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Gulko, locals shine at Open
Question of the Day
A good guy won, and the mid-Atlantic contingent performed spectacularly at the 108th U.S. Open, the country’s premier open event, which wrapped up play last weekend in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Sixty-year-old GM Boris Gulko proved he still can hang with the younger generation, taking the Open title on tiebreaks after seven players — including Virginia master Anton del Mundo — finished in a tie for first at 7½-1½. Gulko was twice U.S. national champion in the 1990s after being forced to emigrate from the Soviet Union, but he has been eclipsed in recent years by a crop of younger stars.
Joining Gulko and del Mundo at the top were reigning U.S. Closed champ Alex Shabalov, fellow GMs Sergey Kudrin, Benjamin Finegold and Michael Rohde, and Colorado IM Michael Mulyar. A total of 414 players competed.
Del Mundo, whose 2388 rating was the lowest of the top group, led a parade of Maryland and Virginia players who excelled in Cherry Hill.
Maryland masters Alexander Barnett, Ronald Henry and Tegshsuren Enkhbat were in the group a half-point back, a group that included former U.S. champ GM Hikaru Nakamura. Also at 7-2 was Virginia expert Abby Marshall, who defeated a slew of higher-rated players during the tournament and shared the Under-2200 prize to boot.
Also among the pack at 6½-2½ were more local players, including Maryland NMs Ralph Zimmer and John Rouleau (who lost to del Mundo in the final round) and Virginia NM Steven Greanias and expert Adithya Balasubramanian.
Gulko’s Round 8 pairing against New York IM Alex Lenderman was a classic clash of veteran guile and youthful exuberance. Lenderman, a rising star who won the World Under-16 Championship in France two years ago, tries to befuddle his opponent with the sharp, double-edged Sicilian Smith-Morra Gambit.
However, Black easily handles the complications of this tricky sacrificial line, and by 11. Qc4 0-0! 12. Bxc6 Rc8 13. Qa4 bxc6 14. Qxa7 d5!, it is Black who has the better development, central control and enduring initiative. A second temporary sacrifice — 18. b3 c4! 19. bxc4 Qc7 20. Ng3 Qxc4 — only confirms Black’s domination of the center, and even the ensuing queen trade fails to ease Lenderman’s defensive cramp.
Rejecting passive defense, White rolls the dice with 26. Rdc1 Rb4 27. Rc7?! (Rc2 d3 28. Rd2 e4 29. Ne1 Bg5 is no better), but his back-rank weaknesses allow Gulko to finish in style: 27…Rxb2 28. Rxd7 Raxa2! 29. Rc1 (Rxa2 Rb1+ leads to mate) Bf6 30. Rf1 e4! 31. Rd6 (Nxd4 Rd2 pins the knight) Kg7 32. Nxd4 Rd2 33. Nb5 (see diagram) e3!, and the powerful Black rook battery leaves White defenseless.
White tries 34. Rxf6 (fxe3 Rxg2+ 35. Kh1 Rxh2+ Kg1 Rag2 mate; while 34. g3 loses to 34…e2 35. Re1 Ra1 36. Rxd2 Rxe1+ 37. Kg2 Rg1+ 38. Kxg1 e1=Q+) Kxf6 35. Nc3, but it’s over on 35…e2 36. Re1 Rd1! 37. Kh1 (Nxd1 Ra1 38. f3 exd1=Q; 37. Rxd1 exd1=Q+ 38. Nxd1 Ra1 and wins) and Lenderman resigned before Black applies the clincher with 37…Rxe1 mate.
Henry’s upset win in Round 7 over New Jersey master Thomas Bartell followed a much more conventional Sicilian Najdorf path, and play is finely balanced for much of the middle game. Black’s 29. a6 Kh8!? (bxa6 30. Rxa6 Bxd5 31. exd5 e4 32. Be2 e3 is another way) 30. a7 Bxd5 31. exd5 e4 turns out badly, but it is hard to foresee that White’s besieged a-pawn will play such a large role in the proceedings.
White wins the game’s first real tactical flurry after 32. Be2 Ra8 33. Be5! Nc8 34. Ra4!, when 34…Rxa7 35. Rxe4 Nd6 36. Rh4 Re8 37. Bxd6 Bxd6 38. Bd3 Re5 39. Bxh7 looks good for White. Bartell tries 34…Re8, but the finely judged 35. Rxe4! Nd6 (Kg8 36. Bh5 Re7 37. Bd4! Rxe4 38. Bxf7+ Kh8 39. Bxc5 Nxa7 40. Ra1 b5 41. d6 is strong) 36. Bxd6 Rxe4 37. Bxc5 Rxe2 38. Rxf7 saves the a-pawn and puts the Black king under unexpectedly strong pressure.
Black’s game collapses after 38…Rxc2 39. Bd4 Rc4, and Bartell resigns before White can play 40. Bxg7+ Kg8 41. Rxb7 Rcc8 42. Bf6 Re8 43. Rg7+ Kf8 (Kh8 44. Rg6 mate) 44. Rxh7 Kg8 45. g6, with an unstoppable mate by the rook at h8.
By Mark Davis
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