Matthew Puckett is a National Master from the Great State of Alabama, where he is currently the highest rated player. Mr. Puckett is strong enough to have bested a Grandmaster, Sam Palatnik. The battle, featuring a Leningrad Dutch, was contested at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center. Not many, if any, GMs lost at the House of Pain.
Alexander Shabalov is enshrined in the US Chess Hall of Fame.
Matthew Puckett 2138 (USA) vs GM Alexander Shabalov 2496 (USA) U.S. Masters 2021 round 01 D30 Queen’s gambit declined
d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 a5 6. Qc2 O-O 7. Bg2 c5 8. dxc5? (Players are taught it is usually better to capture toward the center. Although a small mistake, it would have been much better to play 8. cxd5)
8…d4 9. Bxb4 axb4 10. Nbd2 Nc6 11. O-O e5 12. Rfd1? (12 Ng5 must be played as it is the only move not causing disadvantage) 12… Qe7 13. Nb3 h6 14. Ne1 Bg4 15. Qd2 Rfd8 16. Nd3? (The game, for all intents and purposes is over after this egregious mistake. When deciding upon a move a player will ask himself before making the move, “With which move will my opponent reply?” In this case the answer is obvious, which means that after the expected 16…e4, Matthew planned to play 17 Nxb4, because what kind of player would move the Knight to d3 if he were intending on retreating immediately? Yet that is the move Mr. Puckett should have played, but by then he had completely lost his objectivity and carried on with his ill-fated plan…) 16…e4 17. Nxb4 Nxb4 18. Qxb4 d3 19. f3 dxe2 20. Rxd8+ Rxd8 21. fxg4 Rd1+ 22. Kf2 e1=Q+ 23. Qxe1 Nxg4+ 24. Kg1 Rxe1+ 25. Rxe1 f5 26. Bf1 Ne5 27. Be2 Qg5 28. Kf2 f4 0-1 https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2021-us-masters/01-Puckett_Matthew-Shabalov_Alexander
It all began on the early in the week when I opened an advertisement from New In Chess with notification of the publication of two books by the excellent writer GM Mihail Marin:
Then on Thursday, June 17, GM Kevin Spraggett posted Chess and the AfterLife on his excellent blog, Spraggett on Chess, (www.spraggettonchess.com) which includes a segment about Chess in the cemetery, in which one sees this picture:
I was reminded of a time when a lovely young woman, Cecil Jordan, drove an old, beat up, green DeSoto all the way from Sacremento, California, to Atlanta, Georgia, to become a stewardess for Delta Air Lines. The apartment we shared happened to be close to a cemetary. One evening we went for a walk and she brought along her camera…to take pictures of us in the cemetary. Can you believe some of our friends could not understand why?
Fortunately, Kevin’s article also includes the game between the late Cuban Grandmaster Roman Hernandez and a talented 17-year old Spanish expert, David Rivas Vila, which happened to be a Leningrad Dutch! I urge you to surf on over and play over the game, of course, after reading this post and playing over all of the games, all of which are open with the Leningrad Dutch!
Then in the opening round of the National Open this game was seen at the ChessBomb:
Rochelle Wu, (2144) vs GM Alexander Shabalov (2532)
This position vividly illustrates something I have told students over the years, which is to count the pieces on each side of the board, or total the points of each piece, if you prefer. Looking at this position Mr. Li has a lone Bishop on the King side of the board. The remainder of his army, the Queen, both Rooks, and the other Bishop, are on the Queenside of the board. All five pieces of Shabalov’s army are on the Kingside! This means the General of the black army MUST PLAY ON THE KING SIDE OF THE BOARD! Black must attack NOW. The move that best satisfies that objective is 24…g5.
c4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 (SF plays 2…e5) 3. Bg2 (SF 240521 @Depth 43 plays 3 Nf3; SF 13 @Depth 30 plays 3 d4) 3…g6 (SF plays 3…e5) 4. Nf3 (SF 170621 @Depth 37 plays the game move, but SF 13 at the same depth would play 4 d4) 4…Bg7 (SF 070321 @Depth49 and Komodo @Depth 36 both play this move, but SF 070420 plays 4…d6) 5. 0-0 (Interestingly, SF 13 @Depth 35 plays this move, but SF 070321 @Depth 52 plays 5 d4; while Komodo at depth 40 plays 5 Nc3) 5…O-O 6. d4 (SF plays 6 Nc3) 6…d6 (Although SF 13 @Depth 40 plays this move, SF 190521 @Depth 44 prefers 6…c6, as does Houdini) 7. Nc3 c6 8. d5 (Although far and away the most often played move SF 110521 going deep @Depth 55 would play 8 Qc2; Komodo @Depth40 plays 8 Rb1) 8…e5 9. dxe6 Bxe6 10. Qd3 (The old move. Three different SF engines show 10 b3) 10…Na6 (Again, the old move. Both SF and Houdini play 10…Re8) 11. Ng5 (Three different programs conclude 11 Bf4 is the best move) 11…Re8 (SF plays 11…Nc5) 12. Rd1 Nc5 13. Nxe6 Rxe6 14. Qc2 Qe7 (TN)
I vividly recall watching a game at the Atlanta Chess and Game Center (aka House of Pain) when a young player by the name of Matthew Puckett, from the Great State of Alabama, played the Leningrad Dutch against Grandmaster Sam Palatnik. It was not often we saw a GM go down at the House of Pain, but this was one of those times. Although on duty that Sunday afternoon I continued to ask someone to watch things while I made another trip up the stairs. I was worn out that night and my knees hurt from going up and down the stairs so many times, but it was worth all the pain.
Grivas, Efstratios (2465) vs Palatnik, Semon (2510) Event: Iraklion op Site: Iraklion Date:1992 Round: 6 ECO: A88 Dutch, Leningrad, main variation with c6
The next game features Georgia resident GM Alonso Zapata. There are now two Grandmasters living in the greater Atlanta area, the other being GM Ben Finegold, who lives in Roswell with his wife, Karen:
where the new Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Atlanta (https://atlchessclub.com/) is located. I can recall a time when Atlanta area players wished and longed for just one Grandmaster for the area, one in particular, an educated fellow called “Foghorn,” who was particularly strident about the need for a Grandmaster, as if that would cure all that ailed Chess in the metropolitan area. The foghorn stopped blowing one day when a much higher rated player said, “Quit your belly aching, Foghorn. Not even the World Champion could help your game!”
Adharsh Rajagopal (2051 USCF) vs Alonso Zapata (2518 USCF)
d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O c6 7. b3 (Stockfish plays 7 Nc3) 7…O-O (SF plays 7…e5) 8. Bb2 Qe8 (SF plays 8…a5; Komodo chooses 8…Na6) 9. Nc3 (Komodo plays the game move, but SF plays the most often seen move according to the CBDB, 9 Nbd2; Houdini likes 9 Re1, a move seen in only one game) 9…e5 (SF plays this, but the Dragon prefers 9…Na6)10. dxe5 dxe5 11. Ba3 Rf7 12. Ng5 (TN)
Braum, Hermann Josef vs Weiland, Thomas Event: Wiesbaden op 17th Site: Wiesbaden Date: 08/27/1998 Round: 7 ECO: A88 Dutch, Leningrad, main variation with c6
d4 f5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 (SF & Komodo play 3 h4) 3…Nf6 4. Nh3 (SF plays 4 c4; Komodo prefers 4 Nd2) 4…Bg7 5. Nf4 (SF plays 5 c4) 5…Nc6 (SF plays 5…c6) 6. h4 (SF plays 6 c4) 6…e5 (SF & Komodo both choose 6…d6) 7. dxe5 Nxe5 8. b3 (TN) (If given the chance SF 12 @Depth 29 would play 8 Be3, which would be a TN. SF 11 @Depth 42 would play 8 Nd2, as would Komodo. Which gives me a chance to show a game from the Magister of the Leningrad Dutch, the man who wrote, literally and figuratively, the book on the Leningrad Dutch:
Calin Dragomirescu (2259) vs Malaniuk, Vladimir P (2532)
is a professional Chess player. He settled in Atlanta seven years ago, coming from Columbia, where he won the Colombian Chess championship eight times. He has been a GM since 1984. He was born in August 1958 and is, therefore a Senior. Alonso Zapata comes to play Chess.
He has played in all kinds of adverse conditions, including one tournament hosted by Thad Rogers
GM Zapata reminds me of IM of GM strength Boris Kogan because he, too, was a professional Chess player. The few times Boris lost in the first round of a tournament he did not withdraw but completed the event, finishing 4-1. He did this because it was his job and he always came to play Chess.
From December 27 through 29, 2019, GM Zapata played in the 49th Atlanta Open, another American Chess Promotions event. He tied for first with NM Matthew Puckett with a score of 4-1, after a second round draw with the up and coming NM Alexander Rutten and a fourth round draw with NM Sanjay Ghatti.
GM Zapata then hit the road traveling to the Charlotte Chess Center to play in the 2020 Charlotte Open, a grueling event of nine rounds played over a five day period from the first to the fifth of January. Because of his age one can question the efficacy of participating in both tournaments. Zapata played in both events because he is a professional Chess player. It is what he is and it is what he does. The GM won five games. Unfortunately, he lost four. There were no draws. He finished in the fifth score group, scoring 5-4. Zapata began with two wins before losing in the third round to the eventual winner of the tournament, IM Brandon Jacobson, young enough to be the grandchild of the GM. One of the most difficult things to do as a Chess player is to come back from a loss. Studies have proven that after the loss of a Chess game the testosterone of a male drops precipitously. This is mitigated somewhat if the next game is the next day, but if there are multiple games in the same day it is a different story. I can recall the time the Ol’ Swindler had been on a roll, winning many games in a row from the beginning of a tournament in New York, ‘back in the day’. The Legendary Georgia Ironman and I encountered the Swindler sitting alone away from the tournament, and were shocked to learn he had lost the previous round and withdrawn. “What?” exclaimed the Ironman. “You still have a chance to win some big money, Neal.” That mattered not to the Swindler because he had lost and simply could not face playing another game that day, or any other, for that matter.
After another win in the next round, versus FM Rohan Talukdar, Zapata the Chess player hit the proverbial wall, losing his next three games. Most Chess players, professional or not, would have withdrawn after the third loss in a row, and no one would have blamed him for withdrawing, but Alonso Zapata is not like most Chess players. Not only did he complete the event but he finished with a flourish by winning his last two games.
My hat is off to Grandmaster Alonso Zapata, who deserves the highest praise. The GM has set a tremendous example for the younger players of Georgia to emulate. The Atlanta area players have been fortunate to have such a fine example residing here and plying his trade. The young up and coming players may not realize it now but they will be much better Chessplayers for simply having been around a man like Alonso Zapata. What a boon he has been for the local Chess community. It is wonderful to have one classy Grandmaster in the Atlanta area. Every player, no matter what age, can learn from Alonso Zapata, just as those of my generation, and younger, learned from IM Boris Kogan. The Grandmaster has shown that it is how you play that matters.
This is the last round game versus Justin Paul,
a Zero born in 2003. The Professional Chess player had to face a Smith-Morra gambit.
75. Ra8??? (The Zero cracks and tosses away the draw with this horrible blunder) 75…Kf4 76. Rf8+ Kg3 77. Re8 0-1
1 e4 c5 2 d4 cxd4 3 c3 dxc3 4 Nxc3 Nc6 (Far and away the most often played move, but is it the best? Komodo 19 @depth 34 plays the move, but Komodo 13.02 @depth 36 prefers 4…e6. Stockfish 10 @depth 54 plays 4 d6) 5 Nf3 d6 (SF 10 plays this move but Komodo is high on e6, which happens to be the most often played move according to the ChessBaseDataBase) 6 Bc4 e6 (The most often played move and the choice of Stockfish 310519 @depth 53, but SF 10 @depth 53 and Komodo 10 @depth 34 prefer 6…a6) 7. O-O (The most often played move but the SF program running over at the ChessBomb shows a move near and dear to the AW, 7 Qe2!) 7..a6 (7…Nf6 and 7…Be7 are the top two played moves but two different SF engines prefer the third most often played move, 7…a6 8. Qe2! (SF 050519 @depth 46 plays this move but Komodo 13.02 @depth 44 plays 8 Bf4) 8…Be7 (The only one of the top 3 engines listed at the CBDB, Komodo 10, plays 8…b5. The SF engine at ChessBomb shows 8…Nge7 best) 9. Rd1 Bd7 10. Bf4 e5 11. Be3 Nf6 12. h3 (SF 10 plays 12 Nd5) 12…O-O 13. Bg5 Be6 (The only game with 13 Bg5 shown, Senador vs Nanjo below, shows 13…Rc8. SF 10 would play 13 Rac1)