Shimanov Wins Mid-America Open

The 2016 Mid-American Open saw no shortage of titled players, and featured six Grandmasters and three International Masters. The swath of titled players (and a host of FIDE and National Masters, to boot) had to face one another in the critical rounds which produced some fighting chess. When the dust settled after round five, GM Alex Shimanov sat atop the scores with 4.5/5, defeating fellow GM Conrad Holt in the final game to edge out a large group of 4-pointers. The second score group included GMs Illia Nyzhnyk and Julio Sadorra along with FM Todd Andrews and NMs Gopal Menon and Matthew Larson. Larson himself played a very strong attacking game against IM Michael Brooks in round 5 to move into the 4-point score group.

[Event "Mid-America Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.03.20"]
[White "Larson, Matthew"]
[Black "Brooks, Michael"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B06"]
[WhiteElo "2335"]
[BlackElo "2437"]
[Annotator "Doe,John"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. d4 g6 2. e4 d6 3. Be3 Bg7 4. Nc3 a6 5. Qd2 Nd7 6. h4 {Adopting the most
critical setup. White aims for an immediate attacking position.} h5 7. f3 (7.
Nh3 {is also popular.}) 7... b6 (7... Ngf6) (7... b5 {is more spirited, and
also the most common choice in the database. Black corrects the mistake
shortly but at the cost of a critical tempo.}) 8. O-O-O Bb7 9. Nh3 b5 10. g4 {
Aggressive, but perhaps better was 10. Ng5! The knight would essentially be
outposted as ...f6 is unplayable and would defend the e4 pawn, making an
ensuing g4 even stronger. However, white impresses with concrete play.} (10.
Ng5 e6 ({another bonus to Ng5 is that Ngf8 is unplayable, e.g.} 10... Ngf6 11.
e5 {and yeah, e6.}) 11. g4) 10... hxg4 11. fxg4 b4 12. Nd5 e6 13. Ndf4 Rxh4 {
Perhaps black feared h5, but this was the wrong pawn to take. Bxe4, busting up
the center, was probably superior.} 14. Bd3 Rb8 15. Qf2 Rxg4 16. Rdg1 Rxg1+ (
16... Ngf6 {was required, now white's attack is very swift. The kinsgide pawns
are vulnerable.}) 17. Qxg1 Ngf6 18. Nxe6 fxe6 19. Qxg6+ Kf8 20. Bh6 Qe7 21. Ng5
Kg8 22. Nxe6 Nf8 23. Qxg7+ Qxg7 24. Bxg7 Nxe6 25. Bxf6 Kf7 {A pawn up plus the
two bishops, white doesn't have trouble converting.} 26. Rf1 Rf8 27. d5 Nc5 28.
Bd8+ Ke8 29. Rxf8+ Kxf8 30. Bxc7 Ke7 31. Kd2 Bc8 32. Ba5 {White won on time}
FM Todd Andrews pulled off a relatively clean and straightforward win against David Peng in his final round to join the 4.0 score group as well. The two followed a Najdorf sideline where white was able to prove his pawns were, indeed, stronger and quicker.  

[Event "Mid-America Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.03.20"]
[White "Andrews, Todd"]
[Black "Peng, David"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B65"]
[WhiteElo "2383"]
[BlackElo "2315"]
[Annotator "Doe,John"]
[PlyCount "97"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 Be7 8.
O-O-O O-O 9. f4 Nxd4 10. Qxd4 Qa5 11. e5 {Perhaps an underestimated try for
the advantage.} (11. Bc4) (11. Kb1) 11... dxe5 12. Qxe5 Qxe5 13. fxe5 Nd5 14.
Bxe7 Nxe7 15. Bd3 {White has an isolated e-pawn but black has difficulty
mobilizing his queenside. General practice seems to show that if white can
trade his e-pawn for a queenside pawn (which he usually can as black sheds one
to mobilize), then his queenside pawns may be quicker and more dangerous than
black's e-pawn. This general idea more or less plays out to a T in this game.}
Nc6 16. Rhe1 Rd8 17. Be4 Bd7 18. Nb5 Nxe5 19. Nd6 Bc6 20. Bxc6 Nxc6 21. Nxb7
Rxd1+ 22. Rxd1 Ne5 23. b3 Kf8 24. c4 {The white pawns begin their journey.} Rc8
25. Kc2 Ke7 26. Kc3 f5 {Black opts to keep his knight centralized to support
both attack and defense, but perhaps using the e-pawn would have been wiser.}
27. Na5 g5 28. b4 f4 29. c5 g4 30. Rf1 f3 31. gxf3 Nxf3 (31... gxf3 32. Kd4 Kf6
33. Nc4 Rd8+ 34. Nd6 {remains complicated, but it seems white was the one who
improved from this sequence.}) 32. Rf2 h5 33. Nc4 e5 {The e-pawn moves, at
long last.} 34. Nd6 Rf8 35. b5 Ke6 36. Nc4 e4 (36... h4 {! seems now better.
g3 is a rather serious issue, and white slowed down his own advance.} 37. Ne3
g3 38. hxg3 hxg3 (38... h3 {should also be considered, to keep the pawn
farther from the white knight.}) 39. Rg2 Rg8 40. Nf1 {is perhaps what black
was afraid of. And while it is true the g3 pawn is lost, Nd4! should now also
defray the ambitions of the white pawns.} Nd4) 37. b6 axb6 38. cxb6 Rb8 39. Rb2
Ne5 {A serious miscalculation. In the ensuing RvR ending, the two connected
white pawns will be stronger than the split black passers.} 40. Nxe5 Kxe5 41.
a4 h4 42. a5 g3 43. hxg3 hxg3 44. Kc4 Kd6 45. Kb5 {very solid and winning.} (
45. a6 {immediately also is winning. Undoubtedly, white did not want to allow
g2, however the tactics work:} g2 46. Rxg2 Rxb6 47. Rg6+ Kc7 48. a7) 45... Rg8
46. Rd2+ Ke6 47. a6 e3 48. Rg2 Kd7 49. a7 1-0[/pgn]
Of course, I would be remiss not to include the critical match. Shimanov’s win over Holt, mentioned previously, sealed a clear first place for Alex as well as the top prize. While my compatriots Gopal, Will Aramil, and I had to leave the tournament early, we wondered if Holt would be able to hold the ending, thus vaulting Gopal into a tie for first. Unfortunately, he did not. Even more unfortunately, Gopal’s vegan lifestyle prevented me from indulging in my favorite reason for playing in St. Louis: Waffle House on the ride home. (Dear Waffle House, please expand to Illinois. Ty.)

[Event "Mid-America Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.03.20"]
[White "Shimanov, Alexander"]
[Black "Holt, Conrad"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "D02"]
[WhiteElo "2698"]
[BlackElo "2645"]
[Annotator "Doe,John"]
[PlyCount "84"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. c3 Qb6 6. Qb3 c4 7. Qc2 Bf5 8. Qc1
Nh5 9. Bg3 e6 10. Nbd2 Nxg3 11. hxg3 Rc8 {Having played the London system
myself for a period of years I always found this setup the most annoying to
face. However, I am curious if ...Rc8 was preparation (preparation gone bad?)
by Holt or simply an oversight. I always feared most the setups when black
would include ...h6 and keep his white squared bishop. Now, after the bishop
is traded, black loses both the two bishops and ideal pawn structure.} (11...
h6) 12. Nh4 Be7 13. Nxf5 exf5 14. Be2 O-O 15. Qc2 g6 16. g4 fxg4 17. Bxg4 Rcd8
18. Bf3 {Now the d5 weakness is exposed.} Qc7 19. O-O f5 20. g3 Kg7 21. b3 Na5
22. Rab1 b6 23. bxc4 Nxc4 24. Nxc4 Qxc4 25. Qb3 Qc6 26. Rfc1 Rf6 27. Qb5 {
Probably the most direct plan. In the ending, white's bishop has better
targets and his rooks more space to operate.} Qxb5 28. Rxb5 Rfd6 29. a4 R8d7
30. g4 Kf6 31. gxf5 gxf5 32. Kf1 Ke6 33. Ke2 Rc7 34. Kd3 a6 35. Rb3 Rc4 36. Ra1
Bd8 37. Be2 Rc7 38. Kd2 a5 39. Rb5 Rg7 40. f4 Rg2 41. Rh1 Rd7 42. Rh6+ Rg6 {
Here, the players apparently stopped notating. However, with two rooks still
on the board and the three isolated black pawns, it is not surprising black
was unable to hold.} *[/pgn]
As for my own tournament experience, unfortunately it was more nightmarish than dreamy. I started off in round one with a horrific blunder. Upon entering the basement hotel room that hosted the main event Friday night, I felt as if I was entering a sauna instead of a chess hall. The room was extremely hot due to a large number of players and a lack of air conditioning. Five hours later, around midnight local time, I achieved the following position against Rishi Narayanan:

[Event "Mid America Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.03.25"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Karagianis, Petros"]
[Black "Narayanan, Rishi"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2309"]
[BlackElo "2045"]
[Annotator "Doe,John"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "3b1r2/3Rnk2/1p2pB2/pB1pPp2/P2P4/4K3/1P3P2/8 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "4"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

{I had seen awhile ago that Bb5-e2-h5 was the finishing touch, so, tired and
sweaty, I proceded:} 1. Be2 Ke8 {And now Rb7 ends things. But instead...} 2.
Bh5+ {???} Kxd7 {And I resigned on the spot.} 0-1[/pgn]
Unable to recover from the blunder, I spiraled to a quick 0.5/3 before finally regaining my senses, just in time to return waffle-less and sad. Fortunately, Gopal cheered me up with a Vegan sushi burrito. (Yes, apparently, such things exist.) Next up in St. Louis is the Bill Wright memorial, April 1-3 at the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, and then later in April at the same locale, the always exciting US Chess Championships. I look forward to more fascinating top level chess in the Gateway City in the near future.   The complete results of all the sections of the Mid-America Open, as well as previous Continental Chess tournaments, can be found at the Continental Chess website at: