Reports Mar 21, 2017 | 8:41 AMby Colin McGourty

Howell claims Winter Classic in thrilling finish

David Howell has taken the $5,000 first prize at the Winter Chess Classic in Saint Louis after winning an epic 129-move game in the final round. The English GM played around 90 moves of that game on the 30 seconds a move increment, knowing a draw would have left him in a 3-way playoff with Dariusz Swiercz and Vladimir Fedoseev. The B Group was won by Andrey Baryshpolets, who went on a 5-game winning streak from Rounds 2-6.

Ruifeng Li and David Howell were just getting started! | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

You can replay all the games from the Winter Chess Classic A Group using the selector below – hover over a player’s name to see all their results:

Fedoseev falls at the last

When we last reported on the Winter Chess Classic after three tempestuous rounds David Howell was the sole leader on 2.5/3. Howell went on to draw his next five games, and things quietened down in general at the top of the table. It was only in Round 7 that Vladimir Fedoseev caught Howell by beating Jeffery Xiong in a knight and pawn ending. Then in Round 8 he withstood an assault by Sam Sevian and once against flawlessly exploited an endgame advantage to take a half point lead into the final round.

Fedoseev found himself in big trouble in his final game | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

Everything was going the way of the 22-year-old Russian, who just last month had won the ferociously tough Aeroflot Open to qualify for this year’s Dortmund Supertournament. He was up 49 places in a month on the live rating lists and had the white pieces going into his final game against Sam Shankland. A draw would guarantee at least a place in a rapid playoff for first place, with prize money shared, while a win would give him outright victory.

Let’s take a quick interlude, though, for an answer Fedoseev gave in an interview with Evgeny Surov of Chess-News after winning Aeroflot. He was responding to a request to say something about himself e.g. if he’s married:

I’m not married, but I’ve got a girlfriend I’ve been seeing for two and a half years. I was born in St. Petersburg and started to play chess at the age of seven. I was introduced to the game by my father, who was a chess player in his youth but then enrolled in the Physics Faculty of Leningrad State University and decided to focus on his studies and work, quitting chess. He simply showed me the game in my childhood and at seven I began to work on chess and quite soon achieved some kind of results. For example, I began to play blindfold at the same time as I began to play chess in general.

I can’t say anything more about myself that’s unusual. I’ve won a few absolute titles – I’ve won all the events in my age group in both the Russian and the European Championships. At the European Championship in Budva in 2013 I took five gold medals, while at the Russian Championship in 2011 I took three – in rapid, blitz and classical. So you could say that the desire to claim absolute victories is my creative credo, so that no-one, not even myself, can contest my results.

That maximalist approach can have its drawbacks. As Ben Finegold summed up:

Fedoseev doesn’t really know how to play for a draw in an important game – he just plays like a lunatic in every game! That gets lots of wins and losses…

It takes two to tango, and it has to be said that Sam Shankland made his intentions to get a fighting game clear when he met 1.c4 with 1…g6. In a sharp line played by Nakamura, Svidler and Ding Liren, Fedoseev played a novelty on move 10 and soon found himself tempting his opponent to grab a pawn in murky circumstances:

Sam Shankland thought 11 minutes before going for it with 15…Nxe4 and things got completely out of hand in the complications that followed. 26.Qd1?! looks to have been the point of no return:

White is one move away from being able to force a draw, but 26…Be5!, targeting the h2-pawn, meant all White could do was “bail out” with 27.Ra3 Bg4! 28.Qg1 Bxf3+ 29.Rxf3 Qxf3+  and White had no choice but to exchange queens into an ending one and soon two pawns down.

Poland's Dariusz Swiercz got his US stay off to a great start by winning Millionaire Chess last year - he impressed again in the city where he's now studying | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

Fedoseev resigned on move 43, but that was far from the end, since he still had excellent chances of winning the tournament. He was joined on 5.5/9 by former World Junior Champion Dariusz Swiercz, who remained unbeaten and won a second game of the event by overwhelming the current World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong. Howell could join the tie if he drew with the black pieces against Ruifeng Li, but if he could win he’d take the $5,000 first prize uncontested.

Howell’s determination pays off

What followed was a typical Howell effort, as the English grandmaster stopped to think for 7 minutes on move 3 and had spent 40 minutes by move 8. It was time well spent, though, since by move 19 White’s rook had run out of squares:

The d-file is completely covered and moving the rook along the 4th rank is fraught with danger, so Li decided to give up the exchange with 20.axb4 exd4 21.Nxd4. White got a doubled extra pawn for the exchange, which combined with Howell’s time trouble meant very reasonable drawing chances - apart from a brief respite on moves 41-45 (when the extra 30 minutes kicked in) David played 90 or so moves on only the 30 seconds added every time he hit the clock.

The game of the day & perhaps tournament - at least in terms of sheer willpower and tension! | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

What followed defied commentary, as the likely result swung backwards and forwards between a draw and a Howell win. This was the position after 50 moves:

It wasn’t a lot to work with, but eventually persistence paid off, since Howell won the e-pawn and managed to weave a mating net. 129…Rd2 was the final move:

Li Ruifeng resigned, making David Howell a hugely deserving winner! His fans back in Europe could finally get some sleep:

The win also pushed Howell's rating up to 2684.4 and world no. 57, where he's just ahead of no. 56 Fedoseev and no. 55 Nigel Short. In case you think no-one cares about such details...

The final standings in the A Group looked as follows:

Experience doesn’t come cheap

Before the Winter Chess Classic in St. Louis began its main purpose was perhaps to give some hugely talented US teenagers experience of playing in an international round-robin event. World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong in particular was the player to watch, since the 16-year-old was the tournament’s top seed and gunning for 2700. Things didn’t go according to plan, though, as Howell’s victory illustrated – he beat all three US 15-16-year-olds:

Xiong lost two of his last three games, and more worryingly, with the US Championship coming up soon, his problems with the black pieces remain. In Wijk aan Zee he lost three games with Black in an otherwise impressive performance, while in St. Louis he lost three and drew one. It’s perhaps fortunate that he was paired to play five games with White, enabling him to reach a respectable 4/9.

Sam Sevian, the youngest ever to become a US grandmaster, had a nightmare end to his event | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

Sam Sevian and Li Ruifeng fared worse, finishing in joint last place on 2.5/9 after winning one game but losing five. Sevian in particular collapsed at the end with four losses in a row. Curiously, 17-year-old Akshat Chandra scored exactly the same result and finished in the same position in the B Group, though at least he won his final game after managing only 1.5 points from the preceding eight rounds. Ben Finegold was the victim, but once again that didn’t stop him making a video of his adventures (where he also sums up the event):

Preparing for the US Championship

We’ve already covered Jeffery Xiong, who goes into the US Championship in just over a week’s time as the fourth seed after Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. The other two Winter Classic players to compete in the main event are Sam Shankland and Yaroslav Zherebukh, with the latter only recently switching federations from Ukraine. 

Zherebukh got off to a winning start against Shankland - Sam will get a chance for revenge at the 2017 US Championships | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

Both scored three wins and two losses for +1, with a good sign being that they ended well, scoring three points in their final four games. In particular it seemed as though Sam’s play improved after his team’s elimination from the Kicking and Screaming reality TV show became public knowledge.

He'll be hoping to build on his TV persona by crushing some people's dreams at the US Championships!

Baryshpolets takes the B Group

There were also players preparing for the US Championships in the B Group, with 7-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush improving her rating despite a somewhat bumpy -1 performance. Alejandro Ramirez and Ben Finegold posted respectable 50% scores as they also warmed up for some commentary duties.

Irina Krush stands next to Andrey Baryshpolets as the B Group began | photo: U.S. Chess Champs

The runaway winner, though, was Ukraine’s Andrey Baryshpolets – or at least it seemed he was going to be the runaway winner. He won five games in a row from Rounds 2 to 6 for a 1.5 point lead, and then faced the lowest rated player in the event, IM Irine Kharisma Sukandar, in Round 7. However, the opening went badly wrong for the leader, then a piece sacrifice didn’t solve his problems and eventually, after some twists and turns, Irine claimed a fine 61-move win. She scored three wins in a 4-game stretch, while Andrey hunkered down and drew his last two games to claim the $4,000 first prize.

In a reversal of almost every crosstable you've ever seen, Andrey beat the next five highest placed players in the tournament and only struggled against the tailenders. The full standings were as follows (click on any result to replay the game):

The next chess action in St. Louis will be the US Championships starting on March 29th, with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley back in the commentary booth. You can check out the line-ups on our live broadcast pages: OpenWomen

See also:

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