King Loek Rulez

Berkeley international took place at the beginning of January (2-8) at the Berkeley Chess School, up the hill of the town. It was a 10-round open, with a tough scheme that featured three doubled rounds at the beginning. We played the FIDE time limit, with the only difference that the phone ring would not necessarily mean a defeat by forfeit.
Berkeley is a small town near San Francisco, famous for its University of California. One of the organizers of the event, Arun Sharma is a professor teacher in Mathematics in this prestigious University. He is rated around 2300 and recently did very well at the North American Open in Las Vegas where he won a special price for rating category. “This was probably my best tournament so far”, said he with satisfaction. The other organizer is David Pruess, an IM and great promoter of chess in USA. He also organized the previous three editions of the tournament in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
I can say that the event was very well organized. The halls were spacious, and easily accessible, there were free beverages and snacks for the players during their games.
The field was rather strong, and the surprises started immediately from round one. The rating favourite Loek van Wely had to leave his top board after drewing a game against Keaton Kiewra, who is rated 2337. I was always wondering why people call the Dutch GM- King Loek. Here I understood it, after watching his consecutive string of five-in-a-row recovery, which included wins against strong GMs Magesh Panchanathan, Josh Friedel and Robert Hess. He then made three more draws, and won the decisive last round game to claim a clear first in style. His opponent from the first round also did quite well, secured an IM norm with a round to go, and created a marvelous game against the compatriot Hess to score his first GM norm. The tournament itself was quite rich of norm achievements. Sam Shankland scored his final GM norm to gain the title at the age of 19, Denys Shmelov who is not even an IM made his first GM norm. In addition, Daniel Naroditsky became an IM at the age of 14, and Conrad Holt and Roman Yankovsky scored their second norms, while Tatev Abrahamyan made it to the WGM norm. in a thrilling game Sergey Erenburg managed to outwit Timur Gareev and take clear second, while Magesh Panchanathan edged out Josh Friedel to win the third price. I was in a Christmas mood and presented as many points as possible. What made me an impression was the fact that there was no closing ceremony. The price winners calmly took their checks and left, there were neither bombastic speeches nor long applauses.

Not many people attended the tournament, and I was once shocked by a question from a visitor who asked me if it is allowed to get inside and have a look at the games.
There were more chess-related activities throughout the event- simultaneous exhibitions with the youngest national master Kayden Troff and GM Timur Gareev, free chess lecture by IM Daniel Rensch, blitz tournament which was won by Robert Hess.
The American tournaments are much more different than those in Europe. The bye point system is still not very clear to me. How many half-point byes can one possibly take? And when should he/she announce them? Some of the players took four byes. Some none. It is a completely free world.
And it is not only like that on the chess field. The next day while walking around in San Francisco we see people on underwear coming out of the BART (something in between a train and metro) station. It appeared that there was a “No pants day” in San Francisco, and those willing to do it can walk this way. It is 10 degrees centigrade, but noone cares. It’s America!
We had a wonderful time visiting the Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Garden, the China town, the Mechanics Chess Club and walking around in San Francisco.

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