One thing is for sure… “Nyzhnyk” is not easy to spell and “Illia” is not easy to beat. The Ukrainian national has been in good form lately as he scores another strong result. He was in the running at the Chicago Open in May, but had to settle for joint second with eight other players. The winner of the 2019 National Open in June and the 2018 World Open last July, this is his latest in a string of successes.
Illia Nyzhnyk receiving Cup from Chief Tournament Director, Anand Dommalapati. Photo by John Hartmann
In this tournament, he was in the cluster of frontrunners before falling off the pace behind Lazaro Bruzon and Dariusz Swiercz who were 5/5. When the two leaders drew in round six it opened the door and Nyzhnyk got a key win over GM-elect Justin Sarkar. That resulted in a three-way tie for first and a logjam of players in pursuit. GMs Kamil Dragun, Victor Mikhalevski, and Elshan Moradiabadi were a half-point out going into round seven.
The plot thickened after round seven as Grandmasters Nyzhnyk, Bruzon, Dragun, Swiercz, Mikhalevski, Moradiabadi, Timur Gareyev, Robert Hungaski were in the hunt. International Masters Daniel Fernandez and Bryce Tiglon (Denker Champion) were all on 6/7. One surprise was Emily Nguyen (joint 2nd in Denker) being just 1/2-point out after drawing with Alexander Shabalov (U.S. Senior Champion). In fact, she may have been a bit better in the game.
The penultimate round would create some separation as Nyzhnyk forged ahead with a win over Fernandez. The Webster student beat the former University of Texas-Dallas in an English.
Four games ended in draws on the top boards meaning that all eight players were on 6.5 and would be joined by Shabalov, blitz phenom Andrew Tang, and MacKenzie Molner. So Nyzhnyk was in sole possession of first and 11 players (!) would be on 6.5/8. He would face blindfold specialist Gareyev in the final. In other action, U.S. legend James Tarjan got a nice finish mating Khoi Nguyen Le.
GM James Tarjan
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
The final round pairings on the top boards were Gareyev-Nyzhnyk, Bruzon-Tang, Hungaski-Dragun, Shabalov-Swiercz, Mikahalevski-Tiglon and Mordiabadi-Molner.
Gareyev pondering after Nyzhnyk’s 13…e5!?
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
On board one, the game became imbalanced almost immediately after 8…a6 9.axb5 cxb5 10.Nxb5 axb5!? 11.Rxa8. Black had sacrificed an exchange for space and active piece play. White stumbled and got his king stuck in the center with black piece zipping around the board. So after 16.Qxb5? black seized the initiative after 16…Bxd2+ 17.Kxd2 dxe3+ 18.Ke1 Bxg2 (diagram).
With the white king standing perilously on e1, black decided to force the issue by advancing 25…h5. That slight deflection of the queen (26.Qd4) allowed black to cut the king even further with 26…Rc8! After 27.Qd5 Qg1+ 28.Kd2 White resigned without waiting for black’s reply. Nyzhnyk had won the tournament!
Shabalov-Swiercz was one of the most exciting draws as complications were seen right from the start. Even the endgame had its tense moments as the board was wide open and heavy pieces roamed the board. Eventually the game petered out and a draw was agreed on move 70.
Bruzon-Tang showed an interesting struggle with the Cuban showing his middlegame understanding. After temporarily sacking a pawn for piece activity, had to return the pawn and then donate another. Just when it appeared that black would have enough activity against the exposed white king, Bruzon slammed the door with brilliant defensive maneuver.
Bryce Tiglon on the move against Victor Mikalevski while
Elshan Moradiabadi battles Mackenzie Molner.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz
Hungaski’s piece sacrifice didn’t yield full compensation and Dragun closed him out on move 40. Mikalevski-Tiglon was drawn closing out a fantastic showing for the the young IM. By virtue of tiebreaks (and US affiliation), he would face Moradiabadi (who also drew) for the spot in the U.S. Championship. In the Armageddon game, Tiglon had the white pieces and opted for an anti-Berlin line and a struggle ensued.
Grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi qualified for the 2020 U.S. Championship with his win over IM Bryce Tiglon. Moradiabadi had 7 minutes and 30 seconds on his clock to Tiglon’s 10 minutes for the Armageddon game, but took draw odds in compensation. He won the game outright after a key error by Tiglon.
By virtue of winning the Armageddon game, Moradiabadi will participate in his first U.S. Championship since changing his federation February 2017. He will join a cadre of strong players which may include another recent immigrant, Leinier Dominguez. Stanford student Bryce Tiglon nearly qualified, but will have to wait a little longer for that chance.