It's Lenderman!

8/14/2017 – Lenderman wins the U.S. Open in Norfolk, Virginia, with 8.0/9. From considering quitting professional chess a few months ago, to qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Championship, it's been a stark turnaround for the 27-year-old grandmaster from Brooklyn. “Apparently the game of chess doesn’t want me to leave yet.” | Photos: Vanessa Sun

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Clear first with a stellar 8.0/9

This year, the U.S. Open was held in Norfolk, Virginia, home of the largest naval base in the world. With stunning river views, no one could deny that it was a beautiful environment to hold the tournament.

Norfolk

The river view is beautiful at all hours of the day

For the past two years, GM Alexander Shabalov qualified for the United States Chess Championship by winning the U.S. Open, a unique one section tournament with class prizes that takes place in conjunction with U.S. Chess Federation meetings and FIDE seminars.

Alex Shabalov

Multi-time U.S. Open winner, and former U.S. Champion Alex Shabalov | Photo: Vanessa Sun

One grandmaster decided that it was time to end Shabalov’s reign and followed through accordingly. Aleksandr Lenderman placed an impressive clear first above 15 other grandmasters, his best result after playing in the Open 7 times. With this tournament victory, Lenderman qualifies to the 2018 U.S. Championship, where he last competed in 2016.

When the dust settled in Norfolk, GM Lenderman was the sole player to score 8/9 points. He finished ahead of players such as GMs Illya Nyzhnyk, Sergei Azarov, and Joel Benjamin. One of Lenderman’s most exciting games was his win against Shabalov:

 

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Shabalov could not hope to regain his title after this eighth round loss, but his last round win meant he still tied for third.

Lenderman’s strong finish was crucial to his success, emerging from a group of players whose last few rounds results were subpar. One favorite to win the tournament was GM Yaro Zherebukh. He was the top seed in the tournament and competed in this past U.S. Championship as the wildcard, placing sixth with an impressive win over GM Fabiano Caruana.

Zherebukh

Zherebukh accepted an award on behalf of the SLU Chess Team for their third place finish at the President’s Cup/Final Four Collegiate Championship | Photo: Vanessa Sun

At first, Zherebukh was one of the leaders in the traditional nine-day schedule, with 5 points going into Round 6. As the highest rated highest rated player he tended to receive more challenging pairings than his rivals, often playing grandmasters while others played lower titled masters. This eventually took its toll, and by the time the weaker four-day schedule merged with the six and nine-round groups, he had lost his lead. [In U.S. open tournaments it's common to have multiple playing schedules for the early rounds -Ed.]

Zherebukh yielded too many draws and eventually decided to withdraw from the tournament following a loss against GM Sergey Erenburg. He may still qualify to the U.S. Championship by rating and will try to make up the deficit at the U.S. Masters tournament, which starts August 23rd.

Another favorite to win the U.S. Open was grandmaster Ruifeng Li who took the lead when the multiple playing schedule's merged. Going into the eighth round with 6½/7, he was pursued by GMs Shabalov, Dmitry Gordievsky and a few others on 6.0/7.

Li and Lenderman

Ruifeng Li vs. Alex Lenderman | Photo: Vanessa Sun

Li needed a last round win in order to at least tie for first in the tournament, however Lenderman destroyed that dream, just like he did Shabalov’s!

Ruifeng was outplayed by GM Alex Lenderman in the last round, guaranteeing Lenderman at least a tie for first, which eventually became clear first, as the remaining players with 7/8 came up short.

 

Expect to see Lenderman continue his fighting spirit next year's U.S. Championship. Despite experience as a professional player, in recent years, it has been hard to surive playing alone. Last year, Alex had the opportunity to coach the U.S. Olympiad team, which won gold in Baku. He discussed this at length along with many other topics on Ben Johnson's excellent Perpetual Chess Podcast last February:

Lenderman also does plenty of lecturing and game review sessions at Continental Chess Association tournaments. Just a few months ago, he considered abandoning his professional playing to focus on coaching full time. With this recent qualification, though, he says he's had a change of heart.

“Now it’s my responsibility to prepare as hard as I can for the U.S. Championship and try to do the best I can there… I enjoy teaching these days more than playing so… in the long run I might still steadily switch into chess teaching. But I won’t actively pursue that yet.”

For now, GM Lenderman is no doubt happy and celebrating his big tournament win and qualification, but still looking forward to progress and continuing hard work, as he prepares to stack as many strong tournaments as possible over the next few months, including the FIDE World Cup and Isle of Man tournament. 

Lastly, the U.S. Open is more than just a single tournament. It's a place where important figures in American chess gather and do business. One legend of the past made an rare appearance:

Grandmaster William "Father Bill" Lombardy was one of Bobby Fischer's seconds in his 1972 World Championship match in Reykjavik, and a former World Junior Champion. He has more recently fallen on hard times.

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Álvaro Pereira Álvaro Pereira 8/15/2017 02:30
.To Lenderman: Thanks for the comments and congratulations for the victory. Your game with Li remembered me one I played many years ago. Perhaps it has some interest for you: 5...Qh4+!? 6.g3 Qe7 7.Nf3 f6 8.fxe5 fxe5 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Nxe5 Nf6 11.Nf3 Bh3! 12.Ng5? Bg4! 13.Bxf6 Qd7! 14.Nf3 0-0! 15.Rf1 Rxf6 16.d3 Raf8 17.Nbd2 Bb4 0-1, J. Oliveira Santos - A. Pereira, Lisbon 1976
Miguel Ararat Miguel Ararat 8/14/2017 06:02
Thank you GM Lenderman for the annotated games!
KOTLD KOTLD 8/14/2017 04:39
Congratulations Lenderman ! (Did he do the dance afterward?)
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