Akobian’s productive July

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July still has 10 days to go, but the month is already shaping up as a very productive one for California GM Varuzhan Akobian.

As noted here last week, Akobian won a nine-player speed playoff to take the World Open trophy in Philadelphia in a tourney that concluded July 4. This week, the 24-year-old Akobian is on the verge of qualifying for the 2007 FIDE Knockout World Cup through a strong performance at the fourth Americas Continental Championships, concluding now in Cali, Colombia.

The top seven finishers in Cali qualify for the prestigious World Cup event in November in Russia, and U.S. GMs Alexander Ivanov, Sergey Kudrin and Akobian have been at or near the top of the scoreboard throughout the 11-round event. Akobian also played one of the event’s more entertaining games, defeating former Canadian champ GM Kevin Spraggett in an epic struggle.

This offbeat Dutch is a nice break from the long parade of Sicilians and Slavs in top-flight chess, and Akobian responds appropriately with an offbeat idea to hide his king in the center as he pushes his queenside attack. White’s 24. Rb2 g5 25. Nxh5! seems to trap his own piece on the edge of the board, but the knight serves as a useful diversion as Akobian breaks through with a piece sacrifice on the other flank.

Thus: 27. b5! cxb5 (Rxh5? 28. bxa6 bxa6 29. Rb7+ Bxb7 30. Rxb7+ Ka8 31. Be4! leads to mate) 28. Bxb5! axb5 29. Rxb5, and again the knight is immune on account of 29…Rxh5? 30. Rb7+ Bxb7 30. Rxb7+ Ka8 31. Rb6, winning. With 29…Ng8 30. Rb6 Qc7 31. Qb5, White exerts maximum pressure along the b-file, and White’s threat of a5-a6 leads Spraggett to surrender his queen for two rooks.

But White picks up another piece with 38. Qd8+ Ka7 39. c6! (and not 39. Nxf6? Nxf6 40. Qxh8 Be4 41. Qxf6 Rb1+ 42. Kd2 Rb2+, with a perpetual check) Rb5 40. Qd7+ Kb6 41. c7 Ne7 42. Qxe7, and keeps the edge with a cute finesse: 44. Kd2 Ra8 45. c8=N+! (queening throws the game away on 45. c8=Q?? Ra2+ 46. Ke3 Re1+ 47. Kd4 Rd2 mate) Rxc8 46. Qxf6+ Kb5 47. Qg7 Ka6 48. fxg5, obtaining a massive kingside pawn flotilla and freeing the impudent knight in the bargain.

Black’s rooks and bishop can bat the White king around a bit, but the outcome isn’t in doubt. After 68. Qxd5+ Ka4 69. Kg2, the Black rook has nowhere to hide on the h-file, and after the spite capture 69…Rxh7, Spraggett resigned.

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Maryland WIM Battsetseg Tsagaan, a graduate of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County chess factory, was the surprise early leader at the 2007 U.S. women’s national championships now concluding in Stillwater, Okla. Tsagaan won three of her first four games, but lost to pretourney favorite IM Irina Krush in Thursday’s Round 5 to fall back to third place. Krush is tied for first with WGM Katerina Rohonyan, another UMBC alumna, at 4½-1½, with three rounds to go at mid-week.

We’ll have a full wrap-up of the tourney in the coming weeks.

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Israeli GM Sergey Erenburg, who is now attending UMBC, took first place in a rare U.S. invitational earlier this month. Erenburg went 6½-2½ to edge GM Leonid Yudasin by a half-point in the first New Jersey Futurity International in Parsippany.

Newly crowned U.S. cadet champ Evan Ju had a sensational tournament. The 15-year-old New Jersey expert just missed an international master norm with a 4½-4½ result, which included victories over two IMs and GM Gennadi Zaitchik. Ju’s win over Zaitchik was perhaps his most impressive, a 26-move wipeout of a veteran grandmaster.

White’s 9. Qxd4 Qa5 10. e5!? shows he is not afraid to mix it up with his opponent, despite a 300-point rating disadvantage. Ju seems to handle the supersharp position better than the grandmaster after 10…dxe5 11. fxe5 e6?! (Ng4 was a possibility now, with White having a choice of the simple 12. 0-0-0 or the ambitious 12. e6!? fxe6 13. Rd1 Qxg5 14. Qxd7+ Kf7 15. Rd2 g6) 12. exf6 Qxg5 13. Ne4 Qh6 14. Rd1 Bc6 15. fxg7 Bxg7 (Qxg7 16. Nd6+ Kd7 17. Nxf7+ Qxd4 18. Rxd4+ Ke7 19. Nxh8 Bg7 20. Rh4 Rxh8 21. c3 is better for White) 16. Nd6+ Kf8 (see diagram) 17. Qb4!, a key move in keeping White’s attack alive.

After 17…Qe3+ 18. Be2 a5 19. Qh4!, Zaitchik can’t move his attacked rook because of 19…Rb8 20. Qh5 Be8 (Qf4 21. Rf1) 21. Nxe8 Rxe8 (Kxe8 22. Rf1 Rf8 23. Qb5+ Ke7 24. Qd7 mate) 22. Rf1 f5 23. Rd7 Qc1+ 24. Kf2 Qf4+ 25. Kg1 Bd4+ 26. Kh1, winning.

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