- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The so-called dog days for summer can leave a chess columnist dog tired.

That’s because the hot weather and vacation schedules annually combine for a tsunami of summer tournaments, from superelite events in Europe to national championships in Norway and Uzbekistan to a slew of strong Swiss tournaments across the U.S. The indispensable Week in Chess (TWIC to its rabid fans) last week included a whopping 4,915 games from 53 events worldwide in its weekly database. Try keeping up with that.

The U.S. Chess Federation is contributing to the chess cornucopia by simultaneously hosting three national championships this month at the St. Louis Chess Club — the U.S. Junior Championship, the U.S. Junior Girls Championship, and the inaugural U.S. Senior Championship.

At the midpoint in each event through Monday’s play, New York GM Nicolas Checa is setting the pace in the U.S. Juniors at 4½-½; WCM Rochelle Wu leads the U.S. Junior Girls, also at 4½-½; and Pittsburgh GM Alex Shabalov and Illinois GM Alex Goldin top the seniors at 3½-1½. Ashburn, Virginia. WGM Jennifer Yu, competing with the higher-rated boys in the junior tournament, has played some fighting chess with nothing to show for it so far, losing her first five games.

Some of the friskiest chess being played in St. Louis is coming from the boards of the oldest contestants. Shabalov, a four-time U.S. national champion, showed in his game against Kentucky GM Igor Novikov why he has long been considered one of the country’s most imaginative and daring attacking players. Novikov puts up a good fight in the Sicilian Scheveningen — and nearly saves the game — before White’s relentless play earns him the point.

Seeking a central breakthrough as Black presses on the queenside, Shabalov goes for it with 16. Qe2 (already 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Qxe6+ Qe7 19. Qf5 is a threat) Be7 17. Nf5!? (Shabalov said he thought Black could hold on 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Qxe6+ Qe7 20. Bxd5 Qxe6 21. Bxe6 Bxf3 22. Rhe1 Bxd1 23. Bd5+ Kd8 24. Bxa8 Bg4) Qc7 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Bxd5 Bxd5 20. Rxd5 — White will soon have to give up his extra piece, but will get good play when it goes.

It’s complicated after 20 … Qf4+ 21. Qd2 Qxf3!? (Qxd2+ 22. Rxd2 Bg5! would keep the balance) 22. Re1 0-0 23. Nh6+ Kh7? (Black is in trouble after this; better was 23 … gxh6 24. Qxh6 Qg2 25. Rh5 Rfd8 26. Nc5 Bg7) 24. Rd3 Qh5 25. Nxf7 Rxf7 26. Qxb4. White is up a pawn and there are many weak spots in the Black set-up, but there is one more detour on the road to victory.

Novikov misses his chance after 30. Nb6?! (a clearly second-best choice when 30. Qxe6+ Kf8 [Kh7 31. Rh3+] 31. Rh3 Qxc2+ 32. Ka1 and mate to come was on tap) Rb8 31. Qxe6+ Kf8 32. c3? (32. Re2! Qg1+ 33. Ka2 Qxb6? [Re7 is tougher here] 34. Rd8+! Rxd8 [Bxd8 35. Qe8 mate] 35. Qxb6 and wins), when 32 … Re7! just may save things for Black; e.g. 33. Qxe7+ (Nxd7?? Rxd7! and Black threatens mate on b2) Bxe7 34. Nd7+ Kf7 35. Nxb8 Bxa3! 36. Rd7+ Kf6 37. Rb7 Bd6 and White has at best a slight endgame edge.

Instead, Shabalov’s enterprising play is rewarded on 32 … Rcb7? 33. Rd7! Qxb2+ (a last try that just falls short; 33 … Rxd7 34. Nxd7 mate) 34. Kxb2 Rxb6+ 35. Kc2 Rxe6 36. Rxe6 Rc8 37. Rd3, and the ending is lost for Black as his king is cut off and the White a-pawn is ready to roll; Novikov resigned for moves later.

Things are so busy that the giant annual World Open in Philadelphia (won by Vietnamese-born GM Le Quang Liem) gets just a quick mention here. GM Zaven Andriasian showed how to conserve energy on a hot day during the tournament, pulling off a cute mating combination against fellow Armenian GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan in just 30 moves.

We pick it up from the diagram, where Black is launching a last-ditch attack with 27 … Ne5-c4, hoping perhaps for 28. Rxc4?! Rxb2+ 29. Kxb2 Qxc4, when White’s rook and bishop both hang. White has other ideas: 28. Bxh7+! Kxh7 (no better was 28… Kh8 29. Rxc4 Qxc4 30. Rxf7, winning) 29. Rh4+ Kg8 30. Rh8+!, and Black resigned just ahead of 30 … Kxh8 31. Rh6+ Kg8 32. Qxg7 mate.

Shabalov-Novikov, U.S. Senior Championship, St. Louis, July 2019

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 7. f3 b5 8. g4 h6 9. Qd2 Nbd7 10. O-O-O b4 11. Na4 d5 12. exd5 Nxd5 13. Bc4 N7f6 14. g5 hxg5 15. Bxg5 Bb7 16. Qe2 Be7 17. Nf5 Qc7 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Bxd5 Bxd5 20. Rxd5 Qf4+ 21. Qd2 Qxf3 22. Re1 O-O 23. Nh6+ Kh7 24. Rd3 Qh5 25. Nxf7 Rxf7 26. Qxb4 Kg8 27. Kb1 Qxh2 28. a3 Rc8 29. Qb3 Rfc7 30. Nb6 Rb8 31. Qxe6+ Kf8 32. c3 Rcb7 33. Rd7 Qxb2+ 34. Kxb2 Rxb6+ 35. Kc2 Rxe6 36. Rxe6 Rc8 37. Rd3 a5 38. Kb3 Rb8+ 39. Ka4 Rc8 40. Kxa5 Bxc3+ 41. Kb5. Black resigns.

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

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