By David A. Hater, COL, AG
The Castle Chess Camp Grand Prix is the concluding event of the Castle Chess Camp. This year it was held from June 19th to 21st at Emory University in Atlanta. The Castle Chess Camp is one of the premier chess camps in the country. Due to its popularity, it limits the number of campers. This year’s camp was limited to 120 campers, and a camper had to have a minimum rating of 1150 to register. Even with these restrictions, the camp still sold out and had an average rating close to 1700.
The tournament had 252 players in seven sections and had a guaranteed prize fund of $12,000! Almost, half of the prize fund was concentrated in the Master section. Castle Chess Camp has a rule that you must be within 100 points of the section in order to play up. So in order to be eligible for the Master section, one had to be rated 2100. One expert joined 14 masters to make a strong 5 round Swiss with an average rating of 2393.
Several of the camp’s instructors play in the Grand Prix on the weekend following the camp. This year’s instructors were seven GMs, two IMs and two FM/masters. “Only” two GMs, one IM, and two FM/life masters decided to play in the tournament. These instructors were joined by two other GMs to make a 15-player weekend Swiss where half the players had FIDE titles!
The tournament has a Friday night or Saturday morning option. However, the 120 campers who are age 14 and under are required to play Saturday morning, so Friday evening’s round is much smaller. In the Master section, IM Kassa Korley was paired against GM Irina Krush on board 1. It is not often in a weekend Swiss where an IM rated close to 2500 gets paired up in round 1! Korley and Krush played to a very hard fought draw. They would eventually also tie for first. How ironic is it that two of the three co-champions played in round 1 and drew!
Friday night’s round had more than the usual excitement this year. Three hours into the round all the lights went off. The facility normally close at 11PM and the ballroom lights are on a timer. Of course on a Friday night after 11PM, nobody can be found to turn the lights back on. We improvised as best we could. Games were relocated to the hallway and we found as many desk lamps and flashlights as we could. We got through the round, but this is certainly not how I like to start a tournament! Interestingly, on Saturday night the lights again went out precisely at 11PM. Fortunately all games are concluded by 10:30 PM!
In round 2, GM Mark Paragua was paired against FM Riufing Li on board 1. Li won the game while GM Alonso Zapata defeated Damir Studen to emerge as the only two perfect scores. GM Julio Beccera drew IM Daniel Rench on board two. Becerra, Rench, Krush, and Korley were all chasing the leaders with 1 ½ out of 2. One of the defining aspects of the Castle Chess Camp is the relatively large prize fund for a relatively small number of the professional and semi-professional players. Because the Master section is restricted, you see GM versus GM pairings early in the tournament and quick draws are not prevelant. Nearly every game in every round winds up being hard fought.
One of the other aspects of such a tournament is there are no easy rounds – not even for the top players. Damir Studen was seeded in the top half of the tournament and after losing to GM Zapata in round two had to play GM Paragua in round three. Damir went 0-2 against the GMs, but managed to finish the tournament with an even score and tie for the U2400 prize. Interestingly, he got a last round bye as all the players below him had already had a bye! In round three, all the top boards drew: Zapata and Li drew on board one, Becerra and Korley drew on board two, and Krush and Rench drew on board three, Going into the Sunday money rounds, Zapata and Li were leading at 2 ½; Paragua, Becrerra, Krush, Korley, Rench, and Life Master Chris Mabe all had 2.
In round four, GM Zapata was paired “down” (at least by tournament score) to GM Becerra on board one and the two fought to a draw. Board two was also a hard fought draw between FM Li and IM Rench. GM Paragua played a long struggle against IM Korley, but that was also drawn. The greatest rating mismatch on the top boards was GM Krush against LM Mabe. GM Krush made the most of this opportunity and brought home the full point.
The last round now had three leaders with Zapata, Krush, and Li all having 3. Korley, Paragua, and Becerra were chasing with 2 ½. Rench also had 2 ½ but signed up for a last round half point bye before the tournament began due to travel arrangements. On board one Zapata and Krush played a see-saw battle that eventually ended in a draw. Several spectators originally thought Krush would win as she had a strong attack for the exchange. Then the attack was neutralized and spectators thought Zapata would bring home the full point because of his material advantage. In the end it was drawn. IM Korley defeated FM Li to join Zapata and Krush in the winner’s circle. The three each won $1366.67 for their efforts. GM Becerra was paired against GM Paragua and either one could have tied for first with a win, but the game was drawn. This master section was so strong that 2nd seeded GM Julio Becerra at 2600+ won his first round and “only” drew his next four games! Becerra, Paragua, Li, and Rench all tied for 4th-8th. They each earned $300. The U2400 prizes were split between Studen, Mabe, NM Scott Villaronga and NM Sanjay Ghatti. Each received $325. In the end 11 of the 15 players won a prize.
In the other six sections, the required score to win was identical — 4 ½ points. Five of the six remaining sections had clear first place winners, but they all got there a bit differently.
In the U1200 section, Johnney Green III started 4-0. Prior to the tournament he signed up for a half point bye. He had mathematically clinched clear first before the last round pairings were made! He took home $350.
Three other players also started off 4-0. Reece Thomson in the expert section and Sahil Patel in the class B section both played short draws to cement their victories. No player could catch them so a short draw made sense. Thompson won $750, while Patel took home $575. Nima Rezaei also only needed a draw for clear first place, but that game lasted considerably longer. Rezaei pocketed $400.
The other players had to win their last round games. Grant Oen and Nathaly Arias finished with 4 ½ points in the class A section. They each won 525. Arias played up. She was eligible for class B, but since her rating was within 100 points of Class A, she was eligible to play up. She did so and gained 240 rating points in the process! Arias attended the camp on a scholarship. Each year Castle Chess in conjunction with the FIDE Commission on Women’s Chess gives a promising young woman player from South America a full scholarship to the camp. This year Nathaly from Ecuador was selected.
Robert Dicks won his last round game in the class C section and earned $500 for his efforts.
The tournament was directed by David Hater assisted by Jim Mundy, Jennifer Christianson, and Scott Parker. The planning efforts are already underway for next year’s camp and grand prix – we hope to see you there!