He finished alone in third, but Georgian-born New York GM Mikheil Kekelidze wasn’t exactly given a warm welcome by the locals at last month’s 40th Eastern Open, the traditional year-end giant Swiss event that moved from its longtime home in downtown Washington to the DoubleTree Hotel in suburban Bethesda.
Kekelidze suffered two painful losses along with his five wins to finish at 5-2, a half-point behind co-winners GM Bryan Smith of Pennsylvania and IM Elmir Huseynov, a four-time champion of Azerbaijan now based in the District. Smith, a longtime competitor in local events who finally secured the grandmaster title in November, defeated both Kekelidze and Huseynov in the course of the event, including a powerful mating attack against the New Yorker’s Center Counter Defense in a crucial Round 5 encounter.
Samuelson, spotting his grandmaster opponent more than 200 rating points, showed little sign of being intimidated in their Round 2 matchup. Both sides keep their options open in the early play in this Modern Defense, but White’s spatial edge leads him to launch a speculative sacrificial attack after an indifferent defensive move by Black: 18. 0-0 Nf7?! (something more active such as 18…e5 may be needed here, though White could try 19. dxe5 fxe5 20. Nxd5!? Nxd5 21. Bb3 Bb7 22. Bg5 Qd7 23. Ra5, recovering the piece with active play) 19. Nh4 e5 20. Nfxg6!? hxg6 21. Bxg6 Nh8 22. Bf5, and Samuelson has two pawns for the piece and multiple targets on Black’s airy kingside.
Now shoring up the defense with 22…Nf7 was needed, holding White’s initiative to a minimum in lines such as 23. Qh5 Bxf5 24. Nxf5 Qd7 25. Be3 (or 25. Qg6?! Nd6 26. Nxd6 Qxd6 27. h4 Nc8 28. h5 f5 and Black is fine), because the game tips White’s way after 22…Nc4? 23. Qh5 Bxf5 24. Nxf5 Rf7 25. Bh6!, with heavy pressure on the beleaguered Black defenders.
After 25…Bxh6 26. Nxh6+ Kf8 27. Nxf7 Nxf7 28. dxe5 fxe5 29. Rfa1, Black has two knights for the rook and two pawns, but his exposed king leaves him at a distinct disadvantage. With 30. b4 (threatening 31. Ra6 Qb7 32. Rf6, with 33. Qh8+ to come) a5 31. Qf3 e4 32. Qf5 Qd6 33. bxa5 Qe5 34. Qxe5 Nfxe5 35. a6, the queen trade has eased Black’s fears of imminent mate, but now the White pawns are ready to roll.
The Black knights prove to be poor blockaders as the White rook infiltrates the position and Samuelson’s a- and h-pawns push toward the queening square. It’s over after 42. h5 Nb6 (Rxa7 43. Rxa7 Nxa7 44. Rxd7+! Kxd7 45. h6 and the pawn queens) 43. h6 Kc5 44. h7 Rh8 45. a8=Q Nxa8 46. Rxa8 Rxa8 47. Rg8, and White must get a new queen; Kekelidze resigned.
Kekelidze gets a solid position on the Black side of a Center Counter Defense, but his 9. 0-0-0 Bg7 10. Bh6 Kf8?! (the logical 10…0-0 11. Bxg7 Kxg7 12. h4 Nbd7 13. Bd3 Qc7 gives Black a very playable game) doesn’t pan out, as he will never unwind his kingside in the ensuing play. With a string of logical moves, White’s pieces take up powerful positions after 17. Ne4 Nxe4 18. Rxe4 Nd5 19. Rde1, while the Black rook on h8 remains a spectator, setting up the fireworks to come.
Smith breaks the game open after 19…b5 20. Qg5! (with the nasty threat of 21. Nxf7! Kxf7 22. Rxe7+ Kf8 [Nxe7 23. Qxe7+ Kg8 24. Qxg7 mate] 23. Qe5! Nxe7 24. Qxg7+ and mate next) f6? (see diagram; Black’s only hope here was 20…Ra7, shoring up the second rank, though White is still clearly better after 21. Nd3 Rg8 22. h4) 21. Nxg6+! hxg6 22. Bxg7+, when 22..Kxg7 23. Rxe7+ Nxe7 24. Rxe7+ Kf8 25. Qxf6+ Kg8 26. Rg7 is mate.
The hits keep coming on the game’s 22…Kf7 23. Rxe7+! (lethal) Nxe7 24. Qxf6+ Kg8 25. Rxe7 Qf5 (Rh5 26. Qf7+ Kh7 27. Bf6+ Kh6 28. Qg7 mate) 26. Bxh8, and Black resigns as there nothing to play on for after the bleak 26…Qxf6 27. Bxf6 Rf8 28. Rg7+ Kh8 29. Rf7+ Kg8 30. Rxf8+ Kxf8 31. h4 and wins.
Thirty-one players competed in the Open section. Other section winners included: Under 2200 — Matthew Shih (6-1); Under 1900 — Joseph C. Calapati (6-1); Under 1500 — Josh Daniel Hiban and Kevin Kang Cui, both at 6-1; Under 1700 (rapid) — Javen I. Ahmed (6-1); and Under 1300 (rapid) — Ashley Xing and Brandon Ou (6-1). Congratulations to all and thanks to Eastern tournament organizer Tom Beckman for the results and games scores.
Sad news out of Azerbaijan where GM Vugar Gashimov passed away earlier this month from a brain tumor at the age of 27. The popular Gashimov played on four of his country’s Olympiad teams and at one point was the sixth-highest rated player in the world.