US Championship: Eight decisive games in Round 8

by André Schulz
4/27/2018 – Sam Shankland and Fabiano Caruana both drew and remain tied after a tumultuous round in St. Louis. Ray Robson and Alex Lenderman scored full points with Robson's win coming after 144 moves over Varuzhan Akobian. In the women's championship, a whopping six decisive games, including another win from Annie Wang who scored a big point against Irina Krush and retains her full point edge, with just three rounds to go. |Photos: Lennart Ootes

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No change at the top of the leaderboards

The two leaders of the open US Championship, Sam Shankland and Fabiano Caruana, each fought a long duel in the eighth round, both defending their lead with the black pieces and dealing with strong opponents, Nakamura and So, respectively.

What's up with Hikaru Nakamura? The tricky tactician looks strangely toothless in this US championship. While So and Caruana were active in the Candidates Tournament in March and the winner, Caruana, also played (and won) the Grenke Classic, Nakamura took a break and therefore had ample time to prepare for the US Championship. But somehow he has not found a rhythm.

Nakamura

Nakamura during Round 8 in St. Louis | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Against Sam Shankland, he experimented with the Nimzowitsch-Larsen opening, 1.b3, then castled long into a pawn storm before he had a chance to get anything going on the kingside.

 

White has his back against the wall. Shankland continued with 21...axb3 22.cxb3 c4, and was clearly better.

However, Nakamura defended himself tenaciously and after a few inaccuracies from Shankland, he was able to relieve the tension and lead the game to an equal ending.

Fabiano Caruana would certainly not mind adding one more US Championship title after his phenomenal Candidates and Grenke wins. He had already caught up with Shankland at the top after the seventh round and had to play against Wesley So in round eight — not exactly an opponent for an easy ride. Currently, Caruana's main weapon against 1.e4 seems to be the Petroff Defence. So answered with the fashionable move 5.Bd3

 

Caruana just pulled his knight back to d6 (after 5...d5 6.O-O Be7 7.Re1), heading for f5, after which he has a comfortable position. The game did not provide great excitement, although they played down to a pure pawn ending before agreeing to a draw on move 46.

Other games went down to the wire, not the least the 144 move marathon between Ray Robson and Varuzhan Akobian. In another French from Akobian, just a single pawn was exchanged through 26 moves:

 

Now Akobian had enough, and sacrificed his knight on c3, exchanging two pieces for a rook and two pawns. That was not as advantageous as it would seem at first sight, as Robson pressed his minute advantage for hours. After some 20 moves of manoeuvring his bishop and knight in the endgame, Robson wasn't making progress and Akobian claimed a draw.

 

But his claim was rejected by the arbiter.

Just a few moves later, Akobian went wrong:

 

With the black king on g6 as it was two moves earlier, Ra4 would be a draw, but now 89...Ra4 90.Kd3 is winning for white, as his king and minor pieces are able to advance and either win the f-pawn or shepherd the d-pawn home.

Akobian eventually forced Robson to mate him with bishop and knight, which he duly did, in perhaps the longest game in U.S. Championship history.


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The second victory went to Alex Lendermann against Awonder Liang. Lenderman also used the Petroff and took over the initiative in the middlegame. In a bid for counterplay, the young Awonder jettisoned a piece:

 

White made a break for it with 36.d6, but failed spectacularly after 36...fxe4 37.d6 Rd8 38.Qe6 Qc5+ 39.Kh1 e3 40.f4 Bf6. White has no more ideas and Liang resigned.

Lenderman

Alex Lenderman | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The games between Zviad Izoria and Yaroslav Zherebukh and Alexander Onischuk and Jeffrey Xiong both ended in draws.

Standings after eight rounds

 

Games of round eight

 

Women's Championship

The star on the women's side is unquestionably Annie Wang. The 15-year-old won he sixth game in the eighth round, against top-ranked Irina Krush. When did this ever happen, chess club-founder Rex Sinquefield asked Yasser Seirawan on the live commentary. But he knew the answer — Irina Krush herself turned in a marvellous performance of 8½ out of 9 at the U.S. Championship twenty years ago when she was just 14 years old!

Wang vs Krush

Wang wins again

In fact, Irina Krush should have won the game. After a long quiet phase, Krush opened the position on the queenside and reached the following position:

 

Krush proceeded with 42...Rxc4 43.bxc4 Rb8 44.Qd5 after which the game was even. Instead, the intermediate move 42...Rc5! would have won. 43.Qa4 (or Qb4) and only now 43...Rxc4 44.bxc4 because with the queen on either a4 or b4 44...Ra8 wins the a5-bishop!

Later, Krush let the position slip completely out of her control:

 

Anne Wang lives in La Canada, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and started chess at the age of five after watching a simultaneous exhibition near her home. In 2012 she participated for the first time in the US Women's Championship as a 12-year-old.

Between rounds of the US championships, Annie Wang still has to spend time on her schoolwork. She has exams in math, English and Spanish coming up. If she wins the tournament, she plans to save the $25,000 prize for her college education. But first she faces two major hurdles on her way to the title in the form of former Women's Champions Nazi Paikidze and Anna Ztonskih.

As we mentioned, all games were decisive in th women's championship this round! Paikidze won against Sabina Foisor and remains on Wang's heels. Zatonskih, meanwhile, defeated Maggie Feng. Tatev Abrahamyan won over Anna Sharevich. In the teenage duel, Jennifer Yu defeated Akshita Gorti and, finally, Rusudan Goletiani beat Dorsa Derakshani, who blundered horribly in the middle game. You can replay all games below.

Standings after eight rounds

 

Games of round eight

 

Commentary webcast

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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Velvia Velvia 4/27/2018 10:40
Robson - Akobian: threefold rep after Black's 72nd, 76th, 78th moves.
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