Twenty-one years after his first Open title, GM Alexander Shabalov was back in the winner’s circle earlier this month, sharing the honors with five other players at the 115th U.S. Open tournament in Orlando, Florida. Inferior tiebreakers kept the Latvian-born Mr. Shabalov from contending for the trophy, won by GM Conrad Holt in a blitz playoff over IM Michael Mulyar, but the result extends a remarkable career in which Mr. Shabalov has won or shared five Open titles to go along with four Closed national championships.
With an aggressive, attacking style, Mr. Shabalov has always been a fan favorite, and might have won even more titles had he adopted a slightly less uncompromising style. Still, there are rewards to be had from playing games such as his Round 7 win over Texas expert Daniel Gater in Orlando, in which White offers up his queen repeatedly to his opponent before finally forcing mate.
In a King’s Indian Samisch, Mr. Shabalov goes right for the jugular with 8. Qd2 Rb8 9. h4!?, initiating an attack on the Black king. Mr. Gater tries to push back in the center with 13. Rd1 d5!? (the defensive 13Nb7 14. Ng3 Be6 15. h5 doesn’t slow White’s initiative) 14. cxd5 cxd5 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. exd5 Re8, when White’s extra pawn is less consequential than the fact that his attack continues apace.
Mr. Shabalov’s fighting instincts are on display in the game’s decisive phase: 19. Kf2!? (d6 Bb7 20. d7 was also good) Bb4 20. Nc3 e4 21. Qd4 Bf5?! (exf3 22. Ne4 fxg2 23. Kxg2 Rxe4 24. Qxe4 Bf5 25. Qd4 Bd6 at least gives Black some chances against the exposed White king) 22. Bxa6 Bd6 (see diagram), hoping to get in 23Be5 24. Qd2 exf3 with real counterplay.
Instead, it’s Black’s king who is flushed out on 23. Rxh7!! Be5 (Kxh7 24. Rh1+ Kg8 25. Qh8+ Kf7 26. Rh7 mate) 24. Rdh1! Qd6 (Bxd4 25. Bxd4 e3+ 26. Ke2 Kf8 27. Rg7!, and there’s no good defense to 28. Rh8 mate) 25. Rh8+! Kf7 (Bxh8 26. Qxh8+ Kf7 27. Rh7 mate) 26. R1h7+ Kf6 27. f4!, and now, if Mr. Gater takes the queen, it’s another slick finish on 27 Bxd4 28. Rf8+! Rxf8 29. Bxd4+ Qe5 30. Bxe5 mate. Black resigned.
Most of the world’s top players, including world champ Magnus Carlsen of Norway and U.S. No. 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura, can be found this week in Tromso, Norway, where the 41st biennial Chess Olympiad wraps up Thursday. We’ll have a full accounting next week, but we can offer up here a sampling of the action between the top teams and from the competition on the lower-rated boards.
English GM Michael Adams pretty much emptied the tactical toolbox in his win over the fine Vietnamese GM Le Quang Liem. The decisive combination employs pins, skewers, double attacks and deflections, capped off by a forced mate.
White wins a pawn in this Closed Catalan, but his pieces get in each other’s way as Mr. Adams finds an ingenious winning idea after 31. Nc5 Qe1+ 32. Kg2 Rc7 33. Rc2 Qe8!, an unexpected retreat that threatens 34Rxc5 35. Qxc5 Qxa4. Best now is 34. Qe3! Qc6+ (Qxa4?! 35. Nxa4 Rxc2 36. Qd3 Rc6 is only equal) 35. Qf3, though Black still has an edge on 35Rxd4 36. Ra8+ Kh7 37. Qxc6 Rxc6 38. Rc1 Rd2 39. b3 Bd4 40. Ne4 Rxf2+ 41. Nxf2 Rxc1.
Perhaps flustered by Black’s move, White walks into 34. Rc4?! b5! 35. Rb4 Rxc5! 36. Qxc5 Bf8!!, skewering queen and rook and threatening 37Qe4+ if the White queen loses contact with the rook on c2. Black wins material after 37. Qxb5 Qe4+ 38. Kg1 Qxc2, and follows that up with a forced mate when the White king finds himself pinned to the side of the board: 43. f4 h5 44. Qc4 Rxd4!, and White resigned as 45. Qxd4 allows 45Qf1+ 46. Kh4 Be7+ and mate next.
And as in those other (nonchess) Olympic Games, many teams traveled to Tromso with no realistic hope of bringing home a medal. Still, the camaraderie and competition can be just as intense on the lower boards, as can be seen in the spirited tactical battle between experts Calvin Prasad of Fiji and Martin Gateri of Kenya. The Kenyan took the match on a 4-0 whitewash, but this back-and-forth Board 1 struggle wasn’t decided until 25. Qf5+ Kh8, when it would still be a fight after 26. Qg6! Bf8 27. Qxe5, with chances for both sides.
Instead, White’s 26. Rd7? backfires after 26Qc8! 27. Qe6 Qc1+ 28. Kf2 Qd2+ 29. Kf1 Bg3, and mate is unstoppable; Prasad resigned.
Shabalov-Gater, U.S. Open, August 2014
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 O-O 6. Be3 Nc6 7. Nge2 a6 8. Qd2 Rb8 9. h4 e5 10. d5 Na5 11. b3 c5 12. dxc6 bxc6 13. Rd1 d5 14. cxd5 cxd5 15. Nxd5 Nxd5 16. exd5 Re8 17. h5 Bf8 18. hxg6 fxg6 19. Kf2 Bb4 20. Nc3 e4 21. Qd4 Bf5 22. Bxa6 Bd6 23. Rxh7 Be5 24. Rdh1 Qd6 25. Rh8+ Kf7 26. R1h7+ Kf6 27. f4 Black resigns.
Le-Adams, 41st Olympiad, Tromso, Norway, August 2014