US Championship: Caruana keeps it close

by Alex Yermolinsky
4/29/2018 – Both Sam Shankland and Fabiano Caruana won crucial tenth round games. Caruana came out swinging with the black pieces, going for a Sicilian, while Shankland played the last placed but still dangerous Alexander Onischuk. ALEX YERMOLINSKY looks at the key games of the round. With one more to play Shankland is tantalizingly close to his first U.S. Championship victory, but Caruana remains close behind. Annie Wang easily drew with multi-time U.S. Women's Champ Anna Zatonskih and remains a half point up on Nazi Paikidze. But while Wang has black in the final round, Paikidze will have white against Rusa Goletiani, which should make for an exciting conclusion. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Open Championship

Fabiano Caruana just cannot stop winning. When you're hot, you're hot, and Fabiano is feeling it. Everything he does at the chessboard magically turns into gold.

Today he had Black against Yaroslav Zherebukh. While 'Yaro' hasn't been able to improve on his impressive 50% debut at the last year's event, he again proved to be a solid player who's totally comfortable in this company. Not too many experts predicted a Caruana win, particularly obtained in such a quick fashion.

Looking back at his tournament Zherebukh should regret his choices of going into off-beat Sicilians with White against So and Caruana. It's a pretty tall order to outplay such monsters in random positions. Perhaps, an old advice from Alexander Khalifman of playing main lines with White against top players still hold sway. “El Khalif” was talking about “standing on the shoulders of giants” and thus elevating your game by using moves found and/or approved by better players. Then again, one has to give Yaro credit for trying to mix it. It just didn't work out the way he hoped.


Zerebukh with his coach, GM Vladimir Georgiev | Photo: Lennart Ootes



Caruana stays within striking distance of first | Photo: Lennart Ootes

While Fabiano was collecting a quick point, his rival Shankland didn't seem to be much concerned with that. One of the strongest suits in Sam's chess is his ability to totally immerse himself in his own game.

Today, he came out with a modern take on the black side of a Queen's Gambit against the struggling Onischuk. The whole game is a model of consistency. Shankland sensed his opponent's lack of confidence (an understandable situation for somebody who's at -3 and dead last in the crosstable) and kept on pushing for a win until Alexander's defences cracked.



'Time to resign', Shankland seems to say | Photo: Lennart Ootes

What a sad turnaround for the veteran. Last year Onischuk had a brilliant performance, scoring +3 and tying with Wesley So, only to lose in the playoff. Arguably, it was his best Championship, on par with his victory in 2006.

Hikaru Nakamura was finally able to light up the scoreboard against the tail-spinning Varuzhan Akobian. It was another French and another struggle for 'Var'. Perhaps, it is really the time for him to say goodbye to the opening what served him well throughout his entire career. Too many losses erode confidence, which, in turn, exacerbates Akobian's struggles with the clock.


Things are going wrong for Black here. Nakamura played powerfully 17.Bxf5 exf5 18.Ba3 Rc8 19.b5 and White has a strong initiative. The game was a wild one and worth reviewing below.

Two more guys, along with Nakamura, had to wait until round ten to celebrate their first victories in this tournament. Tons of credit should be given to the young Awonder Liang. While his toughness in defence had already been proven, today's game showed Awonder's drive not just to survive against higher-rated and more experienced players, but to win games.


Xiong and Liang

The youngsters faced off against each other in round 9 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Jeffery Xiong cannot count this event among his greatest achievements, but it's a marked improvement over his disastrous showing in 2017 (-3 and a second-to-last finish). Today's instructional win in a pawn endgame made it even sweeter.


Truth to tell, one could expect a more precise handling of a calculable endgame (all pawn ending must be calculated to the end, per G.K. Kasparov) from aspiring young players. For Lenderman, it was a particularly bitter pill, costing Alex chances for a top half finish.

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Standings after ten rounds


Games of round ten


Women’s Championship

On the Ladies side, the key game was Wang vs Zatonskih. Annie passed yet another test with flying colours. A tightly controlled game earned her an easy draw, effectively eliminating all others, aside from Nazi Paikidze from contention.

The latter once again showed her undying fighting spirit by surviving and even winning a very tough game against fellow Olympic Team member, Tatev Abrahamyan.


Abrahamyan vs Paikidze

Among also-runs, Irina Krush won her game against Rusa Goletiani and edged ahead of Anna Zatonskih and Jennifer Yu in the race for third place.

What a gift to the fans of the game! This year's U.S. Championships are poised to go down the wire in both Men's and Women's tournaments.

With one last round remaining it shaped up to be a two-player race, in both cases between one of the pre-tournament favourites and a surprising overachiever. Regardless of what happens in the last round, Sam Shankland and Annie Wang are real heroes. Can they write the last chapter in their respective stories?

Standings after ten rounds


Games of round ten



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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