To the Victor Goes the Spoils

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

After pressing an advantage for several hours, we convince ourselves we missed our best chances and agree to a draw in a winning position. Of course, most of us don’t ever go 8.5/9 to win the US Open, as Aleksander Lenderman just did with his last-round draw against GM Benjamin Gledura. And most of those wins are not as stunning as 34. ... h5!!, either. With the bishop pair against two knights and multiple chances for passed pawns, Lenderman was clearly playing for an advantage, but seemed to think he had already missed his best chances. The fact that he needed only a draw to secure clear first, whereas a loss would ‘cost’ him several thousand dollars, surely didn’t help.

 

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Gledura, Benjamin"] [Black "Lenderman, Aleksandr"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C01"] [WhiteElo "2628"] [BlackElo "2607"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:18:09"] [BlackClock "0:38:10"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bd3 Bd6 6. Qe2+ Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. Re1 Re8 9. Bg5 Be6 10. Nbd2 h6 11. Bh4 Nc6 12. Bb5 Bd7 13. Bxc6 Bxc6 14. Ne5 Bd7 15. Qf3 Be6 16. c3 c6 17. Ng6 Bd6 18. Bxf6 Qxf6 19. Qxf6 gxf6 20. Nh4 f5 21. Re2 f6 22. Rae1 Kf7 23. Nb3 b6 24. Nc1 c5 25. dxc5 bxc5 26. Nd3 f4 27. g3 fxg3 28. hxg3 a5 29. a3 a4 30. Ng2 Bf5 31. Rxe8 Rxe8 32. Rxe8 Kxe8 33. Ngf4 $4 (33. Nc1 {Not a pleasant move to play, but as we will soon see, it was imperative that white keeps the knights untangled} d4 34. cxd4 cxd4 35. Ne1 $1 {One benefit to the knights over the bishops is their ability to coordinate on the d3 square. White has decent chances to hold.}) 33... Kd7 34. Kf1 (34. Kf1 h5 $3 {An incredible resource that wins in all lines. The threat of h4 is deadly, since gxh4 is met by c4 winning a knight. Shockingly, there is no way to adequately meet it.} 35. Ne1 {Not the 'best' move, but requiring the most calculation from black:} (35. Ke2 {Defending the d3 knight in order to move the f4 knight is too slow} h4 $1 36. Ne1 (36. gxh4 c4 {picks up a knight}) 36... h3 {is the end}) (35. Kg2 {anticipating h3 won't work either:} h4 36. Kf3 (36. Kg1 h3 37. Nc1 (37. Kh2 d4 38. c4 Bxf4 39. Nxf4 d3 $19) 37... Bxf4 38. gxf4 d4 {too many pawns!}) (36. Nc1 Bxf4 37. gxf4 d4) 36... h3 {Be4 is coming and with it a new queen} 37. Ne1 Be4+) (35. f3 {is hopeless, as once g3 falls, c4 is unstoppable} h4 36. Kg2 hxg3 {one of the knights will fall after c4}) 35... Bxf4 36. gxf4 Ke6 $1 $19 {activating the king before pushing d4 and h4. an easy move to overlook, and essential.} (36... h4 {one additional nuance: this move allows white to consolidate with} 37. Nf3 {preventing d4}) 37. Nf3 Bd3+ 38. Kg1 Kf5 {illustrates why Ke6 was necessary to pre-empt Nf3.}) 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

 

Lenderman took home $8,000, plus a $200 clear-first bonus, for his record-tying (with GM Lev Alburt in 1989) performance. Entering the day, the race for second was between Gledura, IM Viktor Matviishen, and GMs Hans Niemann and Awonder Liang. The latter two were paired, and Niemann squeezed the life out of Liang’s Caro-Kann in what Kasparov once semi-jokingly referred to as the ‘Short Defense’ approach to the Advanced Variation. Despite its aggressive appearance, Kasparov claimed, the power of this variation comes from its ability to shut down Black’s counterplay, as Niemann demonstrated here.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Niemann, Hans"] [Black "Liang, Awonder"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2606"] [BlackElo "2587"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "1:03:17"] [BlackClock "0:16:48"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nd2 e6 5. Nb3 Nd7 6. Nf3 h6 7. Be2 Qc7 8. O-O g5 9. a4 Bg7 10. a5 Ne7 11. Bd2 c5 12. Nxc5 Nxc5 13. dxc5 O-O 14. b4 Nc6 15. Ra3 a6 16. h3 Rad8 17. Bd3 Be4 18. Re1 Nxe5 19. Nxe5 Qxe5 20. Bc3 Qf4 21. g3 Qf5 22. Bxg7 Kxg7 23. Bxe4 dxe4 24. Qe2 Qxh3 $6 (24... Rd4 25. c3 Rd3 26. Qxe4 Qxe4 27. Rxe4 Rfd8 $14 {playing for activity over material} 28. Kg2 Rd2 29. Ra1 Rb2) 25. Qxe4 Rd7 26. Rd3 Rfd8 (26... Rxd3 27. cxd3 h5 {was another try, but} 28. Qxb7 h4 29. Re5 {shuts it down}) 27. Red1 $18 Rxd3 28. Rxd3 Rxd3 29. cxd3 Qh5 30. g4 Qh3 31. Qe5+ Kf8 32. Qb8+ Ke7 33. Qxb7+ Kd8 34. Qb8+ Kd7 35. Qd6+ Ke8 36. Qg3 Qxg3+ 37. fxg3 Kd7 38. d4 {1-0 Black resigns.} 1-0 [/pgn]

Matviishen, playing his fellow Ukrainian GM Illia Nyzhnyk, was in excellent position to tie Niemann, with beautiful knight play coming out of a complicated Grünfeld. Alas, Matviishen was left with under two minutes to navigate eight moves of an imbalanced endgame with passed pawns on both sides, and, as fate would have it, he began pushing the wrong pawns.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Nyzhnyk, Illya"] [Black "Matviishen, Viktor"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D91"] [WhiteElo "2676"] [BlackElo "2510"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:44:44"] [BlackClock "0:30:59"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. Bg5 Ne4 6. Bh4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 dxc4 8. e3 b5 9. a4 c6 10. Ng5 O-O 11. axb5 cxb5 12. Be2 Bb7 13. Bf3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 Nd7 15. Qb7 a6 16. Nf3 Nc5 $1 $17 17. Qxe7 Nd3+ 18. Kd2 Qd5 19. Bg3 Rfe8 20. Qc7 Rac8 21. Qa7 Nc5 22. Ke2 Na4 23. Rhc1 Qe6 24. Bh4 h6 25. Kf1 g5 26. Bg3 Re7 27. d5 Rxa7 28. dxe6 Nxc3 29. Be5 Ne4 30. Bxg7 Kxg7 31. Nd4 b4 32. e7 c3 { Matviishen now has 90 seconds, plus increment, to navigate the next eight moves.} 33. Ke2 {Until now, black has been crushing with an active knight and powerful queenside passers, while neutralizing e7.} Raa8 $6 (33... a5 34. Rd1 Raa8 {and now there is no activating Ra5 for white}) 34. Ra5 Nd6 35. Rd5 Ne8 36. Kd3 a5 37. Ra1 a4 38. Rd8 b3 $4 {With two moves to go, he loses winning chances} (38... c2 39. Nxc2 Rxd8+ 40. exd8=Q Rxd8+ 41. Nd4 a3 42. Kc4 Rb8 43. Kb3 Nf6 {and black is pushing, although things are from clear}) 39. Rxc8 b2 $4 {And one move before the time control, he loses the draw as well} (39... Rxc8 40. Rxa4 b2 41. Rb4 Kf6 42. e4 Kxe7 43. Kc2 Nd6 44. Ne2 Rc5 45. Nxc3 b1=Q+ 46. Rxb1 Nxe4 $10) 40. Rxe8 Rxe8 41. Rd1 {1-0 Black resigns.} 1-0 [/pgn]

After the dust settled, Niemann took home $4,000 for clear second place at 8/9. Gledura joined Nyzhnyk in a tie for third with 7½/9 along with four other players who won their last round games: IM Samuel Schmakel and GMs Timur Gareyev, Varuzhan Akobian, and John Michael Burke. Each won $1,066.67 for their efforts.

Schmakel took no time showing his ambitions to play for a win with black against GM Alexander Shabalov’s English, marching ‘Harry’ the h-pawn down the board before Shabalov could finish coordinating his pieces. Missing one chance to force a perpetual, Shabalov resigned on move 21.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Shabalov, Alexander"] [Black "Schmakel, Samuel"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A20"] [WhiteElo "2502"] [BlackElo "2409"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "42"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:09:00"] [BlackClock "0:17:58"] 1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 c6 4. Nf3 e4 5. Nd4 Qb6 6. Nc2 d5 7. O-O dxc4 8. Nc3 h5 9. d3 h4 10. Be3 Qa5 11. Nxe4 Nxe4 12. dxe4 hxg3 13. fxg3 Nd7 14. Qd4 Qh5 15. Rf5 Qxe2 16. Na3 $2 (16. Rd1 $1 Qxc2 17. Re5+ Be7 18. Rxe7+ Kxe7 19. Rd2 Qc1+ 20. Rd1 Qc2 $10) 16... Nb6 17. Raf1 Bxf5 18. exf5 Rd8 19. Qe4+ Be7 20. h4 Nd5 21. Nxc4 b5 {0-1 White resigns.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Gareyev, playing for a win with black against GM Robert Hungaski, chose an imbalanced Modern Defense, allowing white to incorrectly close the kingside before demonstrating the power of active rooks on the queenside.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Hungaski, Robert"] [Black "Gareyev, Timur"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B06"] [WhiteElo "2514"] [BlackElo "2590"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:00:39"] [BlackClock "0:17:20"] 1. e4 g6 2. d4 d6 3. c4 e5 4. Ne2 Nf6 5. Nbc3 Nbd7 6. f3 c6 7. Be3 a6 8. d5 Be7 9. Qd2 h5 10. dxc6 bxc6 11. Na4 Rb8 12. Nec3 O-O 13. O-O-O Qa5 14. Kb1 Rb4 15. Qc2 Qc7 16. h4 Re8 17. g4 Nf8 18. g5 $6 {relieving tension on the kingside} N6d7 19. a3 Rb8 20. Bh3 Nc5 21. Nxc5 dxc5 22. Bxc8 Rexc8 {white's idea was to prevent breaks on the queenside as well, but the open files give black a lasting initiative} 23. Qa4 Rb6 24. Qc2 Ne6 25. Na4 Rb7 26. Rd3 Rcb8 27. Ka2 Nd4 28. Bxd4 cxd4 29. c5 Rb5 30. b3 Kg7 31. Qc4 f6 $6 {giving white new chances } 32. gxf6+ Bxf6 33. Nb6 Qe7 34. Rc1 Bxh4 35. a4 Bg5 36. axb5 axb5 37. Qc2 Bxc1 38. Qxc1 Rf8 39. b4 h4 40. Kb2 h3 41. Qh1 Rh8 42. Qh2 Rh5 43. Rd1 Qg5 44. Nd7 Qe3 45. Rg1 $2 d3 46. Qg3 Qd2+ 47. Ka3 Qc3+ 48. Ka2 Qc2+ 49. Ka1 Qa4+ 50. Kb1 Qxb4+ 51. Ka1 Qc3+ 52. Kb1 Qb3+ 53. Ka1 Qe6 54. Qg4 h2 55. Rh1 Qe7 56. Kb2 d2 57. f4 exf4 58. e5 Rh4 {0-1 White resigns.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Playing with the black pieces against GM Mackenzie Molner, Akobian also (not unexpectedly) chose an ambitious opening: the French. Molner achieved a typical space advantage out of the opening, but at a critical moment when a retreat was required, “Mac” began pushing too hard and wound up in an endgame that Akobian smoothly converted.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Molner, Mackenzie S"] [Black "Akobian, Varuzhan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2438"] [BlackElo "2614"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:43:10"] [BlackClock "0:50:07"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. a3 Be7 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. b4 Nd7 11. Bd3 Qc7 12. Ne2 Nb6 13. O-O Nc4 14. Bf2 Bd7 15. Ra2 f6 16. Ned4 Nxd4 17. Bxd4 f5 18. c3 a5 19. Raf2 O-O 20. g4 fxg4 21. Ng5 $4 (21. Ne1 h5 22. h3 $1 g3 23. Rg2 Be8 $16 {and the attack fizzles out for black}) 21... Bxg5 {the simplifications lead to a favorable endgame for black, which Akobian has no trouble converting} 22. fxg5 Rxf2 23. Rxf2 Nxe5 24. Bxe5 Qxe5 25. Qxg4 g6 26. h4 Qe3 27. Qd4 Qxd4 28. cxd4 axb4 29. axb4 Ra3 30. Bf1 Rb3 31. Rc2 Rxb4 32. Rc7 Be8 33. Bh3 Bf7 34. Rc8+ Kg7 35. Rc7 Kf8 36. Rc8+ Ke7 37. Rc7+ Ke8 38. Rc8+ Kd7 39. Rh8 Rxd4 40. Rxh7 Ke8 {0-1 White resigns.} 0-1 [/pgn]

Burke had the unenviable task of playing untitled upstart Vishnu Vanapalli, who was aiming to win the Expert prize with at least a draw. But Burke managed to exploit one ill-timed pawn break in Vanapalli’s Morphy Run Lopez, forcing Vanapalli to share the Expert prize with three others.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Burke, John Michael"] [Black "Vanapalli, Vishnu"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C78"] [WhiteElo "2554"] [BlackElo "1958"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:15:50"] [BlackClock "0:11:23"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Bc5 6. c3 O-O 7. d4 Ba7 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 exd4 10. Re1 d6 11. Bxc6 bxc6 12. Nxd4 Bd7 13. Nd2 g5 14. Bg3 d5 $2 15. e5 Ne8 16. e6 $1 fxe6 17. Nxe6 Bxe6 18. Rxe6 Rf6 19. Qe2 Ng7 20. Rxf6 Qxf6 21. Nf3 Bb6 22. Re1 Rf8 23. Be5 Qf7 24. Bd4 a5 25. Qe7 Qxe7 26. Rxe7 Nf5 27. Re6 c5 28. Be5 c4 29. h3 a4 30. a3 Kh7 31. g4 Nd6 32. Re7+ Nf7 33. Bxc7 Bxc7 34. Rxc7 Kg6 35. Rc6+ Kh7 36. Rb6 Nh8 37. Nd4 Ng6 38. Rb7+ Kh8 39. Rb6 Kh7 40. Nf5 Rf7 41. Kf1 h5 42. gxh5 Nf4 43. Nh6 Rf8 44. Ng4 Nxh3 45. Rg6 Kh8 46. h6 Nf4 47. Rxg5 Nd3 48. Rxd5 Nxb2 49. Kg2 Nd3 50. Kg3 Nf4 51. Rc5 Ne2+ 52. Kh4 Nxc3 53. Rxc4 Rf3 54. Ne5 Rf5 55. Rc8+ Kh7 56. Rc7+ {1-0 Black resigns.} 1-0 [/pgn]

New Jersey FM Dov Gorman was also a part of this tie, but instead won clear first for the u2400 ‘Master’ prize, netting $2,500 with his last round victory over GM Brandon Jacobson.

[pgn][Event "2021 U.S. Open"] [Site "Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA"] [Date "2021.08.09"] [Round "9"] [White "Gorman, Dov"] [Black "Jacobson, Brandon"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2253"] [BlackElo "2481"] [Annotator "Lang"] [PlyCount "109"] [EventDate "2021.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:37:36"] [BlackClock "0:45:15"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nd7 3. d4 Nb6 4. Bg2 Bf5 5. O-O e6 6. b3 c6 7. Bb2 h6 8. Nbd2 Nf6 9. c4 Be7 10. Ne5 O-O 11. e3 Nbd7 12. f4 Bb4 13. Ndf3 Ne4 14. Nd3 Be7 15. Qe2 Qb6 16. Rfd1 a5 17. c5 Qb5 18. Bf1 a4 19. Qg2 a3 20. Bc1 Qa5 21. Bd2 Nxd2 22. Qxd2 Qa7 23. Nde5 Nf6 24. Bd3 Ne4 25. Qc2 f6 26. Nd7 Rf7 27. Nb6 Re8 28. Nd2 Nxd2 29. Rxd2 Bxd3 30. Rxd3 e5 31. b4 Qa6 32. Rb1 $1 Qb5 $2 (32... Bf8 { was more accurate, but after} 33. Rbb3 {white has a lasting plus}) 33. Rxa3 exd4 34. Ra5 Qxa5 35. bxa5 dxe3 36. Re1 Bf8 37. Kg2 Rfe7 38. Re2 Re4 39. Nd7 R8e7 40. Nxf8 Kxf8 41. Kf3 f5 42. h3 g5 43. Qd3 d4 44. a6 bxa6 45. Qxa6 R7e6 46. a4 Kg7 47. a5 Re7 48. Qd3 gxf4 49. gxf4 Kf6 50. Qa6 R4e6 51. Qd3 Re4 52. a6 Rg7 53. Qa3 h5 54. a7 h4 55. Re1 {1-0 Black resigns.} 1-0 [/pgn]

With these results, Tennessee IM Ronald Burnett and Michigan FM Seth Homa shared second for the ‘Master’ prize with 7/9. Vanapalli had to settle for being part of a 7-way tie for the ‘Expert’ prize with 6½/9.

Full winner list:

Open: GM Aleksandr Lenderman, 8½/9. Master: FM Dov Gorman, 7½/9. Expert: Nathaniel Philip Moor, Vishnu Vanapalli, Brian Pang, and Anish Lodh, 6½/9 Class A: Ankush Moolky, Kevin Su, and Samuel Heran-Boily, 6½/9. Class B: Benjamin Mock, Lang Leo Xiong, Connor Sastre, and Caleb Hina, 5½/9. Class C: Sahana Aravindakshan, Kevin Mogil, Yakun Hu, and Orren Ravid, 5/9. Class D: Aditya Joshi and Andy Zhang, 5/9. Class E and Below: Michael Deng, 5½/9.


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