Women's Decisive Round and Naka's Escape

by GM Cristian Chirila

There are good days and very good days at the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. Today was a day from the latter category with plenty of decisive results, important theoretical battle, nail-biting turns of events, and overall a fun packed set of games. Caruana respected his elite status and demolished Onischuk after playing a perfect game. So and Nakamura had a tense game and a few key moments could have shifted the balance of power in So’s favor. In the end, it finished in a draw and Nakamura can count out one of his nine lives. In the Women’s Championship it was a decisive round with only the leader—Nazi Paikidze—allowing Carissa Yip to pull a miraculous escape after a very odd opening from the young participant.

Let’s start the recap!

2016 U.S Championship

So vs. Nakamura ½ - ½

Hikaru Nakamura

This was surely the most anticipated battle of the round. Wesley has showed that he, along with Caruana, is the top contender for the ultimate title. Nakamura was coming off a dominant performance against Shankland and surely was looking for a fight in order to regain some ground in the title fight. The game started off with a French and the players followed the game of Salem vs. Satyapragyan up until the 15th move when Nakamura made a strong novelty.

In a position with opposite side castles, it was White’s attack that seemed to have more steam and ultimately it was him who managed to open up the position. Let’s give this game a closer look and see if So could have pressured his opponent more.

Caruana vs. Onischuk 1-0

Fabiano Caruana

Saint Louis is clearly one of Fabiano’s favorite places to play chess. After his famous 7-0 run in the Sinquefield Cup, and it seems like another impressive performance is in the making. He knew that this is one of the most accessible rounds in terms of trying to become the sole leader, as his main rival was facing Nakamura. The rest day also played an important role and he came into the game extremely well prepared and ready to pulverize his opponent.

28 moves—that’s all he needed to outplay one of the strongest guy in the tournament, Alex Onischuk. Let’s try to understand how the world #2 prepares and executes an almost perfect game!

Kamsky vs. Robson ½ - ½

Despite the fact that so far in this event Kamsky did not shine, he is still one of the best players in the U.S. and a serious threat to anybody facing him. Robson, on the other hand, has had an amazing tournament, besides his game before the rest day against Lenderman. Both guys had something to prove and it was quite clear from the start on that they weren’t going to sign the result without a fight. The players entered a variation of the Semi-Slav, with Kamsky trying to prove that his bishop pair is better than his opponent’s queenside majority.

Gata KamskyWhite finished his development and launched an attack on the kingside. Unfortunately for him, he missed the killer blow 21.Nxf7! which would have given him a sizable advantage. Ray also had a big miss in time trouble, failing to spot the winning move 33…Re8!. Missed opportunities for both players and as it often happens the game soon petered into a draw.

Chandra vs. Xiong  ½- ½

The game between the Junior Champion and the runner-up was definitely a treat chess fans were eagerly expecting. White opened with 1.d4 and once again Xiong decided to change his opening approach and went for the Queen’s Indian instead of the Grunfeld—probably feeling that his rival might have prepared something serious during the rest day. Black did not have any serious problems equalizing and the game soon ended in an uneventful draw. A cautious game that did not spark any fire on the board.

Shankland vs. Shabalov 0-1

Sam Shankland

An entertaining battle between two motivated competitors. Shankland has recognized the fact that Shabalov is a very unpleasant opponent for him. Only recently did he manage to snap a series of losses by winning against him in the Millionaire Open.

Today it seemed like he is dwelling on that game and wanting to ride the victory wave. Unfortunately for him, Shabalov was not having any of that. White opened with 1.e4 and we were soon witnessing a Scheveningen, which seems to be the Sicilian of choice for this championship. Shankland seemed a bit impatient and erred early on with 11.Nce2. He himself pointed out in the press conference after the game, “he wanted to punish his opponent too much.” Shabalov quickly refuted White’s apparent attack and started his own initiative focused in the center. White was in deep trouble by move 20, and by move 40 he could have safely resigned. A clean game by Shabalov who gets back to 50% and will try to make a push for the primer spots in the rankings.

Akobian vs. Lenderman ½ - ½

Akobian once again tried a very rare continuation as early as move 5.b3 which caused Lenderman to make some early decisions in regard to his set-up. White got what he wanted out of the opening and could have claimed a serious advantage if he would have kept two pairs of rooks with 29.Rad1 instead of 28.Re5?! Lack of shape was once again a serious factor in Akobian’s play as he seemed to lack poise in the last stages of the middlegame. After the heavy pieces were exchanged, it was only a matter of time before the players would sign the scoresheets.

2016 U.S. Women’s Championship

Yip vs. Paikidze ½- ½

Carissa Yip, Ashritha Eswaran

This was a crucial game in regards to the standings in the Women’s Championship. Paikidze knew she had to win in order to maintain her lead, and she came into the game with that outcome well established in her mind. Yip seemed to be on the same page as she played a strategically dubious opening and got herself into deep trouble when her opponent’s pieces started corralling her king. Fortunately for her, Paikidze did not spot the powerful 29…Bb5! and instead went for the less precise 29…e4? which allowed her opponent back into the game. None of the players blundered in time trouble and the game ended in a draw soon after the time control. A disappointing draw for Nazi and a cheerful result for the resilient Yip.

Abrahamyan vs. Foisor 1-0

Sabina Foisor

In this game White got the better side of a Ruy Lopez, obtaining a very unpleasant initiative on the kingside. Foisor didn’t manage to create any counterplay and she soon found herself in a suffocating situation. Under the pressure, Foisor blundered with 28…Qc8? which allowed White to exchange the double pawn on the “g” file for the important Black “f” pawn.

White now had a clear advantage and Abrahamyan skillfully proved why she is one of the most ruthless players in the competition. Abrahamyan wins and catches the leader at 4.5/6p with five rounds to go.

Game annotation by GM Robert Hess. 

Eswaran vs. Melekhina 1-0

Alisa chose a different opening than her usual Sicilian, and her lack of experience backfired badly. White got a stable advantage out of the opening and Alisa could not keep her patience for long, as it is often required in Ruy Lopez type of positions. After Black opened with the dubious 14…f5?!, White had the initiative for the rest of the game. Ashrita did not allow Alisa back into the game as she easily converted her pawn up in a rook’s endgame.

Gorti vs. Krush 0-1

A Ragozin that offered White no advantage out of the opening turned into a complete nightmare after Black started pushing her central pawns and opening his pieces towards her opponent’s king. Gorti did not have a clear plan as she maneuvered her knight to the completely dominated square “g3”. The defending champion slowly built up her advantage, positioning her pieces to their idea squares. In the end, the pawns started collapsing and Black cruised to victory with ease. After this win, Krush joins the leading pack and is back as the main favorite to defend her title.

Bykovtsev vs. Zatonskih 0-1

Agata Bykotsev

A difficult game to judge. Agata once again played a very precise game up to a point and then completely lost control in the final moves before the time control. This is one of those games that will leave a deep scar in Agata’s mind. She could have finished her opponent with 30.Rgf2! winning a piece but failed to spot it, and ultimately her advantage dissipated and was transferred to her opponent. A heartbreaking loss for the young Californian girl, and a breath of fresh air for Zatonskih.

Yu vs. Nemcova 0-1

A beautiful miniature by Nemcova who surely started to realize that if she continues with her missteps the fight for the top laurels will be lost. She furiously started the game with a quick vicious attack with 7…h5. Her opponent, confused by her aggressiveness, erred immediately with 9.f4?! This is a very dubious move as it weakens the king without claiming anything in return. Nemcova correctly understood that she needs to act fast and did not castle, instead she finished her piece development and aimed her forces at the White king.  After only 28 moves the White king had to surrender under the painful attack lead by Nemcova.