US Champs: Two in a row for So and Akobian

by André Schulz
4/20/2018 – Wesley So and Varuzhan Akobian are setting the pace in St. Louis with two more victories in round two of the U.S. Championship. Fabiano Caruana and Ray Robson made it four wins with white in all. Zatonskih and Krush posted their first full points in the Women's Championship: | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Four score in round two

The French is considered a reasonably safe defence, but you wouldn't know it from watching yesterday's game between Fabiano Caruana and Alex Lenderman. Rarely has a French flown off the rails quite like this one. Caruana chose a sharp variation of the Winawer.


Play through the moves on the live diagram!

These days it seems like everyone is launching his h-pawn at the first opportunity and Caruana's 9.h4 (with h5 next!) here took the game from hundreds of predecessors down to a handful. 9...Nc6 10.h5 h6 11.Qd1! A counter-intuitive novelty. White is ready to sacrifice a pawn. 11...cxd4 12.Nf3 dxc3 13.Bxc3 and suddenly Rh4 trapping the queen is a nasty threat! 


Fabiano Caruana looks a bit baffled himself | Photo: Austin Fuller


Just a few moves later, after Lenderman went fishing for a poisoned g2-pawn, it was already over:


Black is tied up by his hands and feet. After 23.Rxg6 he gave up.

Wesley So celebrated his second win in as many games, and further added to Alexander Onischuk's misery — it was the second zero after his yesterday's catastrophe against Akobian. The game began in quiet Spanish waters with the fashionable move d2-d3, but then picked up speed. 


With 22.d4 White exploited the overloaded black queen to grab the initiative, since the queen is tied to the defence of the g6-bishop, and Black cannot take on d4.

So won a pawn and drove home the material advantage in the resulting rook endgame.


Varuzhan Akobian | Photo: Spectrum Studios

A second consecutive win two for Varuzhan Akobian. Against Awonder Liang, Akobian had the initiative in the Queen's Gambit Declined exchange variation, but then missed a strong opportunity.


White could pounce with 26.Nxd5! gaining a winning advantage after 26...Qxc2 27.Nxf6+. Instead chances remained about level after 26.Qb3.

Later, however, Liang gave Akobian a second chance, and this time he jumped on it.


After 35.Rxc4 it was lights out, thanks to the pin on the d-file.

The fourth decisive game of the round was Ray Robson's win over the U.S. Championship rookie Zviad Izoria. The f5-square played a special role in this game. White had passed through with his knight and then had the opportunity to use it again. Like Akobian, Robson missed the first golden opportunity.


Black tried to relieve the pressure with 28...Nxd3 (giving up a knight for two pawns), and Robson was fairly quick to oblige him with 29.Rxd3, although he could have posted Black insoluble problems with 29.Nf5! The point is 29...gxf5 30.Rg1 threatens mate that can only be stopped by 31...Nf2+ 32.Rxf2 Rg8 33.Rfg2 and white will soon go up queen for rook.

Again, like Akobian, Robson was offered a second chance, when Izoria could not cope with the pressure.


33...Qb4 would hold Black's position together, but 33...Rfe8 was met by a swift punishment 34.Qf7+ Kh8 35.Qxf6+ and after repeating moves to gain time, Nf7 came, and mate threats forced capitulation.

Commentary webcast

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

Standings after two rounds


Round two games


Women's Championship

In the women's championship Anna Zatonskih, Irina Krush and Maggie Feng celebrated wins in round two. Zatonskih defeated the first round winner Jennifer Yu. Irina Krush kept the upper hand against Dorsa Derakshani. Maggie Feng bounced back from her prior loss with a win over Anna Sharevich. That means there are no longer any perfect scores.

Krush vs Derakshani

Krush against Derakshani | Photo: Austin Fuller

Standings after two rounds


Round two games


Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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