Image by Austin Fuller, Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis
Round 1 of the United States Championship was full of fireworks as five of the six games in the open section were decisive.
The 2016 United States Championships got off to a fast, if predictable start on Thursday. In the Open section, the difference in class of the players in the top part of the field over everyone else was obvious and led to a high number of decisive results as the higher ranked players notched up instructive wins.
Most people expect one of the three players in the tournament who are ranked in the top 10 in the world — Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So — to win the event. Round 1 did nothing to dispel that idea as the three showed no rust or inhibitions, and all posted comfortable wins.
At the same time, the young top-100 players, Samuel Shankland and Ray Robson, are no doubt very motivated to challenge them, and they started off with very controlled, but admittedly harder, wins as well.
In the women’s section, the players appear to be much more evenly matched. Irina Krush, the defending champion, is clearly still a favorite, but she has a much tougher challenge this year. The Round 1 games were quite even with only Tatev Abrahamyan, a women’s grandmaster, and Carissa Yip, the youngest female master in United States history, able to post wins.
Among the star players, So had the toughest pairing. His opponent was Gata Kamsky, the former challenger for the World Championship and a five-time United States Champion. Kamsky played a classical and solid Breyer System in the Ruy Lopez. He had an apparently normal position when So created an incredible attack out of nowhere:
So, Wesley vs. Kamsky, Gata
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 1.3 |14 Apr 2016 |*
20. Nh4!An amazing move because Nf5 is obviously impossible, right? 20... Qd8
( 20... Nf821. Nhf5 )
( 20... d521. exd5cxd522. Nxg6! )
( 21... h5Nf5 is still possible, but I expect White can
just prepare it for a more favorable moment with 22. Bh6or Bg5 )
22. Nhf5!!Even though the knight seemed headed for f5 after Nh4, this move must have come
as a huge shock for Kamsky. It still doesn't look entirely clear how strong
White's attack is, but practically, Black just has nothing to do: 22... gxf523. Nxf5Re624. Bxh6Ne825. Bg5Bf6
( 25... Qc7is a better defensive move, but
White is in no hurry. He has an overwhelming
initiative and can continue with a move like: 26. f4or other moves )
26. Bxf6Qxf627. d5Re7If White takes Nxe7, as Kamsky expected, the position would still be
salvageable for Black.
Nakamura, who had White against Aleksandr Lenderman, played a conceptually interesting new idea in a very well studied Catalan-like Slav Defense. His innovation was to go after the Black king in a position where it is more common to focus on trying to get an edge on the queenside:
Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Lenderman, Aleksandr
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 1.2 |14 Apr 2016 |*
8. b3!?This has been played many times, but it is still not the most common
way to continue. White accepts the fact that he will remain a pawn down,
but opens up the queenside, which can possibly create development problems for Black's queenside. 8... cxb39. Qxb3Be710. Ne5a611. Rd1O-O12. Ne4Technically, the next move is a novelty, but this is already a fairly new position. 12... Qc713. Ng5!An unexpected idea! The f7-e6 pawns are very weak,
and this clearly highlights Black's lack of development. 13... a514. Bh3Nxf7 was
already possible, but Nakamura correctly decides that there is no hurry to
break through. And avoiding moves that force Black to react keeps the tension and makes Black's life harder: 14... a415. Qc2Bc816. Bf4Qd817. Ng4g618. Nxf6+Bxf619. Ne4Bg720. Bg2Qb621. Bd6Re822. Rac1White is already dominating, and, over the next dozen moves or so, Black did not manage to improve his development.
Lenderman’s moves did not seem to serve much purpose, and he remained underdeveloped until the very end. In his defense, the queenside pieces were really awkward, and there was no obvious better setup for his pieces.
In comparison, Alexander Shabalov, facing Robson, played a more usual and old setup for White in the same variation:
Shabalov, Alexander vs. Robson, Ray
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 1.6 |14 Apr 2016 |0-1
8. e4A common path. These lines have been known to give Black few
problems: 8... Be79. e5Nd510. Ne4The Bg5 and Nd6 idea looks scary for Black,
but Robson was well aware that it doesn't cause him many problems: 10... Nd711. Bg5O-O12. Nd6Bxg513. Nxb7Qe714. a4Bh6Black is very comfortable.
Caruana had a slightly tougher time against Varuzhan Akobian, who employed a bizarre variation in the Scandinavian. The line, popularized recently by David Smerdon, an Australian grandmaster, is certainly far from easy. Even though Caruana went for the most principled approach, it could be argued that he did not too well out of the opening:
Caruana, Fabiano vs. Akobian, Varuzhan
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 1.1 |14 Apr 2016 |1-0
1. e4d52. exd5Nf6!?A rare move, but definitely not a pushover. Recently,David Smerdon, an Australian grandmaster, wrote a book, Smerdon's Scandinavian, about these
adventurous Scandinavian lines that may be well worth checking out. 3. Bb5+The critical continuation. White wants to hold on to the d5 pawn. I am
actually surprised Caruana went for this, because going for a simple line,
like d4, Nf3, etc., probably gives White a typical position where he could hope
to outplay the lower-ranked Akobian. Now the game enters murkier waters: 3... Bd74. Bc4Bg4!?Black's main idea in the Nf6 Scandinavian. This annoying
Bishop move forced White to make less than ideal choices: 5. f3Bf56. Nc3Nbd77. g4Nb6!This seems to have definitely been prepared by Akobian but
he was probably surprised by the unsual: 8. b3!?An interesting over-the-board idea. Black's big hope is that White struggles to finish development,
and that his king might be caught in the center. But with this move, Caruana
plans to quickly finish development with Bb2, and also opens the path to queenside castling. 8... Bc89. Bb2Nfxd5?!This plays right into White's plans. Particularly as Black fails to target the bishop on c4, which gives White just what he needs.
( 9... h5!would have been much more challenging. 10. Qe2hxg411. O-O-Oshould lead to
messy complications. )
10. Nxd5Nxd511. Qe2e6Again, Black just tries to
play solidly, but this is not quite in the spirit of the rare line Akobian
chose. Now White just gets an edge and faces little troubles in
Perhaps Akobian’s strategy of going for completely off-beat variations might deserve closer attention from other participants. The idea is that a top player like Caruana would have no reason to study a variation like this, and it can be tough to create something over the board. But, as the game showed, Akobian’s approach is no guarantee of success.
Shankland, who had White against Akshat Chandra, the lowest-rated player in the Championship, started with some explosive preparation, but the young Chandra (born 1999) was up to the task:
Shankland, Samuel L vs. Chandra, Akshat
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 1.4 |14 Apr 2016 |1-0
13. Nf5This line is common with Bb3 on the previous move, but there hasn't
been many games with Bf1. Still, both the players seem to have been well prepared: 13... Bxh2+14. Kh1Kf815. Qd4An entertaining, but known, idea: 15... exf516. Qxf6h6!The idea is of course
( 16... gxf617. Bh6+Kg818. Re8# )
17. Qd4Bd618. Bc4Bd7!?possibly an improvement over previous games. 19. b3Qc520. Qh4b521. Be3Qc722. Bd5Bc6and Black was doing almost ok but not quite.
White always has a nagging edge, and Shankland correctly realized in his
preparation that the position with the King on f8 is just much harder to play
as Black. 23. Rad1
Chandra was close to equality, but Shankland continued to create nagging problems for Black throughout the game. There were some easier ways to simplify things for Chandra, but one pretty way to force a draw would have been:
36. Re1Qc7was played
in the game. Now after 37. Qxc7Rxc738. Re8Rf739. Ra8Kg740. Bxf8+Rxf841. Rxa6Shankland showed exemplary technique to win. The computer thinks
Black is almost fine, which feels like the wrong assessment. At the same
time, the engines are getting better and better at endgames, so perhaps Black has potential to save the game if he keeps a passive setup.
Chandra tried to defend in a more counter-attacking, human, style but he did
not have the machine's accuracy and Shankland converted nicely: 41... g542. b4Rd843. b5Rd244. b6Rb245. g3Kg646. Kg2h547. a4f448. gxf4g449. a5h450. Ra8Kf551. Rh8h3+52. Kg3Rb3+53. Kh2Rb254. a6Rxf2+55. Kg1g356. Rxh3Kg457. Rh8Rb258. a7Rb1+59. Kg2Rb2+60. Kf1g2+61. Kg1Kg362. Rg8+Kh363. a8=Q
In the last game of the open section, Alexander Onischuk, the former Champion, tested newcomer Jeffrey Xiong, who is only 15 years old, for a long time, but Xiong held on with some commendable endgame skills.
There was also a very pretty finish in Yip’s game:
Things get tougher for the top players in Round 2 as they all have Black. Against other top-10 players, Nakamura, Caruana and So have little need to avoid playing drawish variations as Black. But in the United States Championship, they may feel some pressure to try to win and may have to adjust their strategies. The games that will be particularly interesting to watch and that should be tough tests are Shankland vs. Caruana and Kamsky vs. Nakamura.
Parimarjan Negi is an Indian grandmaster who is the second-youngest ever to earn the title (at 13 years 4 months and 22 days). Ranked No. 90 in the world, he is currently a sophomore at Stanford University.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
After 9 days of intense chess battles at the last leg of the World Chess Grand Prix series 2017 in Palma de Mallorca, the two winners of the series were finally determined: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan, overall 340 points in the series) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 336,4 points). They qualified for the Candidates Tournament – the next part of the World Chess Championship cycle, which leads up to the Championship match.
The sole leader of the Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix Levon Aronian made a quick draw with Evgeny Tomashevsky today, inviting the group of rivals to join him at the top. But same as in the previous rounds all games on the top boards finished peacefully and not a single player came close to catching up with him.
After seven rounds Aronian is in the lead with 4,5 points. A group of 8 players is half a point behind, including Vachier-Lagrave. In order to qualify for the Candidates, the Frenchman needs to win at least one more game. Boris Gelfand defeated Alexander Riazantsev, Pavel Eljanov won against Jon Ludvig Hammer, while Teimour Rajabov outplayed Li Chao. After the victory the Azerbaijani Grandmaster still hopes to qualify, but in that case has to win both games.
Javier Ochoa, Honorary FIDE Vice President and President of the Spanish Chess Federation, made the first symbolic move to start the fourth round, which turned out to be the most exciting round of the tournament so far, with six decisive games out of nine.
In the Third Round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma de Mallorca games between the four leaders, Vachier-Lagrave-Aronian and Rajabov-Giri, finished in a draw. Peter Svidler joined the group of leaders by beating Jon-Ludvig Hammer in the third round.
The world’s best chess players and chess establishment came together in Bellver Castle to celebrate the opening of the final leg of the FIDE 2017 World Chess Grand Prix Palma de Mallorca – a prestigious qualifier for the World Chess Candidates Tournament.
Katerina Lagno, one of the strongest Russian women-grandmasters won the historic Moscow Blitz Tournament, beating her fellow Russian Olympic team members Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Olga Girya.
After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players