How to Beat Shabalov
By Elizabeth Vicary   
August 7, 2008
GM Alexander Shabalov. Photo Betsy Dynako
There’s an old Russian joke: What’s the easiest way to beat Alex Shabalov?
Answer: Play him in the first round!*

Like all good jokes, it’s half true: Alex has lost round one in three of the seven major tournaments he’s played in 2008 (losing in the World Open, US Championship, and Foxwoods; winning in Chicago, Sturbridge, the Liberty Bell, and the Edmonton International). He almost made it 4-4 yesterday at the US Open, losing a queen for rook and bishop against expert Alvero Blanco. Technically this was round two, but it was the first game for Shabalov, who came directly from the Edmonton International (July 31-Aug 4) and consequently had to take a half point bye in round one. He won clear second in Edmonton, with wins over GMs Jesse Kraai, Surya Ganguly, and Josh Friedel.

*Coincidentally, I met Alex 15 years ago when we were paired in the first round of the US Open. Surprisingly, he beat me.

Let’s take a look at a few of Alex’s first round debacles. The notes to the Blanco game are based on his comments. Many thanks to him for being such an incredibly good sport in his help with this article. Also note that losing the first game is not necessarily the end of the world- Alex came back from his loss to Williams in Foxwoods to take first place.

1.Nf3 d5 2.e3

"I don't know what he wants!?"
2...e6 3.c4
 "I was going to play a Stonewall, but I have to wait until he plays d4 to play ...f5; otherwise he can play d3 and e4."
 3...c6 4.b3 Nf6 5.Bb2 Nbd7 6.Qc2
"He's waiting until I play Bd6 to play g4, so I'm trying to find other useful moves."
6...a6 7.Be2 Bd6
 "I'm out of useful moves."
8.g4 0–0 9.g5 Ne8
Maybe 9...Ne4? 10.d4 Qe7 11.Nc3
"He wants to play e4."
11...f5 12.gxf6 Nexf6 13.0–0–0 b5 14.c5 Bc7 15.Bd3 e5
Position after 15...e5

"I'm feeling pretty happy now because I got to play ...e5."
16.dxe5 Nxe5 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.f4
"At first, I can't believe this guy, just giving me a pawn. (18...Bxc3 19. Bxc3 Qxe3) But then I realize he wants to play Nd4, and it's great compensation."

"I need the second rank clear for my rook (Ra8-a7)"
19.Ne2 Qxe3+ 20.Kb1 Bg4 21.Rde1 Bxe2 22.Rxe2 Qxf4
"Ok, I take a second pawn; I'm gonna defend this."
 23.Rg1 Ra7 24.Rf2 Qe3 25.Bxf6 Rxf6 26.Rxf6 Qxg1+ 27.Rf1

Position after 27.Rf1

"And what am I gonna do? If just queen back, he takes  on h7 and then mates me."
 27...Qxh2 28.Bxh7+ Qxh7 29.Rf8+ Kxf8 30.Qxh7
Position after 30.Qxh7

"I'm sure this is lost for me. If I make a move like Be5, he's going to check me on f5, then c8, and then he takes the c6 pawn and I can resign. So I find the only move."

 "Now my king gets to c6 in time to defend the pawn."
31.Qxg7+ Kd8 "This is drawn, but he tries to win."
 31...Be5 32.Kc2
32.Qc8 Rc7 33.Qxa6 "He should take the a-pawn right away, and then return the queen to g8. This must be winning. In the game, he takes later and gives me some important tempi to push my g-pawn."
32...a5 33.Qc8 Rc7 34.Qa8 g5 35.Qxa5 g4 36.Qe1

36.Qd2 "I think this move is his last chance to make a draw-- he has more checks from e2."
 36...Ke6 37.a4 bxa4 38.bxa4 g3 39.Qh1 Rg7 40.Qg2 Rh7 41.Kd3 Rh2 42.Qf3 g2 43.Qg4+ Kf6 44.a5

Position after 44.a5

44...Rh3+ 45.Qxh3 g1Q 46.Qc8 Qg7 47.Qd8+ Kf5 48.Qc8+ Kf4 49.a6 Qg3+ 50.Kc2 Qg2+ 51.Kd3 Qf1+ 52.Kd2 Ke4 53.Qe6 Qg2+ 54.Kd1 Qg1+ 55.Kd2 Qh2+ 56.Kd1 Ke3 0–1

I’m having a decent tournament so far: 2/2 (although paired down) and two half-point byes. My game this evening was almost a miniature:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6

I had prepared against this move two years ago at the US Open in Chicago, and remarkably remembered what I was supposed to do. 4.d4 exd4 5.Bg5 Be7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.Bxc6 dxc6 8.Qxd4 Nf6 9.Nc3 c5 10.Qe3 Bg4 11.e5 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Nh5 13.Nd5 Qd7 14.0–0–0 c6 15.Nf6+ Nxf6 16.exf6+
16.Rxd7 Nxd7 17.e6 Nf6 This was what I saw in the game; it didn't look as good to me as taking the knight.
 16...Qe6 17.Qh6
17.Qxc5 b6 18.Qb4 c5 19.Qa4+ Kf8 20.Qf4 was also really good.
 17...Qxf6 18.Rhe1+ Qe7 19.Rxe7+ Kxe7 20.Qg5+ Ke6 21.Qe3+ Kf6 22.Rd6+ Kg7 23.Qe5+ Kh6 24.Qf6 Rhf8 25.f4 Rae8 26.Rd3 1–0