Alex Shabalov and Erick Zhao have been putting Pittsburgh on the map in recent tournaments.
In late June, Alex once again played on Team USA in the World Student Team Championship, held at Acqui Terme, Italy. In past years Alex had played first board, but this year he was second behind Gregory Kaidanov. No Russian team played, and the tournament was small compared with the 2020 version, but England’s team was extremely strong, featuring Michael Adams, who was also first board on England’s Olympiad team a month later. The tournament was a race between the USA and England teams, in which they drew with each other and beat everybody else, except that USA drew a match with Hungary, and so had to settle for second place. Alex won this game with the black pieces in our 7th-round match with Georgia.
Only a week or two later, Alex was back in the United States for the U.S. Senior, an all-GM invitational tournament, at the St. Louis Chess Club. In the inaugural U.S. Senior last year, Alex had a mediocre showing, but this year he recovered from a slow start to finish in a five-way tie for first place, and then won the short playoff. The following game against Kaidanov, a tough man to beat, was probably not Alex’s best game of the tournament, but I have picked it to show off. While I was following the game live on chess24, almost right from the opening, their computer kept saying that Kaidanov was crushing; but he couldn’t figure out how to put it away, and Alex scored an important upset.
The U.S. Open, in early August, was held at Rancho Mirage, California, this year. Several invitational tournaments of state champions are held concurrently with the early rounds; and this year’s entry in the Dewain Barber tournament of state middle school champions was Pittsburgh’s Erick Zhao.
Despite the youth of the players, the Barber was very strong on the top boards, with four rated masters and a senior master. Erick’s four wins and two draws were good enough for clear second place, behind Brewington Hardaway of New York, but ahead of senior master Bach Ngo of Florida. Here is Erick’s fourth round win over Jacob Chiang, of California, who finished in the six-way tie for third: