US Championship: The leaderboard takes shape

by Albert Silver
4/21/2018 – Round three of the US Championship saw the leaderboards begin to take shape, with a hint of what is to come. Wesley So had a scare as he escaped a dangerous position against young Awonder Liang, while Fabiano Caruana continues to steamroll as he defeated Jeffery Xiong. In the Women’s event, Nazi Paikidze and Annie Wang lead. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Round three

The US championship continues to be a magnetic event thanks to its strong lineups and great fighting spirit. The peerless online broadcast colour commentary and setup don’t hurt either. Finally, to top it off, there are the daily albums of high-quality photography (great job, Lennart!) that viewers can peruse and enjoy, and the media can use to illustrate their reports.

Commentary webcast

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

Open Championship

Once more, the main draw is without question the Big Three, all of whom were the stars of the Gold Medal team in the 2016 Baku Olympiad, and all of whom have stood at the world no.2 spot at some point in the last few years. Right now, the spotlight is all on Fabiano Caruana, whose 2018 thus far can only be described as stellar. Not only did he smash through the Candidates, overcoming modest concerns near the end, but he swept through the recent Grenke Classic ahead of his forthcoming rival, Magnus Carlsen. The question on the minds of fans and pundits is whether the US Championship will be yet another feather in his cap, or would this be a chance for his 2800 colleagues to remind everyone that the world does not revolve around this American-Italian ‘upstart’.

Jeffery Xiong faced a belligerent Fabiano Caruana, as the latter unleashed a Benoni with black | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Jeffery Xiong was the flavour of the day to try his hand and gain some recognition at the Challenger’s expense, but it was not to be as Caruana’s star shows no sign of losing its shine. The opening was not quite what one would have expected, with Xiong usually so solid, but when Caruana produced a Benoni on the board, even Jeffery found it impossible to resist and stay ‘quiet’.


In spite of enormous complications, Caruana was unable to push his way into a winning position until his younger opponent finally erred in the endgame in instructive fashion.

[Event "US-ch Men 2018"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2018.04.20"] [Round "3"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A61"] [WhiteElo "2665"] [BlackElo "2804"] [Annotator "Albert Silver"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "USA"] [SourceTitle ""] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceQuality "1"] [TimeControl "40/5400+30:1800+30"] 1. d4 {(0)} Nf6 {(6)} 2. Nf3 {(0)} e6 {(16)} 3. c4 {(57)} c5 {(43)} 4. d5 { ( 10)} d6 {(10)} 5. Nc3 {(39)} exd5 {(6)} 6. cxd5 {(7)} g6 {(5)} 7. Bf4 {(1:18) } Bg7 {( 16)} 8. e3 {(1:54)} O-O {(13)} 9. h3 {(7)} Qe7 {(40)} 10. Nd2 { (13:10). This came as a surprise to Fabiano, who admitted that although perfectly logical, he had failed to consider it in his preparation. he was now more or less on his own.} Nh5 {(11:09)} 11. Bh2 {( 13)} f5 {(4)} 12. Be2 { (8:58)} f4 {(2:41)} 13. O-O {(4:10)} fxe3 {(3:01)} 14. Nde4 {(19:49)} ({ After the game, Caruana also analyzed the possible} 14. Nc4 exf2+ 15. Kh1 (15. Rxf2 $2 Bd4) 15... Bxc3 16. bxc3 Bxh3 $1 17. Bxh5 {"A complete mess" -- Caruana } ({The point is obviously} 17. gxh3 $2 Qe4+) 17... gxh5 18. Qxh5 {and here after the sample continuation} Bxg2+ (18... Bd7 {and the d6-pawn falls.}) 19. Kxg2 Qe4+ 20. Kh3 {Black cannot actually take the knight on c4} Qxc4 {else he gets mated with} 21. Rg1+ $3 fxg1=Q 22. Rxg1+ Kh8 23. Qe5+ {The bishop works too, but this gets extra points for purely aesthetic reasons.} dxe5 24. Bxe5+) 14... exf2+ {(23:54)} 15. Kh1 {(3)} Bxc3 $1 {(41)} 16. Nxc3 {(03)} Ng7 {(11)} 17. Bf3 {(2:09)} Nd7 {(1:31)} 18. Rxf2 {(2:22)} Ne5 {(45)} 19. Re2 {(11:57)} Nf5 {(1:56)} 20. Bxe5 {(2:45)} dxe5 {(13)} 21. d6 $1 {(08)} Nxd6 {(4:59)} 22. Qd5+ {-0.75/21 (10)} (22. Nd5 $11 {-0.13/20 was better.} Qg7 23. Nc3) 22... Nf7 $17 {( 31)} 23. Ne4 {(9)} Rb8 {(10:05)} 24. Qxc5 {(9:29)} Qxc5 {(16)} 25. Nxc5 {(3)} b6 {(14)} 26. Ne4 {(01:20)} Bf5 {(2:52)} 27. Nc3 {(1:47)} Rbd8 {-0.41/23 (23:21)} 28. a4 $15 {[#] (1:54) Caruana felt this was a very serious mistake, even if the engines seem to underestimate it. The reason is that it creates weaknesses that will allow a king march to exploit and create pressure. It may not be losing, but it does make White's task of holding a lot more challenging. } a5 {(4:23)} 29. Bd5 {(6:52)} Rfe8 {(4)} 30. Bxf7+ {-0.76/26 (2:37)} Kxf7 $17 {(5)} 31. Rf1 {(05)} Ke6 {(2:07)} 32. Rfe1 {(3)} Kf6 $36 {(2:52). Black is more active.} 33. Rf1 {(2)} Ke6 {(2:15)} 34. Rfe1 $1 {(2)} Kd6 {(2:21)} 35. Re3 $2 {-1.11/22 (3:55) "Definitely a big mistake" according to Fabiano.} ({ White had to play} 35. Nb5+ {immediately. He most likely did not, as he failed to realize that Black cannot play} Kc5 $2 {due to the nasty trick} 36. b4+ $1 { and now if} Kxb4 (36... axb4 $2 {would be a serious mistake due to} 37. Rc1+ Kd5 38. Nc7+) 37. Rb2+ Kc4 38. g4 Be6 39. Rc1+ {leads to a perpetual.}) 35... Kc6 {(1:49)} 36. Nb5 {(04:57)} Re7 {(11)} 37. g4 {(1:15)} Bd3 {( 47)} 38. Nc3 { (2:36)} Bc4 {(51)} 39. Rc1 {(30)} Kb7 {(21)} 40. Re4 {-1.56/22 (42)} Rd4 { (30:39)} 41. Kg1 {(03:55)} Bb3 {(0)} 42. Kf2 {-2.00/22 (5:12)} Rd2+ $19 {( 00)} 43. Re2 {(15)} Rf7+ {(0)} 44. Ke3 {(1:52)} Rd4 {(0)} 45. Nb5 {(5:52)} Rdd7 {(0) } 46. Nc3 {(01:17)} Rf4 {(0)} 47. Rd2 {(4:40)} Rfd4 {( 00)} 48. Rf2 {(2:41)} Bxa4 {(0)} 49. Rf6 {-3.33/23 (48)} Bc6 0-1

A fabulous win for Faby who now moves into a share for first with 2½/3.

Wesley So was no doubt seeking a way to continue his romp with 3/3, but possibly underestimating his 15-year-old opponent GM Awonder Liang found himself trying to wiggle his way out of a loss. It was a close call, but survive he did and he too remains at the top with 2½/3.

Smiling and at ease, Awonder Liang seemed unfazed by his opponent Wesley So | Photo: Lennart Ootes

He was not the only top player to narrowly avert disaster, as Hikaru Nakamura also faced a certain loss. Well, certain had Onischuk been able to deliver the coup de grâce, but as he readily admitted in the post-mortem, beating Nakamura is anything but easy, even when you are winning. You will be hard-pressed to find a player as resourceful or stubborn as Nakamura, and in the end, Hikaru’s resolute refusal to go down won out and they drew.

Varuzhan Akobian also shares the lead with 2½/3 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Yaroslav Zerebukh had been one of the surprises of the tournament last year, showing that he was more than a newcomer just enjoying the participation, as he scored one victory after another. In round three, he revived that spirit as he took down Ray Robson in a quiet-seeming queenless middlegame that he exploited with superb technique.

Sam Shankland was the other winner of the day, defeating US Championship debutant Zviad Izoria with little to be said.

Standings after three rounds


Games of round three


Women’s Championship

The Women’s US Championship has seen the rise of two names, one well-known, and the other soon to be well-known. While Sabina Foisor has so far been unable to reproduce the form that yielded a Cinderella win the previous year ahead of the more obvious favourites, the vicious nature of the female competition is unstinted as five out of six games ended in decisive results.

As one can expect, this was not simply the result of a logically conducted game in which Player A built an advantage over Player B and brought it to a happy conclusion. Ask Tatev Abrahamyan, who played with verve as she went all out against Maggie Feng, but as is so often the case when playing in such a do-or-die approach, when she failed to keep her attack going, her material deficit became fatal.

The many-times champion Irina Krush (right) has also come a bit out of sorts and poor opening play was all it took to cost her the point | Photo: Lennart Ootes


You can move the pieces on the diagram

White wrapped up the game with the classy 38.Re5!! and after Qc6 (if 38...fxe5 then 39. Rf1+ Nf5 40. Ng6 mate!) 39.Rh5 was unable to evade the mate.

On the other hand, Nazi Paikidze has shown the best chess so far in the Women’s event and completely outplayed newcomer IM Dorsa Derakhshani to settle at the top with 2½/3.

Nazi Paikidze was the winner in 2016 and the runner-up in 2017. In the first three rounds she has shown great stuff, so will she cap it off with another win? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Joining her, though in a less straightforward manner is Annie Wang. The 15-year-old joined the field very much due to her outstanding victory at the 2017 World Youth Under-16, which she won with a staggering 10½/11.

Annie Wang, 15, has taken off so far | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Her game was anything but pleasant as she found herself in a serious bind that only promised hours of suffering ahead. However, her opponent Rasudan Goletiani was anxious to cash in her chips for a win and chose to press forward an attack somewhat precipitously, which backfired and with great maturity and determination, Wang rebuffed the attack and converted the winning position that resulted. Annie also shares first with 2½/3.

Standings after three rounds


Games of round three



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, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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