Shabalov wins Liberty Bell Open… again!

Perhaps GM Alexander Shabalov should consider moving to Philadelphia.
Alex Shabalov
Shabalov has played in 16 Liberty Bell Opens and cashed in 14 of them, winning a total of seven times and taking top honors in the last four he has entered. His score in the Liberty Bell Open is an outstanding 75% (+ 66 = 34 – 10). This year Shabalov continued his domination. He scored 6-1 winning his first 5 games before “coasting” in with two draws. Shabalov played the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place winners this year, so he earned every point. He provided extensive comments/annotations for this article. The 2020 Liberty Bell Open was held January 17-20 in Philadelphia, drawing 363 players in six sections. The Major section had 70 players including three GMs, five IMs, nine FMs, and two WFMs. 40 were masters. Of the top 10 players, just four remained perfect after two rounds. GM Bryan Smith won in round one, but was not feeling well and withdrew after playing only the one game. By the time the tournament merged there were only eight perfect scores: GM Alex Shabalov, IMs David Brodsky, Leonid Sokolin & Atulya Shetty, FMs Nico Chasin & Zoran Gajic, and NMs Ruben Cezila, & Noah Thomforde-Toates. In round three, FM Chasin held IM Brodsky to a draw on board one. The rest of the games were decisive as GM Shabalov defeated NM Cezila, IM Sokolin defeated FM Gajic and IM Shetty defeated NM Thomforde-Toates. GM Shabalov provides annotations for his win over NM Cezila.

[Event "Liberty Bell Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2020.01.18"]
[Round "3.2"]
[White "Shabalov, Alexander"]
[Black "Cezila, Rubens"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B81"]
[WhiteElo "2594"]
[BlackElo "2344"]
[Annotator "Shabalov,Alexander"]
[PlyCount "67"]
[EventDate "2020.??.??"]
[SourceVersionDate "2020.01.18"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 e6 7. g4 h6 8. Bg2 g5
9. Nb3 Nc6 10. f4 gxf4 11. Bxf4 Qc7 12. Qe2 Nd7 13. a4 b6 14. O-O $2 Nce5 15.
Kh1 Bb7 16. Nd4 Be7 17. Rad1 O-O-O 18. Nf3 Ng6 19. Bh2 h5 {(Diagramm) Black is
comfortable in an offbeat Najdorf line, for example} (19... Kb8 20. e5 dxe5 21.
Rxd7 Qxd7 22. Nxe5 Bxg2+ 23. Qxg2 Nxe5 24. Bxe5+ Bd6 25. Bxh8 Rxh8 26. Qf2 Qc6+
27. Qf3 Qc4 $11) {But his last innacurate move suddenly unleashes huge
potential of white's attacking pieces} 20. gxh5 $1 {Next 9-10 moves are
totally forced and in the end white finds himself in a nearly winning position.
} Rxh5 21. Nd4 Rh7 22. Ndb5 axb5 23. Nxb5 Qc5 24. Bxd6 Bxd6 25. Nxd6+ Kc7 26.
Nxb7 Kxb7 27. e5+ Ka7 28. a5 $3 {This was a key move in this sequence.Without
it his whole operation was in doubt.} b5 {Black misses on his best chance.} (
28... Ngxe5 29. Qe4 Rxh3+ 30. Bxh3 Rh8 31. axb6+ Kxb6 32. Kg2 f5 33. Qd4 Kc7
34. Qxc5+ Nxc5 35. Rfe1 $14) 29. Qe4 (29. Rf3 $16) 29... Qc7 30. b4 (30. Rd6
Nc5 31. Qd4 $18) 30... Rh4 (30... Rdh8 31. Qd4+ Nc5 32. c4 $3 $16) 31. Qe3+ Kb8
32. Qf3 (32. a6 Ngxe5 33. Rxd7 Rxd7 34. a7+ Qxa7 35. Qxe5+ Kc8 36. Ra1 f6 37.
Qxf6 Qd4 38. Qf8+ Kc7 39. Qa8 Kd6 40. Qf8+ Kc7 41. Qa8 $11) (32. Rxf7 $1 Ngxe5
33. Rdxd7 Nxd7 34. Qf3 Rxh3+ 35. Qxh3 Qe5 36. Qd3 $16) 32... Ka7 {Black
completely misses white's idea.} ({It is funny , but we both assumed that
black is completely lost after} 32... Qa7 {but the engine surprisingly
continues to defend.} 33. Qxf7 (33. Qc6 Ngxe5 34. Qxb5+ Kc8 35. Rxd7 Nxd7 36.
Qc6+ Kb8 37. Qb5+ $11) 33... Ngxe5 34. Qxe6 Rdh8 35. c4 bxc4 36. Rf5 Qe3 $11)
33. Qxf7 Ngxe5 34. Qf2+ 1-0

These results left only three players at 3-0: GM Shabalov and IMs Sokolin & Shetty. Because IM Shetty had opted for a fourth round half point bye, Shabalov was paired with Sokolin. Shabalov won to get to 4-0 in clear first place, a spot he would not give up for the rest of the tournament. GM Shabalov was actually seeded 2nd in the event, with IM Brodsky rated higher by two points and the top seed. This meant that in round 5, Shabalov would get paired up to an IM! The game was vintage Shabalov as there were fireworks, a direct attack on the enemy king, and the GM coming out on top! Shabalov provides notes to what winds up being one of the most significant games in the event.

[Event "Liberty Bell Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2020.01.19"]
[Round "5.1"]
[White "Shabalov, Alexander"]
[Black "Brodsky, David"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A40"]
[WhiteElo "2594"]
[BlackElo "2596"]
[Annotator "Shabalov,Alexander"]
[PlyCount "57"]
[EventDate "2020.??.??"]
[SourceVersionDate "2020.01.18"]

{5th round encounter between top 2 seeds proven to be decisive for overall
standings.} 1. c4 b6 2. Nc3 Bb7 3. d4 e6 4. e4 Bb4 {This is the system i have
so many sweet memories of, as i used to be a top practicioner of e6/b6 line on
a black side around 20 years ago. I am not sure if this was intentional
decision by David or he simply did not know that.} 5. f3 $1 {in my humble
opinion this is the strongest continuanion in this position.} Ne7 {This
reacton is entirely possible, but black will miss the big chunk of fun that
arises} (5... f5 6. exf5 Nh6 7. fxe6 O-O) 6. Bd3 e5 $6 {But this is known to
be dubious since modern classic game Christiansen-Speelman, Hastings 1979.} 7.
a3 $1 {Practically, this is a refutation of 6...e5. White is going to get two
bishops and excellent attacking chances.} exd4 8. axb4 dxc3 9. Ne2 $1 {Clearly
an improvement on above mentioned game by my next month teammate at World
Senior Teams in Prague.} (9. bxc3 Ng6 10. Ne2 Nc6 11. O-O Nce5 12. Bc2 O-O 13.
c5 d6 14. cxb6 axb6 15. Rxa8 Bxa8 16. f4 Nd7 17. Ng3 Re8 18. c4 f6 19. Qg4 Ndf8
20. Re1 Qd7 21. Nf5 Qc6 22. Nd4 Qd7 23. Qxd7 Nxd7 24. Nb5 Rc8 25. Bd2 Ne7 26.
Ra1 Bc6 27. Nd4 Bb7 28. Ra7 Nc6 29. Rxb7 Nxd4 30. Bd1 Ra8 31. Bc3 Ne6 32. Bg4
Ndf8 33. f5 Ng5 34. Rxc7 Ra3 35. Bd4 Rb3 36. h4 Nxe4 37. Bf3 d5 38. Bxb6 Rxb4
39. Bxe4 dxe4 40. Bc5 Rxc4 41. Rc8 h5 42. Rxf8+ Kh7 43. Be3 Ra4 44. Rc8 Ra2 45.
Kf1 Rb2 46. Rc4 Rb5 47. Rc5 Rb2 48. Ra5 Kg8 49. Rd5 Kh7 50. Bd2 Rb1+ 51. Kf2
Rb3 52. Be3 Ra3 53. Rc5 Rd3 54. Ke2 Rd7 55. Rc1 Rd5 56. Rf1 Ra5 57. Rf4 Ra2+
58. Bd2 Ra4 59. Ke3 Ra3+ 60. Ke2 Rg3 61. Kf2 Rd3 62. Be3 Rd5 63. Kg3 {1-0 (63)
Christiansen,L (2475)-Speelman,J (2470) Hastings 1979}) 9... O-O {David is a
much stronger player when he holds the initiative, so this is totally
understandable decision not to allow white dark squared bishop on a big
diagonal.The drawback of this choice is obviously the fact that white keeps
his pawn structure intact.} (9... cxb2 10. Bxb2 $40) 10. Nxc3 f5 11. O-O (11.
exf5 Nxf5 12. O-O Qf6 13. Rf2) 11... fxe4 12. Nxe4 Nbc6 13. Re1 $1 {White
insists on offering his b pawn. He is also better after} (13. b5 Ne5 14. Bc2
Nxc4 15. Qe2 Ne5 16. Nc5 bxc5 17. Qxe5 Ng6 18. Qxc5) 13... Nxb4 14. Bb1 h6 15.
Ng3 $1 Nec6 {It looks like black was able to hold first wave of white's attack
as unassailable knight on b4 controls critical c2 and d3 from white queen.
However the price he is paying for that (which is keeping sll his light pieces
and a8 rook out of pay) is too high.} 16. Ra3 $1 {Extremely logical and
powerful move as the last non participating white piece joins an attack. The
second wave of assault proves to be decisive.} Re8 17. Ne4 {No trades! This
was not the only way though} (17. Rxe8+ Qxe8 18. Nf5 Qf7 19. Re3 $16) 17... Qe7
(17... d5 18. cxd5 Nxd5 19. Bxh6 gxh6 20. f4) 18. f4 Qf7 19. Rg3 (19. f5 $5
Qxc4 20. Rg3 Kh8 21. f6) 19... Kh8 (19... d5 20. f5 dxe4 21. Bxh6 Rad8 22. Qc1
Qxf5 23. Bxg7) 20. b3 d5 21. cxd5 Ne7 $5 {A clever desperate attempt to bring
black forces to defence of their king falls to few spectacular ways white
could finish this game.} (21... Qxd5 22. Bb2 Re7 23. f5 $18) 22. d6 $1 {
Turns out to be computer's first choice. But the other line is equally
beautiful} (22. Bb2 Nf5 23. Nd6 $3 Nxd6 24. Rxg7 Qxg7 25. Bxg7+ Kxg7 26. Qd4+
Kf7 27. Qxb4) 22... Nf5 23. d7 Rf8 (23... Red8 {David spotted a decisive blow
here} 24. Ng5 $1 hxg5 25. Bxf5 Qxf5 26. Re8+ Rxe8 27. dxe8=Q+ Rxe8 28. Qh5+ {
etc}) 24. Ng5 $1 {Same move with slightly different idea decides here too.}
hxg5 25. Rxg5 Nh6 26. Bb2 Nd5 ({after} 26... Rg8 {i was thinking of} 27. Rg6
Qxf4 28. Qh5) 27. Rxg7 Qxg7 28. Bxg7+ Kxg7 29. Qh5 1-0

This result put Shabalov in clear first at 5-0 going into the last day. There was only one person with 4 ½, IM Shetty, and two players at 4-1, FM Gabriel Petesch and NM Evan Park. Shabalov had a clear path to first place. Facing sixth seeded IM Shetty with a ½ point lead, Shabalov might have been content with a quick draw with Black. The game went 60+ moves – definitely not a “GM draw!” This left Shabalov in clear first place going into the last round with 5 ½ out of 6. There were only two players at 5-1: IM Shetty and FM Petesch. However, with Shetty taking a last round half-point bye, Shabalov drew quickly with Petesch, guaranteeing himself first place. Shabalov thus finished at 6-1 winning $2247. Shetty and Petesch finished with 5 ½ tying for 2nd and winning $963. There was a three way tie for 4th at 5-2. In this tie was NM Evan Park who won $1000 as the top player Under 2300. GM Shabalov commented on Park’s tournament and his amazing round five game:
The story of the tournament! Pittsburgh's top junior Evan Park had a good tournament and then faced a huge test in the shape of IM Leonid Sokolin. It was a remarkable game where white eventually seized the decisive initiative and the game arrived at the following position:
This is a remarkable position with white's last move was Rh3, blocking black the rook check. Black is out of checks, down the queen and almost checkmated himself. So, Leonid Sokolin did what most of us would do in such a position - he resigned. However the computer reveals that after black's only move 1...Rg1..... the position is equal!!Not slightly better for white or white has winning chances. No, this is dead even. 0.00! The only way for white even to continue is to give up the rook after 2.Rg3 Rh1+2. Kg5 Rg7+ 3. Kf4 Rf1+ 4.Ke3 Rxg3 5. Ke2, but white is the only side here that could lose. In my whole chess career I have never encountered anything so dramatic and counter intuitive.
The other two players in the 4th place tie were IM Sokolin and NM Cezila who each won $374.50. The section winners were: U2100 Alexander Wang & Rohan Padhye, 5 ½ - 1 ½, $963 U1900 Valeria Malysheva, 6-1, $1284 U1700 Subhasish Chakraborti*, Michael Favata, William Cige, Daniel Bowers, & Yajat Gupta, 5 ½ - 1 ½, $542 *Prize limited to $400 due to being rated more than 60 points above section limit 1/14/19 – 1/14/20 U1500 Dashiel Lin, 6 ½ - ½, $1070 U1200 Gil Axelrod, 6 ½ - ½, $749 Mixed Doubles Adia Onyango and Atulya Shetty, 11-3, $535 to each player Blitz IM Atulya Shetty, 7 ½ - ½, $155
NTD Steve Immitt directed for Continental Chess assisted by Harold Stenzel, Andrew Rea, Noreen Davisson, and Harold Scott. Full tournament details including many games can be found at Previous Continental Chess tournaments can be found at the Continental Chess website at