- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

It was a popular — and familiar — figure atop the final wall chart at the 117th annual U.S. Open, which wrapped up Sunday in Indianapolis.

Veteran Pittsburgh-based GM Alex Shabalov finished in a tie for first at 8-1 with GM Gil Popilski, then defeated the young Israeli grandmaster in an “Armageddon” playoff game for bragging rights. For the Latvia-born Shabalov, a four-time U.S. national champion who was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame last year, it’s the seventh time he has won or tied for first in the country’s premier open event.

The 48-year-old Shabalov is known as a player who thrives on crazy tactics and wild positions, once telling Chess Life, “If the position after my move becomes more complicated, then the game is going in the right direction.” But his most impressive Open win was a positional gem against New York GM Aleksandr Lenderman in the ninth and final round.

In a QGD Slav, Lenderman as White declines to complicate the opening after 8. Qb3 b5!?, electing to lock up the center with 9. cxd5 exd5 10. g3 Bd6 11. Bg2 0-0 12. Nxg6 hxg6 and winning the two bishops in the process. But the White pawn on e3 proves to be a permanent weakness on the half-open file, and after 16. Na4 c5! 17. dxc5 Nxc5 18. Nxc5 Bxc5 19. Rfe1 Re1 20. Rad1 Re7 21. Bc1 a5, White has no counterplay either on the queenside or against the isolated Black d-pawn.

Shabalov methodically builds up the pressure, forcing White into an increasingly passive defense. A pair of nicely-timed pawn pushes — 28. b3 g4! 29. Bg2 d4! nets Black a pawn after 30. e4 gxf3 31. Bxf3 Nxe4, and Shabalov displays faultless technique in cashing in the point, with the opposite-colored bishops actually helping Black to a breakthrough.

A mini-tactic caps off Black’s strategic triumph: 44. Rc2 d3! (opening up the a7-g1 diagonal) 45. Rxc3 Qf2+ 46. Kh3 (Kh1 Re1+) f5! and there’s no good answer to the threat of 47…Rh7+; Lenderman resigned.

The Midwest is the focus of the chess world these days. In addition to the U.S. Open, 10 of the world’s top grandmasters have begun play in the 2016 Sinquefield Cup, being played at the Scholastic Center and Chess Club of St. Louis.

French superstar Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has been one of the hottest players on the international circuit in recent weeks, but he suffered a painful loss to former Indian world champ Viswanathan Anand in Round 2 in St. Louis. Vachier-Lagrave built up a big edge early in their Caro-Kann, but the tables turn from today’s diagrammed position, after Black has just played 29…Nc7-d5. White blunders with 30. Nxe6? (a miscalculation; still good was 30. Bxd5 exd5 31. Qh3 [threat: 32. Bh4] Qg7 32. Qe3 Rg6 33. g3 a6 34. Nc2) Bxe6 31. Bxd5 e3! (the move White missed — his bishop on e3 will be left hanging) 32. Bxe3 Bxd5 33. Bxa7+ Kxa7 34. Qf2+ Bc5! 35. Qxc5+ Qxc5+ 36. bxc5 Rd7, and White’s weak pawns prove a fatal weakness.

The game concluded: 37. Rfe1 h6 38. Kf2 Kb8 39. c4 Bc6 40. Rxd7 Bxd7 41. Rb1 Ra6 42. Rb6 Rxa5 43. Rxh6 Rxc5 44. h4 Rxc4 45. g3 Kc7 46. h5 b5, and the passed pawn can’t be stopped. White resigned.

Lenderman — Shabalov, 117th U.S. Open, Indianapolis, August 2016

1. c4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Be4 7. f3 Bg6 8. Qb3 b5 9. cxd5 exd5 10. g3 Bd6 11. Bg2 O-O 12. Nxg6 hxg6 13. O-O Nbd7 14. Bd2 Re8 15. Kh1 b4 16. Na4 c5 17. dxc5 Nxc5 18. Nxc5 Bxc5 19. Rfe1 Qb6 20. Rad1 Re7 21. Bc1 a5 22. Rd3 Rae8 23. a4 Qa7 24. Re2 Bb6 25. Bh3 Qa6 26. Qd1 g5 27. Bf1 Qa7 28. b3 g4 29. Bg2 d4 30. e4 gxf3 31. Bxf3 Nxe4 32. Kg2 Nc3 33. Rxe7 Qxe7 34. Qc2 Qe6 35. Bd2 Ne4 36. Qd1 Nc3 37. Qc2 Rc8 38. Bxc3 bxc3 39. Rd1 Re8 40. Rf1 g6 41. Rc1 Re7 42. Qd1 Bc5 43. Bg4 Qe3 44. Rc2 d3 45. Rxc3 Qf2 46. Kh3 f5 White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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