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Alex Shabalov: U.S. Champion! Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
May 23, 2007

by Jennifer Shahade

Alexander Shabalov wins clear first in the U.S. Championship with a last round victory over Sergey Kudrin! At 6 am the morning of the big game, Alex was preparing for the Dragon Sicilian, Kudrin's pet system with Black. Shabalov was surprised when after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3, Sergey played 2...Nc6. If Shabalov responded with 3.d4, the game would become either an Accelerated Dragon or a regular Dragon with fewer options for White. So, Alex decided to play 3.Bb5: "I think Sergey outsmarted himself with 2....Nc6... he likes to avoid 3.Bb5 but probably thought I'd play 3.d4. He didn't know what to do in the resulting position. You could see this with some of his knights manoveurs- they just don't look right." Alex on the other hand, has often played 1.e4 c5 2.Na3 and was at home in the middlegame. "He didn't really blunder- I just broke through," said Alex. Kudrin expressed regret over his choice: " I should have played a Dragon (2...d6)."


In the photo above, Shabalov is holding a pendant, made of qlink. (According to a qlink product website, qlink pendants are the "most advanced personal energy system available today." They do not promise chess championship victories.) A member of Shabalov's chess club and store, The House of Chess gave him the pendant as a gift. When asked whether he won because of it, Shabalov did not directly answer the question, but implied that qlink was a crucial ingredient to his success: "I never wore it before. I wore it here every game- and I won the tournament." Shabalov is known for making jokes, so it is unclear how serious he is about qlink. We will have to watch for it in future tournaments.
Alex Shabalov, just after Sergey Kudrin resigned and congratulated Shabalov on his tournament victory.

On board two, Alexander Onischuk drew with Boris Gulko after about two hours, allowing Shabalov an open shot at first place. Onishcuk regretted not getting more from the opening against Gulko, but was still happy with his play in Oklahoma, and felt that Shabalov was a deserving winner. Shabalov plays exciting, fighting chess, and the second place finisher and defending champion was not alone in being happy for him. Top seed Hikaru Nakamura said: "I played terribly in this tournament. But if I'm not going to win it, then Shabalov is the first person I'd like to see as champion."

After a thrilling penultimate win against Dmitry Gurevich, Nakamura lost in the last round to Julio Becerra.


Austin norms

Michael Langer and Joseph Bradford, both from Austin, earned IM norms. U.S Senior champion Bradford already has three norms, so this is his "insurance norm." This is Langer's first norm. Langer was invited to the U.S. Championship because he always drove up the seven hours from Austin for organizer Frank Berry's tournaments in Oklahoma. In that sense, Michael Langer is considered a local player! Michael earned his norm with a last round draw against Dmitry Gurevich.

Bradford won his last round game against Irina Krush. In Gibraltar, Bradford was on board one against Adams. He got a chance to see Irina's recent excellent form up close as she crushed Akopian: "We're rated similarly, so I'm used to playing next to her, not against her ." On move 23 Irina blundered with Bb1, missing 23...Nf2!. Instead, Nf4 and the position is balanced.

Bradford played Nf2! here,and won shortly thereafter.

Bradford retired recently from the Texas Department of Transportation. "I used to play chess when I was young, poor and hungry, but it's even more fun now."

Photo Gallery

Enrico Sevillano lost to Varuzhan Akobian in the final round.

The first and second place finishers, Alexander Shabalov and Alexander Onischuk, discuss what could have been.

Julio Becerra tied for third place by scoring a final round win against Hikaru Nakamura.

Yury Shulman tied for third place.

IM Alan Stein organized a special present for tournament organizer Frank Berry: A cowboy hat signed by all of the players!

Final Standings
1. 7.0/9- Alexander Shabalov
2. 6.5/9 Alexander Onischuk
3-5- 6.0/9 Gregory Kaidanov, Yury Shulman and Julio Becerra.
6-9- 5.5/9- Sergey Kudrin, Boris Gulko, Varuzhan Akobian, and Alex Stripunsky

Complete final crosstable

Keep your eye out for the August Chess Life Magazine, which will contain more photos and thoughts plus in-depth analysis of the games by IM John Watson.