- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

Sometimes the real hero of a tournament can be found far down the cross table.

At last month’s Fourways International Invitational Tournament in Bermuda, a six-grandmaster Category 16 double-round robin that may rate as the strongest tournament in the hemisphere this year, American titleholder Alexander Shabalov of Pittsburgh finished a disappointing fifth, with a 3-1/2-6-1/2 result. However, Shabalov played combative, creative chess throughout the event, recording only one draw — in Round 9 — in his 10 games in Bermuda.

The U.S. grandmaster’s fighting spirit proved infectious: Tournament winner GM Giovanni Vescovi of Brazil took the title in a wild 90-move last-round win over front-runner and top seed Boris Gelfand of Israel. Needing just a draw to lock up first place, Gelfand instead sacrificed a piece out of the opening against Vescovi, was ground down slowly in the ending and wound up a half-point behind the Brazilian’s final 7-2 tally.

Gelfand and Shabalov played two of the wilder games of the tournament, with the Israeli emerging on top in both. Their Round 2 matchup produced a wealth of tactical ideas in just 25 short moves.

With 8…b6 9. e4 Bb7!? 10. e5 c5! the two players have taken a staid Queen’s Gambit line and transformed it into a wide-open attacking affair. Pins, counterpins and deflections abound on 11. exf6 (Be2 cxd4 12. exf6 dxc3 13. fxg7 Rg8 keeps the dynamic balance) Bxf3 12. fxg7 Rg8 13. Qxh7 Nf6 14. Bb5+ Ke7 15. Bg5! Bf4!, and not 15…Bxh1?? 16. Qh6 and the Black knight falls with deadly consequences.

The Black bishop is immune (16. Bxf4? unpins the knight and allows 16…Nxh7), while 16. Bxf6+ Kxf6 17. Ne4+ Bxe4 18. Qxe4 Qxd4 19. g5+ Bxg5 holds on for Black. Gelfand stokes the fires instead with 16. Qh3 Bxh1 17. Bxf4 Qxd4 18. Qg3, giving up the exchange for bishop and pawn but threatening 19. Rd1 Qb4 20. Bd6+ Kd8 21. Bb8+ Nd7 (Ke7 22. Qd6 mate) 22. Rxd7+ Ke8 23. Qd6, with mate to follow.

It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint where Black’s defenses buckled, but an interesting alternative would have been 20..Qxg7, allowing Black counterattacking possibilities in lines such as 21. 0-0-0 Rh8 22. Qg3! Rhd8! (Nxg3? 23. Bd6+ Kd8 24. Be5+ Kc8 25. Bxg7 Rxh2 26. Be5, and White is winning) 23. Nxe4 Rxd1+ 24. Kxd1 Bxe4. In this variation, there does not appear to be a White win on 25. Bd6+ Kd8 26. Bxc5 bxc5 27. Qd6+ Kc8 28. Ba6+ Bb7 29. Qxc5+ Kb8 30. Qd6+ Kc8 31. Qc6+ Kd8 32. Qxb7 Qd4+ 33. Ke1 Qe5+ 34. Kf1 Rb8.

Instead, Shabalov’s defensive headaches magnify on 20…Qf5?! 21. 0-0-0 Rad8 (Nxc3 24. Bd6+ Kd8 23. bxc3 Bd5 24. g6+ f6 [Kc8 25. Qe7 wins] 25. Qh7 e5 26. Rxd5) 22. Rxd8 Kxd8 (capturing with the rook allows 23. Nxe4 Qxe4 [Bxe4 24. g6+ Qf6 25. Bg5] 24. g6+ f6 25. g8=N+! Rxg8 26. Qh7+ Rg7 27. Qxg7+ Kd8 28. Qf8 mate) 23. Bd3 Rxg7 24. Nxe4 Rh7 (see diagram; if 24…Bxe4, then 25. Bxe4 Qxe4 Bc7+).

Black may have banked on the retreat 25. Qg3?, when 25…Bxe4 26. Bc7+ Ke8 27. Qd6 Qxg5+ 28. Kc2 Bxd3+ 29. Kxd3 Rh3+ 30. Kc2 Qd5! defends nicely.

But Gelfand finds the winning shot 25. Bc7+!, forcing resignation as 25…Kxc7 (Kc8 26. Nd6+ Kxc7 27. Nb5+ Kd7 28. Qg3 wins) 26. Qg3+ Kc6 (e5 27. Nf6 picks off the rook, while 26…Kd8 27. Qd6+ Kc8 28. Ba6 is mate) 27. Qd6+ Kb7 28. Qd7+ Kb8 29. Qd8+ Kb7 30. Nb6+ forks king and queen.

Shabalov’s refusal to take a few easy draws apparently took its toll. He finished up with one draw and three losses in the last four rounds, including yet another exciting combination-fest to Polish GM Boris Macieja in the final round.

The intricate balance of attack and counterattack in the Sicilian Dragon is prominently on display here, and once again, the point where Black slips irretrievably into a lost game is difficult to plot. Shabalov’s 18. Bxc4 Rxc4 19. Nb3 Qd8? opens the floodgates, but it’s hard to see what else Black could have tried. The plausible 19…Qb4 (to provide more cover for the knight on e4) runs into 20. e5 Ne4 21. Rxe4! Rxe4 22. a3 Qc4 23. Na5, winning material.

The knight has no good bolthole on 20. e5 Nxg4 (or 20…Nh7 [Kh7 21. exf6 Kxh6 22. f5+ Kh7 23. Qd5] 21. gxh5 Bf5 [gxh5 22. Qg2+] 22. hxg6 Bxg6 23. f5! Bxf5 24. Rg1+ Bg6 25. Qd5, with intolerable pressure on the Black game) 21. hxg4 Bxg4, but Black does manage to get two pawns for his piece.

But Macieja has only begun to fight, and he ignores his threatened rook to press the attack: 22. exd6! Kh7 (Bxd1 23. d7 Bxc3 24. bxc3 Bg4 25. dxe8=Q+ wins) 23. Bg5 f6 24. Qd5!, with a crushing double attack on c4 and f7.

Shabalov tries 24…Rxc3 25. Qf7+ Bg7, but on 26. Bxf6!, threatening instant mate on g7, it’s all over; e.g. 26. exf6 27. Rxe8 Qd7 28. Re7 and White cleans up. Black resigned

Fourways International Invitational Tournament, Bermuda, January 2004


1. d4d514. Bb5+Ke7

2. c4c615. Bg5Bf4

3. Nc3Nf616. Qh3Bxh1

4. Nf3e617. Bxf4Qxd4

5. e3Nbd718. Qg3Ne4

6. Qc2Bd619. Qh4+Qf6

7. g4dxc420. g5Qf5

8. Bxc4b621. 0-0-0Rad8

9. e4Bb722. Rxd8Kxd8

10. e5c523. Bd3Rxg7

11. exf6Bxf324. Nxe4Rh7

12. fxg7Rg825. Bc7+Black

13. Qxh7Nf6 resigns

Fourways International Invitational Tournament, Bermuda, January 2004


1. e4c514. h3Qa5

2. Nf3Nc615. g4Ne5

3. Nc3g616. Bh6Bh8

4. d4cxd417. f4Nc4

5. Nxd4Bg718. Bxc4Rxc4

6. Be3d619. Nb3Qd8

7. Qd2Nf620. e5Nxg4

8. f3h521. hxg4Bxg4

9. 0-0-0Bd722. exd6Kh7

10. Bc4Rc823. Bg5f6

11. Bb3a624. Qd5Rxc3

12. Rhe10-025. Qf7+Bg7

13. Kb1Re826. Bxf6Black


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

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