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Shabalov Takes Eastern Class Print E-mail
By Elizabeth Vicary   
March 4, 2008
Alexander Shabalov and Braden Bournival analyze. Photo E.Vicary

I had a disappointing tournament, but I’m trying not to let this get me down. After all, I play for fun, right? So what’s the sense of getting all upset about a silly boardgame? I have a very clear memory of the fourth round the last time I played in Sturbridge:  I was up a queen for a rook and piece against some little kid but managed to lose. I then sobbed inconsolably for two hours, ruining what was otherwise a nice lunch. So needless. But now, seven months later, I’m an older, more emotionally mature human being who can accept loss after devastating loss with a cheerful smile. But we’ll come back to me.

Alex Shabalov won the Eastern Class Championship (Sturbridge MA, Feb 29-Mar 2, 2008) with 4.5/5, beating IM Jorge Sammour-Hasbun and FM Braden Bournival in rounds three and five, and drawing fellow Pittsburgh resident GM Darmen Sadvakasov in round four. Alex had high praise for Brad after their game, saying he had improved an astonishing amount and was “hardly recognizable” as the player Alex faced in the Continental Open.

FM Braden Bournvial, "hardly recognizable" according the Eastern Class champion Alexander Shabalov


Alex was very familiar with the line of the Slav they played, since he had prepared it extensively for his first round World Cup match with Dusko Pavasovic. The Slovenian grandmaster managed to avoid the surprise completely with a tricky move order; Brad avoided the brunt of it by playing an inferior sideline: 9…. Be7 instead of the main move 9… Nd5. After the game, Shabalov commented that the whole plan involving the knights’ incursion was probably too risky. He suggested 21…Qc7 instead of 21…Nd3 as more prudent, but thought white was better in any case.

GM Darmen Sadvakasov

GM Darmen Sadvakasov won clear second with 4/5, beating Jorge Sammour-Hasbun in an incredible last round game, which saw Jorge sacrificed two pieces for an attack and then Darmen returning a piece and a rook for a counterattack.


In the car on the way home, Darmen was happy: “I felt just great playing that game, like a real chessplayer.” The twenty-eight-year-old Kazakstani native is doing a two-year degree in finance at Carnegie-Mellon on a special government scholarship. He’s a very friendly, funny guy and didn’t seem in the least disturbed by the nonstop Borat jokes all weekend. The two other grandmasters had subpar tournaments-- Sergey Kudrin drew Alisa Melekhina in round one, Ivanov in round three, and lost spectacularly to Braden Bournival in round four.



 Alexander Ivanov also gave up two draws, to Kelleher and Kudrin, before losing a theoretical battle to Jorge Sammour-Hasbun on the white side of an Arkhangel Ruy Lopez. 

Alex Shabalov and Darmen Sadvakasov, preparing for their fourth round game.

Ok, enough about the good chessplayers; back to me. I caught a ride up to Sturbridge with Alex Shabalov and Darmen Sadvakasov on Friday night. The traffic leaving NYC was bad, it started snowing heavily in mid-Connecticut and we got lost in Massachusetts, so the drive there took longer than it needed to. We arrived sometime after midnight. In the car we listened to a CD designed to help nonnative speakers with English pronunciation; it contained a strange mix of advice. Some was simple and good-- there was much practice recognizing and practicing different vowel sounds. Other parts were surprisingly complicated: rules a native speaker knows implicitly but never formally taught, like the three different ways the –ed ending can sound (as an extra syllable—walked; as a t sound—stopped; and one other way…I’ve forgotten). Finally, some of the advice sounded very dubious to me, as in the admonishment to slur all vowels in unstressed words. 

By morning, a thick bed of snow covered the streets, deep enough to delay the round an hour. This shortened the breaks between games and so the three rounds Saturday seemed like a relentless, grueling marathon, albeit a marathon with very pretty winter scenery. I’ve enjoyed playing in Sturbridge both times I’ve been there: people seem very friendly; the hotel is picturesque, and there’s a good choice of places to eat. It’s a small town, completely dead in the winter, so we were surprised and grateful to find that the Friendly’s Restaurant across the street from the playing site was open until 1 am.

My games went badly, and I’m not entirely sure why. I just began playing the English after watching Greg Shahade’s riveting videos, so I could try to blame it on this unfamiliarity, but the truth is I got fine positions and then messed them up all by myself. However, thanks to Greg I am making flashcards of instructive moments from my games, moments where I had a decision to make and went wrong. I’ve only done the first two, since I won the third game uninstructively and haven’t had time to process games four and five. In case you feel like a quiz, I include four positions.

White to Move

Show Solution

Black to Move

Show Solution

Position after 32.Kxg3

Black to Move

Show Solution

Position after 38.Bf3

Black to Move

Show Solution