Twenty-Five Years of Four Rated Games Tonight!

By Karl Heck and Steve Immitt


In the 1980's as tournament chess expanded in the United States and worldwide, both the USCF and FIDE allowed a new rated variation called Action Chess in the United States and Active Chess in much of the rest of the world.  The Action Chess format allowed a rated game to be completed in one hour for the first time.   The previous fastest time control was the now largely unused 30/30 format, where 30 moves had to be played in 30 minutes.  The 30/30 format, though, required continued play at one minute per move unless there was a conclusion.  Sudden death was not allowed before the mid-1980's.


In March 1987, tireless director Steve Immitt brought the new format to Thursday night events in New York City.  “Four Rated Games Tonight” was born on Tuesday under the moniker “All in a Knight's Work,” but eventually switched nights and names., “Four Rated Games Tonight” has never left New York since, though the format has moved to different locations.  Currently “Four Rated Games Tonight” is held at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan.  The slogan “America's Action Chess Showcase” has been part of the event since the beginning of the event as well, being invented by former Manhattan Chess Club manager Russ Garber at the beginning of Four Rated Games.


Four games has long been the norm at weekend Swisses around the country.  The even number of games ensures that most players get the same number of each color, and four is normally the most games a tournament director could fit into a day and get rated before the advent of Action Chess.


The “Four Rated Games Tonight” format condensed that to five hours.  Four Rated Games Tonight allows a player to arrive at seven and leave by midnight.  In the city that never sleeps, midnight is still not that late on a weeknight.  For most of the last 25 years, Thursday night has not ended without a new champion in Four Rated Games Tonight.  Over 1,000 Four Rated Games Tonight tournaments have been held since 1987.


Some of the early regulars for the tournament included IM Jay Bonin, GM's Pal Benko, Art Bisguier, Mike Rohde and IM Kamran Shirazi.  When Gata Kamsky was 15, he and his father sought political asylum in the U.S. after he played in the 1989 New York Open.  He soon became a regular himself every Thursday as well, and Action Chess fans were treated each week to some pretty intense and high level time scrambles on Board One in the last round between Kamsky and Shirazi.


From 1987 through 1993, the tournament took place at the Manhattan Chess Club, first at the Club's storied location on the 10th floor of Carnegie Hall, from 1987 until September 1992, when the Club moved from 57th Street to W. 46th Street.  Kamsky was there for the historic "Last Four Rated Games In Carnegie Hall,” where he swept the tournament. One interesting bit of Kamsky trivia:  one of the few players in the world to ever have had a plus score against Gata accomplished this on a Thursday night in Carnegie Hall, when the late USCF Expert Charles Jortner unexpectedly beat Kamsky in their first encounter (a situation which Kamsky equalized some years later on Thursday when he defeated Jortner in the first round).


From October 1992 until June 1993, the tournament was contested in the modern tournament room of the American Chess Center on West 46th Street. The annual Thursday Night Championship edition of June 24, 1993 bore an uncanny similarity to the U.S. Championship, with Kamsky paired with Joel Benjamin in Round 4.  After a heated struggle, neither of the two titans was able to squeeze anything more from the rook ending and had to split the point:   That last-round game also marked the end of the Four Rated Games six-year run at the Manhattan Chess Club.


On February 17th, 1994, the Original Four Rated Games Tonight began its 18-year partnership with the world-famous Marshall Chess Club in its historic brownstone on West 10th Street.  To its new home came some new stars, one of the most notable being future GM Hikaru Nakamura, who cut his chess teeth playing on Thursday Nights.  In fact, Hikaru made history on Thursday Night, February 26, 1998 when he defeated NM Ilijas Terzic in the third rated game that night, to become the youngest Master in USCF history at the time:


Through the years, "Four Rated Games Tonight!" has served as a stepping stone for the rising young stars of the day to acquire the New York City street smarts to help them up as they climbed the chess ladder.  From Donny Ariel, Marc Arnold, Samson Benen, Sal Bercys, Fabiano Caruana, Martha Fierro, Dmytro Kedyk, Kassa Korley, Boris Kreiman, Irina Krush, Alex Lenderman, Mackenzie Molner, Igor Shliperman, Igor Shneider, Raven Sturt, FM Grigor Braylovsky, NM Nigel Bryant, NM Joshua Colas (who make Master on Thursday 1/13/11), IM Teddy Coleman, FM Alec Getz, FM Matthew Herman, GM Robert Hess, FM Alex Kalikshteyn, NM Ravshan Khamroev, FM Adam Maltese, NM Abby Marshall, NM Andrew Ng, FM Alex Ostrovskiy, FM Leif Pressman, NM Evan Rabin, NM Evan Rosenberg (another player who broke 2200 on Thursday), NM Levy Rozman, brother NMs Andrew and Nicholas Ryba, NM Joan Santana, IM Justin Sarkar, NM
Andrew Shvartsman, NM Richard Tuhrim, NM Eigen Wang, NM Zachary Weiner, NM Boaz Weinstein, NM Justus Williams (who also broke 2200 during the Thursday September 23, 2010 Grand Prix edition),
etc., etc.  and countless others, the names on the "Four Rated Games Tonight!" wall charts certainly do read like a Who's Who of American Junior Chess.  Our sincere apologies to anyone whose name has been inadvertently omitted from this long and prestigious list.


May 24, 2012 marked the end of the "Four Rated Games Tonight!" era at the Marshall, and GM Mike Rohde, along with NMs Juan Sena and Miro Reverby were on hand to mark the occasion.  The Four Rated Games Tonight tournaments moved to the New Yorker Hotel.  The New Yorker site has quality playing accommodations in an easy to get to Midtown Manhattan location.  It is a historic location that while not as old as the Marshall, has many more stories to tell.  Along with famous visitors like JFK and Muhammad Ali, the creme de la crème of the New York City chess world have made their marks their on Thursday nights.


"Four Rated Games Tonight!" was able to capitalize on International Arbiter Sophia Rohde's hard work organizing the record 70 GM 1st PCA NY Qualifier in 1994 by inviting the whole gang of GMs to the Marshall on Thursday Night, June 24th to a chess party which featured no less than 15 Grandmasters of its own (a record which still stands for Four Rated Games Tonight).


The late GM Alex Wojtkiewicz proved to no one's surprise that he was a world-class action player that night, winning all four of his rated games (no easy task when all four of them are Senior Masters, including 3 GMs!) and turning in a white-hot 2800+ performance rating to clinch first in the strongest "4 Rated Games Tonight!" ever held.


IM Jay Bonin, on hand for the very first edition of the tournament in 1987, proved, again to no one's surprise, that he is still Mr. Thursday Night, because Jay has played in more Thursday Night (or Monday or Tuesday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday) tournaments than you can shake a truckload of sticks at.  But who is Number Two?  That one is hard to say.  FM Boris Privman has driven well over 30,000 miles roundtrip from his home near Trenton to play in many hundreds of Thursdays through the years.  But Gabor Schnitzler has had perfect Thursday attendance for at least the previous five years, and if you include the last seven years, he has only missed a handful of Thursday meetings.


Records are made and records are broken, but one record which is likely to last the test of time is that of the number of players from all corners of the globe (they even know about us in places that sure are hard to say: have made "Four Rated Games Tonight!" a part of their lives this past quarter century.


One new addition to the Four Rated Games Tonight format was offering Mixed Doubles prizes this year in an effort to attract more women to the tournament.   The innovation has seen its successes, and Steve has recently expanded the categories to offer a new women's sections and girls under 1200.  By continuing to expand the pool of players, it is possible to continue and grow the tournaments.  Four Rated Games Tonight continues to evolve to stay fresh and keep the players coming.


July 12th was the official 25th Anniversary of Four Rated Games Tonight.  Steve Immitt hosted a ceremony with a large number of Guests of Honor for the event, including GM's Arthur Bisguier and Gata Kamsky, IM Jay Bonin, FM Boris Privman, IA Sophia Rohde, FM Ron Young, TD Andre Harding and weekly participant Gabor Schnitzler, who has played in the Four Rated Games Tonight almost since the turn of the Century!  That is a lot of rated games!


For the 25th anniversary event, 128 players entered the tournament (in addition to some re-entries and house players). In the 56-player Open section, four GM's and one SM tied for first with 3 ½ points.  The GM's were Tamaz Gelashvili, Aleksandr Lenderman, Sergei Azarov and New York State Chess Hall of Famer Joel Benjmain.  Yaacov Norowitz is the “super SM,” a rare non-titled player with a 2584 USCF rating!  Benjamin was nicked for a draw in round 3, while Gelashvili drew Norowitz and Lenderman drew Azarov in the last round.


Eight players tied for sixth with 3-1 scores.  They were GM's Leonid Yudasin, former US Open Champion Michael Rohde and Vladimir Romanenko, WGM and US Women's Champion Irina Krush (who also won the first Mixed Doubles prize with Under 1800 player Simon Popkin), FM's Grigogor Braylovskiy and Matthew Herman, and NM';s Ravshan Khamroev and Evan Rosenberg.  Yudasin was the only undefeated player in the group.


Regular New York player GM Mikheil Kekelidze led the 14th place group at 2 ½ points, along with IM Mackenzie Molner, GM Gennady Sagalchik, FM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy, IM and Hall of Famer Jay Bonin, WGM Martha Fierro and NM Andrew Shvartsman.  Only in New York City can a weeknight tournament have six internationally-titled players with 2 ½ – 1 ½ scores.


The Under 2200 section was won by long-time Queens player Nicholas Ryba with a perfect 4-0 record in the 41-player section.  Ryba actually crossed the National Master threshold for the first time in his previous tournament, the World Open, but gained 28 points in this event to go from 2204 to 2232.  Ryba is now close to 2300!  In this event, he was also third in the Mixed Doubles.


Nagib Gebran was clear second with 3 ½ points, drawing in the first round in a “Swiss Gambit” and then winning three straight.    Five players tied for third with 3-1 scores:  Isaac Barayev, Evan Rabin, Furqan Tanwir, Bora Yagiz, and Harrison Smart.


Maksim Shvartsovskiy won the 24-player Under 1800 section with a perfect 4-0 score, moving into class A for the first time after the event.  Simon Popkin was clear second with 3 ½ points, and was the other half of the winning Mixed Doubles team with WGM Irina Krush.  Joshua Weiner, Maya Yamazaki and Gilberto Astor tied for third at 3-1.


Daniel Slavin won the 13-player Under 1200 section with a perfect 4-0 score, gaining 115 rating points on this historic night.  John Kelly was clear second with three points.  As mentioned previously, Simon Poplin and WGM Irina Krush won the Mixed Doubles prize with 6 ½ points.  An impressive 21 Mixed Doubles teams entered the tournament, which meant there was a significant number of women entered.  WGM Martha Fierro and Nagib Gerban were second with six points, and Abby Marshall and Nicholas Ryba were third with 5 ½ points.  The scoring format uses raw score, and does not adjust by section.  Steve Immitt directed with assistance from Jabari McGreen and Hector Rodriguez IV.


One of the beauties of the Four Rated Games Tonight format is that you know the tournament is there almost every Thursday night. The September 13 edition of Four Rated Games Tonight drew 23 entries and was won by GM Michael  Rohde and Expert Vitaly Tseytlin, both scoring 3 ½ points.  Tseytlin also won the Mixed Doubles prize with Jennifer Acon.


IM Jay Bonin, FM Boris Privman and Norman Rokeach tied for third with 3-1 scores.  Steve Immitt was the director, as is almost always the case for Four Rated Games Tonight.


The September 6th edition of the event had IM Jay Bonin not only tying for first, but also winning the Mixed Doubles prize with WIM Shernaz Kennedy.  Bonin and FM Leif Pressman tied for first in the 22-entry event with 3 ½ points, drawing each other in the last round after sweeping through the field.  Super-SM Yaacov Norowitz and Vitaly Tseytlin tied for third with 3-1 scores.  A large group of players scored 2 ½, including former US Open Champion Michael Rohde, FM Boris Privman, Michael Hehir, Yefrem Zats, Moshe Uminer and Bora Yagiz.


Here is a game from the July 26 tournament:

The ORIGINAL 'Four Rated Games Tonight!"

July 26, 2012  - New Yorker Hotel, New York, NY

Round 4, Board 2:  

Tournament Game Of The Week!

White: Alexander Fabbri  (2097)  

Black: GM Tamaz Gelashvili (2682)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 dxc4 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 a5 7.O-O Bxd2 8.Qxd2 c6 9.a4 b5 10.axb5 cxb5 11.Qg5 Ba6 12.Qxg7 Rg8 13.Qh6 Bb7 14.d5 Nxd5 15.Qxh7 Nf6 16.Qh4 Nbd7 17.Nc3 Qb6 18.Qd4 b4 19.Na4 Qxd4 20.Nxd4 Bxg2 21.Kxg2 Rc8 22.Rac1 Ke7 23.Rc2 Ne4 24.f3 Nd6 25.f4 Rc7 26.Kf3 f5 27.Rfc1 Rb8 28.Nb3 Nf6 29.Nd2 b3 30.Rxc4 Nxc4 31.Rxc4 Rxc4 32.Nxc4 Rb4 33.Ncb6 Nd7 34.Nxd7 Rxa4 35.Ne5 Ra2 and Black eventually won.


There was a time in American chess when Four Rated Games Tonight would not have possible due to the rating rules.  Now, it's impossible to imagine New York City chess without it.