Belous Wins US Masters; Zherebukh 2nd with 1. a3!

Nine Grandmasters over 2600 played in the US Masters, a SuperSwiss, norm granting tournament held in North Carolina at the end of August.  Vladimir Belous of Russia, also the 2016 Chicago Open Champ, was ranked 13th coming in. He triumphed among many higher rated GMs and scored 7/9, good for clear first and $5,000.
GM Belous, Photo Vanessa Sun
GM Belous’ first place status was not obvious until the result of the final round. He started off with only one win and three draws in the first four rounds, and those first draws were against lower rated players. The odds were against a comeback. But he did it, with one more draw (against GM Yuniesky Quesada Perez) and four wins, including this final round victory over GM Alexander Shabalov.

[Event "2017 US Masters and NC Open"]
[Site "US Masters"]
[Date "2017.08.28"]
[Round "9"]
[White "GM Vladimir Belous (2554)"]
[Black "GM Alexander Shabalov (2561)"]
[Result "1-0"]
[PlyCount "77"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 dxc4 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 a6 6. O-O c5 7. Bb3 b6 8. Qe2
Bb7 9. Nc3 Nbd7 10. Rd1 Qb8 11. d5 exd5 12. e4 d4 13. Qc4 Kd8 14. Qxf7 Ra7 15.
Bg5 Qd6 16. Nd5 Kc8 17. Rac1 Bxd5 18. exd5 Rc7 19. Re1 Kb7 20. Qe6 h6 21. Bh4
Nh5 22. Qg4 Ndf6 23. Qf5 Qf4 24. Qd3 Bd6 25. Bg3 Nxg3 26. hxg3 Qg4 27. Re6 Rd8
28. Bc4 Kb8 29. Qb3 b5 30. a4 b4 31. Bxa6 Qh5 32. Bc4 Ng4 33. a5 Rf7 34. Qa4
Nxf2 35. Kxf2 Qg5 36. Qb5+ Ka8 37. Qa6+ Kb8 38. Qb6+ Ka8 39. Ke2 1-0[/pgn]
  Belous mentioned his satisfaction: “I'm happy to win this tournament as overall I didn't have good results this summer. You can't win such a strong event without being lucky. I managed to win to key games against Huschenbeth and Shabalov.” Funny enough, Belous says he offered a couple of draws to 2400+ players, got rejected, and eventually went on to even win those games.

[Event "2017 US Masters and NC Open"]
[Site "Board 101"]
[Date "2017.08.26"]
[Round "7"]
[White "GM Vladimir Belous (2554)"]
[Black "GM Niclas Huschenbeth (2575)"]
[Result "1-0"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. Bxc4 Bf5 6. Ne2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8.
Nbc3 c6 9. Ng3 Bg6 10. f4 Qd7 11. f5 exf5 12. Qf3 Na6 13. Bxd5 cxd5 14. Nxd5
Bh4 15. Ne2 O-O 16. Bd2 h6 17. Bc3 Bh7 18. Nef4 Rad8 19. Kh1 Bg5 20. Rad1 Qc6
21. Rc1 Qa4 22. Qg3 Qxa2 23. h4 Bxh4 24. Nf6+ Bxf6 25. exf6 g5 26. Qh3 Kh8 27.
Qxh6 Rg8 28. Rf3 g4 29. Re3 Nc7 30. Re7 Nb5 31. d5 Rxd5 32. Qg7+ 1-0[/pgn]
It was GM Niclas Huschenbeth who was the frontrunner for the first half of the tournament. Fresh off the Manhattan Open earlier in August, Huschenbeth was in form and started off with a dominating performance. Winning five games in a row, Huschenbeth boasted a streak no other player could match.
GM Niclas Huschenbeth was in high spirits throughout the tournament, Photo Vanessa Sun
His losses to GM Belous and GM Yaro Zherebukh eventually pushed him to settle for a third place tie. GM Yaro Zherebukh had a roller coaster of a tournament. His last tournament of the summer before returning to Saint Louis University for the school year, GM Zherebukh felt extra pressure to play well. Disaster struck around Round 6, prompting him to say, “I wasn't too hopeful after a dreadful 3.5 out of 6. However, a streak of three wins playing such moves as 1.a3 for white and 1...a6 for black got me shared 2nd place.” That’s right: GM Zherebukh played a few games where he moved his a-pawns as his first move, including a spectacular win over IM Raja Panjwani-- revenge for Panjwani beating him in the New York International tournament a few months back.

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.08.29"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Zherebukh"]
[Black "Panjwani "]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A00"]
[PlyCount "71"]

1. a3 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 g6 4. b4 Bg7 5. Bb2 O-O 6. c4 c6 7. Be2 e6 8. O-O Qe7
9. d4 a6 10. Nbd2 Nbd7 11. Qc2 Rd8 12. Rfe1 a5 13. c5 axb4 14. axb4 Rxa1 15.
Bxa1 e5 16. Nxe5 Nxe5 17. dxe5 Nd7 18. f4 f6 19. e4 fxe5 20. exd5 cxd5 21. Qb3
exf4 22. Qxd5+ Kh8 23. Bxg7+ Kxg7 24. Qe4 Qxe4 25. Nxe4 Ne5 26. Nd6 Nf7 27.
Nxc8 Rxc8 28. Bf3 Rc7 29. Re8 Kf6 30. h4 Ne5 31. Rf8+ Rf7 32. Rxf7+ Kxf7 33.
Bxb7 Ke7 34. Be4 h6 35. b5 g5 36. b6 {and White went on to win} 1-0[/pgn]
On his peculiar first move choices, Yaro mused, “it seems like not worrying about the results actually improves the quality of chess you play.” His performance did indeed soar when he did not play to win, but to just play chess. GMs Sam Shankland, Dmitry Gordievsky and Zherebukh all ended on 6.5/9 to tie for 2nd-4th, with Sam and Yaro advancing to a thrilling Armageddon showdown on tiebreak. The game would determine the title of best U.S. player and a $500 bonus. Playing with the black pieces in the Armageddon, Zherebukh had draw odds. The game was indeed drawn after 57 moves, giving Yaro the bonus cash and title.

[Event "2017 US Masters and NC Open"]
[Site "Armageddon"]
[Date "2017.08.26"]
[Round "10"]
[White "GM Sam Shankland (2671)"]
[Black "GM Yaroslav Zherebukh (2627)"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[PlyCount "114"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]

{draw} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. Nf3 c5 5. e3 Nc6 6. Bb5 e6 7. O-O
Bd7 8. Nxd5 exd5 9. d4 c4 10. b3 a6 11. Bxc6 Bxc6 12. Ne5 cxb3 13. Nxc6 bxc6
14. axb3 Bd6 15. Qd3 Qb6 16. Ba3 Bxa3 17. Rxa3 O-O 18. Rfa1 a5 19. Qc3 g6 20.
Rxa5 Rxa5 21. Rxa5 Rb8 22. Ra3 Qb5 23. g3 h5 24. h4 Kg7 25. Kg2 Rb7 26. Ra8 Re7
27. Rc8 Re6 28. Qc5 Qxc5 29. dxc5 f6 30. Kf3 g5 31. Ke2 d4 32. Rd8 dxe3 33.
fxe3 Re7 34. b4 Rb7 35. Rd4 Kg6 36. Kd3 Kf5 37. Kc4 Re7 38. e4+ Ke5 39. Rd6 Rc7
40. b5 cxb5+ 41. Kxb5 gxh4 42. gxh4 Rf7 43. Rd5+ Kxe4 44. Rxh5 f5 45. c6 f4 46.
Rc5 f3 47. c7 f2 48. c8=Q f1=Q+ 49. Rc4+ Kf3 50. Qg4+ Kf2 51. Qe4 Qe2 52. Qd4+
Kg3 53. Qd6+ Kh3 54. Qd5 Rf4 55. h5 Rxc4 56. Qxc4 Qxh5+ 57. Qc5 Qxc5+ 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Dmitry Gordievsky
GM Sam Shankland Photo: Anastasia Balakhontseva
GM Ray Robson and GM Awonder Liang were among the illustrious players in a big tie for 5th-14th.  Despite all the successes from several grandmasters, some of the lower titled players also experienced great achievements. In the last U.S. Masters article, several chess players had big upsets. Following that report, NM Beilin Li managed to beat another IM, Venkat Saravanan. His performance was not even the most prominent National Master result, as NM Balaji Daggupati managed a win against IMs Levan Brigadze and Orlen Ruiz Sanchez, as well as against GM Carlos Matamoros. Last but not least, FM Advait Patel earned his 3rd and final IM norm. His performance included a win over GM Sergei Azarov and several impressive draws, even with the tournament winner! The only person to earn a norm in the tournament, receiving his last IM norm is probably even more satisfying to him than any prize money.  Tommy Hay, who also wrote an earlier press release on Patel's accomplishments, said "For the 1st time in Oklahoma chess history, Oklahoma has an IM-elect. His name is Advait Patel, who will be 15-years-old on August 31st. Patel is a junior at Carl Albert high school in Midwest City and is a 4-time Oklahoma state chess champion." The tournament was a resounding success thanks to organizer Walter High, who is known for accommodating players to their needs and creating great conditions for the event.
Walter High, Photo Vanessa Sun
GM Zherebukh says: “There is a special aura about this place.” Every year, we expect to see a stronger field, more players achieving norms, and more thrilling comebacks! For more details on the US Masters, find the crosstable here