Three leaders in American Continental Championship

by Antonio Pereira
6/8/2018 – Some of the strongest players from the Americas are battling in Montevideo to get one of four qualification spots to next year's World Cup awarded in the American Continental Championship. Eight of the eleven rounds have elapsed and three players share the lead: Sam Shankland, Neuris Delgado and Diego Flores. The event will run until Sunday. | Photos: Uruguayan Chess Federation

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A tough event

Top events happen much less frequently in South America than in Europe or the United States. That is why the best players from countries like Peru, Argentina or Paraguay usually wait eagerly for the American Continental Championship. This year, 24 GMs and 20 IMs are participating, with some big names missing, like Eduadro Iturrizaga, Lazaro Bruzon and Julio Granda.

The tournament is an 11-round Swiss Open with two double-round days and one rest day. Besides Uruguay, the countries that sent most players were Brazil (32), Argentina (28), Chile (14) and United States (14).  After eight rounds, three players share the lead on 6½/8. We will review, one by one, their performances so far.

Unstoppable Shankland

This has been an amazing year for Sam Shankland. After winning the U.S. Championship (ahead of man-of-the-hour Caruana) and the Capablanca Memorial, it might have been natural for him to reduce the breakneck pace in Montevideo. He had none of that, and has stayed on top of the standings from day one, taking the role of rating favourite to heart. In fact, he has gained 5.2 rating points so far.

No champion gets to such heights without some luck, and Shankland got a very important win in round six against Diego Flores. Things could have gone in a very different direction, as the Argentine could not find the right continuation to end the game sensationally:

 

Flores played 26.Qg4, allowing 26...Rxd7. Decisive was the direct 26.Nf6+!, and after 26...gxf6 27.Qg4+ Kh8 28.Qf5 Rxd7 Bb1 White's attack on h7 can't be stopped. The move played by Flores actually gave Shankland the advantage — the American only needed six more moves to convert it into a full point. 

Sandro Mareco takes a look at Shankland-Cori | Photo: Uruguayan Chess Federation

Six wins for Flores

It is quite impressive that after losing a great position against the clear favourite, Diego Flores is now sharing the lead. In order to get there, he got the biggest amount of wins in the tournament so far: six. He actually won all five games he played with the black pieces. 

The second-highest rated player from Argentina is no stranger to big tournament wins, as he achieved an outstanding first place in this year's Dubai Open after getting a last round win over Shakhar Ganguly. He also won last year's Argentinian Championship with an impressive 9½/13 score, leaving his closest rivals one and a half points behind.

Flores got an important win in Thursday's second round of the day. He defeated second seed Jorge Cori with Black in a highly complicated struggle:

 

Diego Flores

Diego Flores is having a good year | Photo: Uruguayan Chess Federation

Steady Delgado

Neuris Delgado was born in Cuba but now represents Paraguay. Despite its small size, the landlocked country takes chess rather seriously — Delgado is only the second-highest rated player behind Axel Bachmann. Thus, it is no surprise that a strong player like him would accept to become a citizen and move to Asuncion. After all, the well-known chess author and trainer Zenon Franco is Paraguayan.

In the event, Delgado defeated lower-rated players and already drew with the two top seeds, Cori and Shankland. In Round 3, he beat Chilean IM Pablo Salinas with White from the following position:

 

Position after 24...Nd7

The killer blow arrived after 25.f5 exf5 26.Bxf7+, and Black resigned. If Salinas had taken with the king, the simple 27.Qb3+ would be decisive, as a check with either knight from d5 would follow.

Nothing is yet decided

Eight players are close behind the leaders with three rounds to go. Flores and Delgado will face each other on Round 9, while Shankland will have to deal with the highly creative Sandro Mareco. The young guns from United States, Jeffery Xiong and Awonder Liang, both have White against lower-rated opposition and will try to get to the top as well. 

Everything is still up for grabs in Uruguay.

local players

The event attracted many local players | Photo: Uruguayan Chess Federation

Sosa wins blitz tournament

Wednesday was a rest day, so the organizers arranged a blitz tournament. None of the top players participated, but some strong IMs found their chance to shine. Tomas Sosa from Argentina won the event and was followed by Jose Martinez and Renato Terry, both from Peru. A short video shows some quality footage of the event:

Standings after Round 8 

 

All available games

 

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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