- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A newspaper column that’s starting to sound like a broken record — how’s that for some old-school imagery?

As it seems we have been reporting for the past two months, red-hot American GM Sam Shankland has won another tournament with yet one more undefeated, dominating performance.

Following up on his surprise U.S. championship in April and his win at the strong Capablanca Memorial in Havana in May, the 27-year-old Californian — perhaps the hottest player in the world right now — captured the 13th American Continental Championship in Montevideo, Uruguay, with a powerful 9-2 result, a half-point ahead of Argentine GM Diego Flores. With the wins, Shankland earns a spot in next year’s FIDE World Cup knockout tournament, and you might want to place a bet on his chances now before the odds grow shorter.

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It’s hard to say sometimes when and why a player will find himself “in the zone,” but Shankland’s play this spring has been both super-solid and inspired. Against fellow American GM Jeffery Xiong in Montevideo, Shankland gives a textbook lesson in how to play the Black side of the Najdorf Sicilian, complete with the signature exchange sacrifice on c3.

After 15. 0-0-0 Rc8, Black’s kingside is busted up, but he has two good bishops and the always useful half-open c-file bearing down on Xiong’s king. There followed 16. Kb1 (more challenging might be 16. Nd5 Nc4 17. Qe2 Rc5 18. Nf5 Rxd5!? 19. exd5 Bxb2+ 20. Kb1 e6, with a double-edged position) Rxc3!? (if Black can get this move in successfully in the Najdorf, good things usually happen) 17. Qxc3 Bxe4 18. f3?! (White, as we will see, throws away too many pawns trying to wrest back the initiative in this position, though Black also has a pleasant game after 18. Rhf1 Nf3 19. Qb3 Bxd4 20. Bxd4 Qc8) Nxf3 19. Rhf1 Qd7 20. Qb3 Ne5 21. Rf4 Bg6 22. Rdf1, and White hopes to load up on the f-file to relieve the pressure on his queenside.

But Black will not be diverted: 23. Rf6?! Rc8! (keeping his positional chips, though 23…Bxf6 24. gxf6 Nc4 25. Bh6 e5! is also good, as 26. Bxf8?? Nd2+ wins the queen) 24. Bc1 Rc4 25. Qe3 Qa7, and White just has too many things hanging.

Vacuuming up pawns, Shankland nails down the win after 30. axb5 axb5 31. Rb4 (walking into a nice tactic based on the ill-placed room on f1) Nd3! 32. cxd3 (Rb3 Nxc1 33. Kxc1 hxg5) Bxd3+ 33. Ka2 Bxf1 34. Nxf1 Rh1 35. Rf4 hxg5 (managing even to repair the tangled kingside pawns) 36. Rf2 Bd4 37. Be3 Rxf1! 38. Bxd4 Rxf2 39. Bxf2 h4, and White’s lone bishop is tasked with holding back five connected passed pawns.

After 41. Kb4 h3, Black will soon have another queen; Xiong resigned.

GMs Elshan Moradiabadi and Fidel Corrales Jimenez shared the top honors at last month’s 6th Cherry Blossom Open, held at the Washington Dulles Marriott, finishing at 6-1 in the 51-player Open section. Moradiabadi had to work for the win in the final round after veteran GM Michael Rohde doggedly defended a difficult position to reach near-equality in the diagrammed position, only to falter in a notoriously tricky rook-and-minor-piece position.

Moradiabadi as White has just played his rook to h7, with the makings of mating net for the Black king starting to form.

There followed: 44…e5 45. Rh5+ Ke4 (Kf4? 46. Ne6+ Ke4 47. Rh4+ Kf5 48. Nxd4+ exd4 49. Rxd4 and wins) 46. Nh7 f5?? (better to let the pawn go with 46…Bc5 47. Nf6+ Kd4, and Black can fight on after 48. Rf5 [Nd7 Nd3 49. Rh4+ Nf4+ 50. Kf3 Bd6] Be7 49. Nh5 Nc6 50. Nxg3 Kc3) 47. Ng5+ Kf4 48. Nf7!, a move Black might have missed, covering the escape hatches g5 and e5 and forcing instant resignation as 48…Ke4 49. Nd6+ Kf4 50. Rxf5 is mate.

And in other chess news, American GM Fabiano Caruana captured the 5th Altibox Norway Chess tournament ahead of world-class field, despite losing his individual encounter with Norwegian world champ Magnus Carlsen. Caruana and Carlsen will get a lengthy rematch when they meet in November in London for their 12-game world title fight.

13th American Continental Championship, Montevideo, Uruguay, June 2018

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 g6 7. g4 Bg7 8. Be3 O-O 9. Qd2 b5 10. Bg2 Bb7 11. a3 Nbd7 12. g5 Nh5 13. Bf3 Ne5 14. Bxh5 gxh5 15. O-O-O Rc8 16. Kb1 Rxc3 17. Qxc3 Bxe4 18. f3 Nxf3 19. Rhf1 Qd7 20. Qb3 Ne5 21. Rf4 Bg6 22. Rdf1 e6 23. Rf6 Rc8 24. Bc1 Rc4 25. Qe3 Qa7 26. Nf5 Qxe3 27. Nxe3 Rh4 28. R6f4 Rxh3 29. a4 h6 30. axb5 axb5 31. Rb4 Nd3 32. cxd3 Bxd3+ 33. Ka2 Bxf1 34. Nxf1 Rh1 35. Rf4 hxg5 36. Rf2 Bd4 37. Be3 Rxf1 38. Bxd4 Rxf2 39. Bxf2 h4 40. Kb3 f5 41. Kb4 h3 White resigns.

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

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