The leaders maintain the pace

by GM Cristian Chirila

The U.S. Championships are quickly approaching their respective conclusions, and the battle for the title couldn’t get more exciting. The favorites are maintaining a blistering pace in both sections, and the final two days are simply going to be some of the most exciting ones in recent history. In the open section, all the 2700 club members won, and the situation at the top of the standings hasn’t changed.

In the women’s section, Jennifer Yu once again pulled a rabbit out of her hat and survived a very difficult position against Abrahamyan. This opened the door for Zatonskih to cut Yu’s lead by half a point, and she delivered with precision in her game against Wang.

Let’s take a closer look at all the exciting games in this round!

U.S. Chess Championship

Robson vs Nakamura

Nakamura has simply been on a roll this tournament. His decision-making process has been at its best, and in this game, it was no different. From the pre-game strategy to the execution, everything worked perfectly for the 4-time champion. Playing the Dragon against a fighter such as Robson is never an easy decision, the outcome can be very somber if you make one mistake.

Nakamura chose to employ this aggressive opening due to Leinier’s “easier” pairing schedule, a decision that proved to be very precise. Let’s see what happened!


[Event "US Chess Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.03.29"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Robson, Ray"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2686"]
[BlackElo "2740"]
[Annotator "Cristian Chirila"]
[PlyCount "109"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 {The Dragon! Nakamura
understands the emergency and immediately goes for the sharpest Sicilian.} 6.
Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. O-O-O Rb8 11. Bb3 Na5 12. Bh6 Bxh6
13. Qxh6 b5 14. Nd5 Nxb3+ 15. Nxb3 e5 {This has all been played in a game of...
Robson! In 2009, a young up and coming Robson played and won against GM Papp.}
16. Nxf6+ (16. h4 Nxd5 17. Rxd5 Rb6 18. f4 Be6 19. h5 Qe7 20. Rd3 exf4 21. Qxf4
$14 {1-0 (35) Robson,R (2491)-Papp,G (2558) Lubbock 2009}) 16... Qxf6 17. h4
Rb6 18. h5 Qe7 (18... Qg7 $6 {The queen trade is surely something that
Nakamura didn't look for, as only a win mattered for him in this encounter.}
19. Qe3 (19. hxg6 Qxh6+ 20. Rxh6 hxg6 21. Nc5 Bc8 22. Rdh1 Kg7 23. Nd3 $11 {
1/2-1/2 (37) Kovarik,M (1885)-Slovak,K (1727) Kouty nad Desnou 2015}) 19... Rc8
20. Kb1 Be6 21. Rd2 $14) 19. hxg6 {Too impatient, better was} (19. Qe3 Be6 20.
Kb1 Rc8 21. g3 {[%cal Rf3f4,Rf4f5]} Rbc6 22. Rh2 Qc7 23. c3 a5 24. hxg6 fxg6
25. Rdh1 $14) 19... fxg6 20. Qe3 Be6 21. Rhf1 (21. g3 {The difference is that
now Black can focus on the f3 weakness, with the f-file closed that would be
impossible.} Qf7 22. Rdf1 Rc6 $13) 21... Rc6 22. f4 $6 {This is too hasty} (22.
Kb1 Qc7 23. Qd2 Rc8 24. Rf2 Qb6 25. Rc1 $13 {[%cal Gf3f4]}) 22... Qc7 23. Rd2
a5 $1 {Now Black gets his queenside majority rolling, a bad sign for White's K}
24. Kb1 a4 25. Nc1 b4 26. Rdf2 (26. f5 gxf5 27. exf5 b3 $1 28. axb3 Bxf5 $40)
26... exf4 27. Rxf4 Rc8 28. Rf6 $6 {The final mistake, yet the position was
already very difficult.} (28. Qf3 Qe7 29. Rf2 a3 30. Nd3 axb2 31. Nxb4 Rc4 32.
e5 $1 $17 {White will have a good chance to stabilize the game with precise
play}) 28... Rxc2 $1 $19 29. Rxe6 Qc4 30. Ref6 a3 31. bxa3 (31. b3 $2 Rb2+ 32.
Ka1 Rb1+ 33. Kxb1 Qc2+ 34. Ka1 Qb2#) 31... bxa3 32. Qxa3 Rxc1+ 33. Rxc1 Qxe4+
34. Kb2 Qe5+ 35. Rc3 Rb8+ 36. Kc2 Qxf6 {The rest is just a matter of technique,
which Nakamura doesn't miss.} 37. Rf3 Qd4 38. Rb3 Qe4+ 39. Kc1 Qe1+ 40. Kc2
Qe2+ 41. Kb1 Qd1+ 42. Qc1 Rxb3+ 43. axb3 Qxb3+ 44. Ka1 Qa4+ 45. Kb2 Qb5+ 46.
Ka1 Qc5 47. Qd2 h5 48. Kb1 Kg7 49. Qb2+ Qe5 50. Qb7+ Kh6 51. Kc1 d5 52. Kd1 Qe4
53. Qb2 Kg5 54. Qd2+ Kg4 55. Qh6 0-1


Dominguez vs Liang

The co-leader, Dominguez, has been having a dream comeback tournament. You would never guess that he has been absent from classical chess for two years, the way he plays feels more like he is just now reaching his peak potential.

His opening knowledge is giving him the edge almost every single game and his middle game and endgame mastery helps him finish the job. This was the case in this important matchup, as he uncorked a strong novelty with 15.Nc6!? Liang’s response was more than optimal, and he managed to equalize with a sequence of precise moves. But just as it happened in previous games, Dominguez’s middle game pressure paid off when Liang played the impatient 24…Nc5?

Overlooking the natural 25.Be3! The ensuing endgame was much better for White and Dominguez never really allowed Liang to fully get back into the game. Another important victory, as Dominguez continues to maintain the pace and goes into the championship rounds as the favorite to win the event. Today’s clash with Nakamura will be weighing heavy!

Akobian vs Caruana

Caruana knew that out of his last 3 games, a score of 2.5p would be necessary to *likely* get into a tiebreak situation. His last round with the black pieces against Sam Shankland can’t be a must win situation, as that would be a tall order for any player in the world. He knew he must make the best out of his games against the off-form Akobian and Lenderman. His opening was a Dutch, an unexpected yet practical approach.

His decision paid off handsomely when Akobian was unable to maintain the grips on the position and started erring badly early in the middle game. By move 20, Akobian’s position was already in shambles. Despite some slight hiccups along the way, Caruana finished the job and forced resignation at move 49.

So vs Lenderman

So was in a similar position with Fabiano. He is trailing the leaders by half a point and needs to win at least 2 out of his last 3 games to even hope for the title. Lenderman has been struggling this tournament, as he has yet to win a single game. The opening couldn’t have gone any better for Wesley, who built a serious advantage on the kingside.

It looked as if he would get the job done quickly, but Lenderman’s resilience paid off when Wesley started doubting his attack and went for the slow 29.Rhg1-Qd2 maneuver. Instead, the more aggressive 29.Rxg5! would have ended the game with ease.

Despite his miss, Wesley was simply the better player and outplayed Lenderman once again in the ensuing complications. He continues to maintain the pace with the leaders and will now have to win at least one more in the last two games.

U.S. Women’s Championship

Yu vs Abrahamyan

This was surely the most critical game of the round, as a win by Abrahamyan would have relaunched the tournament for both herself and the winner of the other big match, Wang vs Zatonskih. Yu played a Nimzo that she used in the past but failed to come up with any new ideas and Abrahamyan swiftly took the initiative. Yu’s cynical 12.dxe5?! was clearly the objectively inferior move, nevertheless given the tournament situation, forcing the endgame seemed like a sensible, practical decision.

Abrahamyan must have had mixed feelings about the outcome of the opening, as she only got the better side of an equal endgame. Through grit and determination, Abrahamyan managed to outplay Yu and induce the mistake. Yu’s 27.Nb3? was a blunder; luckily for Yu, even the ensuing endgame was a very difficult conversion task. Abrahamyan returned the favor right before the time control with 40…Rac5?

This simply gave the pawn away as well as any hopes for a victory. The players agreed to a draw at move 49.

Wang vs Zatonskih

Trailing by one point, Zatonskih knew that she must take some risks in her matchup against the solid Wang. Let’s see what happened in the game, as GM Boros once again provides the full analysis!


[Event "U.S.Womens Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.03.30"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Wang, Annie"]
[Black "Zatonskih, Anna"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E36"]
[Annotator "Denes Boros"]
[PlyCount "114"]
[SourceDate "2019.03.30"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 O-O {The players
reached the critical tabiya of the Qc2 Nimzo-Indian.} 7. Bg5 $5 (7. Nf3 {is
the old main line.}) 7... h6 (7... c5 {Is an interesting alternative, which
leads to lively play for both sides.}) 8. Bxf6 Qxf6 9. Nf3 (9. cxd5 exd5 10. e3
{was played in the famous game between Seirawan-Tal, the text move gives more
freedom for the black pieces.}) 9... dxc4 $1 10. Qxc4 Nc6 11. e3 e5 $1 {Anna
Zatonskih immediately seizes her chance to take control of the centre!} 12. d5
Ne7 13. Be2 c6 14. dxc6 Nxc6 15. O-O Bf5 16. Rfd1 Rfd8 17. Qb5 e4 $1 {Seizing
even more space, black is already slightly for choice.} 18. Nd2 Ne5 19. Nb3 Bg4
20. Bxg4 Nxg4 21. Qe2 Ne5 22. Nd4 Rac8 23. Rac1 a6 {White faces some problems,
as the black knight is sooner or later going to land on "d3" square.} 24. Rc2
Nd3 $1 25. Rxc8 Rxc8 26. f3 $1 {A good defensive move by Annie Wang,
immediately undermining the intruding knight.} Re8 27. fxe4 Nc5 28. Rf1 Qg6 29.
Nf5 Nxe4 30. Qd3 Qe6 31. Qd4 $1 {with more good defensive moves, Annie Wang
nearly equalized, but the position is not entirely equal yet!} Qe5 32. Qd7 Nc5
33. Qd2 Ne4 34. Qe2 Re6 35. Qd3 Rf6 36. Rf4 Nd6 37. Nxd6 Rxd6 38. Rd4 {, but
this move is a mistake.} (38. Qb3 {should have been preferred with good
drawing chances.}) 38... Rxd4 39. Qxd4 Qxd4 40. exd4 Kf8 {and now white is in
big trouble.} 41. g4 (41. Kf2) 41... f5 $1 {and after this move the position
is collapsing suddenly!} 42. gxf5 Ke7 43. Kf2 Kf6 44. Ke3 Kxf5 45. Kf3 g6 46.
b4 b5 47. Ke3 g5 48. Kf3 h5 49. Ke3 g4 50. Kf2 h4 51. Ke3 g3 52. hxg3 hxg3 53.
Kf3 g2 54. Kxg2 Ke4 55. Kf2 Kxd4 56. Ke2 Kc3 57. Ke3 Kb3 {and White resigned.
Zatonskih played a really good game, and with Jennifer Yu only drawing Tatev
Abrahamyan, she is only a half point away before their matchup tomorrow.} 0-1