Paikidze is U.S. Women's Champion

by Macauley Peterson
5/1/2018 – In a nail-biting rapid and blitz playoff, Nazi Paikidze came from behind to take her second U.S. Women's Championship title. Annie Wang played brilliantly in the first rapid game, winning with the White pieces in fine style. But Paikidze kept her cool, and in the second rapid game in a must-win situation, she stunned Wang with a clutch win, and then took the sudden death 'Armageddon' game, and with it the Championship. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Wang's wonderful run comes to an end

Paikidze had momentum on her side heading into the playoff with her successful come-from-behind effort in the main tournament. Annie Wang lost her last round game, ending a dream run on a sour note and forcing the rapid playoff. No doubt many observers would give the edge to Paikidze under the circumstances. Such predictions were apparently confirmed when Paikidze, with the black pieces in the first of two rapid games, apparently caught Wang in her opening preparation. 

But then, when you least expected it, Wang proved everyone wrong! In the middlegame, after a Nimzo-Indian with 4.Qc2, she found a string of powerful moves that completely reversed the course of the game, and allowed her to launch an unstoppable attack. She won a beautiful game that had the live commentators literally screaming in delight. 

Wang vs Paikidze

The first move of what would be Wang's last win in St. Louis | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Both players rattled off their opening moves at a torrid pace, as Paikidze steered Wang towards a pawn-grabbing queen sortie on the kingside, which was quite double-edged.


Move the pieces on the live diagram!

White's best reply to the attack on her queen is to counter attack with 12.Bxf6 but after 12...Qxf6 13.Qd2 Bf5 Black would have excellent compensation for her two sacrificed pawns, especially in a rapid game. White will have a hard time getting the kingside pieces developed in the face of Black's strong central pawns. For instance, 14.g3 O-O-O! and Black is threatening to blow up the position with d3, while White's position is fragile.

But Wang's choice also has its shortcomings. 12.Qh4 Qa5+ 13.Bd2 Qxc5 14.e4 and now 14...d3 again is a bone in the throat of the White position and would have given Black an edge. It is not necessary to prepare it any further as 15.Bxd3 would be met by ...Qd4! and after the bishop retreats to e2 with 16.Be2 then ...Qxb2 is very good for Black.

Instead, Paikidze burned five minutes on her clock and played 14...Qd6 defending her knight. Now Black wants to play Rg4, so Annie was forced to come up with a logical plan that proves to be very strong.


15.f3! and now 15...d3 was too tempting to pass up, yet completely turns the advantage over to White after Wang found 16.Qf2. Suddenly the d3 pawn is a glaring weakness, and White can use the manoeuvre Rc1-c3 to collect it, while her King remains perfectly safe in the middle of the board. Paikidze followed up with a trap 16...Nd4, when the d3 pawn is taboo due to Nb3. But Wang found the only move 17.Bb4 and was in complete control.

A few moves later Wang played a move that had the commentators on the verge of falling off their chairs (or in the case of Maurice Ashley who was standing throughout, perhaps just falling over!)


20.O-O-O! Castling right into the half-open c-file! "That is bold as they come", was Ashley's verdict. It turns out to be simply the best move as all the tactics work in White's favour. Paikidze quickly played the direct 21...Bxc4 forcing the precise 22.Nxd4 Rxd4 23.Bxc4 Rxc4 24.Kb1 only to find that White's king is completely safe on b1 and White holds all the trumps.

One final moment is worth a close look:


Here the position was calling out for the prosaic crusher 26.Be7! with echoes of Wang's pivotal eighth round win over Irina Krush, as noted on the live webcast. Wang invested 5 minutes only to play 16.Ba4+ which, while still winning, lacks the pizzazz of the other bishop move. Even so, Wang prosecuted the attack well, and her victory in the first game was never in doubt.

Wang wins

Wang's win fueled speculation that she would cap her spectacular tournament in playoff glory | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Paikidze's remarkable rebound

Nazi meditated between games of the rapid — as she would later reveal — and got some pertinent advice during the break to slow down and resist the urge to match Wang's breakneck pace. She tried to focus on taking her time in the second game, which helped her to succeed in evening the score. But it was far from a sure thing. 

Wang, now with black and needing only a draw, met Nazi's King's Indian Attack with a well-known system with the pawn formation e6-d5-c5-b6 aimed at provoking e5 and then castling queenside so as to pile up on the advanced pawn. In the first critical position, Paikidze eschewed the main line: 


14.N1h2 is preferred by most of the grandmasters who have played this position from the white side. Put a pin in that point for the next few paragraphs, because in this game Paikidze opted for 14.h5 which gave Wang the chance to play the thematic Rdg8 gunning for g5. But she didn't. She stopped on f8 — 14...Rdf8 — which is fine, but not quite as strong, as after 15.a3 g5 White has 16.N1h2 now, stopping the g-pawn in its tracks. With the rook on g8 this is no option as the g4 advance would come with devastating effect. Undermining the defence of the e5 pawn is one of the main strategic concepts in this system.

Curiously, Paikidze did not continue with her f1-knight to h2, but instead played 16.g4 herself which is practically a blunder, making the rook on f8 look genius as f6 or f5 becomes a promising option in many lines. 16...Kb8 17.Bd2

Paikidze vs Wang

Paikidze held herself together and exploited her chances in the Game 2 | Photo: Lennart Ootes


This was the turning point in the game. Black has an edge, and the position is crying out for 17...f5! Black should try to open the game and attack White's weakened kingside while the rook on a1 is still not playing. There's a lot of play left in the position, but for instance, after 18.exf6 (e.p) Rxf6 19.Ng3 Rhf8 20.Ne4 R6f7 Black is clearly better and White will struggle to find an active plan.

Wang, by contrast, played the hesitant 17...Re8, which after 18.b4! turned the initiative, and nearly all of her advantage over to Paikidze.

The game remained close to equal until move 31:


At this moment, the king desperately needs to get off the open a-file and 31...Kb8 32.Qa2 Rc7, hunkering down, would have forced Paikidze to find 33.d4! with the threat of c5, backed up by the tactical point that 33...Qxc4 is met by 34.Rxa7 when after the forced 34...Qxa2 35.Rxa2 White is better, but still far from winning.

Wang was not up to the task, and as time pressure loomed her 31...Qb7 was akin to capitulation. 32.Qa2 Kb8 (one move too late) and 33.d4 now came forcefully with no rebuttal. Paikidze gained a grip over the position and never released it.

Paikidze eyes closed

Paikidze with eyes closed, as Wang paces in the far room | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Somewhat unusually, the regulations of the U.S. Championship call for going directly from rapid to a sudden-death playoff game. No intermediate blitz match or quicker rapid games, as used by, for instance, the World Cup.

Wang again received the black pieces but this time with draw odds and one minute less on the clock. In a bit of a surprise, Paikidze repeated the exact same KIA opening from game two, allowing Wang to whiz through her opening without a moment's thought. The exact same position was reached after 13 moves.


Move the pieces directly on the 'live diagram'!

This time, however, Paikidze played the correct 14.N1h2 aimed at defusing the advance 14...g5, which Wang nevertheless played. In this position, 15.h5 is fine for white as g4 is under control and the game is precisely balanced.

There followed 15...Rdf8 16.Ng4 Kb8 17.Bd2 f5?! Unlike in the lines discussed above in the previous game, this time White is well prepared for the f-pawn advance. 18.exf6 Nxf6 19.Nfe5.

White is in a comfortable position and Wang cracked immediately with 19...g4? and the forcing sequence 20.Nxc6 Bxc6 21.Ne5! threatens a fork on g6, and leads to the loss of Black's weak e6-pawn. Within five more moves, Paikidze was completely winning.

"I come here to win."

Nazi noted in her post game interview on the live webcast that she has never finished worse than second in her four times competing in the U.S. Women's Championship, which is an impressive stat. She also had high praise for her erstwhile opponent, who looked utterly unflappable but who, one has to remember, is only 15-years-old.

"She's such a good player and a good defender and she's very tough", Paikidze said. She becomes the eleventh woman to win the U.S. Championship more than once since the tournament began in 1937 and only the fourth this century in a decade dominated by Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih.

Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Maurice Ashley | CCSCSL on YouTube

Playoff games



Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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