- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2007

Finishing first is only half the battle at the World Open. The giant Philadelphia tournament, held annually over the Independence Day holidays, has traditionally produced a massive knot of players at the top of the leaderboard, with sole winners the rare exception.

This year’s event held true to form with a nonet of grandmasters all winding up at 6½-2½, including reigning U.S. champion Alexander Shabalov and former champ Hikaru Nakamura. The pileup came in large part because the top seeds piled up the early wins and were content to draw with one another coming down the stretch.

In the blitz playoff, Armenian-born California GM Varuzhan Akobian was the last man standing, defeating GM Alexander Stripunsky in the finals to claim the trophy.


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It was actually Akobian’s second win over the New York-based Stripunsky in the tournament. The 24-year-old Akobian scored a smooth Round 5 victory over Stripunsky that was critical to the final score. At the time, Stripunsky was 4-0 and threatening to break away from the pack.

There are no great fireworks here, but Akobian’s overall play on the White side of this Queen’s Gambit is impressive against the supersolid Stripunsky. White’s probes with 13. Be5 Rh6 14. Qc1!, winning back the gambit pawn, and 20. Na4 Ba6 21. b3!, pressuring the queenside, keep Black constantly struggling to maintain equality.



Despite an iffy pawn structure, Akobian puts his faith in his bishops with the simplifying 27. Rfc1 Rc8 28. Rxc8 Nxc8 29. Rd1! Rxd1+ 30. Bxd1 Bxg5 31. fxg5. With pawns on both flanks, the White bishop will easily outclass the Black knight, especially when the h-pawn falls after 33. Kf2 Nc4 34. Bxh5 Nxe5 35. Be2.

Avoiding one last little pitfall, Akobian wraps things up with 38. Kd4 b3 39. axb3! (Kxc5?? bxa2 is unthinkable) Nxb3+ 40. Kc3 Nxa5 41. Bf3!, nailing the knight to the side of the board. Black can save his piece only with 41…Kd6 (f6 42. gxf6+ Kxf6 43. Kb4), but then the distant White h-pawn queens after 42. Kb4 Nc6+ 43. Bxc6 Kxc6 44. h5. Black resigned.

•••

In chess, as in theater and politics, sometimes the coolest stuff happens offstage.

Take, for instance, Spanish GM Alexei Shirov’s win last week over Israeli GM Boris Gelfand at a strong rapid tournament in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Shirov’s play is impressive enough, but it is the variations the two players didn’t play — from pawn and queen sacrifices to a startling stalemate trick — that make the game truly memorable.

Shirov’s exchange sacrifice 18. Bb5 Nxe7!? looks almost mandatory to stave off White’s growing pressure, and Black does secure two valuable passed pawns on the queenside. But the play is dynamically balanced until 34. f4!? (an unexpectedly double-edged feint from the conservative Israeli GM) Qb2+ 35. Kf3 Qf2+ 36. Kg4 h5+ 37. Kh4 g5+! 38. fxg5 (see diagram; Black wins on 38. Kxh5?? Qf3+ 39. g4 [Kxg5 Qxg3+ 40. Kf5 Qg6+ 41. Ke5 Qf6+ 42. Kd5 Qe6 mate] Qxh3+ 40. Kxg5 Qh6+ 41. Kf5 Qf6 mate), when the squirrelly position of the White king creates some remarkable possibilities.

Thus: 38…Kg6!! 39. Qc3 (Black’s threat was 39…Qf4+! gxf4 40. Bf2 mate!, though White might have tried 39. Rd3!, hoping for 39…a2 40. Qd5! a1=Q 41. Qc6+ f6? [Bd6 keeps the game going] 42. Qe8+ Kg7 43. Rd7+ Be7 44. Rxe7 mate) f6 40. Rd5 a2?!. Shirov eyes a brilliant denouement, but this move allows the startling 41. Rxc5!! bxc5 42. Qe5!!, when 42…fxe5 is a stalemate. Black has to play 42…fxg5+ 43. Qxg5+ Kf7 and negotiate an avalanche of queen checks to secure the win.

Instead, Black brings home the point after 41. Rf5? Qf4+! (even here, the unplayed 41…a1=Q+ might have earned an extra exclamation point after 42. Qxa1 [Rxf6+ Qxf6 43. Qxf6+ Qxf6 44. gxf6 Kxf6, winning] Qf4+! 43. gxf4 [Rxf4 fxg5 mate] Bf2 mate) 42. gxf4 Bf2+ 43. Qg3 Bxg3+ 44. Kxg3 a1=Q. Gelfand struggles on another 10 moves, but the Black queen is too powerful. When a second queening Black pawn costs him his rook, White resigned.

A tip of the hat to Internet “Daily Dirt” columnist Mig Greengard (chessninja.com/dailydirt) and his readers for some of the variations outlined here.

Shirov finished at 5½-3½, 1½ points behind tournament winner GM Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine. It was Ivanchuk’s second tournament win in a fortnight, following close on the heels of his first-place finish in the Category 18 Aerosvit Tournament in Foros, Ukraine.

•••

GM Joel Benjamin will be giving a lecture and a $20-a-board simultaneous exhibition at the Arlington Chess Club on Aug. 10. Benjamin, a three-time U.S. champ, will lecture on his match against world computer chess champ Rybka, set to take place just days before the club event.

The club is at the Lyon Village Community House at 1920 N. Highland St. in Arlington. For more details, click on members.cox.net/arlingtonchessclub.

World Open, Philadelphia, July 2007

AkobianStripunsky

1. d4d522. Bxc4Bxa4

2. Nf3c623. bxa4Nb6

3. c4Nf624. Bb3Rd8

4. Nc3e625. Rac1Rxd4

5. Bg5h626. Rxc6Kd7

6. Bh4dxc427. Rfc1Rc8

7. e4g528. Rxc8Nxc8

8. Bg3b529. Rd1Rxd1

9. Be2Bb730. Bxd1Bxg5

10. 0-0Nbd731. fxg5Nb6

11. Ne5h532. h4Ke7

12. Nxd7Qxd733. Kf2Nc4

13. Be5Rh634. Bxh5Nxe5

14. Qc1Qe735. Be2Nd7

15. Qxg5Nd736. a5Nc5

16. Bf4Qxg537. Ke3a6

17. Bxg5Rh838. Kd4b3

18. e5Be739. axb3Nxb3

19. f4b440. Kc3Nxa5

20. Na4Ba641. Bf3Black

21. b3Bb5resigns

Pivdenny Bank Cup, Odessa, Ukraine, July 2007

GelfandShirov

1. d4Nf628. g3Rd6

2. c4g629. Kg2Rxd3

3. Nc3d530. Qxd3a4

4. cxd5Nxd531. Rd2a3

5. e4Nxc332. Qc4Kg7

6. bxc3Bg733. Rd7Qf6

7. Nf3c534. f4Qb2+

8. Rb10-035. Kf3Qf2+

9. Be2cxd436. Kg4h5+

10. cxd4Qa5+37. Kh4g5+

11. Bd2Qxa238. fxg5Kg6

12. 0-0Bg439. Qc3f6

13. Be3Nc640. Rd5a2

14. d5Na541. Rf5Qf4+

15. Bg5b642. gxf4Bf2+

16. Bxe7Rfe843. Qg3Bxg3+

17. d6Nc644. Kxg3a1=Q

18. Bb5Nxe745. Rxf6+Kg7

19. h3Bxf346. e5b5

20. Qxf3Qe647. Kh4b4

21. Bxe8Rxe848. Kxh5Qd1+

22. dxe7Rxe749. Kh4b3

23. Rfe1Bd450. e6b2

24. Rbd1Qe551. Rf7+Kg8

25. Rd3a552. Rb7b1=Q

26. Qd1Bc553. Rxb1Qxb1

27. Re2Re654. Kg4Qe4

White resigns

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

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