- 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

Story Continues →