Chess, Hockey and St. Louis

Chess and hockey merged in my favorite city, St. Louis, MO, in June of 2019. My love of chess and hockey began when I was nine years old. Although I’ve never attended a National Hockey League (NHL) game, I’ve followed the NHL since I was nine years old. I'd get up in the morning during hockey season and check the scores daily. I grew up in a small town with a lake and loved playing hockey in the winter months. 2019 has turned out to be a magical year for me as chess and hockey came together in St. Louis.

The big story in the sports world so far this year is the amazing comeback of the St. Louis Blues professional hockey team. The Blues were in last place in the NHL on January 2, 2019. They came back to win the Stanley Cup which is awarded to the NHL champion.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan

Vladimir Tarasenko hoists the Stanley Cup after the Blues beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis is one of the top chess clubs in the world attracting many of the world’s best players to compete in prestigious chess tournaments annually.

St. Louis Chess Club. Chess-site.com

World Champion Magnus Carlsen competes in the Sinquefield Cup at the St. Louis Chess Club

St. Louis is also home to Webster University, the premier collegiate chess program in the world. St. Louis University and Washington University also have chess programs. Webster University won their sixth collegiate championship in the seven years in 2018.

Photo David Llada. Webster University 2019 chess team

And now to the tournament. With the help of my friend, GM Varuzhan Akobian, I organized the 1st Annual STL Blues GM Blitz Championship to memorialize the Blues amazing comeback season. Of course I didn’t know they would win the Cup when I organized the event! National Arbiter and Iowa State Chess Association President Eric Vigil assisted me with arbiter duties for this event. The tournament was a six-player double round robin blitz event held on the campus of St. Louis University. The six GMs who competed had an average FIDE rating 2622.

The date was perfect, Saturday June 8th. The Blues were in the Stanley Cup finals and were up three games to two against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were in St. Louis to face the Blues on Sunday night, June 9th. The city was abuzz as the Blues had a chance to capture the Stanley Cup on their home ice. The team was formed in 1967 and has never won the Stanley Cup. Their last appearance in the finals was in 1970 against the Boston Bruins and now they were on the brink of winning the Cup for the first time!

The top seed in the chess tournament was Illya Nyzhnyk, a Ukrianian native and Webster University student with a FIDE blitz rating of 2698. The second seed was Varuzhan Akobian, an Armenian native and the only non-student competing in the event. He has a FIDE blitz rating of 2653. The third seed was Dariusz Swiercz, a Polish native and a St. Louis University student with a FIDE blitz rating of 2647. The fourth seed was Ray Robson, a native of the USA and a Webster University student with a FIDE blitz rating of 2614. The fifth seed was Alaxander Ipatov, a Turkish native and a St. Louis University student with a FIDE blitz rating of 2609. The sixth seed was Akshat Chandra, a native of the USA and a St. Louis University student with a FIDE blitz rating of 2511.

Chandra, the lowest rated player in the event, started by winning with both black and white against Ipatov in rounds one and two. After eight rounds Swiercz was leading with 5.5 points followed by Nyzhnyk and Robson with 5 points each. Akobian had 4.5 points and was still in contention. Swiercz faced Chandra in the final two rounds. As stated earlier, Chandra was the lowest rated player in the tournament with a rating 126 points below Swiercz. Robson was paired against Ipatov who was having a bad tournament. He had 1.5 points after eight rounds. Akobian and Nyzhnyk, both in contention, squared off in the final round. Swiercz was in the best position to win with a half point lead facing the lowest rated player in the tournament. However, Chandra justified his invitation by scoring 1.5 points in the final two rounds creating a three-way tie for first as Ipatov split with Robson, one point apiece and Akobian splint with Nyzhnyk.

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Photo by Eric Rosen

GM Dariusz Swiercz, GM Ray Robson, and GM Illya Nyzhnyk shared first place 1st Annual St. Louis Blues GM Blitz Championship, June 8, 2019

Photo by Eric Rosen

NA Eric Vigil, IA Bill Broich, GM Illya Nyzhnyk, GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Dariusz Swiercz, GM Alexander Ipatov, GM Ray Robson, and GM Akshat Chandra on the campus of St. Louis University

Back to hockey. On Sunday June 9th, the Blues fell behind early in the first period and were never in the game despite being on their home ice. On the day after the blitz tournament, they lost 5-1 and this result tied the series at 3 games apiece. The series moved to Boston where the Bruins had an opportunity to win the Cup on their home ice just like they did against the Blues in in 1970, forty-nine years ago! The final game was like game six only this time the Blues scored first, and Boston was never really in the game. St. Louis won 4-1. They went from the worst to first to win the Cup!

Photo by Laurie Skrivan

Exuberant Blues fans!

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