Reports May 15, 2018 | 6:17 PMby Colin McGourty

Shankland and Dreev lead at halfway in Cuba

This year’s Capablanca Memorial is missing 7-time winner Vassily Ivanchuk and Cuban no. 1 Leinier Dominguez, but it got a boost just before it began when top seed Sam Shankland stunned the chess world by becoming US Champion in a field featuring the trio of Caruana, Nakamura and So. He could have been forgiven for suffering a hangover with so little time to recover, but instead he’s won two and drawn three of his first five games to lead alongside Russian veteran Alexey Dreev.

Sam Shankland is the man to beat in this year's Capablanca Memorial | photos: official website

For the 53rd edition of the Capablanca Memorial the tournament has moved back to Havana, where it’s taking place in the Tryp Habana Libre Hotel as a 6-player double round-robin.

  • Tryp Habana Libre Hotel, Havana, Cuba

You can check out all the games so far using the selector below:

The leaders have worked in unison, winning their games in Rounds 2 and 5 and drawing the rest. In Round 2 Shankland continued where he left off in the US Championship by winning with Black, this time against Lazaro Bruzon. The 6-time Cuban Champion would later comment on his first half:

I’m not happy with the result, but I think I’ve played good chess, committing very few errors. The game I lost was more due to a psychological mistake. I took some risks and let good opportunities to equalise slip away.

Bruzon’s aggressive intentions were clear when he played 15.Bh6!?:

But after Sam quickly responded with 15…Nh5 16.Qg5 f5 17.Qxh5 Bxe5 White had nothing better than the retreat 18.Bc1 and it was Shankland who went on the attack with 18…Rf6. Although Bruzon did have chances to hold he also fell foul of one of Sam’s weapons from the US Championship – the clock. Bruzon was down to about a minute from move 30 and let his position slip away:

39…h3! 40.gxh3 Rh4! saw Sam force queens off the board in highly favourable circumstances, and he made no mistake converting his advantage.

Just a week earlier Sam Shankland had been posing for the traditional rooftop photos in St. Louis as US Champion | photo: Austin Fuller, USChessChamps

49-year-old Alexey Dreev had more success attacking the g7-point against his 28-year-old compatriot Aleksandr Rakhmanov, and although nothing came of the direct attack he won a pawn and went on to show impressive technique converting it.

Alexey Dreev was dressed for the Caribbean as he beat compatriot Aleksandr Rakhmanov | photo: Radio Rebelde

29-year-old Yusnel Bacallao is the other Cuban player in the tournament, with Cuban no. 1 Leinier Dominguez currently based in Florida while he pursues US residency. Dominguez would be world no. 23 but no longer features on the active rating list at all after not playing a classical game in over a year. He did find the time to work with Fabiano Caruana before the Candidates, though, and if Dominguez switches federation the US would have five 2700 players. 

In the meantime, their latest 2700 star Shankland climbed to 2706.6 by beating Bacallao. The Cuban player had a decent position, but was tempted to go for a line in which he weakened the white king position in exchange for allowing White to seize control of the queenside:

That last queen move took Yusnel almost 10 minutes, so he’d probably realised by now that he had no perpetual check, never mind a mating attack. Play continued 26.Nxa5! Rf4 (desperation, but 26…Qg4+ also fails) 27.h3! Qf5 28.Rb4 Qg5+ 29.Kh2 Rf3 30.Rc3 Rxc3 31.Qxc3 Rxa5:

Material is equal, but now it’s finally time for the b-pawn to decide the game: 32.b6! and Black resigned.

Shankland, who finished joint second with Vassily Ivanchuk behind Sasikiran in 2017, commented on Facebook:

Co-leading the Capablanca Memorial with 3.5/5 going into the rest day. Definitely a good start, and with 3 blacks, but there's still a lot of chess to be played!

I hope I get invited back next year, but beating the 2 Cubans and drawing the other 3 foreigners might not have so far been the best strategy for this goal!

It wasn’t all plain-sailing for Sam, since he was in serious trouble against 22-year-old David Anton of Spain in Round 4. Anton has been having an unfortunate tournament so far, though. As well as missing a win against Shankland he had chances in a wild game against Rakhmanov in Round 3:

28…Qe7! was the move, both threatening to capture on e3 or d4 with a rook and keeping an eye on c5. Instead after 28…Na3 29.Bc3 Rb7 30.e4 Qe7? 31.Ba6! it suddenly turned out the rook had run out of squares and White went on to win.

Things went from bad to worse for Anton as he then lost to Dreev in Round 5, with the experienced Russian grabbing more and more space until Black’s position fell apart:

27.Rc7! powerfully refuted Black’s attempt to play actively, with 27…d3+ just a single check. Resignation came 7 moves later.

That left the standings as follows at the halfway mark:

The grandmaster tournament is once again accompanied by a big open. Numerically the Cuban players dominate, but at the midway point three Peruvian players topped the standings, led by Deivy Vera on 4.5/5. The main chess24 interest in the event is provided by Spain’s Pepe Cuenca and David Martínez, who both reached 3.5/5 when they met, and drew, in Round 5. Below you can see them together with Lisandra Teresa Ordaz Valdés, who's also on 3.5/5 and at the opening ceremony received a certificate for gaining the overall International Master title: 

The top four games from that event are also live each round:

Follow the Capablanca Memorial live here on chess24 each day at 21:00 CEST! 

See also:

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