Chess 12/08/2011

ANYONE who has ever competed in the big European Opens will be accustomed to creature comforts like not having to bring a set or a clock – the organisers supply them.

But when Europeans participate in American tournaments for the first time they are often surprised – and I have witnessed the bemusement on their faces many times – that they have to bring their own equipment, and by the relatively austere conditions (no appearance fee perks for the top players).

It wouldn't be surprising if they did not make the effort, given the travel involved to compete in the US. Yet quite a few do, with the most frequent European regular these days on the American circuit being the Dutch grandmaster Loek Van Wely. He has found that while the level of competition in the US is generally not as high as it is in Europe, the tournaments are gruelling, partly because of the fast rate of play (more than one game a day), and there are many dangerous opponents of much lower ratings and titles.

Van Wely has suffered a number of upsets in the US, often early in tournaments, before going on to win the whole thing, but his luck ran out in last week's 112th US Open in Orlando, Florida, as he fell victim to Marc Esserman, an expert in the club player's favourite pet-line against the Sicilian Defence: the Smith-Morra Gambit.

This defeat, coupled with another disaster, saw Van Wely missing out in a seven-way grandmaster tie for first on 7.5/9, with the title decided by a playoff between Aleksandr Lenderman and defending US Open Champion Alejandro Ramirez, won by Lenderman.

M Esserman - L Van Wely

112th US Open, (3)

Sicilian Defence, Smith-Morra Gambit

1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3 dxc3 4 Nxc3 Nc6 5 Nf3 e6 6 Bc4 a6 7 0–0 Nge7 8 Bg5 f6 9 Be3 Ng6 10 Bb3 b5 11 Nd5 exd5 12 exd5 Nce5 13 d6 Bb7 14 Nxe5 fxe5 15 f4 Qf6 16 fxe5 Qxe5 17 Bg5! Be7 18 Bf7+ Kd8 19 dxe7+ Nxe7 20 Qd2 Kc8 21 Rac1+ Nc6 22 Rfd1 Qf5 23 Bf4 Qxf7 24 Qd6 Kd8 25 Rxc6 Bxc6 26 Qxc6 1–0