US Championship: Shankland and Wang sprinting to gold

by Albert Silver
4/28/2018 – On the surface, the round was a quiet one, with eleven draws out of the twelve games in both events, but things were not so simple. More than a few games seemed likely to leave a body behind, but this was not counting the defenders desire to not lose. Sam Shankland had a promising position against Fabiano Caruana with an extra pawn, but never quite built it up enough to win. Both Women’s leaders Nazi Paikidze and Annie Wang were dead lost in their games, but lived to fight another day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Open Championship

The open event was dominated by three games, though only two were really impactful.

Wesley So is playing submarine in the tournament, below the leaders and hoping to pass them should they open an opportunity. Naturally, this also means performing on his end, and in round nine, this meant beating Varuzhan Akobian with black.

The game was a topical line of the Grunfeld with 4.Bf4, and a novelty appearing as late as move 16, but Akobian aggressively countered with 17.Rd5! And after 17…Be6, boldly offered his rook with 18.Kd2, daring Black to take.

 

With a pair of bishops, a powerful protected passed pawn on d5, it was unclear how Black could break through if he did, but there seemed little choice, and eventually, he did capture it with 20…Bxd5. The game quickly fizzled out as So seemed unable to find any way to crack the fortress, and a draw was agreed on move 34.

Wesley So had a good start but faded in the second half | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The game that really had the audience’s attention, by virtue of prestige and potential effect on the standings was Fabiano Caruana against Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura has had a fairly indifferent tournament so far, with that one mental hiccup loss to Izoria, repeating Caruana’s mistake almost verbatim, but has had good results against Caruana, and this might be his moment for redemption. It nearly was too!

 

Black had a golden opportunity to take home the full point but missed the continuation 46...Qxe4!! 47.Qxe4 Bxe4 48.Rxe4 (48.Bxc7 Rd7) Nxb2 49.Ke1 Nxc4!

 

The point is that now 50.Rxc4 loses to 50...b2! and the pawn cannot be stopped.

A close call for Faby, who nearly saw all hope for the title go up in smoke. He still has chances but saw them take a serious hit, not so much by this near-loss, but because of his rival’s continued run.

The game between Caruana and Nakamura did not disappoint... the audience | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The third game to affect the leadership was, of course, the one by co-leader Sam Shankland against Yaroslav Zerebukh. As is often the case, it all came down to one key position, one key move. Black had been playing with ambitions of his own, but his bishop threatened to be caught. There was only one way out, with a strong pawn offer 20.f4!! that could not be accepted, but Black missed this opportunity and found himself struggling to save the game. Remarkably, he did exactly that with exceptional technique, but just as the danger seemed about to pass, a fatal mistake with 58…Rg1?? cost him the game.

Sam Shankland 1-0 Yaroslav Zerebukh

[Event "US-ch Open 2018"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2018.04.27"] [Round "9"] [White "Shankland, Samuel"] [Black "Zherebukh, Yaroslav"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A05"] [WhiteElo "2671"] [BlackElo "2640"] [Annotator "Albert Silver"] [PlyCount "141"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "USA"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. d4 Nbd7 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 O-O 8. Rc1 c6 9. a3 a6 10. c5 e5 11. Nxe5 $146 (11. Be2 e4 12. Nd2 Nh7 13. Bg3 f5 14. h4 g5 15. hxg5 hxg5 16. f4 exf3 17. Nxf3 Bf6 {1-0 (33) Akobian,V (2612)-Shulman,Y (2632) Upper Lake 2009}) 11... Nxe5 12. dxe5 Nd7 $1 13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. Qd4 Nxe5 15. Be2 Qg5 16. g3 Qe7 17. O-O Bh3 18. Rfe1 f5 19. f3 Rae8 20. Nd1 $1 $14 {[#]} Qf7 $2 {Black could still extract his bishop from certain disaster but misses his chance. This will cost him the piece for two pawns, and ultimately the game.} (20... f4 $1 $14 {was the correct move, and a spectacular one. The pawn is untouchable, and therefore the only move is} 21. Nf2 (21. exf4 $4 {loses everything (including the king) after} Nxf3+ $1) (21. gxf4 $2 {is also no good because after} Qh4 $1 {Black whips up a winning attack, with the maneuver Re6-g6. Ex:} 22. Nf2 (22. fxe5 Qxe1+) 22... Re6 23. Ng4 (23. fxe5 Rg6+ 24. Ng4 Rxg4+ $1 25. fxg4 Qf2+ 26. Kh1 Qg2#)) 21... fxg3 22. Nxh3 Nxf3+ 23. Bxf3 Rxf3) 21. Nf2 $1 $36 {The bishop on h3 is trapped.} Qh5 22. Qh4 $1 Qxf3 (22... Qxh4 23. gxh4 {and the bishop on h3 is lost.}) 23. Qxh3 Qxe3 24. Bh5 Nf3+ 25. Bxf3 $1 Qxf3 26. Qg2 Qb3 27. Nh3 Re4 28. Qd2 b6 29. Nf2 Rxe1+ 30. Qxe1 bxc5 31. Rxc5 Qxb2 32. Qc3 Qb8 33. Nd3 Qb1+ 34. Kg2 f4 35. Nxf4 Qe4+ 36. Kg1 g5 37. Ng2 $1 Qf5 38. Qe1 $18 Qf6 39. Rc1 d4 40. Qe2 c5 41. Ne1 Rc8 42. Nd3 c4 43. Qe4 Qd6 44. Ne5 c3 45. Nd3 Kg7 46. Kg2 Rc7 47. Re1 $1 c2 48. h4 Qc6 $14 49. Qxc6 Rxc6 50. Kf3 gxh4 51. gxh4 Rc3 52. Ke4 Rxa3 53. Rc1 Rc3 54. Kxd4 Rc8 55. Nc5 Kg6 56. Rxc2 Kh5 57. Rh2 Rg8 58. Ne4 {Black had managed to crawl his way back to equality, but throws it away now in one unfortunate move.} Rg1 $4 (58... Rc8 $16 {or Rb8 would have held} 59. Nf6+ Kg6) 59. Nf6+ $18 Kg6 60. Ke5 {Black is lost now.} Re1+ 61. Ne4 Kh5 62. Kf4 $1 Rf1+ {[#]} 63. Kg3 $1 Re1 {[#]} 64. Nf6+ $1 Kg6 65. Nd5 Rd1 66. Nf4+ Kf5 67. Ra2 Rg1+ 68. Ng2 Rb1 69. Rxa6 Rb3+ 70. Kh2 Kg4 71. Rxh6 1-0

Sam Shankland's perseverance was eventually rewarded against Yaroslav Zerebukh, though he ended up needing to win the game twice! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

As a result, with only two rounds left, Sam Shankland has finally pulled away from his closest and most dangerous rival, Fabiano Caruana, by half a point. Will he manage to keep his lead and win a fantastic title ahead of so many big-name hitters?

Standings after nine rounds

 

Games of round nine

 

Women’s Championship

It would be unfair to say that there was only one game going on, with so many valiant fighters duking it out on 64 squares, but …. There was only one game that really had all eyes one: the game between the leaders, Annie Wang and Nazi Paikidze. Annie has had what can only be called a Cinderella event, which is the second year in a row that one happens.

In 2017 it was the amazing Sabina Foisor who played superbly, outpacing her rival Nazi Paikidze, who had been hoping for a second straight title, culminating in that unforgettable queen sacrifice victory in the last round. This year, it is the turn of 15-year-old Annie Wang, who is fresh from her World Youth under-16 victory and has now take the absolute US Women’s championship by storm. Combining grit, luck, and quality, her star has never faded for even an instant, and by round eight had opened a massive one point lead over her nearest rival.

In a sense, it was the only game that mattered, as the two leaders bashed heads to see who would lift the trophy | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round nine was precisely when the two met, and Nazi Paikidze was the one burdened with the need to win. Not quite at all costs, but beating Wang was easily her best chance at a late change of direction for fate and gold. It was not to be, as they drew their game, and Annie Wang maintains her one point lead. While Irina Krush won her game to move into third.

If Annie Wang wins, she will become the second youngest winner of the US Championship ever, the title of youngest going to seven-time winner Irina Krush, who won it at age 14 in 1998. The field Irina faced then was possibly not quite as strong, but her score of 8½/9 was also not open to argument either.

It hasn't been her greatest tournament, but Irina Krush can still grab a spot on the podium | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after nine rounds

 

Games of round nine

 

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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