- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

In one of the most dramatic games of the year, Pittsburgh GM Alexander Shabalov defeated young California IM Varuzhan Akobian in a 61-move, 6-hour seesaw battle in the final round of the U.S. Championships in Seattle in January, clinching his second national title. With so many other players opting for quick draws, the tournament organizers awarded Shabalov and Akobian a special cash bonus for their efforts.

The stakes weren’t quite as high, but Akobian extracted a measure of revenge earlier this month at the CCA International Vermont Open in Stratton Mountain, Vermont. The Californian defeated Shabalov in another spirited final-round game, thereby clinching for himself a tie for second behind Estonian GM Jaan Ehlvest.

In an Advance French, Shabalov aims for a sharp struggle early, offering his b-pawn after 11. Nc3 Ng6 12. Be3!?. Black apparently wanted no part of the complications following 12…Qxb2 13. Bd4 c5 14. Nb5 cxd4 15. Rb1 Qxa2 16. Nc7+, but does accept a second White offer on 13. Na4 Qa5 14. Bd2 Qxe5 15. Re1 Qf6.

Shabalov enjoys open lines for his pieces and a significant lead in development, but he must keep Black’s pawn center from becoming mobile. Akobian’s handling of his two bishops (both redeployed to the back row) and his king (posted for central defensive duties at f7) is strongly reminiscent of former Soviet world champ and fellow Armenian native Tigran Petrosian. In classic Petrosianesque style, Black first deprives his opponent of any invasion squares and only then mobilizes his forces.

The breakthrough comes as White presses his queenside attack: 24. b5?! (aggressive to a fault) e5! (cxb5? 25. c6! bxc4 26. cxd7 Red8 27. Nc5 is pleasant for White) 25. b6 (fxe5 Nxe5 26. Qb3 cxb5 27. Bxb5 [Bd5 bxa4] Bxb5 28. Qxb5 Reb8! unexpectedly traps the queen) e4, transforming the Black central pawns into a dominating force.

Even after 28…Be6! removes a critical blockader, Shabalov manages to make things interesting (Black might had done better with the simple 30…Rxa4 31. b7 Re8 32. Rb1 Rb8), but even a second White queen can’t overcome Black’s domination of the board.

Akobian stuffs the long diagonal with 33. Qf3 Re4! 34. Rxc5 (Be1 Nxf4 35. Ra2 d3 36. b7 Rd8 37. Rb1 d2 38. Bxd2 exd2 39. Rxd2 Rb8 40. Rb6 Qa1+ 41. Kf2 Qe1 mate) Nxf4, picking off two rooks as White finally queens the b-pawn.

After 41. Qa4 Rfd8 42. a6 d3, the Black king is sheltered from the two White queens, Black’s two rooks will take care of the a-pawn and White can’t keep up the blockade of the Black d-pawn for long. Shabalov resigned.

Russian GM Evgeny Bareev extended a recent hot streak by winning the 10-grandmaster, Category 17 invitational tournament in Enghien-les-Bains, France, earlier this week by a half-point over England’s Michael Adams.

Joel Lautier, for years France’s strongest player, has a tough tournament, finishing in a tie for seventh with a minus-two score. Adams organized one of the best sustained attacks of the event in defeating the Frenchman in Round 2.

In a Paulsen/Taimanov Sicilian, Black’s aggressive 11…h5 12. Qe2 (Qxg7?? Bf6) h4!? backfires, as the h-file never proves useful for Lautier and his king has trouble finding a safe haven. With the Black king keeping the rooks from coordinating, Adams strikes smartly with 26. c4! g5 27. Qc3 Ng4 (seeking relief in exchanges, but White has a strong reply) 28. Nd5! Bxd5 (exd5 29. exd5 Bxd4 30. Qxd4 Ne5 31. dxc6 bxc6 32. Rxe5 wins, while 28…Bxd4 29. Qxd4 e5 30. Nxe7 exd4 31. Nf5 Ne5 32. Rxd4 is also much better for White) 29. exd5 e5 30. Bb6 Re8 31. c5!.

Pressed on the queenside and shaky on the other flank, Lautier leaves himself open to a strong exchange sacrifice: 34. Re4 Rh6 (see diagram) 35. Rxg4+! Nxg4 36. Qxg4+ Rg6 37. Qe4. Black’s pieces have almost no scope, and his efforts to organize a counterattack behind his e-pawn just open him up to the final assault.

Thus: 41. c7 e3 42. f4 Bf6 32. Bd5 Bc3 44. Re2 Bd2 (Rg6 45. c8=Q Rxg3+ 46. Kh1 Qh4+ 47. Rh2 ends all Black resistance) 45. Rh2! (playing for mate, using the h-file pried open by Lautier so many moves ago) Bc3 46. Rh7+ Kg8 47. Rxf7!.

The removal of the f-pawn destroys any hopes of organizing a defense. If now 47…Qxf7, White wins on 48. Bxe6 Qxe6 49. Qxe6+ Rxe6 50. c8=Q+ Kf7 51. Qxc3. Lautier prefers a quicker end to his miseries with 47…e2, walking into 48. Qh7 mate.

The final tally at Enghien-les-Bains: Bareev 61/2-21/2; Adams 6-3; Boris Gelfand (Israel), Judit Polgar (Hungary) 51/2-31/2; Laurent Fressinet 41/2-41/2; Christian Bauer (France) 4-5; Lautier, Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 31/2-51/2; Vladimir Akopian (Armenia), Viktor Korchnoi 3-6.

CCA International Vermont Open, Stratton Mountain, Vermont, June 2003

ShabalovAkobian

1. e4e622. Qf3Bd7

2. d4d523. b4Kf8

3. e5c524. b5e5

4. c3Qb625. b6e4

5. Nf3Bd726. Qh5axb6

6. Bd3cxd427. Nxb6Bxb6

7. Nxd4Nc628. cxb6Be6

8. Nxc6bxc629. Bxe6Rxe6

9. 0-0f530. a4Kg8

10. c4Ne731. a5c5

11. Nc3Ng632. Rc1e3

12. Be3d433. Qf3Re4

13. Na4Qa534. Rxc5Nxf4

14. Bd2Qxe535. b7Rf8

15. Re1Qf636. Rc8Nxe2+

16. c5Be737. Qxe2exd2

17. Qb3Bc838. Qxd2Ree8

18. f4Bd839. b8=QRxc8

19. Bc4Kf740. Qb3+Kh8

20. Re2Re841. Qa4Rfd8

21. Rae1Bc742. a6d3

White resigns

Enghien-les-Bains International, Enghien-les-Bains, France, June 2003

AdamsLautier

1. e4c525. Rad1Qe7

2. Nf3e626. c4g5

3. d4cxd427. Qc3Ng4

4. Nxd4Nc628. Nd5Bxd5

5. Nc3Qc729. exd5e5

6. g3a630. Bb6Re8

7. Bg2d631. c5Kg7

8. 0-0Bd732. Qb4Nh2

9. Re1Be733. c6g4

10. Nxc6Bxc634. Re4Rh6

11. Qg4h535. Rxg4+Nxg4

12. Qe2h436. Qxg4+Rg6

13. a4hxg337. Qe4Bg5

14. hxg3Nf638. Qf5bxc6

15. a5Rc839. dxc6e4

16. Be3Kf840. Re1Re6

17. Bb6Qb841. c7e3

18. Na4Bb542. f4Bf6

19. Qd2Nd743. Bd5Bc3

20. Be3Bf644. Re2Bd2

21. c3Ne545. Rh2Bc3

22. Nb6Rd846. Rh7+Kg8

23. Bd4Qc747. Rxf7e2

24. b3Bc648. Qh7 mate

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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