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U.S. juniors, seniors shine in chess battles

July 24, 2018

Chess, the saying goes, is a sea where a gnat may drink and an elephant may bathe.

It is also a park in which a child can play and a senior may stroll.

The generation-spanning appeal of the game was on full display this month, as rising U.S. stars took their noses out of their iPhones long enough to battle for the national junior championships in St. Louis, while a U.S. men’s over-50 squad stopped yelling at people to get off their lawns long enough to snag the gold medal at the sixth World Senior Team Championships in Dresden, Germany.

Let’s honor seniority and give a shout-out to the U.S. 50-plus team, which narrowly edged England for the title in its first appearance in the event. The roster featured a stable of some of the country’s best players from the 1980s and 1990s, including GMs Joel Benjamin, Alex Yermolinsky, Jaan Ehlvest and Sergey Kudrin.

First board and star of the team was the still very active Pittsburgh GM Alex Shabalov, who went 7- facing the top competition from the other teams. Shabalov’s best game came at a critical time, defeating Canadian IM David Cummings in the final round contributing to a 3-1 match win, clinching the gold over England. Against a feared attacker, Cummings defends well until 20. Bd4 d5?! (allowing White to open the position) 21. e5 Ne8 22. Nf4 (Rxf7!? Qxh3 23. Rxf8+ Bxf8 24. gxh3 g6, and the extra pawn may not be enough to win for White) Nc7 23. Nb3 Ne6 24. Rh5 h6 25. Be3, and the Black king position is looking very iffy.

White’s kingside array proves too much for his opponent to hold back: 25...Rc7?! (Yermolinsky, in an entertaining string of dispatches on the event at Chessbase.com, says Black here missed perhaps his last best chance to hold: 25...d4! 26. Nxd4 Bg5!, with complicated play for both sides) 26. Qg3 Kh7?! (Bg5 27. Nxe6 Bxe3+ 28. Rxe3 Qxe6 is a better defense) 27. Nd4 Nxf4? 28. Qxf4 Bc5 (the h-file sacrifice is so potent that Black might have tried here to survive with 28...Rc6 29. Nxc6 Bxc6 30. Rc1 Bb5) 29. Rxh6+!, and the Black king’s defenses are ripped open.

The White attack almost plays itself: 29...gxh6 30. Qxh6+ Kg8 31. Qg5+ Kh7 32. Nf5 f6 33. Qh6+ Kg8 34. Bxc5 Qxf5 (Rxc5 35. Qg6+ Kh8 36. Re3 Rc1+ 37. Kf2 Rc2+ 38. Ke1 Qh7 39. Rh3 and wins) 35. Qxf8+ Kh7 36. exf6 d4 37. Re7+ Rxe7 38. Qxe7+, and Black resigns as both 38...Kg6 and 38...Kh6 lose to 39. Qg7+ Kh5 40. g4+! Qxg4+ 41. Qxg4+ Kxg4 42. f7 and the pawn queens.

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Congratulations to GM Awonder Liang and FM Carissa Yip, the 2018 U.S. junior and U.S. junior girls’ champions, respectively. Liang claimed his second straight junior title with a 6-2 score, a half-point clear of IM Advait Patel, while Yip earned her first girls’ title with a 7-2 score, a full point clear of Virginia WGM-candidate Jennifer Yu and WIM Emily Nguyen.

The Wisconsin-born Liang looks to become one of the country’s next big stars and we have a sample of his talent from today’s diagram, a Round 7 battle with FM Alex Bian that employs an ingeniously simple winning idea.

We pick up the action just as Bian as Black has castled short into a fortress with some severe dark-square weaknesses.Liang exploits those holes with 16. Bf6 Bxf1 17. Qd2! (an unexpected reply that threatens the deadly 18. Qh6) d5 (Qc6!? 18. f3! [Qh6?? Nf5! 19. exf5 Qg2 mate] d5 19. Bxe7 Rfe8 20. exd5 Qd7 21. d6, and White keeps the edge) 18. Bxe7 Rfe8 19. Bxc5 Bd3 20. exd5 Qc4 21. d6!, and the passed pawn has become a monster.

The finale: 21...Bf5 (Qxc5 22. Qxd3 Rxe1+ 23. Rxe1 Rd8 24. d7 Qc6 25. Rd1) 22. Bd4 Qd5 23. Qf4 Re4 24. Rxe4 Qxe4 25. Qxe4 Bxe4 26. Bf6! (returning to the most effective square and seizing control of d8) Bc6 27. Rc1!, and Black resigned as there’s no good defense to the simple threat of 28. Rxc6! and pushing the d-pawn to the queening square.

Shabalov-Cummings, World Senior Plus-50 Team Championship, Dresden, Germany, July 2018

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. f4 b5 8. Bd3 Bb7 9. Nb3 d6 10. Qf3 Nf6 11. O-O Be7 12. Qh3 Nb4 13. Rac1 Nxd3 14. cxd3 Qd7 15. Na5 O-O 16. f5 exf5 17. Rxf5 b4 18. Ne2 Rac8 19. Re1 Ba8 20. Bd4 d5 21. e5 Ne8 22. Nf4 Nc7 23. Nb3 Ne6 24. Rh5 h6 25. Be3 Rc7 26. Qg3 Kh7 27. Nd4 Nxf4 28. Qxf4 Bc5 29. Rxh6+ gxh6 30. Qxh6+ Kg8 31. Qg5+ Kh7 32. Nf5 f6 33. Qh6+ Kg8 34. Bxc5 Qxf5 35. Qxf8+ Kh7 36. exf6 d4 37. Re7+ Rxe7 38. Qxe7+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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