43rd Annual Eastern Open - Best Played Game



GM Aleksandr Lenderman (2658)

GM Alexander Shabalov (2670)

43rd Annual Eastern Open (4)

Bethesda, Maryland, 12.29.16

Notes by GM Aleksandr Lenderman [AL] and GM Alexander Shabalov [AS]


[AL] In this game I'm playing White against GM Alex Shabalov, who historically has been a very tough opponent for me, especially in decisive games.  In this point in the tournament, we both have perfect scores (3/3), and I just made sure to be ready for a good fight because Alex Shabalov is always going to create a good fight.  And indeed that's exactly what happened :).  I decided that my best preparation for this game is to get a good night sleep since Alex Shabalov usually surprises me anyway, and therefore I am not often able to guess his openings.


[AS]  This game felt like a rematch of our decisive game at the 2016 US Open.

1...d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 a6

[AL] I was happy to see this move, since that meant that I was correct not to prepare for this game :).  By the way, this move isn't as silly as it looked.  It was played by none other than Magnus Carlsen, along with some other decent players. 

[AS]  A new strange way to meet Queen's Pawn openings that been popularized lately by one of the top Russian juniors, Fedoseev.  Even the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, jumped on the bandwagon recently.


[AL] Ultimately I decided to play this move for two reasons: to avoid any kind of Alex's deep preparation, and because GM Peter Svidler mentioned this way of playing when he commentated his game from the Russian Super Finals against GM Vladimir Fedoseev, who used this a6 idea also against him, though it might have been in a slightly different move order.  For other ways to play, including 4.cxd5 and 4.Bg5, see the Opening Review.

[AS] This humble move cannot create serious problems for Black as he is getting a favorable version of some Slav lines.

4... Nf6 5.b3

[AL] So now we have tranposed into a 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.e3 a6 5.b3 Colle-Zukertort line.  I thought that this is a reasonable line for White, since I wasn't sure if a6 is the main move for Black there.


[AS] 5... b6 is another good way to proceed for Black.

6.Bb2 cxd4 7.exd4 Nc6 8.Nbd2 g6!?

[AL] Now this was relatively new to me.  I was only familiar with Be7 setups or maybe Bd6.  I guess that's the plus of playing a semi-useful 3...a6 move and not committing to developing the Bishop on f8 right away.


[AL] My strategy of gaining space didn't work out too well in the game since Black got a comfortable game as a result.  Likely better is 9.g3, so that if Black takes his time building his harmony, I can afford to do the same thing.  After 9...b6 10.Bg2 Bb7 11.O-O Bg7 12.Qe2 O-O 13.Rfd1 Rc8 and now either 14.Rac1 or 14.Nf1 yields White active play.

[AS] This is a super-ambitious push.  9.Be2 led to a standard structure with mutual chances.

9...Bg7 10.Rc1 O-O

[AL] After 10...Nh5!? 11.Be2 (11.g3 f6 was also very interesting) 11...Nf4 with a fight.

11.Be2 b6 12.O-O bxc5 13.Rxc5

[AL] Already I made this move not being very happy.  I had planned to take 13.dxc5 but then I realized that Black's center will just be way too strong: 13.dxc5 Qc7 14.a3 e5 15.b4 Nh5 or 15...e4 16.Nd4 Ng4 and Black has the initiative.  Playing a position like this with White against Shabalov is really asking for it :). 

[AS] Forced for White, as after 13.dxc5 Qc7, he cannot stop e6-e5 and faces a tough task to stop Black's central pawns.


[AL] Or 13...Qb6!?.


[AL] At least I am trying to defend the d4 pawn and to connect my Rooks, but I already felt like I was getting outplayed here.

[AS] I thought that delegating your strongest piece to an exile cannot be correct, but it turned out to be an interesting way to continue.

14...Ne4 15.Rc2?!

[AL] 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Ne5 Nxe5 17.dxe5 Qd2 followed by e3 didn't appeal to me, even though objectively it might have been not so bad for me.


[AL] A very ambitious move, but I was happy to see this move since I thought now at least I will get a chance to exploit Black's weaknesses if I'm able to beat back Black's attack.  The better 15...Rc8 16.Rfc1 Bh6 would have been very unpleasant for me, as Black's pieces are clearly dominating mine.

16.a3 Rc8 17.b4

[AL] To be honest, I miscalculated a bit in the end, but I really wanted to play this move positionally, so I tried hard to make it work.  And since I wasn't particularly thrilled with the alternatives anyway, I gambled that it might work.  Further, I thought that my opponent might not work out 17...Nxd4 so cleanly, and even if it works for Black, it still looked unclear to me.




[AL] Better is 17...Nxd4! 18.Bxd4 (if 18.Nxd4?! Rxc2 19.Nxe4? Rxb2) 18...Rxc2 19.Bxg7 (19.Nxe4!? fxe4 20.Bxg7 Rf7! 21.Nd4 Rxe2 22.Nxe2 Rxg7 23.Qe5  Is also a respectable alternative for White, with some compensation for the pawn) 19...Nxd2 20.Nxd2 Rf7! (if 20...Rxd2 21.Bh6 was my point) 21.Bh6 Qh4!  This move I missed.  After 22.Bd1 Qxh6 23.Bxc2 Qxd2, I'm groveling for a draw. 

[AS] Still under impression that White cannot launch a successful defense with the Queen on a1, Black misses a sudden tactical chance with 17...Nxd4! 18.Bxd4 Rxc2 19.Bxg7 Nxd2 20.Nxd2.  I stopped my calculation here assuming that 20...Rxd2 fails to 21.Bh6, but the engine continues the line for two more moves 20...Rf7 21.Bh6 Qh4! and Black wins.

18.Nb3 g4 19.Ne1

[AL] Stronger is 19.Nfd2!  trying to eliminate the knight on e4 right away.  Somehow I thought 19.Ne1 was also strong, getting it

to d3, and fighting for the c5 square, but this turned out to be weaker than 19.Nd2.


[AL] Interesting is 19...Qh4!?.

20.Nd3 f4

[AL] A worthwhile option is 20...g3!? 21.hxg3 Nxd4 22.Nxd4 Bxd4 23.Rxc8? (23.Rfc1! spoils black's fun after 23...Be3! 24.Rxc8 Rxc8 (if 24...Bxc8 25.Rc7) 25.Rxc8+ Bxc8 26.Bf3) 23...Nxg3!!  Wow! :) What a line!

[AS] I was sure that the game wouldn't last long here as 21.f3 fails to both 21...Ng3 or 21...Nxd4 and Black wins quickly.


[AL] This move was important, otherwise I would face a very dangerous attack.  Weaker is 21.Nbc5? f3 22.Nxe6 Qh4 or 22...Qe7 is too dangerous for White.

[AS] White's Queen gets back just in time and surprisingly Black's position is just bad now!


[AL] If 21...Rf6 then 22.Nbc5 or 22.f3.

22.Qxg5 Nxg5 23.Bd1

[AL] Here I was very happy with my position. I got Queens off the board, and I still kept most of my positional trumps.  Black's attack failed perhaps because his bishop on b7 was a bad piece.

23...fxg2 24.Kxg2 Nf3 25.Ndc5 Nd8

[AL] Taking on d4 didn't work as 25...Ncxd4 26.Bxd4 or 25...Nfxd4 26.Nxd4 Nxd4 27.Bxd4.


[AL] This move seems so natural, pressuring a6, activating the Bishop, and next move trying to activate the Rook, but in fact it was inaccurate according to the computer.  Better is 26.Rc3! which also threatens Nxb7 but also attacks his very active Knight on f3.  So the 2 main defensive moves I missed involved trying to challenge Black's most active piece.  I guess that's something I have to keep in mind for future games since it's a pattern already.


[AL] A very interesting try, activating his passive Knight from d8.  Objectively, even stronger is 26...Rc7! since Black is still solid, his next move will be Bc8, and he can keep all his ideas in reserve.  After 27.Rfc1 Bh6 is very annoying as we will later see.

27.dxe5 Ne6!

[AS] I was able to find some defensive resources in time trouble, but White is firmly in control.


[AL] 28.Bd1!? was possible, but I finally wanted to trade off all the Knights and get rid of a lot of dynamics.  However, there are

still more dynamics to come:).

28...Rxf3 29.Nd4 Nxd4 30.Bxd4 Rxa3 31.Rfc1 Ba8

[AL] And originally I thought here I should be nearly winning, but then after 15 minutes of thought, I simply couldn't find a knockout blow.  No matter where I move my knight, Black has 32...Rc4, a very strong counterplay resource.


[AL] 32.Rd1 and 32.Kg1 +/= were viable options, but I wanted more.

[AS] Alex Lenderman miscalculates here.  Simply 32.Rd1 would leave Black's position pretty grim.

32...Rc4! 33.Nb6




 [AL] Unfortunately I missed this move.  33...Rd3 was also possible.  However, I'm much better after 33...Rxd4? 34.Rc8+ Kf7 (or 34...Bf8 35.Nd7 Rf3 36.Rxa8 +/-) 35.R1c7+ Kg6 36.Rg8  and I'll win both his bishops.

[AS] White missed this strong Zwishenzug and should be happy not to lose right away.


[AL] 33...Bh6 was a cold shower for me, so I needed some time to gather myself and find the right way to continue.

[AS] Nearly forced, but perhaps White may survive with 34.Nxb6 dxc4+ 35.Kf1 Bxc1 36.Rxc4! Rd3 37.Rxc1.


[AS] Or 34...Bxe3 35.fxe3 Rxc2+ 36.Rxc2 Rc3.

35.Rxc2 d4+ 36.Nxa8 dxe3 37.e6!

[AL] I realized that I still have practical chances here since he has to be a bit careful with my passed pawn and he still has to make move 40 and he's in huge time pressure here.

[AS] This should not give Black too much trouble, but with few seconds left on my clock I made two bad mistakes in a row.


[AL] 37...Bg5 might have been safer.

38. Nc7 Ke7?

[AL] But this is already a serious inaccuracy after which Black's position becomes suddenly nearly critical.  Better is 38...Rd3! 39.Rc5 e2 40.Re5 Ke7 41.Rxe2 Bf4 42.Nxa6 Rh3 with a draw, but finding such precise lines with seconds on the clock is very hard to do.

39.fxe3! Rd3!

[AL] Alex to his credit gathered himself very well and found the best practical resource instead of just giving in mentally after he realized his mistake.  39...Bxe3 is not good because of 40.Re2! and now Rxe3 is a big threat and Black will have to give up his Bishop after  40...Bg5 (if 40...Kd6 41.e7 Kxe7 42.Rxe3+ Rxe3 43.Nd5+ with decisive advantage) 41.Nd5+ Ke8 (or 41...Kd6 42.e7 Bxe7 43.Nxe7 Ra4 with vague drawing chances, but my guess is White is more likely winning than Black drawing) 42.e7 wins.


[AL] 40.Rc4 was better.


[AL] And this last move before time control is a mistake.  Better is 40...Rd2+!  Maybe this would have worked, but it is very hard psychologically to transpose into an endgame unless you're sure it is definitely a draw, especially on the last move before time control.  Now 41.Rxd2 Bxd2 42.Nxa6 Kxe6 should lead to a draw though.  White's Knight is sort of clumsy and Black has enough counterplay with his active King.




[AL] Not taking advantage of my chances.  Honestly speaking, this tough game took a toll on me and I was starting to get very tired.  This tends to happen all the time when I play against Alex Shabalov, since he plays interesting unconventional chess and forces you to solve problems all the time.  Better is 41.Rc6! Rd6 42.Rc5!  I didn't see this idea, I only looked at 42.Rxd6 which I calculated to a draw after 42.Rxd6 Kxd6 43.Nxa6 Kxe6.  Now Black has to play probably "only" moves to possibly survive by the skin of his teeth after 42...h6 (42...Bh4? 43.Rh5) 43.Kg3 Rd4! 44.Kxg4 Rxe4+ 45.Kf5 Rxb4! and this accurate move looks like it makes a draw, despite the high evaluation given by the computer.  White will probably not be able to make progress after 46.Nd5+ Kd6 47.Nxb4 Kxc5 48.Nxa6+ Kd6 due to the fortress-like defensive structure.  If Shaba had played 45...Re2?!, then I should be winning after 46.Rd5 Kf8 47.Rd7 +-.

[AS] My opponent falters at the technical stage.  41.Rc6! would finish this game up.


[AS] Now Black gets enough counterplay and finally steers this game toward the draw.

42.Nc7 Bd6

[AL] 42...Bxc7 was also fine for Black after 43.Rxc7+ Kxe6 44.Rxh7 Ke5.

43.b5 Rh3

[AL] Now Black has very good counterplay, and from here on I didn't have any real winning chances anymore, although I did try a bit :).

44.Kg1 g3 45.hxg3 Rxg3+ 46.Kf2 Rh3 47.Nd5+ Kxe6 48.Rc8 Rb3 49.b6 Ke5 50.Re8+ Kd4 51.Ke2 Bc5 52.Re6 h5 53.Kf2 h4 54.Kg2 Rg3+ 55.Kh2 Bxb6

[AL] This move may be unnecessary as 55...Rb3 gives equal chances.

56.Rxb6 with a draw after another 30 moves.

[AL] It was a very interesting tough battle.  I was quite happy with this game overall.  It wasn't perfect, but compared to my last few games against Alex Shabalov, this game was a big improvement, and I felt like in the battle I was able to match him and also find some interesting ideas.  

[TB] This game jointly won the prize for Best Played Game.