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    Entries in 2016 U.S. Championship (9)

    Tuesday
    Apr262016

    Caruana, Paikidze Win U.S. Championships

    Fabiano Caruana won the U.S. Championship with a fine score of 8.5/11, bouncing back from a disappointing finish at the Candidates to take first place, $50,000, and to regain the #2 spot in the world ratings. He defeated Akshat Chandra to seal the deal, finishing a full point ahead of Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, both of whom drew their final round games (against Aleks Lenderman and Ray Robson, respectively). A further boon for Caruana, and for So and Nakamura as well, is that they will play in a blitz event with Garry Kasparov on Thursday and Friday.

    The women's championship finished dramatically. Going into the last round perennial bridesmaid Tatev Abrahamyan led Nazi Paikidze by a half a point, and had an easier pairing to boot. Abrahamyan had the black pieces against Ahritha Eswaran, while Paikidze had Black vs. Irina Krush. And yet...Abrahamyan was crushed by her much younger, much lower-rated opponent, while Paikidze completely outplayed Krush - enough to win the game twice. She was beating her brilliantly and beautifully early on, but missed several wins and lost almost all of her advantage. Nevertheless, Krush's position remained practically difficult, and soon Paikidze was winning again. Given another chance she finished strongly, and she was the deserving victor of the women's crown. Like Caruana, she finished with 8.5 points; Abrahamyan finished second with 8 and Anna Zatonskih took third with 7. Krush finished in a very disappointing 6th place after losing her last two games and scoring only a point and a half in the last five rounds.

    Monday
    Apr252016

    U.S. Championship: Caruana Leads So and Nakamura by Half A Point Going Into the Last Round

    It's not too surprising that the U.S. Championship is a race between the big three - Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So - with Ray Robson (mentioned by Nakamura at the start of the tournament as a potential fourth musketeer) also in the hunt. After 10 rounds, Caruana leads with 7.5 points, half a point in front of So and Nakamura, with Robson another half a point behind. In case of a tie for first, there will be a playoff the next day (Tuesday) to determine the winner. Here are the relevant last round pairings:

    • Akshat Chandra (1.5) - Fabiano Caruana (7.5)
    • Aleks Lenderman (4) - Wesley So (7)
    • Ray Robson (6.5) - Hikaru Nakamura (7) 

    Caruana is certainly a favorite to win the title, both because he's starting out with the lead and also because he's playing the tournament's lowest-rated player and tailender. Still, one can't be too sure: he does have the black pieces, and Chandra did manage to draw with Nakamura earlier in the tournament - with Black.

    In the women's championship, the terrible twosome of Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih have both been eliminated from the race for first after losing in the penultimate round. (Zatonskih also lost in the antepenultimate round as well, thanks to an outright blunder.) Both losses were to kids: Zatonskih lost to 14-year-old Jennifer Yu, while Krush lost to 12-year-old(!) Carissa Yip, who finished the game in style. (Have a look.)

    The tournament leader is Tatev Abrahamyan, who has been getting closer to winning this event every year. She has 8/10, half a point ahead of Paikidze. Both women will have Black in the last round, but Abrahamyan will be playing one of the lower seeds (Ashrithan Eswaran) while Paikidze will face Krush. Abrahamyan's situation looks even better than Caruana's, but - again - there are no guarantees.

    Finally, returning to the main event, the top three - which is at the moment the big three - qualify for a four-player blitz event running Thursday and Friday. The fourth player? Garry Kasparov.

    Tuesday
    Apr192016

    U.S. Championship, Round 5: So Joins Caruana in First

    Round 5 was another bloodthirsty day, with four decisive games out of six - and it should have been five out of six.

    Wesley So won with great ease against Varuzhan Akobian on the white side of a Rubinstein French. Black played too passively, and while his position was already unpleasant Akobian's 15...Bc6 followed by 16...Bd5 and 17...Bxg2 was suicidal. The finish was brutal: So sacrificed a knight and a rook to obtain an attack that would lead to mate or a full extra queen, so Akobian resigned on his 24th move.

    If Fabiano Caruana had won with Black against Alexander Shabalov, he would have maintained his half-point lead over So. Shabalov hasn't had a good tournament so far, but he stayed solid in this game and kept out of trouble, achieving a draw. The day's other draw was also important for the leading standings. Ray Robson had the white pieces against Aleks Lenderman, and a win would have put him in a three-way tie for first. He should have won, too, but somehow Lenderman managed to save the game. Robson's error in the knight-up endgame was that he was unwilling to let his king do the defensive work against White's a-pawn, believing that Black's king would draw in that case by going after White's kingside pawns. This appears to be inaccurate, while the strategy chosen in the game proved inadequate for victory.

    Robson is in clear third, half a point ahead of the day's other winners (in addition to So, that is): Hikaru Nakamura, Jeffery Xiong, and Alexander Onischuk. Nakamura bounced back nicely from yesterday's loss to Caruana, defeating Sam Shankland on the white side of a Two Knights Caro-Kann that morphed into something that resembled a Classical French. Nakamura went for a kingside attack with f4-f5, and while he didn't deliver mate he won material along the way and finally trapped Shankland's knight.

    Xiong defeated an out of form Gata Kamsky after the latter blundered. The game had been mostly balanced, with Kamsky having the better chances at times. The decisive moment came when Kamsky played 35...Bxf3?? after thinking for three minutes - more than enough time for even a club player to spot the problem. But everyone has their bad days, and Kamsky somehow failed to see the refutation of his line: 38.Qb2+. (It's possible that he missed that White could subsequently prevent Black from queening, after taking on d8, by playing Qc1 and Re8, but my suspicion is that he missed 38.Qb2+, which is where he resigned.)

    Finally, Onischuk defeated Akshat Chandra fairly easily when the latter tried a provocative line against White's 4.Qc2 in the Nimzo-Indian. After the sad undeveloping move 17...Bc8 Chandra was lost, and Onischuk ground out the point without too much trouble.

    Tuesday is a rest day, and on Wednesday comes round 6, with the following pairings:

     

    • Akobian (1) - Lenderman (1.5)
    • Kamsky (1.5) - Robson (3.5)
    • Chandra (1) - Xiong (3)
    • Caruana (4) - Onischuk (3)
    • Shankland (2.5) - Shabalov (2)
    • So (4) - Nakamura (3)

     

    Monday
    Apr182016

    U.S. Championship, Rounds 3 & 4: Lots of Draws, But Caruana Beats Nakamura to Take the Lead

    In round 3 four of the six games were drawn, and in round 4 it was five of six. The two wins in round 3 saw two of the tailenders lose, both with Black: Varuzhan Akobian to Sam Shankland, and Aleks Lenderman to Alexander Onischuk. Atop the standings it was all draws: Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana drew a 92-mover that never got out of control for either player, while Ray Robson did have some difficulties before securing a draw against Jeffery Xiong.

    That left So, Caruana, and Robson tied for first with 2.5/3, half a point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura, who was unable to defeat bottom seed Akshat Chandra with the white pieces - Chandra simply played very well. The sixth game of the round was a short draw between Alexander Shabalov and Gata Kamsky.

    Round 4 was a drawfest. Shankland-So was a very easy hold for So, and Robson also had no trouble against Akobian thanks to good preparation. Or at least, no trouble until near the end. Robson wanted to push a bit and rejected a repetition, but maybe 35.Nxa6 Rxa3 36.Nc5 Rf3 37.Nd7!! (hoping to play Be4-c6xb5) would give some winning chances. (The knight is immune on account of 38.Bh7+ followed by 39.g8Q#.)

    Onischuk defanged Kamsky's London System for a quick draw, and Lenderman-Xiong also barely made it past move 30. Chandra-Shabalov had a good deal more fight in it, and Chandra was pressing throughout.

    The game of the round, and the game of the tournament so far in terms of its importance for the standings, was Caruana-Nakamura. This was one of the oddest Najdorfs I've seen, going 6.f3 e6 7.Be3 h5 (this is more normal in the ...e5 lines, but it's known here too) 8.a4 (this stops ...b5, of course, but White normally plays Qd2, castles queenside, and tries to whip up an attack on the other side of the board) 8...Nc6 (not a normal "Najdorf" move, but with a4 having been played it makes sense here) 9.Bc4 (a new move in an already rare position), and on it went from there. It's hard to assess such a non-standard variation, but it seems that things only got out of hand for Nakamura after he played 21...Kb8 and more especially 24...Qb4. At one time Caruana had a terrible record with White against the Najdorf Sicilian, and maybe that was part of what motivated Nakamura to give it a shot. If so, it was a misassessment: Caruana seemed very at home in the complications, winning quickly and relatively easily.

    With the win, Caruana moved into clear first in the tournament with 3.5/4, and also moved into second on the live rating list, passing Vladimir Kramnik's 2801 with his 2805.3. Robson and So are half a point behind going into round 5, the last round before the rest day. Here are the pairings:

    • Shabalov (1.5) - Caruana (3.5)
    • So (3) - Akobian (1)
    • Robson (3) - Lenderman (1)
    • Nakamura (2) - Shankland (2.5)
    • Xiong (2) - Kamsky (1.5)
    • Onischuk (2) - Chandra (1)

    Friday
    Apr152016

    U.S. Championship, Round 2: Caruana, So, and Robson Lead with 2/2

    A little stratification took place in round 2 of the U.S. Championship, but not much. Two of the Big Three won, and the honorary fourth won as well while the third member of the triumvirate drew comfortably with Black against a strong rival to keep within half a point. To elaborate...

    Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So won again to stay perfect. Caruana may not have achieved much on the white side of a Winawer French against Sam Shankland, but when the latter opened the queenside with 22...b4 it turned out that Caruana benefited from the open lines. Eventually Black was tied hand and foot, and when the White knight and king sauntered to the queenside Black had to give up. So won with Black against Akshat Chandra, and while it was the logical result overall there was one gigantic "oops!" moment that could have turned everything around. So's 32...Rh1 worked out for him in the end, but it was a blunder. With 33.Rxe6+! fxe6 34.Qxe6+ Kf8 35.Rd3 White's attack would give him a winning material advantage - at least. Chandra missed his chance, and So finished him off in style.

    The third winner, who is also at 2-0, is Ray Robson. Robson won with surprising ease and speed on the white side of a London System, an opening not generally associated with speedy knockouts. When asked after his round 1 victory if the Big Three were indeed the favorites, Hikaru Nakamura agreed, but made a proviso that an on-form Robson could contend as well. So far, he is on form and is contending.

    As for Nakamura himself, he was also involved in a London System, but with the black pieces against Gata Kamsky. Nakamura was well-prepared (as he should be, given Kamsky frequent adoption of the LS), and the game was already a dead draw by the time the 30-move deadline was reached.

    Varuzhan Akobian and Jeffery Xiong didn't even make it to move 30, having repeated moves enough to call it a day after just 27 moves. Finally, Aleks Lenderman and Alex Shabalov drew a wild game, with both sides missing wins along the way.

    Here are the round 3 pairings:

    • So (2) - Caruana (2) (The first meeting of the triumvirate)
    • Xiong (1) - Robson (2)
    • Nakamura (1.5) - Chandra (0)
    • Shankland (1) - Akobian (.5)
    • Shabalov (.5) - Kamsky (.5)
    • Onischuk (.5) - Lenderman (.5)

    Friday
    Apr152016

    U.S. Championship, Round 1: Favorites Win En Masse

    The 2016 U.S. Championship got off to a rousing start as five of the six games finished with a winner. In every case it was the favorite who won, with the Big Three (Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So) finishing first and the alliteratively named Ray Robson and Sam Shankland rounding things off. Only the Alexander Onischuk - Jeffery Xiong game finished in a draw.

    So's win over Gata Kamsky was brutal and short. So set up an interesting piece sac against the Breyer, and Kamsky either greatly underestimated the danger or missed a tactical point or two along the way. (21...Nh7 had to be played, chasing the knight from h4. White could still put a knight on f5, but it wouldn't be as damaging as in the game.) Whatever the story, the game was over in just 28 moves.

    Nakamura won impressively on the white side of a 5.g3 Semi-Slav against Aleks Lenderman, who succumbed to White's pressure all across the board. As for Caruana, his win over Varuzhan Akobian was equally impressive. Akobian tried to surprise Caruana with 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6, and he probably succeeded. What he didn't succeed in doing was obtaining an advantage, equality, or even a tolerable position out of the opening. White enjoyed a huge initiative when he played 14.f4 and 15.f5, and although Black slowed it down for a while at the cost of a pawn the second wave proved fatal.

    Robson's win with Black against Alex Shabalov was the only Black win of the round. Robson came out of the opening in good shape, but both players thought White had solved his problems after 20.Qa1. Robson realized his original intention, 20...Ne2+ 21.Kh1 c3, didn't work due to 22.Ra2!, and after a search born almost of desperation he found the attractive 20...Bc1!, keeping an advantage. White's position remained tenable for a long time until just after the time control, when Shabalov blundered with 42.Ne8. Shabalov is a very imaginative player and a great tactician, so it is surprising that he missed Robson's reply: 42...Ne2! It is a nice blow, and the point is that after 43.Rxc7 Ng1+ 44.Kh4 Black doesn't play 44...Rxh2+ but 44...Nf3+!, pulling the king back so that 45.Kh3 Rxh2 is mate.

    In the final decisive game, Shankland defeated Akshat Chandra in a long, tough game. Black was under pressure but surviving for a long time, but Shankland finally won a race in a rook ending with majorities on opposite flanks.

    Finally, Onischuk pressed Xiong, but his extra pawn wasn't enough to win the rook ending.

    Round 2 starts in about half an hour, with the following pairings:

    • Caruana (1) - Shankland (1)
    • Kamsky (0) - Nakamura (1)
    • Chandra (0) - So (1)
    • Robson (1) - Onischuk (.5)
    • Akobian (0) - Xiong (.5)
    • Lenderman (0) - Shabalov (0)

    Thursday
    Apr142016

    U.S. Championships Start Today!

    At 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis (= 2 p.m. ET) the U.S. Championships get underway in St. Louis. Both the Championship and the Women's event are 12 player round robins finishing April 25 - April 26 in case of a playoff, and don't forget that after the event, on the 28th and 29th, there will be a blitz event that might include the big three (Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So) and definitely includes none other than Garry Kasparov. (I hope for his sake he has been training hard.)

    The Championship is incredibly strong, with three players in the top 10 (the aforementioned Mssrs. Caruana, Nakamura, and So), and the second tier of Gata Kamsky, Alexander Onischuk, Ray Robson, and Sam Shankland isn't exactly chopped liver. On the Women's side, it looks likely to be another battle to the death between Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, who between them have won the last 10 women's championships. Krush has won the last four, but they've almost always come down to the wire and Zatonskih is the very slightly higher-rated player.

    Here are the first round pairings for the main event: 

    • Fabiano Caruana (2795) - Varuzhan Akobian (2615)
    • Sam Shankland (2656) - Akshat Chandra (2477)
    • Wesley So (2773) - Gata Kamsky (2678)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (2787) - Aleksandr Lenderman (2618)
    • Alexander Shabalov (2528) - Ray Robson (2663)
    • Alexander Onischuk (2664) - Jeffery Xiong (2618) 

    It's a good time to be a fan of U.S. chess! Tournament predictions? Nakamura is the defending champion, and he and Gata Kamsky have won the last seven between them. So only started playing in the U.S. Championship last year and Caruana is a rookie, so the Nakamura-Kamsky streak isn't as relevant as it would otherwise be. My prediction is that Nakamura will win.

    Thursday
    Feb112016

    U.S. Championship Fields Set

    While we're busy posting about tournaments weeks and weeks ahead of time, we might as well go even further and note - two months in advance - that the U.S. Championship fields have been set. The main point of interest is that the big three are all playing: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So. Gata Kamsky is also playing, but is only the fifth seed, behind Ray Robson. Also noteworthy is that a couple of 15-year-olds, Jeffery Xiong and Akshat Chandra, are also playing. Youth chess is doing well in the U.S. if two 15-year-olds are playing in the national championship, especially since Sam Sevian isn't one of them.

    Sunday
    Jan102016

    Kasparov vs. Top U.S. Players in Blitz

    Coming soon to a U.S. Championship near you, or right after it. Garry Kasparov will join the top three finishers from that event in a two-day round-robin blitz event upon the Championship's conclusion. It will be interesting to see Kasparov take on someone more or less his own size (assuming the top three is populated by the likes of Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, and Wesley So), even if he's strategically scheduling it so they'll be pre-exhausted by the tournament.

    More on both events, here.