US Champ. Rd7: So joins Caruana in lead

4/22/2016 – As we approach the final days, the tension is rising and nerves are starting to play a crucial role. Leader Caruana faced the teen-talent Jeffery Xiong who fell into trouble, but saved the game with great resilience. This allowed Wesley So to catch him after beating Shabalov in just 23 moves. Nakamura also closed the gap after a masterpiece over Akobian. Report with GM analysis.

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Report by GM Christian Chirila

The playing hall (Photo by Austin Fuller)

2016 U.S. Championship

Xiong vs. Caruana ½ -½

This was undoubtedly one of the most important games of the round. Fabiano was coming in as the leader and knew that in order to preserve that status he would need to place as much pressure on his opponents from now till the end of the tournament. But today, he was facing a different player; a guy that he has never faced—a player that is arguably the biggest talent raised on American soil since Nakamura burst on the chess scene. That player is Jeffery Xiong and this was not going to be a cakewalk.

Fabiano Caruana is no longer the sole leader (Photo by Spectrum Studios)

The game started off with a hybrid Ruy Lopez with 4…g6. Maybe Fabiano was inspired by the World Champion who used this same opening to win a nice game only two days ago in Norway. Jeffery looked surprised and allowed Black to get the upper hand after giving up his bishop pair without much fight with 8.Bxc6?! From there on, Fabiano exerted incredible pressure for the rest of the game. Unfortunately for him he did not manage to convert due to a marvelous resilience by his opponent.

Jeffery Xiong has proven to be tough as nails (Photo by Austin Fuller)

Draw and the title race tightens up.

Shabalov vs. So 0-1

A strange game in which Wesley So (right) made a mistake in a super sharp opening, but the
very creative Shabalov failed to punish and was instead punished himself. So is now co-leader.
(Photo by Austin Fuller)

This was clearly one of those off days for Shabalov. He is known to be an extremely active player but failed to continue the game immediately after his preparation was over. Wesley surprised Shabalov (maybe himself too) with 17…Nf6?! Which has been played only once and it is quite an inaccuracy. His elite GM confidence confused White and he did not manage to play the most natural 18.Nf5! which would have given him a very pleasant advantage. Shabalov resigned at move 23 due to a terrible blunder in an already difficult position.

[Event "2016 U.S. Championship"] [Site "Saint Louis, Mo"] [Date "2016.04.21"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Shabalov, Alexander"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D43"] [WhiteElo "2528"] [BlackElo "2773"] [Annotator "GM Cristian Chirila"] [PlyCount "46"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:46:34"] [BlackClock "1:04:42"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. e4 g5 8. Bg3 b5 9. Be2 (9. Ne5 {this is one of the lines I fancy much more than the game continuation, Ding Liren is one of the main proponents of it} Nbd7 (9... Bb7 10. Qf3 Nbd7 11. Rd1) 10. Nxd7 Qxd7 (10... Nxd7 11. h4) 11. Be5 Bg7 12. Qf3 Qe7 13. h4 {1/2-1/2 (34) Ding,L (2702)-Le,Q (2703) Saint Louis 2012}) 9... Bb7 10. Qc2 Nbd7 11. Rd1 Nh5 12. d5 cxd5 (12... Nxg3 13. hxg3 cxd5 14. exd5 exd5 15. Nxd5 Bg7 {transposes}) 13. exd5 exd5 14. Nxd5 Nxg3 15. hxg3 Bg7 16. Ne3 Qa5+ 17. Kf1 Nf6 $6 {this is a pretty bad move by Wesley. During the press conference he admitted he forgot his preparation and was worries wether or not he was much worse in the upcoming complications. He was right...} (17... Rd8 18. Nf5 Kf8 19. N3d4 Nf6 20. Bf3 Bc8) 18. Qf5 $2 (18. Nf5 $1 Kf8 19. Nd6 Bd5 ( 19... Bxf3 20. gxf3 {the king goes to g2 and the position becomes extremely difficult for black to defend}) 20. Rxd5 Nxd5 21. Qf5 $1 Qc7 (21... Nf6 22. Nxf7) 22. Ne5 $1 Bxe5 23. Qxe5 f6 24. Qxd5 Rd8 25. Nxb5 Rxd5 26. Nxc7 Rd7 27. Nb5) 18... Qb6 19. Qe5+ (19. Nd4 O-O 20. Qxb5 Rfd8 21. Nxc4 Qxb5 22. Nxb5 Rxd1+ 23. Bxd1 Rd8) 19... Kf8 20. Rd6 Qc7 21. Nf5 $4 (21. Rd2 Qxe5 22. Nxe5 Ne4) 21... Ne8 22. Nxg7 Qxd6 23. Ne6+ Kg8 0-1

Robson vs. Chandra 1-0

This was a very important battle in the title run. Chandra has had a subpar event and as is the customs, when sharks smell blood, they will attack with ruthless precision and aggression. This was the case for Robson who knew a full point would put him back into the race and allow him to once again have a shot at the top laurel. White played the surprising 9.Qe2!?—a move that has only been played once before and that holds some serious poise attached. The point of it is to try for a queen exchange with Nc4-Qe5 and allow your queenside majority and centralized pieces to make the difference in the ensuing endgame. Chandra was not having any of that and avoided the queen swap at all costs which might have ultimately proven to be in his detriment. It was a tense middlegame but ultimately White managed to break through Black’s solid complex with 22.Nxb7! It was pawn up for Robson after that and only a miracle would have saved Chandra. Unfortunately for him, the miracle never came and Robson is back in the title contention!

Nakamura vs. Akobian 1-0

Another masterpiece by one of the top three titans of the tournament. Nakamura surely came to the game expecting to face Akobian’s renowned French, but Var had other plans. He surprised the national champion with the Petroff Defense and the game soon turned into a theoretical battle.

The ever fighting Nakamura uncorked a brilliant in to close in on the leaders (Photo by Spectrum Studios)

Nakamura had the last say in the matter and proved that even when surprised, 2800 caliber players have a secret bank of information that helps them to casually beat top GMs. Let’s take a closer look at this game and see how Nakamura managed to outplay his opponent.

[Event "2016 U.S. Championship"] [Site "Saint Louis, Mo"] [Date "2016.04.21"] [Round "7.4"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Akobian, Varuzhan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "2615"] [Annotator "GM Cristian Chirila"] [Plycount "73"] [Eventdate "2016.??.??"] [Whiteclock "1:30:40"] [Blackclock "1:05:30"] {You can never count Nakamura out of the title contention. He wins games, and that puts a lot of pressure on his rivals, even when they have a huge 1.5 point lead in the standings. With 4 more rounds to go, Naka is only trailing by one point, let's see how he finished his strong opponent today. } 1.e4 e5 { an early surprise by Akobian. He is an expert in the French but hasn't played e5 since his early teens days. } 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Be7 7.O-O Nc6 8.c4 Nb4 9.Be2 O-O 10.Nc3 Bf5 11.a3 Nxc3 12.bxc3 Nc6 13.Re1 Re8 { up to this point the players are following one of the oldest and most analyzed variations of the Petroff } 14.Ra2!? {a very rare move, one that has been analyzed by the duo Nakamura-Sam Shankland during the 2014 Tromso Olympiad } 14...Na5 15.cxd5 Qxd5 16.Rb2 c6 { the correct response by Akobian. Despite the bad score for white, this line has a tremendous amount of venom and will surely be seen at top level in future games } ( 16...a6 17.Ne5 Bxa3 18.Bf3 Qd6 19.Rbe2 ( 19.Ra2!? Bxc1 20.Rxa5 Bf4 21.Bxb7 ) 19...Bxc1 20.Qxc1 Nc6 21.Qb2 Nxe5 22.Rxe5 Rxe5 23.Rxe5 { 1/2-1/2 (30) Shankland,S (2634) -Robson,R (2631) Saint Louis 2014 } ) 17.Ne5 ( 17.Qa4 Qd8 18.c4 Bf6 19.Be3 Be4 20.Rd2 b6 { 0-1 (52) Kasimdzhanov,R (2677)-Gelfand,B (2733) Elista 2007 } ) 17...Bxa3 18.Bf3 Qd6 19.Rbe2 Bxc1 20.Qxc1 Be6 21.Be4 { black is a pawn up but it is very difficult to coordinate your pieces. The K on a5 is completely out of the game and white's attack on the kingside will become extremely acute in no time } 21...Rad8 ( 21...f6 22.Qb1 fxe5 23.Bxh7+ Kf8 ( 23...Kh8 24.Bg6 Nc4 25.Bxe8 Rxe8 26.Qxb7 Bd5 27.dxe5 Qe6 28.Qxa7 Bxg2 { seems to be one of the many forced lines leading to a draw, I am convinced that Naka had some peculiar trumps in his preparation } ) 24.dxe5 Qc5 25.Qc1 Rad8 26.Qg5 { white maintains a strong initiative and I have a feeling the American's number two had something up his sleeves } ) 22.Qb1 g6 23.f4! { now the attack becomes irresistible } 23...c5 ( 23...f5 24.Bd3 Kg7 ( 24...c5 25.Nc4 ) 25.g4 ) 24.f5 cxd4? { missing white's main resource } ( 24...Bb3 { was an interesting try but white had an incredible move to get a good advantage } 25.Bd3! cxd4 ( 25...Rf8 26.Qc1! cxd4 ( 26...Kg7 27.Ng4 ) ( 26...Nc6 27.Qh6 ) 27.c4 { Qh6 followed by Ng4 and other sacrifices on g6 is very difficult to pary } ) ( 25...b6 26.Nc4 Qb8 27.Nd2! Rxe2 28.Rxe2 c4 ( 28...Bd5 29.c4 Bb7 30.fxg6 fxg6 31.Bxg6 ) 29.Be4 { black is a pawn up but both his B and N are completely out of the game } ) 26.Nc4 Bxc4 ( 26...Qd7 27.Nxa5 Rxe2 28.Bxe2 Ba4 29.fxg6 hxg6 30.Bc4 Kg7 31.Qe4 dxc3 32.Qe5+ Kg8 33.Qxc3 Qd4+ 34.Qxd4 Rxd4 35.Ra1 Bd7 36.Bf1 ) 27.Rxe8+ Rxe8 28.Rxe8+ Kg7 29.f6+ ) ( 24...Bc4 25.Nxc4 Nxc4 26.fxg6 hxg6 27.Bxg6 ) 25.fxe6 Rxe6 26.Nxf7! Kxf7 27.Bd5 ( 27.Qa2 Kg7 28.Qxa5 Rde8 29.c4 ) 27...Qxd5 28.Rxe6 dxc3 ( 28...Qxe6 29.Rxe6 Kxe6 30.Qe4+ Kd6 { if black manages to get a blockade he might be able to save himself. This would have been Akobian's best chance at survival, especially due to his dangerous time situation } 31.Qxd4+ Kc7 32.Qxa7 Nc6 ) 29.R6e5 Qd4+ 30.Kh1 b6 ( 30...Rd5 31.Qa2 Nc4 32.Rxd5 Qxd5 33.Qf2+ Qf5 34.Qe2 ) 31.Qa2+ Kg7 32.Re7+ Kh6 33.Qf7 Nc4 34.Qxh7+ Kg5 35.R7e6 Qd3 36.h4+ Kf4 37.Qh6+ { An impressive win by Nakamura. The title fight is heating up!} 1-0

Onischuk vs. Shankland 1-0

Shankland came into this tournament as a feared player, but he has not managed to find his rhythm and the results have been below the expectations. Onischuk was having a stable event at 50% and was looking to make use of his Whites in order to climb the rankings and threaten the leaders. White chose a tricky line with Qc2-Rd1 in the QGD, but it did not seem to work as Shankland fully equalized after the opening and maybe could have even pressed for an advantage at some point. Instead, he started playing too passively and took some suspicious decisions that damaged his position. Onischuk slowly increased the pressure and forced his opponent into submission after showing impressive endgame technique. In the end, it was a game that shows that even in the most equal and dry positions there are always ways to test your opponent. Today it was Onischuk’s hunger to win that prevailed as he now moves at +1 and starts eyeing the top places.

Lenderman vs. Kamsky ½ - ½

White came very well prepared and manage to amass a serious edge out of the opening. Kamsky felt in danger of being squashed down and tried to create counterplay by sacrificing a pawn after 19…b5?! This was a rushed decision and White could have obtained a big advantage if he would have found the cunning 24.N1a3! Instead, the game continuation failed to produce any results and Black fully equalized a couple of moves later.

Kamsky has not been having his best event (Photo by Spectrum Studios)

Standings after seven rounds

2016 U.S. Women’s Championship

Paikidze vs. Bykovtsev 1-0

Nazi Paikidze is a terrific athlete; she works out every day sometimes even twice a day. As the tournament progresses and we enter the final round, it is very likely that we will see an improvement in her level of play.

Nazi Paikidze (photo by Lennart Ootes)

Once again, Nazi clearly stated with her opening choice that she believes she is the superior player, the g3-b3 development not being objectively a difficult line to refute. Agata did not have a clear plan and the uncertainty got her in real trouble quite quickly, but with some good moves and a bit of luck she could have flipped the tables and actually obtain an advantage after 39…Bh6! Instead she played Ra8 and after the game continuation the position was almost resignable.

Krush vs. Eswaran ½ - ½

Krush dodged another bullet. The seven-time U.S. Women’s Champion tried to play a slow game and take her opponent to the endgame, where she thought she would outplay her and win with ease. This was not the case as the young Ashrita held her own and actually managed to outplay her much more experienced opponent. She should have held the bishops on the board with 25…Re2, after which Irina would have a difficult defense. Instead, she chose to enter the rook’s endgame, one that Irina knew to perfection and held the draw in exemplary fashion.

The much coveted trophies (Photo by Austin Fuller)

Melekhina vs. Abrahamyan 0-1

This game was arguably the wildest one in the Women’s Championship and subsequently the longest one as well. Melekhina was sitting at the bottom of the standings while Tatev was comfortably sharing the lead with Nazi. Nobody would have bet that this is going to be a nail biting escape by Tatev, but as it often happens in these type of events, the player sitting at the bottom of the table should never be underestimated as she can produce some incredulous surprises. Surpriseland was the direction in which this game was going with Melekhina building a huge advantage and pressuring Tatev to the breaking point. Her aggressive pawn sacrifice yielded great results and Alisa could have obtained a decisive advantage after the natural 20.Bh6! followed by an irresistible attack on the king. Our silicon friend suggests that Black could have resigned at this point. Unfortunately for Alisa, who has had a heartbreaking event, she did not find the winning move and instead allowed her opponent to get the winning edge. The two women traded blows and ultimately ended up in an equal endgame after the time control. Tatev gathered all her energy and realized that she still maintains some winning chances due to the poor coordination of White’s pieces. With good technique, Tatev managed to outplay Alisa in the endgame and joins Nazi in the leader’s chair.

Zatonskih vs. Gorti 1-0

This was a one-sided affair with the experienced Anna Zatonskih playing an almost perfect game and completely outplaying her younger opponent. Akshita did not understand the requirements of the position she was playing and incorrectly released the central pressure with 10.fxe5? This allowed White to obtain an incredible outpost on e5, as well as a game long target on e6. Anna knew she has a decisive strategic advantage and she never let go of it. Akshita did not have the necessary patience to defend such a passive position and cracked by playing 26…g5? Which simply gives a pawn and does not get any ounce of counterplay in return. The game quickly ended after that in a convincing victory for Zatonskih.

ChessBase author and editor Alejandro Ramirez has been providing lively commentary in
the video broadcast of the event (Photo by Austin Fuller)

Nemcova vs. Yip 1-0

Katerina is trying to chain a few wins together and close the gap with her rivals that stand at the top of the standings. She knew that a golden opportunity would be in her game against Carissa Yip, the youngest participant and a very big talent in her own right. Once again the experience played an important role and Katerina managed to outplay her opponent out of the opening. Katerina never allowed her opponent to get back into the game and she now moves to 5th place, 1.5p behind the leaders.

Foisor vs. Yu 1-0

Sabina has had a difficult tournament up to this point but one thing that she surely didn’t lose is her motivation to win games. Today’s game was proof of that as the players played a tame game and ended up in a completely equal endgame. Sabina channeled her inner Carlsen and decided to play on to see how well her opponent handles technical endgames. Yu played a good game but at some point forgot about her opponent’s threats and blundered with 70…Ra1?? Allowing her opponent’s king to invade via f5 and obtained a decisive advantage. Sabina took advantage of her chance and finished her opponent with immaculate technique.

Standings after seven rounds


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Eightxeight Eightxeight 4/23/2016 06:25

Age is catching up to Gata Kamsky. I wonder if he will qualify for next years championship.
Aighearach Aighearach 4/22/2016 10:11
"He is known to be an extremely active player but failed to continue the game immediately after his preparation was over."

This doesn't really make sense. It reads like a low-quality automated translation, or like a few words were accidentally deleted between "game" and "immediately." Or maybe the word "game" was intended to be "plan?" The comment seems to go in that direction, but it failed to continue all the way to the main idea.

I do appreciate the expanded coverage of the women's section. That is really required, considering how many decisive games there have been! But the complete lack of the actual games spoils the effort substantially. It would be better to have all the games from both sections available in the same article as the commentary. If we have to go elsewhere for the games, they might also have commentary in that other place, and it undercuts the "chess news" role.