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No time to get bored at boards at US Open chess tourney. Fast-paced formats, computer competitors offer look into future

The US Open, which just concluded its 1988 renewal in Boston, is much, much more than a chess tournament. It's a ``happening'' that moves around the country each year, bringing together many hundreds of competitors along with families, friends, and aficionados of the game for two weeks of actual play plus a variety of side activities. The big news is still the overall winner, of course, and this year that turned out to be international grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich, a Soviet emigr'e who has lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the last several years. He won 8 games and drew 4 to take first place with a 10-2 score, beating out a 618-player field that included dozens of strong masters from all over the United States and elsewhere.

Gurevich was ranked No. 10 in the pre-tournament seedings, so his victory wasn't any major surprise, but he did have to outscore several more famous chess names to claim the biggest triumph of his career. Among them were former US champions Walter Browne, Lev Alburt, Larry Christiansen, Joel Benjamin, and Roman Dzindzichasvili, plus rising young superstar Maxim Dlugy.

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The victory earned him $5,000 in prize money along with a handsome trophy.

As always, there was a tense struggle for first place all the way, with Gurevich and several other top players battling it out night after night through the 12-round event that concluded last weekend. Missing out by a half-point and tying for second place with scores of 9 each were Dzindzichasvili, Christiansen, and international masters Michael Rohde of New York and Bryan Nickoloff of Canada.

But the main tournament was just part of the story. There were side tournaments of various types virtually every day, lectures on the state of United States and world chess, meetings affecting the future of the game in this country, and a number of simultaneous exhibitions in which top players took on all comers at the same time.

One of the latter was given by Yasser Seirawan, America's top player on the current international rating list, another by local favorite John Curdo of Chelmsford, Mass., a veteran of 40 years at or near the top in New England chess and a four-time winner of the US senior championship. At the other end of the scale, there were several simultaneous displays by youngsters ranging in age from 11 to 18 during a special day honoring the All-America Team made up of some of the country's top young players.

Blitz chess and in-between speeds known as ``action chess'' also had their innings. Midway through the main tournament, while most of the competitors were sightseeing or relaxing on their one day off from the daily chess grind, some 200 diehards competed in the US Blitz Championship - a one-night tournament in which all games were played with a limit of five minutes per player for the entire contest, and which was won by Dlugy.

Meanwhile, there were almost daily tournaments in the increasingly popular new ``action'' format that falls somewhere between serious and blitz chess, with games played at time limits of either 30 or 45 minutes per player.

Many chess enthusiasts think this is the wave of the future for the game - providing enough time for a reasonably serious contest, but assuring that no game can last longer than 1 or 1 hours. Among other things it makes it possible to hold an entire tournament in one day, while also creating more appeal for spectators (including potential TV viewers) by eliminating the excruciatingly long thinking periods that sometimes occur in standard 2- or 2-hour-per-player time limits.

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Computer chess, another wave of the future (or really the present at this point) also was very big at this tournament. There were numerous demonstrations of new commercial models in the hallways, while as usual nowadays, several programs actually played as regular competitors in the main event.

One computer entrant, a Carnegie-Mellon Institute program nicknamed Deep Thought, did exceedingly well, even beating the formidable international master Igor Ivanov in one spectacular result.

Chess-playing computers have come a long way since their infancy in the 1960s, and many of them are now capable of playing at the expert level, but it is still rare for one to defeat a player the stature of Ivanov, who holds a commanding lead in the 1988 Grand Prix standings based on tournament results throughout the year, and who is considered stronger than many grandmasters. The Soviet defector who now lives in Canada undoubtedly took the game more lightly than he should have, and was clearly not in top form, but even so the result was surprising.

Furthermore, `Deep Thought' continued its fine play, winning or drawing several other games against strong opposition and finishing with a most impressive total of 8 points. Several other programs also did well, including two Novag Industries, Inc., models that finished with plus scores of 6 points each.

Reigning US women's champion Anna Akshamaruva of Newton, Mass., was the only female to make her presence felt on the high boards, finishing with a solid 8-4 score. The practice of giving separate prizes for the highest-scoring women was discontinued a few years ago, however, so she got no special honors for her achievement.

The whole issue of women's chess, in fact, was a particular subject of controversy in Boston due to some recent decisions of the US Chess Federation's policy board affecting the participation of American women in upcoming national and international events.

Citing lack of sufficient funds, the board voted not to hold a separate US women's championship this year, and not to send a women's team to this fall's Chess Olympics unless outside funding can be obtained. The irony of the latter decision is that with the addition of Aksharaumova and other Soviet emigre's, the United States could well have its first-ever medal contender in the women's competition if a way can be found to get a team to the late-November competition in Greece.

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