Second Senior he was awarded that prize and the other two split the 4th place money.

Class D was another section where leading going into the last round was not a good predictor of the final standings. Eric Dirga (1012) was playing up a section got a one-point bye in Round 1. He then won his next three games to stand alone at the top of the standings with 4 points entering Round 5. He faced Advait Nair (1362), the only player on 3.5. In this game the rating edge translated to the game result as Nair won to take clear first place with 4.5 points. This pushed Dirga into second where he tied with Anders Bylund (842), another player who was playing up and who had won his last round game to catch Dirga. Perhaps this was poetic justice as Bylund’s only loss was to Dirga. Trailing these players by a half point and tying for 4th place were Miguel Arbesu (1323), Bradley Juopperi (1288) and Srijan Ganta (1147).

Chief Tournament Director and co-Organizer Jon Haskel congratulates Class D Champion Advait Nair who is all smiles after winning clear 1st Place and claiming his Crystal Teardrop. [Photo: Haskel]

In the Under 1200 section one-quarter of the participants left with prize money. Going into the last round 13-year old Arthur Hernandez-Visbal (1017) was leading the section with 4 wins, and his last round draw ensured him a share of first place as well as the Scholastics trophy for K-8. According to an article in the Florida Catholic newspaper (May 24-June 6, 2019 edition), Hernandez-Visbal joined his first club at school at the tender age of 5 and has advanced steadily, benefiting more recently from private lessons with a master. His effort paid off as he took first place on tie-breaks along with a nice prize check. Hernandez-Visbal was joined by Soham Shirode (1063) who had a draw in Round 4 and then won his final game to catch up. No less than five players won or drew in the last round to reach 4 points and a big tie for 3rd place. One of these players was Jack Foster, rated only 770, who claimed the bigger Under 800 prize. And Ivan Goponenko (972) did the same with the top Under 1000 prize. That left the other 3 players to share the remaining place prize money. These were Tristan Elvers (1142) who also won the Scholastics trophy for K-3, Salavat Akhmerov (unrated), and Danny Ward (1087).

It's a nice payday for 13-year old Arthur Hernandez-Visbal, a very happy co-winner of the Under 1200 section. He almost needs another hand to hold his prize check as well has his K-8 Queen's crown and First Place Crystal Teardrop [Photo: Haskel]

Several players finished with 3.5 points, but only Davey Ward (923) was eligible for the U1000 prizes and he duly claimed Second U1000 as well as the Scholastics trophy for K-5. On 3 points and tying for 11th place there were 8 players. Of these, the prize winners were Aakash Madadi (995) who finished out of the prize money but did finish as the top Scholastics K-12 player, and three players who tied for the second Under 800 prize: Andrew Bylund (772), Enping Zhang (758), and Encheng Zhang (711), the latter two who are students at the nearby Viera Charter School.

Let’s Not Get Upset! Upset prizes are awarded for the first 4 rounds and usually these prizes are claimed in either the Master section or the Under 1200 section, as those sections typically have the largest ratings spread and hence more opportunities for upsets. Sure enough, in Round 1 an Under 1200 player, Arham Shah (497), claimed the upset prize defeating a player rated 424 points higher. But with many competitors “playing up” in other sections, it was the Class D section that claimed the remaining 3 upset prizes. These went to Anders Bylund (842) winning in Round 2 with a 461 point rating difference, Srijan Ganta (1147) in Round 3 with a 238 point difference, and Jack Judy (1084) in Round 4 with a 301 point difference. Bylund proved his upset was no fluke as in addition to tying for second place he also had the biggest upset in the third round (301 point difference) but since he already won an upset prize it went to the next-in-line player for Round 3.

Late Night Blitz. The Space Coast Open Blitz was held on Saturday night. Blitz players with a long game in Round 3 of the main event sometimes are late for the start of Blitz and end up taking a Bye in the first round. Since the event is 4-Rounds with two games against each opponent, this means those players start in Round 2 of the Blitz with 1 point out of a possible 2. This is the fate that befell both IMs who entered the Blitz, Yunier Leyva Rivera and Justin Sarkar. Last year Leyva Rivera was knocked out of contention with a double loss in the last round to Blitz specialist FM Corey Acor. But with Acor absent this year Leyva Rivera proved untouchable, winning all his remaining games to finish with 7 out of a possible 8 points. Sarkar meanwhile had a drawn game with Pedro Hernandez Perez (2261) and a loss in one of his games with Anthony Norris (1906), finishing in a tie for 4th place with Michael Thomas (1903). Two of the players that Leyva Rivera defeated won all their remaining matches 2-0 to finish tied for 2nd place with 6 points: James Walker (2023) and former FCA President William Bowman (1934). The Top Under 1900 prize was claimed by Jared Groder (1819).

William Bowman (white pieces) faces off in Round 1 vs. Jonathan Hunter Cirillo in route to Bowman's second place tie. One board over Top Under 1900 winner Jared Groder (white pieces) battles with Ohio's Braeden Hart [Photo: Dyson]

Grandmaster Lectures. We again packed in three lectures during the weekend. The lectures are free to players and spectators alike and all were well attended. First up was SM John Ludwig on Saturday morning. Currently a USCF Senior Master and a student at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, John has been competing in the SCO since he was a Class B player. Following John was homegrown master Nick Moore. Nick grew up playing in the local scholastics tournament series started by Franc Guadalupe, and when Nick got “too good” to compete in those events, he was pressed into service to help run them. Nick recently graduated from UCF and now works for tech giant Harris Corp. The anchor of the lecture series was GM Julio Becerra. I gave GM Becerra the choice of scheduling his lecture on Saturday or on Sunday between the 4th and 5th rounds. I was surprised when he chose Sunday, which was likely to be (and was) when he would be competing in the money rounds of the tournament. Becerra gave a very interactive lecture that covered how opening theory evolved and how to use this understanding to learn an opening in depth.

SM John Ludwig has been playing in the Space Coast Open since he was a Class B player. Here he kicks off the lecture series on Saturday morning [Photo: Koretsky]

In the second Saturday morning lecture,White's situation looks hopeless but NM Nick Moore shows that White can draw if he keeps a cool head and combines attack and defense [Photo: Koretsky]

On Sunday GM Becerra squeezes in a lecture before his 5th round game. Here he shares how to learn a new opening by understanding the key games that contributed to current theory, rather than simply trying to memorize a lot of variations [Photo: Koretsky]

The Spirit of Wojo - Brilliancy Prizes. GM Alex Wojtkiewicz (affectionately called “Wojo”) played many times in the SCO and was usually part of our lecture series. After his untimely passing, we named our brilliancy prizes in his memory. This year we offered three cash prizes totaling $350. IM Javad Maharramzade served as the Brilliancy Prize judge, his 14th consecutive year in this role. While some games are submitted in PGN or harvested from our broadcast, each year I give Javad a thick stack of scoresheets. He very diligently reviews all available scoresheets, whether marked for brilliancy consideration or not, just so as not to miss a hidden gem. This year his son Amir also pitched in to help manually enter the games, and these further expanded the tournament games collection. As noted above, this year two of the Brilliancy Prizes went to games in the Master section and the other to a co-winner in Class B. See Games of the 26th Space Coast Open earlier in this article for information on where you can find all the games.

Closing Remarks and Appreciation. Special thanks to the team that brings you the Space Coast Open. Jon Haskel served both as co-Organizer and Chief TD. The day before the event got underway we learned Jon’s usual Chief Assistant TD was laid up with a fever. We were very fortunate that Steven Abrahams was willing and able to step into the breach on short notice and traveled up from South Florida to help, covering floor TD duties and serving as Chief TD for the Blitz.  Orlando Chess & Games, run by Alex Zelner, returned as our book and equipment vendor.

The President of the Space Coast Chess Foundation (SCCF) is Dr. Peter Koretsky. He serves as co-Organizer and the head of sponsor relations, coordinating the fund-raising efforts that support our favorable entry-fee-to-prize ratio, the many side events, and our local scholastics activities. Much appreciated behind-the-scenes assistance was also provided by SCCF board member Scott Langford and by Brenna Koretsky and Linda Wicker. The husband-and-wife team of Langford and Wicker previously ran our local scholastics series for many years and this year they were responsible for securing the beautiful Crystal Teardrop trophies awarded to the section winners. Lastly, Matthew Kolcz was kind enough to donate a number of his photographs. Thank you to all.

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