|Shabalov Gains Inside Track To U.S. Open Crown|
|By FM Mike Klein, Chess.com, reporting for US Chess|
|August 9, 2015|
Life coaches often suggest saying your goals out loud. GM Alex
Shabalov is proving this at the U.S. Open in Phoenix, Arizona.
With one round remaining, his perfect 8.0/8 leads all chasers by a full point. A draw today in the final round will clinch the title and with it an automatic invite to the 2016 U.S. Championship. Round nine is at 3pm Pacific, 6pm Eastern, and can be followed live at Monroi.com.
After being inducted to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame prior to the start of this year's U.S. Championship, Shabalov avowed that he had not played in his last national championship. That premonition looks likely to come true. Shabalov has won four U.S. Championships but has not played in the annual St. Louis event since 2013.
Should he win or draw today, he will assure his place as the third player invited to St. Louis in the spring (GM Hikaru Nakamura gets a bid as the defending champion and IM Akshat Chandra won the U.S. Junior Championship invite earlier this summer).
Even if he loses, another American-flagged player on 7.0/8 would have to win, and even then Shabalov could win the invite. Traditionally, tied players for first compete in a playoff for the automatic bid (last year GM Conrad Holt won his seat at the St. Louis table by beating IM Michael Mulyar). Shabalov finished with 7.5/9 last year, the same as the leaders, but missed out on the playoff due to having worse tiebreaks.
Who are the Americans hoping Shabalov will make a misstep? Holt and local GM Mac Molner are both a point back, as is Webster University student GM Illia Nyzhnyk, but he is ineligible for the U.S. Championship since his FIDE federation is still Ukraine.
Today, Shabalov also gets a little help from the pairings. He plays Nyzhnyk as White (Shabalov was also White in round 8), and Molner gets White against Holt (meaning there can be no three-way tie amongst Americans, and thus Shabalov cannot be locked out of a playoff on tiebreaks if he loses).
Call it some veteran luck: Shabalov was honored prior to the start of Round 8 for having played in his 15th U.S. Open. The record is still well beyond the horizon; Chief TD Al Losoff said GM Arthur Bisguier played in 51 U.S. Opens!
Shabalov took his certificate to board one and kept his perfection going Saturday night by beating IM Andrey Gorovets.
The playing room has been consistently infused with Arctic-quality air-conditioning, so it's not clear if Shabalov was staying warm or just blocking out distractions on board one:
This follows Shabalov's win over the top seed. On Friday, Shabalov beat GM Alejandro Ramirez as Black, essentially ending the latter's chances of winning.
Back to round 8, Molner convincingly beat top-seeded GM Aleks Lenderman as Black. As a result Molner is still alive for the title while Lenderman is not.
As mentioned, Holt is still alive too in his quest to repeat as champion. He's already won one national title. On Saturday his 12.5/14 won the U.S. Open National Blitz Championship.
Here's his win in the penultimate round against a strong GM:
Losoff also memorialized the late GM Walter Browne on Saturday and announced that the National Open Blitz Tournament will be renamed the Walter Browne Memorial Blitz Tournament going forward.
Of the numerous news items stemming from U.S. Chess open meetings and planning sessions, one big annnouncement came from Dewain Barber. Starting in 2016, the winner the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions will receive a $5,000 scholarship to the college of his/her choice (sponsored by Barber himself). The winner of the Denker Tournament of High School Champions will also received a $5,000 scholarship to any college (sponsored by the U.S. Chess Trust).
More on all U.S. Chess news from annual meetings to the final round drama will follow on these pages in the coming weeks.