2018 U.S. Championships - Round 1

The first day of the 2018 U.S. & U.S. Women’s Chess Championships kicked off with a plethora of exciting matchups that were surely going to bring the fire to the board, the commentary booth, and to all the fans across the world that chose to tune in. And it did not disappoint!

Liang vs Caruana

In the open section the big clash of the round was the battle between the young prodigy, Awonder Liang, and the man of the hour, Fabiano Caruana. The world championship challenger chose to surprise his opponent as early as move one, when he chose not to employ his pet line, the Petroff. Instead, we got an unbalanced Sicilian as an early treat; nevertheless, Awonder chose the tame 3.Bb5 and forcefully stirred the game into more calm waters.

His decision proved to be very practical, as he managed to neutralize Caruana’s attempts to destabilize the position. The game was drawn without many complications arising along the way.

Nakamura vs Robson

The always fierce Nakamura chose a wild line of the Scotch gambit to try and rattle the precise Robson. Unfortunately for him, it all backfired after Robson accurately neutralized his attempt and even obtained a better position out of the opening. Nakamura sensed the looming danger and decided to simplify the position as quickly as possible before things could have turned dark for him. The game ended in a draw soon after the 30th move without many fireworks exploding on the board.

Zherebukh vs So

Wesley simply just proved his overwhelming class in this one. Zherebukh got a normal position after the opening, but in the ensuing maneuvering middlegame, So outplayed his opponent with ease. With each move, So’s pieces were improving, while his opponents were losing their position and poise. Zherebukh’s 26th move, Kh1, was a complete blunder as he allowed the tactical blow 26…Nc2! Which secured a utterly winning endgame for black and Wesley had no problems converting. Strong start for the defending champion!

Onischuk vs Akobian

A completely wild game, let’s look into this one a bit closer!

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [PlyCount "50"] 1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 {Definitely an interesting approach by Akobian, who surely prepared this opening at home.} 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 {Delaying the development of the N on g1, potentially saving it for the h3 square.} d5 5. Bg2 c6 6. Nh3 { The N will support the exchange of the dark square bishop on f4, an exchange that usually helps White as it softens up the weakened dark squares in the center.} Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Qc2 dxc4 $5 {Now the character of the position changes drastically. The main alternative would have been} (8... Na6 9. Rd1 dxc4 10. e4 Nb4 11. Qe2 fxe4 12. Qxc4 Nbd5 13. Nxe4 Nxe4 14. Bxe4 Bd7 {Black has the weakness on e6, while white will have to deal with the weak pawn on d4. Given the dynamics, black should probably be fine in this instance.} 15. f4 Qb6 16. a4 a5 17. Bd2 Rad8 $13) 9. e4 {White sacrifices a pawn in exchange for development and central space advantage.} e5 10. exf5 exd4 11. Ne2 c5 12. Qxc4+ Kh8 13. Ng5 $5 (13. b4 $1 {This was the moment when the newly inducted Hall of Famer, Alex Onischuk, could have gotten the advantage} Nc6 14. bxc5 Be5 15. f4 d3 16. fxe5 Nxe5 17. Qb5 Bd7 18. c6 dxe2 19. Qxe2 Nxc6 $14 {White is clearly better due to the structural imbalance and his active bishop pair.}) 13... Nc6 14. Bf4 Bxf5 15. Nf7+ Rxf7 16. Qxf7 Rb8 {Now black has great compensation for the exchange, and Akobian handles the rest of the game with immaculate technique} 17. Bxc6 bxc6 18. Rfe1 d3 19. Bxd6 (19. Rad1 {would have maintained the balance in the position} Rxb2 20. Bxd6 Qxd6 21. Nc1 Rb8 22. Nxd3 Bxd3 23. Re7 Rg8 24. Re6 Qd4 25. Rxf6 gxf6 26. Rxd3 Qxd3 27. Qxf6+ Rg7 28. Qf8+ $11 { would have led to a perpetual check.}) 19... Qxd6 20. Nc3 d2 21. Re7 Rg8 22. Rxa7 Bg4 23. Qe7 (23. Re7 Qb8 24. Rb1 Qd8 25. Re3 d1=Q+ 26. Nxd1 Bxd1 $17) 23... Qxe7 (23... Qb8 $5 24. Rb7 Qc8 25. Qc7 Qe8 26. Qe7 Nd5 27. Qxe8 Rxe8 28. f3 Bxf3 $19) 24. Rxe7 Nd5 25. Re2 $4 {The final blunder in a difficult position, though the game could have still be prolonged if white would have found the saving 25.f3!} d1=Q+ *

Xiong vs Izoria

Jeffery has had a pretty difficult 2017, but his first tournament of the year was quite a successful affair (winning the GM Invitational in Saint Louis). Coming off with a great attitude, and facing the newcomer Izoria, he was surely the favorite going into today’s round. His offbeat approach allowed him to slowly outpace his opponent, and by the 30th move he was already a clean pawn up. Unfortunately for him, his technique failed him in the endgame and allowed the Californian to save half a point after a tenacious defensive effort. Izoria will surely be happy with his inaugural game in the U.S. Championship, Jeffery will surely look to bounce back from his disappointment and pick back the pace in the upcoming rounds.

Lenderman vs Shankland

This game was the typical round 1 encounter, where players generally try to limit their risk exposure in order not to start on a negative note. The game was the first one to finish in an uneventful draw.


US Women’s Championship

Goletiani vs Zatonskih

Quite an interesting game ensued between these two fighting ladies. Goletiani skillfully stirred the game into an unbalanced reversed color Benoni, and obtained a nice advantage early on. Zatonskih fought back and slowly but surely managed to outplay her lower rated opponent.

The 4 time U.S. Women’s Champion, Zatonskih, failed to find the killing blow (25…Bf6!!) which would have secured a decisive advantage after the ensuing complications. After that miss, Goletiani was able to get back into the game and successfully managed to save half a point.

Gorti vs Krush

A scintillating battle between the U.S. Girls' Junior champion, Akshita Gorti, and her much more experienced opponent, 7 time U.S. Women’s Champion Irina Krush. The young Gorti played a balanced game up until the 34th move when she blundered with Nd2, allowing for a beautiful tactic that should have ended the game for Krush. Fortunately for Gorti, Krush’s technique completely failed her as she allowed the young champion back into the game. In the end, it was Gorti’s tenacious defense that saved her from the claws of her experienced opponent. A great save for Gorti, and a disappointing miss for Krush.

Yu vs Paikidze

One of the best games of the round, as Paikidze simply obliterated he young opponent off the chess board with a merciless attack. 

[Event "US Womens Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2018.04.18"] [Round "1"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B08"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] [SourceDate "2018.04.19"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nc3 $5 {A surprise already on move 2! Jennifer Yu most likely prepared the ever-popular Jobava-Rapport variation, but after 6 minute thought Paikidze chose} d6 $1 {,which is a counter-suprise, now it's a Pirc!} (2... d5 3. Bf4 {would lead into the aforementioned Jobava-Rapport variation.}) 3. e4 g6 4. Be2 Bg7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. h3 {already a slight inaccuracy, and Paikidze immediately seizes the chance to take the initiative.} c5 $1 8. d5 b5 $1 {Going Benko-style. White is unable to keep her centre intact, and that means that white is already running into big trouble.} 9. Nxb5 (9. Bxb5 $6 { would run into the powerful tactical idea of} Nxe4 $1 {as} 10. Nxe4 Qa5+ 11. Nc3 Bxc3+ 12. bxc3 Qxb5 {is better for black.}) 9... Nxe4 10. c3 Nb6 {Precise play by Paikidze, the Larsenian knights are encircling the lone d5 pawn.} 11. Qc2 Bf5 $1 {Black goes for direct threats just a move before white could castle.} 12. g4 Nxf2 $1 13. gxf5 Nxh1 14. c4 a6 15. Nc3 e6 $1 {Black plays this part of the game very much in the spirit of Bobby Fischer; active piece play at all cost!} 16. dxe6 fxe6 17. Ne4 exf5 18. Nxd6 Qe7 19. Kf1 {It would seem that Yu survived, but here black spots a nifty tactical idea,} g5 $1 20. Nxg5 Ng3+ $1 {the point. The knight escapes just in time, and with that white's position collapses.} 21. Bxg3 Qxg5 22. Bh2 Rad8 23. Bf3 f4 24. Ne4 Qg6 25. h4 Qf5 26. Kg2 Nd7 27. Rg1 Ne5 28. Qf2 Rd3 29. Nd2 Rxf3 30. Nxf3 Qg4+ {and white resigned. A nice first round performance by Nazi Paikidze.} 0-1
Abrahamyan vs Foisor

This was a wild affair between two of the favorites of the event. The reigning champion surprised Abrahamyan early on by choosing the Caro-Kann, an opening that has not been part of her usual repertoire in recent years. Abrahamyan chose an aggressive line, and Foisor’s inexperience showed early on, as she allowed white to get a powerful center coupled with a menacing space advantage.

Foisor cleverly offered her opponent a poisoned pawn, which when accepted, opened a new wave of opportunities due to her active placed pieces and the control over the light squares. Despite her extra material, Abrahamyan did not manage to find a way to neutralize her opponent’s compensation, and in the end she had to allow Foisor’s perpetual check. A complex draw that allows both contenders to remain fairly satisfied after the first-round melee.

Wang vs Feng

Quite an interesting battle between the two young contenders. Wang sacrificed a pawn for compensation early on, and slowly managed to construct a powerful initiative around her superior piece play. Feng was doing fine all the way until the endgame, but unfortunately for her, the rook endgame was simply too complex for her, as she allowed her opponents rooks to penetrate the 7th rank and create menacing threats against her king. The difference in piece activity proved to be decisive, as Wang scored an important win which propulses her to the top of the crosstable.

Derakhshani vs Sharevich

Derakhshani started her U.S. Championship quest with a powerfully prepared opening, allowing her to get an advantage as soon as move seven, after her opponent’s sacrificed surely backfired. Once again though, as it has happened in many games during this round, the player with extra material failed to prove their technique and allowed their opponents back into their game.

After Sharevich managed to get her pawn back, the draw was easy to achieve.


A combative way to start the US Championships for both sections, the upcoming rounds are going to be very interesting to watch!