A Decisive Start to the 2016 U.S. and U.S. Women's Championship

After exciting pre-tournament build-up, the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship finally spread its wings and took off. And what a takeoff it was! With five decisive games in the open section and intense battles on all boards in the women’s section, this was everything a chess fan could have hoped for. From quick demolitions to endgame masterpieces, any student of the game had something to learn from today’s round. Let’s dissect the games and see how our competitors opened their quest for the 2016 national title.

Open Section

So vs. Kamsky 1-0

This miniature showed just how big the difference of strength between the top three contenders and all the other participants is—including the recent U.S. Chess Hall Of Fame inductee, Gata Kamsky. Wesley surprised Gata in the opening and the two soon entered one of the most solid defense against 1.e4, the Breyer variation of the Ruy Lopez. So unexpectedly released the tension on the queenside with 18.axb5 which also happens to be a novelty in that position. White continued to concentrate his resources on the king side in an attempt to create pressure against Black’s king. In an uncharacteristic fashion, Kamsky blundered early on with 21…Kh7? And after the powerful knight sacrifice 22.Nhf5 Black found himself in dire straits.

Caruana vs. Akobian 1-0

Fabiano Caruana arrived very motivated for his first U.S. Championship game but immediately found himself under pressure when Akobian surprised him with the Scandinavian defense. Akobian blitzed out his moves and obtained quite a comfortable position out of the opening. Unfortunately for him, he failed to understand the small details required to stop White’s expansion on the kingside. One small inaccuracy and Black found himself in a terrible situation—being squeezed by White’s pawn kingside avalanche and the powerful supporting pieces behind them. Akobian’s time management was not strong either and Caruana convincingly converted his advantage.

Nakamura vs. Lenderman 1-0

Cool, calm, and collected! Photo credit Austin Fuller

Nakamura came into this year’s tournament as the defending champion, and his first round statement was quite impressive. He chose a sharp pawn sacrifice with 8.b3 which lead to an extremely unbalanced position. A very original plan of transferring his pieces on the kingside and pressuring Black’s pawn construction forced Lenderman to adopt a passive defense. Nakamura patiently pressured Black’s position forcing Black to concede more and more weaknesses. After the forced 17…g6, the dark square weaknesses in Black’s position proved to be fatal. Nakamura patiently maneuvered his pieces and finalized his masterpiece by breaking Black’s position with 25.d5! after which Black was completely lost. A great game by the defending champion!

Shankland vs Chandra 1-0

Another favorite started his 2016 campaign with a positive result. Shankland arrived at the venue with a great smile on his face and kept the engines rolling for most of the game. His opponent tenaciously defended but failed to maintain a good time management and fell into a deep time trouble hole. He managed to crawl out of it only to wrongly assess his plan in the endgame and allow White to finish him with precise play. 43…Rd1 would have given Black very good chances for counterplay and a shot at a successful defense.

Onischuk vs Xiong ½-½

Fists clinched! Photo credit Cristian ChirilaThe young Jeffery Xiong managed to survive his first U.S. Championship game by tenaciously defending against the experienced veteran. White obtained a small advantage out of the opening but black managed to find a powerful tactical resource with 17…Nxe5, annihilating White’s pressure and simplifying into an equal endgame. Onischuk still had a slight edge but Jeffery skillfully proved his defensive skills. A solid start for the young star from Texas!

Shabalov vs. Robson 0-1

A concerned Shabalov wonders where his opening went wrong. Photo credit Austin Fuller

Both these players are known to be extremely dynamic competitors and this game was announced as one of the most entertaining ones. Shabalov has never shied away from a challenge and Robson is considered by many experts as one of the main treat for the top three titans. Shabalov employed the same line as Nakamura but chose a different approach by advancing his pawn to e5 as quick as possible. Robson found an incredible 20…Bc1! and forced his opponent to accept and inferior endgame. He slowly grinded his opponent until he cracked with 42.Ne8?? allowing the final blow 42...Ne2!


2016 Women’s Championship

Paikidze vs. Zatonskih ½ - ½

White came very well-prepared to the game and obtained a serious positional edge out of the opening. After 19.c5 there was little doubt about who was better with White controlling all the trumps in the position. The controlling bishop on e5, coupled with the fact that Black’s bishops had absolutely no targets on the board gave Paikidze the commanding role. Unfortunately for her, she misplayed the endgame by allowing her opponent to activate her rook with the a5-Ra4 maneuver. White maintained a solid edge but was not enough to convert it into a full point.

Nemcova vs. Krush ½ - ½

This was a fairly uneventful game in which both players chose a careful approach and did not take any risks when presented with a choice. The pieces quickly came off the board and a fairly normal outcome was reached. Solid start for both competitors.

Abrahamyan vs. Bykovtsev 1-0

Tatev Abrahamyan

Abrahamyan scored an important victory and launched her bid for the title. A crushing start for one of the most aggressive players in the event. Abrahamyan skillfully steered the game into her type of positions and immediately started a violent pawn storm on the kingside. Black seemed to have everything under control up until 21. Qb4 when her knight started to feel quite uncomfortable. Abrahamyan immediately opened the center with 22.e5! and her pair of bishops started feeling at ease tearing up Black’s defense. She quickly finished the game with precision to take the lead of the tournament.

Foisor vs. Melekhina ½ - ½

A very straightforward game in which neither side had any hope for an advantage. Melekhina chose the correct plan with a6-Rb8-b5 and the positioned immediately petered into an equal opposite color bishop middle game. Neither side tried to impose their will on their opponent and soon an uneventful draw was agreed.

Yu vs. Eswaran ½ - ½

Another very balanced affair. Black had a minimal edge throughout the opening phase but failed to understand the insights of the position and wrongly exchanged the bishop for White’s knight with 21...Bxf3? White returned the favor by exchanging the queens when instead she should have tried to pressure her opponent by playing 23.d7 with an extremely dangerous edge. After the queen came off the board none of the players really have a clear chance at obtaining an advantage.

Yip vs. Gorti  1-0

Carissa Yip and Akshita Gorti

Today was a great start for the youngest player in the tournament and one of America’s top talents. White played a solid game—waiting for her opponent’s mistake to come. Black did no blunder, but did not find the right plan either; she lost too many tempos with the queen maneuver Qf7-d5-g5-a5 which allowed White to set up her pieces and start collecting the pawns on the c file. Black never really recovered and Yip nicely finished her opponent with the nice tactical blow 43.Qh8! A confident start for the young star and a promise for the future for the American chess.