US Ch: Nakamura keeps the lead after lively round

by Antonio Pereira
3/28/2019 – All four decisive results of round seven had a direct impact on the top of the standings at the US Championship. Wins by Fabiano Caruana, Leinier Dominguez and Sam Sevian allowed them to remain half a point behind sole leader Hikaru Nakamura, who also won on Wednesday. Meanwhile, among the women, for a second day in a row Jennifer Yu survived a losing position and went on to win to stay on top with 6½ out of 7. | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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At the crossroads

After five rounds, no one seemed to find a way to build up momentum and get ahead of the field at the US Championship — five players were sharing first place on 3/5. Three days later, with a rest day in between, Nakamura leads on +3 after racking up two consecutive wins. Fabiano Caruana also won two in a row and is one of the chasers, together with Leinier Dominguez and Sam Sevian. 

Results of Round 7

 

As shown above, all the players with 4½ or more points won in round seven. The one who finished the job first was Sam Sevian, as he banked on Ray Robson's tame approach in the opening to get his third win of the event. Already in an inferior position, Robson was too greedy and captured the poisoned pawn on b7:

 

After 19.xb7, Sam was able to bring one more piece into the attack with 19...ab8 20.xa7 xb2. Black is a pawn down but his whole army is aimed against the opponent's king, with rooks on the semi-open f-file and on White's second rank. Naturally, Sevian gave up his light-squared bishop on h3 a move later and shortly afterwards showed a flashy winning sequence to bag the full point:

 

24...fxf2+ 25.xf2 g3+ and "that's all she wrote", as commentator Maurice Ashley would say.

Sam Sevian

Sevian seems to have figured it out | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Hikaru Nakamura also won with Black. He quickly showed his intentions to get a fight against Varuzhan Akobian by inviting his opponent to expand on the centre. The fact that Akobian proposed the exchange of queens the first time he had a chance to do so proves that Naka's strategy worked out perfectly:

 

Var spent 22 minutes before deciding on 14.e1, when 14.e2 was a sharper attempt to take advantage of Black's non-standard play. Hikaru exchanged queens and went on to put pressure on the kingside with energetic play. When the smoke cleared, however, all Black had was a superior rook endgame with material equality:

 

Nakamura has a better pawn structure and showed accurate technique to eventually get a 47-move win from this position.

Hikaru Nakamura

Four-time US champion Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

A good technical effort was also made by Leinier Dominguez, who, much like Robson, captured a free b7-pawn, but with opposite effect in the long run. Dominguez's rival, Aleksandr Lenderman, was well within his preparation when the pawn was captured:

 

This is still theory, and given Black's speedy play until this point Lenderman knew exactly what he was doing. In fact, the players remained within theory until move 18, when only one of four previous encounters had favoured White — the other three were drawn.

Black was a pawn down but had very active pieces later on, with his rook on the second rank and his knight well-established in a central square. Nonetheless, Dominguez patiently improved his position and ended up inflicting Lenderman's first defeat of the event after 46 moves.

Leinier Dominguez

Leinier Dominguez Perez | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

The last game to finish in either tournament was Fabiano Caruana's 125-move win over Timur Gareyev. Caruana achieved a positional advantage around move 50, but faced great resistance from the "blindfold king". After 87 moves, a rook and bishop vs rook ending arose, the same ending Gareyev had saved against Sam Sevian in round four. This time around, however, he faltered in the end:

 

Feel free to move the pieces on the diagram above!

White needed to play 122.h5 in order to avoid what happened in the game. Instead, after 122.g3, Fabiano showed the winning technique in no time: 122...b5+ (this would not have been possible with the white rook on the fifth rank) 123.a4 h5 124.f3 h1 125.a5 h6 and White resigned. 

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano's winless streak is a thing of the past | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club 

Standings after Round 7

 

All games

 

Commentary webcast


When it rains it pours

While things could not have gone better for Jennifer Yu so far in Saint Louis, rating favourite Irina Krush is having a nightmare tournament at this year's US Women's Championship. In round seven, Krush fell against her perennial rival Anna Zatonskih, who despite having shown great chess so far in the event is still a half point behind Yu in the standings. Anna got to play a flashy move to achieve her fifth win of the tournament:

 

31...a2 and White cannot save her queen as it is impossible to prevent Black from playing ...h2, with a deadly skewer. 

Anna Zatonskih

Anna is having a great event | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Zatonskih could have arrived in round eight as the sole leader had Sabina Foisor taken advantage of the winning chances she got against the leader. The game was a complete roller-coaster, which was eventually won by Jennifer Yu, who also had turned around an unfavourable situation in her sixth round game. Nerves of steel might end up giving the youngster her first US title. So far, she has amassed an astounding 6½/7 score!

Jennifer Yu vs. Sabina Foisor

It could have gone either way: Yu vs Foisor | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Results of Round 7

 

Standings after Round 7

 

All games

 

US Chess announces newly designed trophies

The winners of this year's edition will also be the first ones to get the newly designed trophies presented by the organisers. The Canadian firm Protocole created a contemporary-looking design with a 4x8 foot, half-inch-thick aluminium sheet.

The Canadian company also designed trophies for the PGA Champions Tour and the Formula One "Grand Prix du Canada". The President of the firm, Jean-Philippe Caron, explained that the 30-inch-tall design (a 12-inch replica will be given to each champion) gives primary importance to the king yet integrates the other pieces. 

The stunning effect created by the bishop embedded into the queen, herself embedded into the king, gives a poetic aspect to this splendid creation. 

US Chess Championships

The new designs | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

US Chess Championships

Up close | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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jonkm jonkm 3/28/2019 01:03
Fabi got a nice swindle grind win, worthy of a Carlsen. I recall that Fabi had botched one of these R+B vs R endings a few years ago.
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