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SANDS: Shabalov, Sokolov are on top of the World
Question of the Day
Holding off a battalion of younger challengers, a pair of well-seasoned veterans secured the top places on the chess leaderboard at the 40th World Open, which wrapped up Sunday at its traditional home in Philadelphia.
Dutch GM Ivan Sokolov and Pittsburgh GM Alexander Shabalov agreed to a quick draw in their final-round game Sunday evening to top the Open section in what annually is one of the nation’s strongest and most lucrative events.
Shabalov, who has tied for first in the World Open four times, scored a key win over young Indian GM Abhijeet Gupta, fresh off a first-place finish in the Philadelphia International, in Round 7, while Sokolov defeated young American stars GMs Alex Lenderman and Sam Shankland on his way to a 7-2 finish.
Shabalov is one of the most feared attackers in the game, and he showed why in his very first game against Connecticut NM Alex Fikiet. In a Symmetrical English, Black’s labored repositioning with 12. e3 Nf5 13. Bg3 Nd6?! (d6 14. Qd3 g6 15. 0-0 Qb6 was tougher) 14. 0-0 f5 is equivalent to waving a red cape in front of an angry bull, as White’s lead in development grows alarmingly after 15. e4! fxe4 16. Nxe4 Nxe4 17. Bxe4 d6 18. Qd3 h6 19. Be3 Qd8 20. Rfc1.
Shabalov’s rooks invade via the c-file, and Black’s attempts to evict them are already too late on 23. … Bd8 24. Bg6 (driving the queen far from the action) Qa4 25. Bh7+ (another route to Victory Lane was 25. Bxh6! Bxc7 26. Bh7+ Kh8 27. Bxg7+! Kxg7 28. Qg6+ Kh8 29. Qh6, but White’s move initiates its own deadly attack) Kh8 26. Rxg7!, breaking through the protective shield guarding the Black king.
A string of hammer blows decides the contest: 26. … Bf5 (the only hope - 26. … Kxg7 27. Qg6+ Kh8 28. Qxh6 Qd7 [Rf7 29. Bc2+] 29. Bf5+ Kg8 30. Bxd7 wins easily) 27. Bxf5 Kxg7 (Rxf5 28. Qxf5 Kxg7 29. Qh5 Bg5 30. Rc7+ Kg8 31. Qf7+) 28. Rc4 Qe8 29. Bxh6+!, stripping away the last shred of defensive cover. The finale - 29. … Kxh6 (no better was 29. … Kh8 30. Bxf8 Qxf8 31. Qf3 Bg5 32. Rh4+ Bh6 33. Qe3 Qxf5 34. Qxh6+ Kg8 35. Qh8+ Kf7 36. Qxa8 and wins) 30. Qe3+ Bg5 (Kg7 31. Rg4+ Kf7 32. Qh6 Rg8 33. Be6+ Ke7 34. Qh7+ Kf8 35. Rxg8 mate) 31. Rh4+! Qh5 32. Rxh5+ Kxh5 33. g4+ Kh6 34. Qh3+, and Black resigned facing mate in five after 34. … Bh4 35. Qxh4+ Kg7 36. Qh7+ Kf6 37. Qg6+ Ke7 38. Qe6+ Kd8 39. Qd7 mate.
Another “world” title was on the line last week as Russian GM Sergey Karjakin won the first FIDE World Rapid Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan. Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen, the world’s top-rated player, appeared firmly in control of the event until losses on the third and final day to Ukrainian GM Vassily Ivanchuk and Russian GM Alexander Grischuk allowed Karjakin to slip past him.
Former FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov, trying to work his way back to the top of the ratings charts after a recent decline, finished third.
And finally, two chess superpowers staged a hard-fought duel with teams of top male and female players from Russia and China squaring off in a match of classical and rapid games. The Chinese took the lead in the classical portion of the competition, but the Russians stormed back in the rapid games to score an overall match win of 77 1/2-72 1/2.
GM Nikita Vitiugov notched a fine win for the Russian squad at classical time controls with a kingside attack against strong young Chinese GM Ding Liren, an attack that Shabalov would be proud to claim as one of his own. Just when it appears Black has turned back the assault, White finds an original idea that forces instant resignation.
After a series of central trades, the battle lines in this King’s Indian Samisch are crystal clear after 16. Kh1 Qd7 17. Rae1 b4 18. f4 - Black has a major initiative and space edge on the queenside while White tries to open up the kingside for his bishop pair. But Ding’s obscure 18. … h5? (Rac8 19. f5 Be5 20. f6 Qd8 21. Qf2 Re8 seems much more in the spirit of the position) does nothing to further his plan and only creates a target for Vitiugov’s coming attack.
White wastes no time in exploiting the lapse: 19. f5 Be5 (see diagram) 20. Bxd4! Bxd4? (on 20. … cxd4 21. Qh6 Bg7 22. Qg5 Rae8 23. f6 Bh8, the Black bishop is consigned to the dungeon, but Ding can at least fight on) 21. e5 Bxe5 22. Rxe5! dxe5 23. f6 Kh7 (apparently plugging White’s entryway and stopping the assault, but Vitiugov has prepared a surprise) 24. Rf5!!, and Black must resign in the face of 24. … gxf5 (also losing are 24. … Qxd5 25. Rxh5+ Kg8 26. Rh8+! Kxh8 27. Qh6+ and 24. … e4 25. Rxh5+! gxh5 26. Bxe4+ Kg8 27. Qh6 Qg4 28. Qh7 mate) 25. Qg5 Rg8 26. Qxh5 mate.
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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