Shabalov Completes Quest at U.S. Open

  Shabalov - usopen Playing White and needing only a draw to clinch clear first place is every chess professional's dream scenario. It's not so simple for GM Alex Shabalov. There was a moment Sunday when Shabalov, ever the maximalist, tried to go 9-0 at the U.S. Open in Phoenix, Arizona. Witness 17. d6! in the game below against GM Illia Nyzhnyk. Practicality eventually won out and his draw was secured.

With his 8.5/9 first-place score, he won the 116th U.S. Open outright, a $7408 check (a 93 percent payout), and a spot in the 2016 U.S. Championship. Shabalov hasn't played in it since 2013, and he wants all three top Americans to play (GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So). Although the format and size of field has yet to be determined, he said his goal if they attend will be to finish near the top of the tables. "If I play like I played here, the top three is reasonable." Well, then the maximalist kicked in again. "I'm in a close race with Gata [Kamsky] and Hikaru for number of titles." Shabalov knows the score without having to look: Kamsky five, Nakamura and himself, four. Although his reason for flying to the desert was "absolutely 100 percent" for the automatic U.S. Championship invite, he quickly went for the win in round nine. He thought Black's play was refutable, and the principled hall of famer saw no reason not to try to win. At some point Shabalov recognized his perceived advantage had dissipated, and then had to "bail out" into a draw with a series of precise moves. The veteran nearly regretted his attempt to win against Nyzhnyk. Shabalov's thoughts turned to the dark side as the endgame continued. He was thinking about late-tournament failures earlier in 2015 (needing only a draw at the Dubai Chess Open but failing and leading until late at the American Continental Championship in Uruguay). As he was wrestling with the thoughts of perhaps another last-round disappointment, Nyzhnyk saw that his extra a-pawn wasn't decisive and the players agreed to a draw. Shabalov - usopen2 "It was such a pattern this year that I couldn't close it out," Shabalov said. Had Shabalov not held the endgame, several Rube Goldberg-esque scenarios could have unfolded. In the worst-case situation, he loses and board two is decisive (Molner-Holt). Shabalov would then play one Armageddon tiebreak with Ukrainian Nyzhnyk for the U.S. Open title, then another against the other American for the U.S. Championship bid. He said he would have likely missed his midnight flight too! (As it turned out, board two drew after his game ended.) Instead, Shabalov was all smiles at the hotel bar, relaxing before his ride to the airport. Fittingly his celebration drinks were shared with an employee of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, where he will be competing for two weeks next spring. Shabalov - usopen3 Going back to the final game, perhaps his professional standards shouldn't have been so surprising. Players with longer memories may recall his lengthy last-round win in the 2003 U.S. Championship (one of his four titles) when all other leaders agreed to quick draws. Shabalov said he learned 20 years ago that Black can't play ...Re8 and ...b5 in the Exchange Variation of the King's Indian, because after a4, bxa4, Bxa4, the rook is aligned with White's bishop. But a funny thing happens when youngsters combine old theory with computers: seemingly refuted lines that look unplayable visually are revived by computers, who don't "feel" or "see" rules being broken at the chessboard.
[pgn] [White "Shabalov, Alexander"] [Black "Nyzhnyk, Illya"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E92"] [WhiteElo "2520"] [BlackElo "2628"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2015.08.01"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "Chessbase"] [SourceDate "2015.08.14"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. Qxd8 Rxd8 9. Bg5 Re8 10. Nd5 Nxd5 11. cxd5 c6 12. Bc4 b5 13. Bb3 Bb7 14. Rc1 a5 15. a4 bxa4 16. Bxa4 Rc8 17. d6 f6 18. Be3 Bf8 19. Nd2 Bxd6 20. Nc4 Bb4+ 21. Ke2 Ba6 22. Kf3 Bxc4 23. Rxc4 c5 24. Rhc1 Na6 25. Rd1 Rd8 26. Rcc1 Kf8 27. Bb5 Nc7 28. Bc4 Rxd1 29. Rxd1 Ke7 30. h4 Ne8 31. Ke2 Nd6 32. Bd5 Rc8 33. f4 c4 34. fxe5 fxe5 35. Bg5+ Kd7 36. Bf6 c3 37. Rb1 cxb2 38. Rxb2 Bc3 39. Rc2 a4 40. Kd3 Bd4 41. Rxc8 Nxc8 42. Bg7 Nd6 43. Bf8 Nb5 44. Bb4 Kc7 45. Bg8 a3 46. Kc2 h6 47. Bf7 Kb6 48. Kb3 Bc5 49. Bd2 g5 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
"I was surprised he played that," Shabalov said of the ...Re8, ...b5 combo. "I thought he handed it to me." Nyzhnyk played the opening very fast, leading Shabalov to mistakenly think his opponent was unaware of the opening's reputation. "I thought he was nervous but he prepared well. "It's the modern computer prep versus my knowledge of 30 years ago." Shabalov added that he doesn't begrudge this change in top-level chess. "This game is a huge lesson. You can resurrect an old line that is thought to be bad." Shabalov said he had some luck in his win against GMs Bartlomiej Mecieja. His toughest game? That would be against NM Christopher Toolin in round four. In Toolin's only loss of the U.S. Open, he had the grandmaster grinding until the end. "The bishop is not that much worse than the rook in pawn races," Shabalov said. The difference? "The rook can creating mating threats."
[pgn] [White "Shabalov, Alexander"] [Black "Toolin, Christopher"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B42"] [WhiteElo "2520"] [BlackElo "2149"] [PlyCount "132"] [EventDate "2015.08.01"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] [Source "Chessbase"] [SourceDate "2015.08.14"]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Bc5 6. Nb3 Be7 7. Be3 d6 8. f4 Nf6 9. N1d2 Qc7 10. Qf3 Nbd7 11. g4 Nc5 12. Nxc5 dxc5 13. g5 Nd7 14. a4 b6 15. Qh3 Rb8 16. e5 g6 17. Qf1 Bb7 18. Be4 O-O 19. Qf3 c4 20. Bxb7 Qxb7 21. Qxb7 Rxb7 22. Ne4 Nc5 23. Bxc5 bxc5 24. Kd2 Rd8+ 25. Kc3 Rd4 26. Rhe1 Rbd7 27. a5 R7d5 28. Ra4 Bd8 29. Re3 Kg7 30. Re2 h5 31. Rxc4 Bxa5+ 32. Kb3 Bb6 33. c3 Rd3 34. Ra4 a5 35. Nf6 R5d4 36. Ne8+ Kf8 37. Nd6 Rb4+ 38. Rxb4 cxb4 39. Kc4 Rf3 40. Kb5 Be3 41. cxb4 axb4 42. Rc2 Rxf4 43. Rc8+ Kg7 44. Ne8+ Kh7 45. Nf6+ Rxf6 46. exf6 Bxg5 47. Rf8 Bxf6 48. Rxf7+ Bg7 49. Kxb4 g5 50. Kc4 Kg6 51. Rf2 g4 52. Kd3 Kg5 53. Ke4 h4 54. b4 Bc3 55. b5 Ba5 56. Rf7 Bb4 57. Rg7+ Kh5 58. b6 Bd6 59. b7 Bxh2 60. Re7 h3 61. Rxe6 Bc7 62. Re7 Bd6 63. Rd7 Bb8 64. Rd8 h2 65. Kf5 Be5 66. b8=Q h1=Q 1-0[/pgn]
Many other events occur at the U.S. Open, some of which have been chronicled on these pages over the last week. Here's a brief sampling: usopen4 •    Ted Castro of NorCal House of Chess accepted an award for Chess Club of the Year •     National Tournament Director and FIDE Arbiter Mike Hoffpauir of Virginia won Tournament Director of the Year. •     Former scholastic champion and coach and current Vice President of Professional Relations IM Danny Rensch won the U.S. Chess Meritorious Service Award.

usopen5 Danny Rensch and Franc Guadalupe

•     GM Aleks Lenderman won the U.S. Open G/15 and GM Conrad Holt won the Blitz Championships (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Lenderman won both.) •     The mixed doubles prize saw four teams finish with 11 points: Nicky Rosenthal and Ella Papanek; Jeffrey Haskel and Shree Ayinala; Eric Rosen and Neha Dias; Pranav Narnur and Saithanusri Avirneni. •     The Chess Journalists of America Awards were announced. Yours truly won Chess Journalist of the Year, GM Joel Benjamin's Liquidation on the Chess Board won best book and Maine won best state association web site ( More on other U.S. Chess annual award winners will follow at Chess Life Online. In Shabalov's U.S. Chess Hall of Fame acceptance speech in April, which preceded the 2015 U.S. Championship, he made a point of telling those in attendance that this was "not a retirement speech." He repeated this Sunday night. Many of the same players who heard his speech will now get to meet him over the board. Although Shabalov left St. Louis the day after his induction, he followed the 2015 tournament closely. "I played in so many U.S. Championships, when you suddenly stop playing, you watch everything," he said. "It feels like you're still there." FM Mike Klein of is a two-time Chess Journalist of the Year. See full final standings here.