Big guns in chess bring the firepower at strong Cherry Blossom Classic

Some of the game’s big guns descended on Northern Virginia as a score of grandmasters and titled players battled it out at the 10th Cherry Blossom Classic at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott.

Russian GM Mikhail Antipov and Azeri GM Vasif Durarbayli held on to tie for first at 6½-2½ in Monday’s Memorial Day finale, as a passel of strong contenders could not break through with a win to join the front-runners. Also worth noting was the perfect 9-0 score of Virginia Class A player James Wright in the Classic’s Under-2000 section, including a 3-0 sweep of the section’s top three seeds.

A full list of the winners can be found here.

Antipov, a former world junior champion who is competing under the FIDE flag given Russia’s geopolitical situation, played a number of impressive games early in the event, including a nice Round 5 win over rising Pittsburgh junior IM Evan Park in a sharp Najdorf Sicilian. Black here loads up the pressure on the kingside only to pivot to a devastating mating attack on the other flank.

After some early jousting, the battle is joined on 14. Na4!? Bd6 16. Nxb6 Rd8 (White has the easier game on 15…Qxb6?! 16. c5 Bxc5 17. bxc5 Qc7 18. 0-0 h3 19. g3 0-0 20. Rfd1) 16. c5 Bxh2 17. Nc4 Bd3+ 18. Kd1 0-0 — material is equal but Antipov’s king is safe while Park’s still must find a home.

White tries to castle by hand, but the airy queenside never feels safe. After 21. Kb1 Bf4! (getting rid of one of White’s most useful pieces) 22. Qc3 Bxe3 23. Qxe3 Qg3!, Black forces White into a defensive crouch on the kingside while his real ambitions are elsewhere. Matters come to a head on 24. Bf1?! (this turns out to be unnecessary; on 24. Rhd1! Qxg2?!, 25. Rg1 Qh2 26. Nxe6 fxe6 27. Rxg6, White is fine) Ng4 (not bad, but the engines already like 24…Bxe4+! 25. fxe4 Qxe3 26. Nxe3 Rxd4 27. Bxa6 Nxe4 28. Kb2 Ra8, with an advantage) 25. Qg1 N4e5 26. Na5 Ba8 27. Bxa6 Nf4.

Park has done well to hold a rickety position together, but now he falters under the pressure: 28. Ne2? (see diagram; White can fight on with 28. Nab3!, with some endgame survival chances in lines such as 28…Nxg2 29. Qh2 Qxh2 30. Rxh2 Nxf3 31. Nxf3 Bxe4+ 32. Kb2 Bxf3 33. Rc3 Bd5 34. Bf1 Ne1 35. Rxh4) Bxe4+! 29. fxe4 Qxa3!, casting material concerns aside in the bid for a quick mate.

It’s over on 30. Qc5 (Nxf4 Qxb4+ 31. Ka1 Rd2, and White will soon be mated) Rb8 31. Qxe5 Qxb4+ 32. Kc2 Rfd8! (closing off the king’s escape route) 33. Rcd1 Qa4+ 34. Kc3 Qa3+ 35. Kc2 Qa2+, and White resigned just ahead of 36. Kc3 Qb2+ 37. Kc4 Qb4 mate.


The locals may not have finished near the top given the Cherry Blossom Classic’s stacked Open section, but that doesn’t mean they’re not playing some intriguing chess. FM Andrew Samuelson, a two-time Virginia state champ, got the best of University of Maryland master Bijan Tahmassebi in another absorbing Najdorf, a seesaw struggle that features opposite-wing pawn storms and a fatal miscalculation in the touch-and-go finale.

White’s 12. Bxf6!? (Qf3 Bxf5 13. Qxf5 Be7 14. Rd1 maintains the pressure) Qxf6 13. 0-0-0 Bb4 appears to hand Black some nice pressure and a solid game, but Black misses a chance to strike before his opponent can consolidate: 19. Kb1 (already the White king is feeling the heat from Black’s well-deployed army) Re8?!, when instead 20…e4! offers a strong initiative after 21. Qxe4 (Qb3 a5 22. a4 Qe5 is also pleasant for the second player) Na4 22. Nb4 b5 23. cxb5 Re8 24. Qc2 Bxd4 25. Qxa4 Bxb2.

By 30. Kb2 Ne5 31. Kc3, the queens and two rooks have come off the board and Tahmassebi’s protected passer on d5 and the queenside pawn phalanx are getting ready to roll.

The peril for Black can be seen after 33. Nb5 Be5+ 34. Kb3, when 34…Nxh2? lets the White pawns roll after 35. Be2! h5 36. d6 Ng4 37. d7 Rd8 38. Bxg4 hxg4 39. c5. But White misses a timely pawn push of his own and suddenly the game comes down to pawn masses hurtling down the board on opposite wings: 35. Rd2 f5 36. Ra2?! (winning may be 36. d6!, forcing Black to react; e.g. 36…Kf7 37. Be2 Ke6 38. c5 bxc5 39. bxc5 Kd7 [Rxc5 40. d7 and wins] 40. Kb4 g5 41. Na7 Rb8+ 42. Bb5+ Ke6 43. Nc6) Kg7 37. Ra7+ Kf6 39. d6 Nxg2, and now Samuelson can sacrifice material to stop the White pawns so long as his own passers mobilize in time.

In a notoriously hard-to-judge set-up, Tahmassebi plants a foot wrong on 44. Bxe6 Kxe6 45. Nd4+? (Ra2!, bringing the wayward rook back home, was the way to go — 45…Kd5 46. c7 Bxc7 47. Nxc7+ Kd6 48. Na6 Rxd7 49. Rf2 Ra7 50. Nb4 g5 51. Rxf3 f4, with a likely draw) Bxd4!, calling the bluff, as it turns out the Black bishop and hive of pawns will be more than a match for White’s overmatched rook. After 46. c7 Kxd7! (Rxd7? 47. Ra6+! [and not 48. c8=Q? Bxa7 48. Qe8+ Re7 49. Qxg6+ Ke5 50. Qg3+ f4 51. Qxf3 Be3, and Black should hold the draw] Ke7 48. c8=Q f2 49. Qc4 and wins) 47. cxd8+ Kxd8 48. Ra4 Be5, Black’s vital pawn on f3 survives.

Slowly but inexorably, Samuelson prepares the advance of his pawns as White can only wait. in the final position, after 62. Rc8 Kf5 63. Rd1, White resigns not needing to see lines such as 63…Ke4 64. Re1+ Kd5 65. Rd1+ Bd4+ 66. Kf1 g3 67. Rd2 Ke4 68 Rf2! g2+! (not falling for stalemate after 68…Bxf2?? or 68…gxf2??) 69. Kg1 Bc5 70. Kh2 Bxf2 and wins.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)

Park-Antipov, 10th Cherry Blossom Classic, Dulles, Virginia, May 2023

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. c4 Nf6 6. Nc3 Qc7 7. a3 b6 8. Be3 Bb7 9. f3 Nc6 10. Be2 Ne5 11. Rc1 Ng6 12. Qd2 h5 13. b4 h4 14. Na4 Bd6 15. Nxb6 Rd8 16. c5 Bxh2 17. Nc4 Bg3+ 18. Kd1 O-O 19. Kc2 d5 20. cxd6 Bxd6 21. Kb1 Bf4 22. Qc3 Bxe3 23. Qxe3 Qg3 24. Bf1 Ng4 25. Qg1 N4e5 26. Na5 Ba8 27. Bxa6 Nf4 28. Ne2 Bxe4+ 29. fxe4 Qxa3 30. Qc5 Rb8 31. Qxe5 Qxb4+ 32. Kc2 Rfd8 33. Rcd1 Qa4+ 34. Kc3 Qa3+ 35. Kc2 Qa2+ White resigns.

Tahmassebi-Samuelson, 10th Cherry Blossom Classic, Dulles, Virginia, May 2023

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. Qe2 e6 8. f4 h6 9. Bh4 e5 10. fxe5 dxe5 11. Nf5 Nb6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. O-O-O Bb4 14. Qd3 O-O 15. Ne3 Be6 16. Ncd5 Bxd5 17. exd5 Rfd8 18. c4 Rac8 19. Kb1 Bc5 20. Nc2 Re8 21. Qe4 Qf4 22. Qxf4 exf4 23. Bd3 a5 24. Rhe1 g6 25. b3 Nd7 26. a3 b6 27. b4 axb4 28. axb4 Bd6 29. Rxe8+ Rxe8 30. Kb2 Ne5 31. Kc3 Rc8 32. Nd4 Ng4 33. Nb5 Be5+ 34. Kb3 Ne3 35. Rd2 f5 36. Ra2 Kg7 37. Ra7+ Kf6 38. d6 Nxg2 39. d7 Rd8 40. c5 bxc5 41. bxc5 f3 42. c6 Nf4 43. Bc4 Ne6 44. Bxe6 Kxe6 45. Nd4+ Bxd4 46. c7 Kxd7 47. cxd8=Q+ Kxd8 48. Ra4 Be5 49. Ra2 g5 50. Kc4 Ke7 51. Kd3 g4 52. Ke3 Kf6 53. h3 h5 54. hxg4 hxg4 55. Ra6+ Kg5 56. Ra5 Bf4+ 57. Kf2 Bd6 58. Rd5 Bc7 59. Rb5 Kf6 60. Rb7 Be5 61. Rd7 f4 62. Rd8 Kf5 63. Rd1 and White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at

Source: WT