An exciting start to the 2017 U.S. Chess Championships

by Cristian Chirila

The first round of the 2017 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship is in the books, and the title hunt couldn’t have had a more exciting start. In the open section, two of America’s big trio, So and Nakamura, quickly warmed up their engines and took off to a blazing start; however, Caruana drew a game in which he had to show his defensive prowess as Sam Shankland pushed him to the edge.

In the women’s section the debutante, Emily Nguyen, played a solid game which ended in a quick draw against the reigning champion, Nazi Paikidze. The shock of the round came in the last minutes of the day when Jennifer Yu took advantage of a horrendous blunder by the 4-time U.S. Women’s Champion, Anna Zatonskih.  Let’s get into the recap and take a closer look at the most important games of the round!


U.S. Chess Championship

So vs Shabalov was the most lopsided game of the round. Fighting an almost 300 point uphill battle, Shabalov was clearly the underdog in this encounter. So has shown absolutely no mercy in recent tournaments where he simply obliterated anybody below 2700, especially when playing the white pieces.

The top seed of the tournament didn’t disappoint, he quickly got an opening advantage and built his attack without allowing his opponent to ever come back in the game. Shabalov couldn’t accept the positional grind and tried to free himself quickly, unfortunately for him, that strategy badly backfired. Black was forced to resign at move 29 after all his pieces started succumbing under White’s increasing pressure. A great start for the man that everybody is watching, Wesley So!


Shankland vs Caruana was arguably the most important game of the round. Sam has always been a feared opponent, especially due to his impressive opening preparation. Having joined Carlsen’s team in the past year, he has surely not diminished that “myth.” Fabiano quickly chose to take his opponent out of preparation, but in doing so he voluntarily accepted a slightly worse position. This is usually the nature of the game, especially when playing with the black pieces.

Sam slowly but surely built a stable strategic advantage and created serious winning chances in the endgame. In the end, it was Fabiano’s precise defense that saved him a precious half a point that will surely prove extremely important in his bid for the national title.

Robson vs Nakamura was definitely another important game to watch. Nakamura was the player with the most difficult start with two blacks, one of them being against one of his main rivals, Caruana. Robson is just coming from a successful team effort at the Final Four, where Webster University won their fifth consecutive national title. Though it can be argued that Ray himself didn’t have a positive results (he lost vs a much lower rated opponent as white), the overall team success surely gave him a confidence boost for the U.S. Champs.

Unfortunately for him, he was surprised in the opening, conceding a worse position early on in the game. He never fully managed to recover the difficult defense, coupled with his constant time pressure, which allowed Nakamura to slowly outwit him. A blazing start for Hikaru, who now has a very difficult opponent behind him, and will face the reigning champion tomorrow in what announcers call “the game to watch” in round 2 of the U.S. Championship.

U.S. Women's Championship

Tatev Abrahamyan vs Apurva Virkud was off to a blazing start when the young debutante decided to play the Scheveningen Sicilian, a very sharp opening that requires a great deal of theoretical knowledge.

Black found herself in early trouble after some unexpected inaccuracies and Abrahamyan aggressively took care of business in her endearing trademark style. Let’s take a closer look at this exciting battle!

Jenniffer Yu vs Anna Zatonskih was surely the surprise of the round. With a rating gap of almost 300 points, the young Yu seemed doomed to a continuous defense against her more experienced opponent. Zatonskih equalized early and slowly built an almost decisive advantage throughout the middlegame. Unfortunately for her, playing one tournament per year is almost always going to play a decisive role, and her rustiness was soon felt. Her advantage slowly dissipated and the two players reached a drawish endgame. It was in the 5th hour of gameplay when the surprise of the round happened. Zatonskih  had a blind spot in her calculation and blundered an easy tactic which left her a rook down and forced the capitulation.


A slow start for the 4-time U.S. Women’s Champion and a scintillating one for the young Jennifer!


Sabina Foisor vs Carissa Yip was the last game to end in the Women’s section and it surely didn’t disappoint. Foisor came well prepared and forced the youngest participant to defend early on. Following a surge of enthusiasm and precise moves, Yip managed to sacrifice an exchange for the initiative and took control of the game. The assessment of the position changed constantly, a clear characteristic of the complex position the two ladies were trying to decipher. In the end, it was Yip that made the final mistake and allowed her opponent to end the game with a beautiful checkmate pattern.

First round was full of exciting chess, brilliancies, blunders, and overall a great start to the 2017 U.S. Championships. Make sure to stay tuned for the next rounds!