- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Old Dominion did itself proud.

The first U.S. Open to be held in Virginia in 20 years proved a well-run affair that produced a worthy chess champion. With wins in the last two rounds over 2016 Open champ GM Alex Shabalov and rising Texas junior star GM Li Ruifeng over the weekend, New York GM Alex Lenderman captured his third Open title (he was co-champ in 2009 and outright winner six years ago in Orlando) with an undefeated 8-1 score at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel.

Five grandmasters tied for second a half-point back: Illia Nyzhnyk, Sergei Azarov, Evgeny Postny, Angel Arribas Lopez and Conrad Holt. Virginia GM Sergey Erenburg went into the final round tied for the lead, but fell to Nyzhnyk to finish in a 10-way tie for seventh at 7-2. There were over 400 entries for the tournament, the 108th running of the country’s most prestigious open event.

Also in that large pack with Erenburg was another Virginian who had himself quite a time in Norfolk. IM Praveen Balakrishnan’s only loss in the Open came at the hands of Li, and followed his triumph in the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, traditionally held just before the Open. The Chantilly High student went 5-1 in the Denker, winning a $5,000 scholarship and the title on tiebreaks over three rivals.

Key to Balakrishnan’s Denker win was a smooth Round 5 victory over Washington State’s SM Bryce Tiglon from the White side of a Sicilian Najdorf. Once White gets a small but noticeable positional advantage, Balakrishnan never lets his opponent back in the game.

White’s 15. exd5 Bd7 16. Nc5!? doesn’t really qualify as a sacrifice, as Black’s bishop has nowhere to run after 16…dxc5 17. d6. But Tiglon’s decision to allow the g-file to open up will have fateful consequences after 17…Bf6?! (Bf5 18. Bxc5 Bxc6 19. Qxd6 Re8 is a best a tiny edge for White) 18. gxf6 Qxf6 19. Bxc5 Nf4 — White’s extra pawn is far less important than his positional edge, while Black can’t play 19…Qxf3? because of 20. Bg2.

White’s 25. Bxe6!? is an interesting decision. The opposite-colored bishops set up a drawish endgame, but in the coming attack, White’s bishop can now attack squares that Black’s bishop can’t defend. Every time Black tries to cover up, Balakrishnan finds a new way to keep the position alive with moves such as 28. h4! and 31. Ba5!, repositioning the bishop to join the attack.

White’s dominance is sealed with the powerful centralization 31…Re6 (see diagram) 32. Qd5!, paralyzing Black’s clustered pieces. Tiglon’s increasingly desperate efforts to break the bind only hasten his demise.

Thus: 32…Re8 33. Bc3 (Rxg7+ was also strong, but White is in no hurry) Be6 34. Qc5 (again strong, but deadly now was 34. Rxe5! Rd7 [Bxd5 35. Rxe8+ Rf8 36. d7 wins] 35. Qd4 Rxd6 36. Qxd6 Bxa2+ 37. Kxa2 Qxd6 38. Rxe8+ Kf7 39. Re4) Bf5 35. R5g2 (heading for the e-file to target the vulnerable e-pawn) Qe6 36. Re2 Qd7 37. Rxe5 Rd8 38. Re2 b4 (Qxd6 39. Qxd6 Rxd6 40. Re8+ Rf8 41. Rxg7+ Kh8 42. Rxf8 mate) 39. Qxb4 Re8 40. Reg2 Bh3 (g6 41. Qd4 Rg7 42. h6 is easily winning) 41. Rxg7+, and Black conceded as 41…Rxg7 42. Rxg7+ Qxg7 43. Bxg7 Kxg7 44. Kc1!, ending any back-rank tricks, is easily won for White.

While the rest of the world goes on vacation, chess players get down to work. August is traditionally one of the busiest months for tournaments, and a really big one is just past the halfway point in St. Louis. Through Sunday’s Round 5 of the 5th Sinquefield Cup, French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is setting the pace at 3½-1½, a half-point ahead of current world champ Magnus Carlsen of Norway and former world champ Viswanathan Anand of India.

The Category 22 event may be the strongest ever contested on U.S. soil. We’ll have final results and some of the action here next week.

Balakrishnan-Tiglon, Denker Tournament of High School Champions, Norfolk, August 2017

1. Nf3 c5 2. e4 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. Qd2 Be7 9. f3 O-O 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. g4 b5 12. Rg1 Nb6 13. g5 Nh5 14. Nd5 Nxd5 15. exd5 Bd7 16. Nc5 dxc5 17. d6 Bf6 18. gxf6 Qxf6 19. Bxc5 Nf4 20. Be3 Ne6 21. Bh3 Rfd8 22. Bb6 Rf8 23. Kb1 Rab8 24. Bc7 Ra8 25. Bxe6 Qxe6 26. Rg3 f5 27. Rdg1 Rf7 28. h4 Re8 29. h5 f4 30. Rg5 Qf6 31. Ba5 Re6 32. Qd5 Re8 33. Bc3 Be6 34. Qc5 Bf5 35. R5g2 Qe6 36. Re2 Qd7 37. Rxe5 Rd8 38. Re2 b4 39. Qxb4 Re8 40. Reg2 Bh3 41. Rxg7+ Black resigns.

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

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