SANDS: Fiercest fights often play out far from top boards

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Some of the fiercest competition at your typical chess tournament can be found far from the top boards.

As the masters and grandmasters battle for first place, players lower down the rating chart are scrapping for rating points, class prizes and sometimes just bragging rights.

At this month’s 40th annual World Open in Philadelphia, which we wrote about here last week, several local players enjoyed a nice payday in the class tournaments held alongside the premier Open event. Even with a last-round loss, Virginia expert Scott Webster took home $3,379 by finishing in a three-way tie for second in the Under 2000 section, while Maryland’s Alex Bai won $6,337 for his second-place tie in the Under 1800 section.

Virginia Class C player Ryan Arab had the most lucrative week of them all, finishing alone in first in the Under 1600 tournament to collect $9,294. Arab’s 8½-½ score was the best in any section, a full 1½ points better than the one posted by Open section winners GMs Alex Shabalov and Ivan Sokolov.

Bakersfield, Calif., master John Daniel Bryant was one of the three players to earn a grandmaster norm in Philadelphia, losing only once — to GM Alex Evdokimov — on his way to a 6-3 result. The 20-year-old Bryant picked up a boatload of rating points during the tournament, playing only one lower-rated opponent in his nine rounds.

Bryant-Amanov after 20...f4

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Bryant-Amanov after 20…f4 more >

Some players back their way into a norm, playing conservatively in a bid to reach the desired score. Bryant notched his norm in style, with two attractive attacking victories against established grandmasters to his credit.

Bryant kicked things off with a Round 2 shellacking of Turkmenistan GM Mesgen Amanov, taking advantage of his opponent’s indifferent opening play to conjure up a fierce sacrificial onslaught. Black may have underestimated his opponent in this c3 Sicilian with his 14. Bc2 f5?!, an awkward and unpositional way to deny White the e4 square. By 18. Be3 Nc8 19. Rad1 e5, Black’s setup looks increasingly precarious, though Amanov probably figures Black would be fine once his pawn center got moving.

But White never gives him the chance: 20. Ng5! f4? (see diagram; best now probably was to take one’s medicine with 20. … g6 21. Nf7+ Rxf7 [Kg7? 22. Bh6+ Kf6 23. Ne3 Be6 24. Bxe6 Kxe6 25. Qc4+ Kd7 26. Nd5 Qb8 27. Nf6+ Kc7 28. Qd5 is overwhelming] 22. Bxf7 Rf8) 21. Bxf4! (also good was 21. Nxh7, as 21. … Kxh7?? 22. Qh5 is mate) exf4 22. Qh5 h6 (Bf5 23. Rxe8 g6 24. Qh6! Rxe8 25. Bf7 Qxf7 26. Nxf7+ Kg8 27. Nxd6 and wins) 23. Qg6!, and the knight is again immune because of 23. … hxg5 24. Qh5 mate.

White’s nimble queen picks apart the Black defense on 23. … Bf5 24. Qxe8 (far less incisive is 24. Nf7+?! Qxf7 25. Qxf7 Rxe1 26. Qxf8+ Bxf8 27. Rxe1) hxg5 (Rxe8?? 25. Rxe8+ and mate next) 25. Qh5+ Bh7 26. Bc2, and the pressure on the lonely Black king has become unstoppable.

The finale: 26. … g6 (Kg8 27. Bxh7+ Kh8 28. Bg6+ Kg8 29. Qh7 mate) 27. Bxg6 Rg8 (losing more prosaically is 27. … Be5 28. Rd3 f3 [Kg8 29. Rh3 Bxg6 30. Qxg6+ Qg7 31. Qe6+ Qf7 32. Rxe5 Nxe5 33. Qxe5] 29. Rxf3 Rxf3 30. Bxh7 Qxh7 31. Qxf3) 28. Re6 Bf8 (Rxg6 — White threatened 29. Bxh7 Qxh7 30. Rh6 — 29. Rxg6 Qf7 30. Rxg5 Qxh5 31. Rxh5 wins for White) 29. Bf5 Nb6 30. Rf6! (with the lethal threat of 31. Rf7) Ne5 31. Rxb6! g4 (Qxb6 32. Qxh7 mate), and Amanov resigned before White could finish things off with 32. Bxh7 Qxh7 33. Qxe5+, with a overwhelming advantage.

There were a few more nervous moments in Bryant’s absorbing struggle with Texas GM Alejandro Ramirez three rounds later, as both sides appear to stumble in the game’s critical final moves.

In an Alekhine Defense, Black’s 7. Nf3 b5?! appears to be another ill-conceived grandmasterly attempt to unsettle a lower-rated opponent. Bryant doesn’t panic, and after the center opens up, he manages to get the first real shot with a speculative piece sacrifice.

Thus: 20. Nxe5 Be7 (better might have been 20. … Qd5 21. Nf3 Be7 22. Bxf6 Bxf6 23. Be4 Qd7 24. Rad1 Qe7, with comfortable equality) 21. Rad1 Nd5 22. Bh6 Re8 (with Black’s two best defensive pieces moving away from the king, White pounces) 23. Nxg6!? fxg6 24. Bxg6!, when taking the bishop leads to immediate mate. Black could now try 24. … Bd6, though it’s dicey after 25. Bxh7+ Kh8 [Kf7?? 26. Qg6+ Ke7 27. Qxe6 mate] 26. Rd3 Bxh2+! 27. Kxh2 [Kh1 Qh4! 28. Rh3 Qxh3! 29. gxh3 Ne3+ 30. Kxh2 Nxc2 31. Bxc2 is equal] Qc7+ 28. Rg3 Qxh7 29. Qd2, and White’s attack continues.

Both players falter as the complications multiply: 24. … Bc5?! 25. Re4?! (missing 25. Bf7+! Kh8 26. c4 bxc4 27. Rxe6! Rxe6 28. Bxe6 Qf6 29. Bxd5 Bxd5 30. Rxd5 Re8 31. h3 Bxf2+ 32. Qxf2 Qxh6 33. Rc5, and White is clearly better in the ending) Kh8? (Qf6! 26. Bxe8 Qxh6 keeps Black in the game) 26. Bxe8 Qxe8 27. Rg4! (now White is winning again) Bf8 28. Qe4 Qf7 29. Rxd5!, removing the key defender as White now wins on 29. … Bxd5 30. Qe5+ Bg7 31. Bxg7+ Kg8 32. Bh6+ Qg6 33. Rxg6+ hxg6 34. Qg7 mate.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

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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