Image by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Loui
They are a half point ahead of Ray Robson and a full point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Onischuk and the surprising 15-year-old, Jeffrey Xiong.
After five rounds, two of the three pre-tournament favorites, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, are dominating the field at the United States Championship, but there have been some unexpected turns in the last couple of rounds.
In Round 4, Caruana took a huge step towards the title by winning a smooth game against the other favorite, Hikaru Nakamura. But in Round 5, Caruana couldn’t make it past a surprisingly solid Alexander Shabalov, which let So catch up with another inspired tactical win against Varuzhan Akobian.
So’s crushing tactical knockout was probably extremely satisfying considering their history — in last year’s Championship, So had been forfeited against Akobian after six moves because So had scribbled words on his scoresheet. Meanwhile, Nakamura, the defending champion, showed that he has no intention of quietly giving up his title quietly by overpowering Samuel Shankland.
In the Women’s Championship, one co-leader after Round 4, Tatev Abrahamyan, played a relatively short draw in Round 5 against Katya Nemcova. That gave the other leader, Nazi Paikidze a chance to grab the sole lead with a tough win against teenager Jennifer Yu. Meanwhile, the rating favorites, Irina Krush, the defending champion, and Anna Zantonskih, had a long game that ended in a draw. Krush is tied with Abrahamyan, a half point begind Paikidze, while Zatonskih is another half point back.
Before the tournament, I had wondered if the games between the three favorites might be somewhat anticlimactic as it appeared to me that their best strategy would be to play solidly against each other, and aggressively against the rest. But Nakamura had other plans in Round 4.
He went for a very provocative Najdorf Sicilian against Caruana’s 1.e4. In the past, Caruana has had losses in the Najdorf English Attack, which might have inspired Nakamura. But Nakamura’s interpretation of the line was unusual at best:
Caruana, Fabiano vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 4.1 |17 Apr 2016 |*
e6e5 is much more popular these days at the highest levels, but this is
perhaps an even more theoretically intense line. 7. Be3h5!?The idea of
preventing g4 is common enough, but it is very unusual in this situation. It
is much more common in the lines with 6...e5 for instance. What
is the big difference? One important problem was shown by Caruana in this game: 8. a4A switch of strategy! Now White does not want to castle queenside anymore. It might seem that f3 was pointless, but it did force black's weakness on h5. And castling kingside for Black looks extremely iffy. 8... Nc69. Bc4drastically altering White's
usual plans. The bishop might seem useless staring at e6, but it is better placed on c4 than on most other squares available to it. And in some variations, it is possible to
sacrifice material on e6! 9... Qc710. Qe2Be711. O-ONe512. Bb3Bd713. f4Neg414. Kh1Nxe315. Qxe3At first glance, Black seems to be doing ok, and maybe
he is. But practically, White's position seems slightly easier to play
because Blacks king will definitely be uncomfortable wherever it goes. While
the computer might not care too much about this, for human players this feels
like an annoying thing to deal with. 15... Qc516. Rad1g6
Caruana’s plan of simply switching to kingside castling was really smart and unexpected. Nakamura could also have castled kingside, but then the pawn on h5 is a severe weakness. However, castling queenside was extremely risky as well, as Caruana demonstrated very smoothly:
O-O-O?!I do not like castling kingside, but the king looks even more vulnerable
on the queenside. 18. f5
( 18. e5/\ Ne4 and Rf3 might have been even
stronger but Caruana had an interesting pawn sacrifice planned: )
18... e519. Nf3gxf520. Ng5!the Nxf7 threats are too hard to deal with. 20... f4fxe4
does not look appealing because after Nxe4 White has all sorts of rook lifts on the third rank to the queenside. 21. Rd3!Avoids the skewer by Bg4 and threatens Nxf7. White is also ready to lift his rook to the queenside after Nd5 which makes life very scary for Black. He should have
perhaps tried to save the exchange, as after 21... Kb822. Nxf7White has a material advantage and the initiative: 22... h423. Nxh8Rxh824. Qf2!Exchanging queens would be very nice, so Black continued: 24... Qb425. Nd5Nxd526. Bxd5Black's queen is now misplaced: 26... Bxa427. Ra3h328. c3Qb529. b3Bh430. bxa4Qd331. g3
In Round 5, Caruana outrated his opponent by almost 300 points, but nobody would consider an experienced grandmaster like Shabalov to be a pushover. The game highlighted the hard choices the top three players have to make when playing Black against most other opponents: Go for something risky or just play solid chess? Not having the advantage of playing the first move is a huge factor in determining the way the game develops.
Shabalov has a reputation for playing extremely flashy, attacking chess. Understandably, Caruana chose to play something solid, perhaps hoping for a bit of unnecessary aggression from Shabalov. But Shabalov played an extremely solid game — opting for a symmetric Slav structure, and never giving Caruana enough room to create serious chances.
When playing White, the top three players are a level above the rest. So and Nakamura demonstrated that again in Round 5 by bulldozing their opponents, both of whom were rated higher than 2600.
In So vs. Akobian, the players quickly castled on opposite sides. Akobian’s decision to take the pawn on g2 seemed really brave, but the speed with which it was punished was phenomenal:
So, Wesley vs. Akobian, Varuzhan
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 5.2 |18 Apr 2016 |1-0
Bd5A strange move. After 17. c4Bxg2is more or less the only
justification, but why would you want to take such a pawn? 18. Bc3Qb619. Rg1Bc620. Nxf7!White probably had a great position even without this, but
this is nicer: 20... Kxf721. Rxg7+!Kxg722. Qxe6Qxf2
( 22... Re823. Qf5!creates beautiful mating threats. 23... Kf824. Bd2!and the king has no escape. 24... Red825. Qg6!Rxd326. Bxh6# )
Nakamura went for a slightly rare continuation against the Caro-Kann Defense though he ended up in a fairly typical middlegame position. Shankland seemed to be doing fine, but Nakamura’s blunt attack on the kingside was both surprising and incredibly powerful:
Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Shankland, Samuel L
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 5.4 |18 Apr 2016 |1-0
Bf8?!The start of a slightly dubious plan. The computer actually
thinks it is a good plan, but I think that moving the bishop away from
g7 is inviting trouble. Black had a super solid kingside, and suddenly
he has real weaknesses. Nakamura was quick to pounce on it: 20. g4!Bc5This makes matters worse, but I guess Shankland wanted to justify the
Bf8 choice. 21. Nd4f5 doesn't look scary immediately because e5 is
hanging but it can be easily prepared. 21... Qb622. Bg1Preparing f5. 22... b423. f5!and some nice tactical calculation. 23... bxc324. bxc3Ncxe525. fxe6fxe626. Nxe6!Bxg127. Rxg1Kh828. Qxd5all Black's pawns are gone. 28... Rab829. Rge1Qb230. c4Rb631. c5Rbc632. Rcd1h633. Nf4Rf634. Nd3Nxd335. Qxd7Nf2+36. Kg1Rcf837. Qd2
Jeffrey Xiong, who is only 15 years old, also won, beating Gata Kamsky in a tense game. The more experienced Kamsky played really enterprising chess throughout the game, starting with an exciting piece sacrifice:
Xiong, Jeffery vs. Kamsky, Gata
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 5.5 |18 Apr 2016 |1-0
d5!A very interesting piece sacrifice: 13. c5Nc6!fast
development. 14. Nd4
( 14. cxb6d4lets Black win it back. )
14... Bxd415. Bxd4Re8An overly romantic move. It is hard to resist such a beautiful
looking piece sacrifice, and Black has great compensation, but there was no
need for it.
( 15... Qh4!would not have required a piece sacrifice
and the position would have still been great for Black. )
16. cxb6Qh417. Ne2axb618. Qd2Bf5Black has great compensation and it looked like
Kamsky would have a clear upper hand, but White played very stubbornly: 19. Kd1Rxe220. Bxe2Nxd421. f3Qf222. Re1Be623. Rc3Nc624. Bf1Qh425. Bb5Nd426. Bf1Nf527. Rd3d428. g3Qf629. Ke2!Bd730. a4b531. a5Bc632. Kf2Ne333. Be2Rd834. Kg1Great defensive technique! 34... Kg735. Bd1
A couple of decades ago, Kamsky’s play might have been enough to overpower a strong grandmaster. But Xiong’s stubborn defense shows how good the new generation of (computer-inspired) players are in defending such positions. Xiong held on, bringing the king back to safety and probably equalizing, when Kamsky made a huge blunder:
Alexander Onischuk balanced it out for the old guys by winning a smooth game against the other teenager in the event, Akshat Chandra.
The last game of Round 5 to finish was between Ray Robson and Aleksandr Lenderman. Lenderman was in deep trouble but he created an incredible fortress. The position probably deserves Dvoretsky-level analysis [Editor’s note — as in Mark Dvoretsky], but my first impression is that it is very hard to improve White’s play because an extra knight can be a really awful piece in the endgame. It can jump around a lot, but it is really inflexible.
Robson, Ray vs. Lenderman, Aleksandr
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 5.3 |18 Apr 2016 |1/2-1/2
38. f5It seemed like White will win this endgame. But things become
interesting as Lenderman puts up a stubborn defense: 38... Kc739. fxg6hxg640. Kf2Kb641. Ke3Kxb542. Kd4a543. Ne3a444. g5Kb445. Nc4The White
knight is awkwardly placed. It can't capture the a pawn, while it
can't go to the kingside either because then it will be impossible to block
the a-pawn. 45... f546. Kd3Kb347. e3
( 47. Nd2+!should be winning, but it was far from easy to calculate: 47... Kb4Kb2 is too slow because a3 isn't a threat as Nc4+ would win. 48. Kc2Kc549. Nf3!Kd550. Nh4!Ke451. Nxg6and Black has captured the g6 pawn just in time. Now h4...h5, etc., should win. )
47... Kb448. Kd4Kb349. Kd3Kb450. Ne5?I don't know if White was still winning, but now it is too late. It would be interesting to analyze options other than Ne5. 50... Kb351. Kd2a352. Nf3a253. Nd4+Kb254. Nc2Kb3The White knight can definitely no longer leave. 55. Kd3Kb256. Kd2Kb357. h4Kb2
Kg7?This move looks perfectly harmless but now Black is completely
( 32... Rd8!33. Rxd8+Qxd8and ideas like Qd1+ insure that Black has
a perpetual. )
33. Rd6!!The amazing thing is that this is like a zugzwang position!! For example, Rd8 is no longer possible because of Qd4+ while Kg8 loses to Rd7 because of Qxc6 and then Rd8+. It's hard to imagine, but Black runs out of moves soon! 33... c3
In Round 6, Nakamura faces a huge test when he plays Black against So. It is unfortunate for Nakamura that he has had Black against both the other top players, but if he plays aggressively once again, things could be very interesting. Meanwhile, Caruana will get White against Onischuk, so he should be raring to go.
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