US Championship: Caruana joins the lead

by André Schulz
4/26/2018 – Leader Sam Shankland played a calm draw against Wesley So, in the seventh round of the US championship, and remains at the top, but he was joined by Fabiano Caruana who scored his fourth win, defeating Varuzhan Akobian. So, meanwhile, had time for some fun trash-talk, giving all the commentators a good time during the live-broadcast, don't miss it! In another surprise, the "favorites fright" Zviad Izoria defeated Hikaru Nakamura. Annie Wang won once again in the Women's and now has a full point edge. After round six, players were invited to a party dubbed "Chess After Dark", abd the next day they gave simultaneous exhibitons against local students. | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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So is still just a half point back

Hikaru Nakamura is one of the three 2700+ players in the US championships and therefore one of the favourites. But he has not really gotten it going through seven rounds in St. Louis. After posting six half points, he's now become the second high-profile victim of US Champs newcome Zviad Izoria. On Izoria's 1.Nf3, Nakamura responded with 1...g6 and the game turned after 2.e4 to the Modern Defence (also known as the Robatsch defence after the Austrian GM Karl Robatsch), where Izoria chose a line with Bc4, Qe2 and the thrust e4-e5 while delaying the development of his queen's knight.

 

After 7.e5 Black continued 7...Ng4 8.h3 Nh6 accepting a clearly worse position in an effort to throw his opponent off balance. The result, however, was a significant space advantage and the easier-to-play position for Izoria, while Nakamura struggled to find optimal squares for his pieces. After a difficult game, Nakamura found himself in a pawn-down rook ending in which he was outmanoeuvred by Izoria and eventually even lost on time! A rarity for speed-demon Nakamura.

 

Izoria and Nakamura

After losing two of his first three games, Izoria is now back on an even score, tied for 4th-6th place and ahead of Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Fabiano Caruana is proving to be a true French killer at these US Championships. After blowing Alex Lendermann off the board in a second round Winawer variation, French specialist Varuzhan Akobian tried his luck in a rarely played version of the Classical French with 8...b6. Caruana went against conventional wisdom and opted for long castling, while Black's king remained in the centre. The players then took turns using their win pawns as battering rams until all hell broke loose.

 

Alex Lenderman, like Izoria, has returned to an even score. He celebrated the third win of the day against Alex Onischuk, who has been unfortunate thus far in this tournament and stands in last place

 

After 38...Kg7 39.hxg6 fxg6 40.Re6 Black lost his pawn on e5. A little tougher was 38...Nd7, although White is clearly for choice with a more active rook and stronger minor piece in this ending with pawns on both flanks.

Lenderman

Lenderman was all smiles even before the win | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The front-runner Sam Shankland was able to coast through his game against Wesley So most of the time. The pair followed an old Zoltan Ribli game against Ulf Andersson from 35 years ago through 14 moves before simplifying into a dead equal ending. Shankland then needlessly gave up a pawn, but the 4 vs 3 rook and bishop ending was not enough for So to make hay of. They players shook hands after less than half an hour of play.

 

Wesley So's extended post-game chat

The game between Awonder Liang and Ray Robson also resulted in a pawn advantage for White, but it too was not enough to win. 

Jeffrey Xiong vs Yaroslav Zherebukh was a strategically challenging variation of the Catalan opening that ultimately resulted in a balanced rook ending.

Standings after seven rounds

 

Games of round seven

 

Women's Championship

Annie Wang added to her winning ways, this time wrestling Anna Sharevich down in a colourful and varied game. However, Sharevich missed a sparkling chance of her own in the middlegame:

 

How should Black develop her queenside? If 29...Nd7 then 30.Bg4 wins the knight, so Wang rolled the dice on 29...Na6. White spent a few minutes and grabbed the knight on a6 but that gave Wang counterplay, 30.Bxa6 Rh8, with the idea of Rh5! Now 31.Rxe4 (Qc6 threating Qxe4 would retain White's edge) let Black fully back into the game. Instead, the intermezzo 30.Bf1 would have decided the game in Sharevich's favour, as the queen is driving back to at least h5, ruling out the Rh8-h5-g5 attacking manoeuvre. From there the game trended firmly in Wang's direction.

 

Annie Wang

Annie Wang continues her impressive run | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after seven rounds

 

Games of round seven

 

Translation from German and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson
Arne Bracker contributed to this report

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