Image by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis
There were four more decisive results in Round 7 with Wesley So pulling into a tie for the lead with Fabiano Caruana
After seven rounds, the fight for the title United States Championship remains very tight. Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana, two of the pre-tournament favorites, are tied for the lead, each with 5.5 points. Sitting a half point behind is Ray Robson and a further half point back is the defending champion, Hikaru Nakamura.
Caruana and So have been neck and neck throughout the tournament. Caruana had temporarily taken the sole lead after Round 6, when he had White, and efficiently dispatched Alexander Onischuk, while So made a fighting draw against Nakamura.
But in Round 7, Caruana, who is ranked No. 3 in the world, failed to win with Black against 15-year-old Jeffery Xiong. Xiong, who is still unbeaten and is having the tournament of his life, put up a stubborn defense that Caruana could not crack. This allowed So to once again catch Caruana with the quickest game of the day. His opponent, Alexander Shabalov, played an extremely complicated Slav-Moscow variation, but blundered right after the opening. Nakamura continued to try and climb back up the standings by winning a nice game against Varuzhan Akobian.
The Women’s section continues to be very unpredictable. Nazi Paikidze, the sole leader after Round 5, made a solid draw in Round 6, but that allowed Tatev Abrahamyan and Irina Krush, the defending champion, to catch up to her with inspired wins.
In Round 7, luck was on Paikidze’s side, as her opponnent, Agata Bykovtsev, failed to find the best defensive option. Meanwhile, Krush, who has played inconsistently, posed few problems for her teenage opponent, Ashritha Eswaran, and was held to a draw. Abrahamyan kept pace with a very hard fought win against Alisa Melekhina.
Caruana was surely cheering on Shabolov in his game against So, but he couldn’t have been happy with Shabalov’s opening choice. In Round 5, Shabalov had played a really dry Reti opening against Caruana and given him absolutely no chances to create interesting play. That game ended in a draw. Then, in Round 6, Shabalov won a smooth game against Sam Shankland. It seemed to boost his confidence, as in Round 7 he decided to play one of the most complicated openings imaginable. But So was well prepared and Shabalov blundered right after the opening and lost quickly:
Shabalov, Alexander vs. So, Wesley
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 7.2 |21 Apr 2016 |0-1
19. Qe5+?!I remember analyzing this line ages ago, so this was clearly not
a big surprise to So. But Shabalov appears to have been improvising over
the board and chooses a tempting looking variation that leads to a lost position: 19... Kf820. Rd6?Qc721. Nf5Ne8!It was easy to miss
this move! 22. Nxg7Qxd623. Ne6+Kg8!The other move which Shabalov probably
The concentration of Jeffrey Xiong during his game with Fabiano Caruana in Round 7. The game ended in a draw.
As I have mentioned in earlier articles on this Championship, it is a tough decision for the top three players (Caruana, So, Nakamura) how to play as Black against their lower-ranked opponents. In Round 7, against Xiong, Caruana tried out a different strategy than playing his usual solid lines, as he had in Round 5 game against Shabalov. The sideline that Caruana chose to play against Xiong’s Spanish proved to be a good decision as Xiong soon found himself in an unusual and slow endgame:
Xiong, Jeffery vs. Caruana, Fabiano
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 7.1 |21 Apr 2016 |*
1. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. Bb5a64. Ba4g6!?It is interesting to see Caruana choose rarer variations in order to fight for more with Black. Black has a lot of
different side variations against the Spanish, so, as a White player, it is
almost impossible to remember exactly what to do against all of them. That makes it understandable that Caruana caught the 15-year-old Xiong by surprise: 5. d4
( 5. c3or Nc3, is the usual approach. )
5... exd46. Bg5This doesn't appear
to be very challenging as it lets Black complete his development quickly.
Also the further simplifications don't really cause any problems. But, as I said, it is impossible to prepare against all these lines as White, and, over
the board, it is of course much harder to find the best plan. 6... Be77. Bxe7Ngxe78. Bxc6Nxc69. Nxd4Qf610. c3O-O11. O-Ob612. Qf3A reasonable decision to
go for the endgame, but only Black has any chances to be better. 12... Qxf313. Nxf3Re814. Nbd2d6Caruana was definitely quite happy at this point. He got Xiong
out of his comfort zone and into a slow endgame, something a 2800 grandmaster is
definitely better at than a 15-year-old. Also, objectively, this is a
great achievement for Black as he has a more pleasant endgame following the
opening. Caruana plays the next part of the game quite nicely to increase
the pressure: 15. Rfe1Bb716. Re3Re717. Rae1Rae818. Nf1It is very hard for White
to find any useful plans, so Xiong continues to shuffle pieces around. 18... a519. h3a4I'm not convinced this was required as it turned out to be a weakness
later on. But Caruana was probably right not to worry about moves like Ra3 and Ra4 as that would misplace the rook. 20. N3d2Ne521. c4Kf822. f3h523. Ra3f5!24. Rxa4Nd325. Re3Bc626. Ra7
35. Nxf4!White was
really struggling, so this is like a breath of fresh air! 35... Rxf436. Rxc7Be8?Trying to keep the b6 pawn alive. Instead, Black had to go after the
Knight on f1, and keep his last rank safe as well:
( 36... Bd7!37. Rxd6Rfxc438. Rxb6There are other better defensive moves, but Black is still
clearly better. 38... Rd1!and Rcc1 next would win the game. )
37. Rxd6Nxa438. Rd8!Rcxc439. Rh7!The White rooks are too strong! While the
Black rooks are awkwardly placed. They can't even go to the e-file easily: 39... Rh440. Rb7Rh641. Ne3!The key difference compared to lines with36...Bd7 - the White
Knight quickly becomes active. 41... Rc1+42. Kh2Nc543. Rbb8Re644. Nf5Rce1
Once again, as in his previous games with white, Nakamura created an initiative out of nowhere against his opponent’s king, even though Akobian played one of the most solid lines in chess — the Petroff Defense. In a relatively normal looking position, Nakamura suddenly launched his kingside offensive. Akobian could have certainly defended better, but in the end he was overwhelmed:
Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Akobian, Varuzhan
U.S. Championship 2016 |chess24.com |Round 7.4 |21 Apr 2016 |1-0
21. Be4Rad822. Qb1!g623. f4!c5
( 23... f5was
perhaps required but after 24. Bc2the White knight on e5 looks very
dangerous. Maybe next White can even play g4! 24... b525. g4!fxg4?26. Bxg6 )
( 24... Bb3was the best defensive move, but it does look really
awkward to put your bishop on b3. And White has plenty of interesting options - from grabbing a pawn on b7, to more nuanced options like: 25. Bd3!cxd426. Nc4!Bxc427. Rxe8+ )
The crucial position which helped Paikidze keep a share of the lead was after she played the tempting Ne6. It appeared that White would force the trade of the dark-squared bishop — a dire sitation for Black. But Bykovtsev missed a nice resource to turn things around:
So everything remains up for grabs in the Women’s Championship. Interestingly, the ratings of the players have not proven to not be a great predictor of results — a lot seems to come down to the psychology and nerves of the individuals. Krush may still win, but she has not been her usual dominating self. And Anna Zantonskih, a former champion, has edged her way back into contention and is now tied with Krush.
In the open section, Caruana, So and Nakamura have all played against each other, so the champion will be determined by who can squeeze out the maximum number of points against the lower-rated players. Since no one in the field is a pushover, the final rounds should have a lot of fighting chess. Nakamura has the most experience — he has won five United States Championships — but his one point deficit will be very hard to overcome.
The player who might make a huge impact on who wins is Robson. He has yet to face the Big 3. How he does against them, and how they do against him, might very well determine who becomes champion.
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