- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

He came up just short in July’s D.C. International in Arlington, but GM Sergei Azarov was not to be denied in this month’s third annual Washington International tournament, held across the Potomac in Rockville. The Belarusian star finished alone in first with an undefeated 7-2 score, a full point ahead of a sextet of pursuers: GMs Yaroslav Zherebukh and Ioan Chrila, and IMs Akshat Chandra, Samuel Sevian, Levan Bregadze and Justin Sarkar.

The Under-2200 section came down to a two-player battle between by Maryland expert Jeffrey Chang and Virginia WFM Jennifer R. Yu. Chang prevailed with a 6½-½ score to Yu’s 6-2 (the two drew their individual match), with no one else in the 29-player section able to muster more than 4 points.

Sevian set the early pace in the Open battle with 4½ points in his first five games, including an upset of Zherebukh, but fell to the eventual winner in Round 6. Azarov may have been well-rested for the fateful game, as he made quick work of rising young Texas IM Jeffrey Xiong a round earlier, scoring a sacrificial knockout in just 25 moves.

White lures his younger opponent into a sharp Najdorf Sicilian line, scoring a psychological point when Xiong declines an early piece sacrifice after 9. Bd5 e6 10. Re1!? Be7, rejecting the complications after 10…exd5 11. exd5+ Kd8 (Be7 12. Nf5 Ne5 13. Nxe7 Kxe7 14. Na4 Qb4 15. c3 Qg4 16. f4 also gives White great play) 12. Ne4, and White has good pressure. White forces the issue two moves later with 12. Bxe6 fxe6 13. Nxe6, obtaining two pawns for the piece and a powerful initiative.

As often happens, a single defensive inaccuracy opens the floodgates for the attacker: 15. Nd5 (already threatening 16. b4! Qd8 17. Ne6, picturesquely trapping the Black queen) Nxd5 16. exd5 Nf6?! (tougher was 16…Ne5! 17. f4 Ng6, and the fight goes on) 17. Bd4 (with the idea of 18. Bxf6 gxf6 19. Qh5+ Kd7 20. Qf7 Qd8 21. Nxh7, winning) 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 (White also dominates on 18…gxf6 19. Qh5! fxg5 20. Qf3+ Ke8 21. Qf6 Qd8 22. Qxh8+ Kd7 23. Qxh7) 19. Qh5 g6 (Bxg5 20. Re8 mate) 20. Qh6+ Bg7 (see diagram), and White delivers the crushing blow with 21. Re8+!.

There’s no respite for Black’s king in the finale: 21…Kxe8 22. Qxg7 Rf8 (Kd8 23. Ne6+ Bxe6 24. dxe6 Qb5 25. e7+! Kd7 26. e8=Q+ Kxe8 27. Re1+ Kd8 28. Qxh8+ Kc7 29. Qxa8 and wins) 23. c3! (preparing 24. Re1+) Rf5 24. Re1+ Re5 25. Rxe5+ dxe5, and Black resigned before enduring 26. d6 Kd8 27. Qe7 mate.

The 41st biennial chess Olympiad that wrapped up last week in Tromso, Norway, did not lack for intriguing storylines, from the unexpected winners podium of China (gold), Hungary (silver) and India (bronze, without former world champ Viswanathan Anand on the roster); to the re-election of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov over former champ Garry Kasparov in an often bitter race; to the disappointing performances of pre-tournament favorites Russia, Armenia and Ukraine; to the retirement of Hungarian great GM Judit Polgar, the strongest woman in the history of the game; to the deaths of two players (a candidate master from Switzerland and member of the Uzbek team) on the final day of the competition.

The takeaways were both good and bad for the American teams. The sixth-seeded Open team, anchored by top board GM Hikaru Nakamura, finished in 14th place, with a record of 6-2-3. The seventh-seeded women’s squad played a little closer to form, finishing eighth behind the winning Russian team, with favored China taking the silver and Ukraine the bronze.

The one unambiguous bright spot for the Americans was the play of California GM Samuel Shankland, who won individual gold for his 9-1 score on Board 4, with a performance rating of 2831. Shankland’s wins often provided the critical point to clinch a match win or draw for the Americans.

His most impressive win may have come against Polgar, a brilliant tactician who found herself slowly outplayed by the young Californian. Even a last-gasp sacrificial attack by the Hungarian fails to unnerve Shankland, who smoothly converts the point.

Shankland’s 14. Rac1 Rfc8 15. a4!, locking up the queenside, shifts the battle to the center, where Polgar’s decision to open the game with 18…d5 and 20…e5 redounds to the advantage of White’s superior minor pieces.

After 22. e4 Nf4 23. Bc4, White’s control of the d-file and the persistent threat of Nc4-d6 forces Black’s hand, leading to a trade of the rooks and a roll of the dice to challenge White’s growing positional superiority: 28. Qd2 Nxe4!? (this doesn’t work out but may have been Polgar’s best practical chance; White wins material on 28…Nfe6 29. Qxg5 hxg5 30. Bxc5 Nxc5 [bxc5 31. Nd6 Nd8 32. Bxf7+] 31. Nd6 Ba6 32. Bxf7+ Kf8 33. Bd5) 29. fxe4 Bxe4 30. Bf1. Black gets some pressure, but White continually finds the best defense (41. Qc4! snuffs out the worst of Black’s threats), and Shankland carefully nurses his edge into the endgame.

After 49 Qd3!? (the computer says 49. Bc5+ Kg8 50. Qxe5 Bxc4 51. Bd4 Kf8 52. Qc5+ leads to a quicker crush) Qxd3 50. Bxd3 Nf4 51. Nxf4 exf4 52. Nxa5, Black has only a pawn for the lost piece and the end is in sight. Black concedes after 60. Ne3, as 60…Kc7 61. Be2 Kb6 62. Bf3! Bxf3 63. Kxf3 Kxa6 64. Kg4 leaves her kingside pawns defenseless.

Azarov-Xiong, 3rd Annual Washington International, Rockville, Md., August 2014

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. Bc4 Qb6 8. O-O Qc5 9. Bd5 e6 10. Re1 Be7 11. Be3 Qa5 12. Bxe6 fxe6 13. Nxe6 Kf7 14. Ng5+ Ke8 15. Nd5 Nxd5 16. exd5 Nf6 17. Bd4 Kf8 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Qh5 g6 20. Qh6+ Bg7 21. Re8+ Kxe8 22. Qxg7 Rf8 23. c3 Rf5 24. Re1+ Re5 25. Rxe5+ dxe5 and Black resigns.

Shankland-Polgar, 41st Olympiad, Tromso, Norway, August 2014

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 b6 5. a3 Bxd2+ 6. Qxd2 Bb7 7. e3 a5 8. b3 d6 9. Be2 Nbd7 10. Bb2 O-O 11. O-O Qe7 12. Qc2 c5 13. Rfd1 h6 14. Rac1 Rfc8 15. a4 cxd4 16. Nxd4 Nc5 17. Ba3 Nfe4 18. Nb5 d5 19. f3 Nf6 20. Qb2 e5 21. cxd5 Nxd5 22. e4 Nf4 23. Bc4 Rd8 24. Kh1 Rxd1+ 25. Rxd1 Rd8 26. Qc2 Rxd1+ 27. Qxd1 Qg5 28. Qd2 Nxe4 29. fxe4 Bxe4 30. Bf1 Bc6 31. Bc1 Qg4 32. Nc3 g5 33. Qc2 Kg7 34. Be3 Qe6 35. Kg1 Bb7 36. Nb5 Nd5 37. Bf2 Nf4 38. Nc7 Qg4 39. Bxb6 Nh3+ 40. Kh1 Qf4 41. Qc4 Qd2 42. Qe2 Qc1 43. Ne8+ Kf8 44. Nd6 Bd5 45. Be3 Qb1 46. Qd3 Qe1 47. Qe2 Qb1 48. Nc4 Qxb3 49. Qd3 Qxd3 50. Bxd3 Nf4 51. Bxf4 exf4 52. Nxa5 f3 53. gxf3 Bxf3+ 54. Kg1 Bd1 55. Bb5 Ke7 56. Nc4 Bf3 57. a5 f6 58. a6 Kd8 59. Kf2 Bh1 60. Ne3 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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