So survives scare, Zatonkih wins marathon game in the bloody day 3

by Cristian Chirila 

In the longest and bloodiest round so far at the U.S. Championships, the leaders in both section had a difficult time dealing with the pressure. In the open section, Wesley So fell behind early in the game and had to pull a Houdini escape in his game against Fabiano Caruana. In the Women's section, the reigning champion, Nazi Paikidze, lost a 7 hour game in what was arguably the most dramatic ending we have seen in the history of this championship. Let's get into the recap!

U.S. Championship 

So vs Caruana was clearly the game everybody had their eyes on, and after a few moves, it seemed like they wouldn’t be watching for long. The players repeated an equal variation of the Berlin endgame and it looked like everything was heading for a quick draw, but that's exactly when things started getting interesting. Fabiano was more confident and slowly outplayed the prudent Wesley.

With precise moves, Fabiano managed to press Wesley to the edge and obtain an almost winning position. That's when the time trouble came to Wesley's aide, as he managed to confuse his opponent and find a witty defensive pattern to save the game. Wesley continues his extraordinary unbeaten streak, while Fabiano continues to trail behind the leaders. With that said, Fabiano's schedule has been much tougher and he will look to cut the deficit in the upcoming rounds.


[Event "2017 U.S. Championship "]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.03.31"]
[Round "3"]
[White "So, Wesley"]
[Black "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteElo "2822"]
[BlackElo "2817"]
[PlyCount "98"]
[EventDate "2017.03.31"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5
8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 Ke8 10. Nc3 h5 11. Bg5 Be6 12. Rad1 Be7 13. b3 h4 14. Rfe1
a5 15. Rd3 Rd8 16. Rxd8+ Kxd8 17. Ne2 Bd5 18. Bxe7+ Kxe7 19. Ned4 Nxd4 20. Nxd4
Be6 21. c4 a4 22. c5 axb3 23. axb3 g6 24. Re4 Bd5 25. Rg4 Rh5 26. f4 Rh8 27. f5
gxf5 28. Rf4 Kd7 29. Rxf5 Rg8 30. Rf2 Rg5 31. Kh2 Rxe5 32. Rf4 Rg5 33. Rg4 Rxg4
34. hxg4 Ke7 35. g3 Kf6 36. gxh4 Ke5 37. Nf5 Bxb3 38. h5 Kf6 39. Kg3 Kg5 40. h6
Kg6 41. g5 Bc2 42. Nd4 Bb1 43. Kf4 f6 44. gxf6 Kxf6 45. Nb3 b6 46. Nd4 bxc5 47.
Nxc6 Kg6 48. Ke5 Kxh6 49. Kd5 c4 1/2-1/2

Nakamura vs Xiong was another very interesting game. Before this game, Hikaru seemed to have Jeffery's number, as he outplayed him quite convincingly in their encounter last year. But things changed since last year, and Jeffery is surely not the same player. He is more confident, has gained plenty of experience, and ultimately has extended his knowledge significantly. Hikaru chose to try a variation of the Giucco Pianno, an opening that has gained a great deal of popularity in the last couple of years. Jeffery was very well prepared though and annihilated white's opening advantage with ease. As soon as things seemed to go black's way, Hikaru pulled the breaks and initiated massive exchanges that quickly lead to a draw.


 This was an important psychological victory for the youngest participant, as he is obviously starting to fight tooth and nail against the best of the nation. This young man's dreams are shaping up beautifully. 

Akobian vs Naroditsky was an intense battle between the experienced veteran and another youngster with great potential. Akobian was surprised early on by Naroditsky's preparation, and black equalized quickly out of the opening. With confident play, black started to make the better moves, and soon found himself in a winning endgame.

The players fought a long battle but it was Naroditsky who kept his composure until the end and managed to terminate his opponent. A great moral booster for the Stanford student, who is now in shape and ready to make a statement in this year's championship. 


U.S. Women's Championship 

Abrahamyan vs Krush was one of the two big battles in the women's section. Tatev has been a constant force in the championship for the past years, and Irina is a player that needs no introduction. Despite last year's poor performance, the 8 time U.S. Women's Champion is still regarded as the main favorite for winning it all. Irina surprised Tatev early on when she decided to abstain from her usual Sicilian response and play an obscure variation of the Caro Kann.

 Her decision was clearly inspired, as Tatev started burning time and never really understood her plan entirely. Irina played sensible moves and her strategic advantage piled up quickly. The game transitioned into a Queen & Knight (Irina) vs Queen & Bishop (Tatev) endgame. The collaboration between the Queen and the Knight is well respected, and black soon started creating very unpleasant threats against her opponent’s king. The conversion was only a matter of technique and Irina never let go of her advantage. A great game by Irina, and a cold shower for Tatev, who now has to gather all her strength and bounce back quickly if she wants to stay within striking distance of the leaders. 

Paikidze vs Zatonskih was without a doubt the game of the round! The 7 hour thriller kept everybody on the edge of their seats until neither player, nor the commentators or the audience, had a single ounce of energy left. The start of the game saw an almost hypnotized Zatonskih falling behind an hour (1) on the clock in the first 10 moves, and it seemed like Nazi would extend her lead without much difficulty.

She had the better position, the clock advantage, and Zatonskih seemed like she did not have a good night's sleep. But, soon after things started to change. Anna started playing the best moves in order to equalize, and just when the game looked as if it would peter into a draw, Nazi made a huge blunder (27.Nxa7??) that threw her into a lost abyss. But time trouble was already there, and Irina didn't manage to find her way and finish the game before the time control. Instead, she allowed Nazi to survive the attack and transition into a losing endgame. With precise play Anna could have won the endgame easily, and it surely looked that way until a horrible blunder (78...Ke3??) allowed Nazi to sacrifice her knight for the two remaining pawns and enter a Rook + Bishop vs Rook endgame, which is a technical draw.

Nazi defended brilliantly all the way until the 120th move (10 moves before the 50 move rule would have ended the game in a draw) when she made a huge mistake with 122.Ra8??.

This opened the path for a forced win, and with Swiss precision and one last gram of energy, Anna forced Nazi to resign at move 129, one move before Nazi could claim the draw!

[Event "2017 U.S. Women's Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.03.31"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Paikidze, Nazi"]
[Black "Zatonskih, Anna"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2369"]
[BlackElo "2451"]
[PlyCount "258"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. d4 Nf6 5. O-O O-O 6. c4 c6 7. Nc3 e6 8. Qc2
Nbd7 9. e4 dxc4 10. a4 c5 11. Rd1 cxd4 12. Nxd4 Qe7 13. b3 e5 14. Ndb5 cxb3 15.
Qxb3 Nc5 16. Qa3 b6 17. Bg5 Bb7 18. Nd5 Bxd5 19. exd5 Qd7 20. Be3 Rac8 21. d6
Rfd8 22. Rac1 Ne8 23. Bxc5 bxc5 24. Rxc5 Bf8 25. Rxc8 Rxc8 26. Qe3 Nxd6 27.
Nxa7 Qxa4 28. Rxd6 Qa1+ 29. Bf1 Rc1 30. Rd8 Rxf1+ 31. Kg2 Rg1+ 32. Kh3 Kg7 33.
Re8 Re1 34. Qb6 Qd1 35. Qb7 Qh5+ 36. Kg2 Qe2 37. Qb5 Qe4+ 38. Kh3 Qe2 39. Qxe2
Rxe2 40. Nc6 Rc2 41. Nd8 Rxf2 42. Rxe5 h5 43. Rd5 Be7 44. Nc6 Bf6 45. Nd4 g5
46. g4 hxg4+ 47. Kg3 Ra2 48. Nf5+ Kg6 49. Kxg4 Rxh2 50. Rd6 Re2 51. Kf3 Re8 52.
Ne3 Re5 53. Nd5 Rf5+ 54. Kg4 Rf1 55. Ne7+ Kh7 56. Nd5 Be5 57. Rd7 Kh6 58. Re7
f6 59. Re6 Kg6 60. Ra6 Rg1+ 61. Kf3 Rf1+ 62. Kg4 Rg1+ 63. Kf3 g4+ 64. Ke4 Re1+
65. Ne3 Kg5 66. Kd3 Ra1 67. Rc6 Ra3+ 68. Ke4 Ra4+ 69. Nc4 Kh4 70. Rc8 Kg3 71.
Kf5 Kf3 72. Nd2+ Ke3 73. Nc4+ Kf3 74. Nd2+ Kg2 75. Ne4 g3 76. Rc2+ Kf3 77. Nd2+
Ke2 78. Ne4+ Ke3 79. Nxg3 Bxg3 80. Rc3+ Kf2 81. Kxf6 Bf4 82. Kf5 Be3 83. Rd3
Kf3 84. Rd5 Rh4 85. Ke5 Rh5+ 86. Ke6 Rh8 87. Kf5 Rf8+ 88. Ke5 Bf4+ 89. Kd4 Ra8
90. Kd3 Ra4 91. Rf5 Ra3+ 92. Kd4 Ra7 93. Rd5 Ra1 94. Kd3 Kg4 95. Ke4 Re1+ 96.
Kd3 Be3 97. Ra5 Kf4 98. Ra8 Rd1+ 99. Kc3 Bc5 100. Kc4 Bd6 101. Ra2 Ke3 102. Rc2
Bf4 103. Ra2 Ke4 104. Ra4 Bd6 105. Kc3+ Kd5 106. Kc2 Rh1 107. Kd3 Bc5 108. Rg4
Rh3+ 109. Ke2 Be3 110. Rg8 Bf4 111. Ra8 Be5 112. Kd2 Ke4 113. Kc2 Rh2+ 114. Kb3
Rb2+ 115. Kc4 Rc2+ 116. Kb3 Rc7 117. Kb4 Bd6+ 118. Kb5 Kd5 119. Kb6 Rc1 120.
Ra5+ Bc5+ 121. Kb7 Rh1 122. Ra8 Rh7+ 123. Ka6 Kc4 124. Ka5 Rh6 125. Rc8 Rh1
126. Ka6 Rh7 127. Ra8 Kb4 128. Rb8+ Ka4 129. Ra8 Rg7 0-1


The third day of the championship was a bloody and dramatic day, and the title hunt in both sections has officially been fired up! Can't wait for tomorrow's battles!