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    Entries in 2018 U.S. Championship (10)

    Sunday
    Apr292018

    2018 U.S. Championship: Shankland the Champion

    Quite the surprise, but Sam Shankland definitely earned it! He scored +6, went undefeated, won four games with Black, won his last three games, gained 30 rating points, surpassed the 2700 barrier (becoming the 7th player from the U.S.A. to do so), and has reached #45 in the world. That's a great tournament! The only thing he didn't manage to do was beat one of the big three, though he came close to defeating both Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura. (Can you imagine if he had gone +8 in this field? That would have been Fischer-like - but to be fair Bobby Fischer never faced a U.S. Championship field like this one.)

    And despite all this, he still finished only half a point ahead of Caruana. That was the gap separating the players before the round, and they both won to maintain their relative positions. Caruana defeated Alexander Onischuk pretty easily when Onischuk sacced one pawn without any obvious justification and then blundered a second one. By the time Onischuk resigned, however, Shankland had such an overwhelming advantage against Awonder Liang that there was no real drama. Indeed, within a minute or two, Liang resigned, leaving Shankland obviously and understandably elated.

    I've annotated Shankland's and Caruana's last three games, plus Nakamura's attractive win against Varuzhan Akobian from round 10; they're all here. And here are the final standings:

    • 1. Shankland 8.5/11 (TPR 2884)
    • 2. Caruana 8
    • 3. So 6.5
    • 4-6. Nakamura, Lenderman, Robson 5.5
    • 7-8. Izoria, Xiong 5
    • 9-11. Liang, Zherebukh, Akobian 4.5
    • 12. Onischuk 3

    Sunday
    Apr292018

    U.S. Championship, Rounds 9 & 10: Caruana Good, Shankland Better

    Fabiano Caruana is having an excellent U.S. Championship. Despite having played practically non-stop for a month and a half, he is continuing to play at a very high level. His score of 7/10 has increased his already lofty rating, and aside from a bit of insanity in round 4 against Zviad Izoria he has played well and shown great resilience. In round 9 he was in serious trouble against Hikaru Nakamura, but held on grimly and saved the game, and then in round 10 he won a very impressive game - with Black - against Yaroslav Zherebukh.

    And yet, in this Championship he's playing second banana to Sam Shankland, who has caught fire after draws in his first two rounds. He won in both rounds 9 and 10, first winning against Zherebukh and then against Alexander Onischuk. Both games were long grinds, and in both cases he had to bounce back after missing chances to win the games more easily. He thus leads by half a point going into the last round.

    As for the other contenders, they have all fallen back. Varuzhan Akobian co-led through much of the first half of the tournament, but had already dropped out of the running with losses in rounds 6-8. He stopped the bleeding with a draw in round 9 before losing again in round 10, to Nakamura - who only then got his first win of the  tournament! (Coincidentally, Jeffery Xiong and Awonder Liang also won their first games in that round as well.)

    Aleks Lenderman's wins in rounds 7 and 8 turned him into a dark horse, and when he came out of the opening with a winning advantage against Ray Robson he looked like a serious contender. Unfortunately for him, he let the advantage slip away, and after drawing that game he lost a drawn king and pawn ending to Xiong in round 10.

    Wesley So began the tournament with two wins, and through round 10...still just has those two wins. No losses, but that wasn't good enough for him to retain his title. He had some advantage with Black against Akobian in round 9, but couldn't convert it, and in round 10 - again with Black - he drew with Robson in a game where neither side ever had any advantage to speak of.

    If I annotate any games I'll include them in my final round report. Here are the pairings for the final round (ongoing as of this writing):

    • Shankland (7.5) - Liang (4.5)
    • Caruana (7) - Onischuk (3)
    • So (6) - Nakamura (5)
    • Xiong (5) - Robson (4.5)
    • Izoria (4.5) - Lenderman (5)
    • Akobian (4) - Zherebukh (4)

    Thursday
    Apr262018

    U.S. Championship, Round 8: Shankland Misses a Big Chance

    Sam Shankland remains tied with Fabiano Caruana for first place in the U.S. Championship, but he had a wonderful chance to take the sole lead with three rounds to go. With Black against Hikaru Nakamura's 1.b3 he obtained a winning advantage. Even an out of form Nakamura is an extremely tricky defender, and despite having several opportunities to maintain a winning or at least a clear advantage it slowly slipped away.

    In the meantime, Caruana achieved a comfortable draw with Wesley So in yet another Petroff, this one featuring Morozevich's old weapon 5.Bd3. It had its heyday a decade or more ago; this time around Caruana came out of the opening in good shape and drew with ease. Caruana remains tied for first, and So remains on the leaders' heels, half a point behind.

    The Petroff fared even better in the game between Awonder Liang and Aleks Lenderman, though it would be wrong to say that Lenderman won because he played the Petroff. Liang was slowly outplayed in the late middlegame, and then made some serious errors - blunders, really - in the lead-up to the time control. Down a piece for nothing after move 40, Liang resigned. Kudos to Lenderman for winning his second straight game and closing to within a point of the leaders.

    The day's other decisive game went a bit longer: 144 moves. Ray Robson ground down Varuzhan Akobian, who has now lost three games in a row. In this one he could have claimed a draw by three-time repetition at one point, but seemed unsure about the claim and made his move, whereupon Robson avoided the repetition and never allowed another three-time opportunity the rest of the way.

    Here are the two games involving the leaders (with some annotations to Nakamura-Shankland). And here are the pairings for round 9:

    • Caruana (5.5) - Nakamura (3.5)
    • Shankland (5.5) - Zherebukh (4)
    • Akobian (3.5) - So (5)
    • Lenderman (4.5) - Robson (3.5)
    • Izoria (4) - Onischuk (2.5)
    • Xiong (3.5) - Liang (3)

    Thursday
    Apr262018

    U.S. Championship, Round 7: Caruana Wins, Catches Up to Shankland

    Sam Shankland entered the day in first, and exited in a tie for first. He had White against Wesley So, who was only half a point behind, and the game finished in a well-played draw. Perhaps it was more well-played by So, who wound up with an extra pawn in a rook ending, but Shankland stayed cool and drew with ease.

    Like So, Fabiano Caruana started the day half a point out of first; like Shankland, he ended it in a tie for first. He had some fine preparation ready for Varuzhan Akobian's French, and Akobian was heartlessly crushed. Caruana played a great game, and has apparently made a complete recovery from his loss to Zviad Izoria in round 4.

    Speaking of Izoria, today he defeated Hikaru Nakamura. He's only at 50%, but there are very, very, very few players in the world who wouldn't take 50% in such a field, especially if it came with wins over Caruana and Nakamura! As for Nakamura, it's almost unbelievable to think that he is winless and -1 through seven rounds. This doesn't happen to him in Grand Chess Tour events, never mind a tournament where only two players are his full peers (neither of whom he has played) and everyone else is more than 100 points lower rated than he is.

    The day's other winner was Aleks Lenderman, who defeated Alexander Onischuk in what looked like a nearly dead drawn ending. It wasn't quite, and when Onischuk failed to find the only move to stay out of trouble on move 31, he was defeated with surprising ease.

    The day's other games were drawn, though not always easily. You can replay the three decisive games mentioned above, plus Liang-Robson, with my comments, here. And now for the round 8 pairings:

    • So (4.5) - Caruana (5)
    • Nakamura (3) - Shankland (5)
    • Robson (2.5) - Akobian (3.5)
    • Liang (3) - Lenderman (3.5)
    • Zherebukh (3.5) - Izoria (3.5)
    • Onischuk (2) - Xiong (3)

    Tuesday
    Apr242018

    U.S. Championship, Round 6: Shankland, Caruana Win; Shankland the Clear Leader

    Surprise, surprise! The leader as the tournament passes the halfway point isn't one of the big three - though Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So are just half a point out of first. Instead, it's Sam Shankland, who has won three games, including a win with Black in round 6 over Varuzhan Akobian. Akobian came into the round tied for first with So and Shankland, but didn't have a good game against Shankland. He was already worse out of the opening, and though he fought his way back to a ragged equality it was almost impossible to hold without time on the clock - time Akobian didn't have. By the time he made it to the time control he was in a lost rook and knight ending, and Shankland's fine technique made the conversion easy.

    So got nothing with White against Zviad Izoria, and the game was drawn in 30 moves (the minimum permitted, except in cases of a forced repetition). Speaking of which, Yaroslav Zherebukh vs. Aleks Lenderman was another 30-move draw. Hikaru Nakamura - Jeffery Xiong went just half a move longer before calling it a day, while Alexander Onischuk's game with Awonder Liang got to move 34 before they split the point.

    That leaves only Caruana's game against Ray Robson. Like Shankland, Caruana won with Black. Caruana stayed true to the Petroff, and proved once again that it can be used to fight for a win even against very high-class opposition. His 13th move was a novelty, sacrificing a pawn for the bishop pair and an open c-file, and he put these advantages to good use. Robson's king had all kinds of difficulties (White's 25.a4 didn't help a bit), and he didn't make it to the end of the first time control before giving up.

    I've annotated the two decisive games (have a look here); hopefully that will tide you over until Wednesday, because like Shamkir the U.S. Championship is taking Tuesday off. Here are the pairings for round 7:

    • Shankland (4.5) - So (4)
    • Caruana (4) - Akobian (3.5)
    • Izoria (2.5) - Nakamura (3)
    • Xiong (2.5) - Zherebukh (3)
    • Liang (2.5) - Robson (2)
    • Lenderman (2.5) - Onischuk (2)

    Sunday
    Apr222018

    2018 U.S. Championship, Round 5: Six Draws

    At least some people have the right spirit. All six games were drawn in round 5 of the U.S. Championship, which means that Wesley So, Sam Shankland, and Varuzhan Akobian remain tied for first with +2 scores, half a point ahead of Fabiano Caruana.

    Shankland came close to making it a 1.5 point lead over Caruana, up a pawn for no compensation shortly before the time control. Material was limited, however, so Black (Caruana) had good drawing chances in any case. Still, had Shankland met Black's threatened 40...Ne2+ with 40.Kh3!, intending to meet 40...Ne2 with 41.Kg4, he'd have maintained some winning chances. Instead, he played 40.Kg4, and Caruana had no trouble neutralizing White's bid for activity, and the game was soon drawn.

    So had Black against Jeffery Xiong, and played solidly against the Catalan, achieving an easy draw in 22 moves. Akobian's game with Zviad Izoria was more interesting and went more than twice as long as Xiong-So, but he had no winning chances to speak of, either.

    Hikaru Nakamura remains stuck in neutral, but not for want of effort. He went into a main line Classical King's Indian against Aleks Lenderman, which is about as sharp an option as there is. Both sides played well, and Nakamura held a draw.

    Awonder Liang and Yaroslav Zherebukh played an exciting game - just ask the 17 pairs of opponents who already played it, most recently Wei Yi and Ding Liren last December.

    Finally, Alexander Onischuk and Ray Robson had a well-played draw in an Exchange Gruenfeld.

    Here's what's in store tomorrow, in round 6:

    • Akobian (3.5) - Shankland (3.5)
    • So (3.5) - Izoria (2)
    • Robson (2) - Caruana (3)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Xiong (2)
    • Zherebukh (2.5) - Lenderman (2)
    • Onischuk (1.5) - Liang (2)

    Saturday
    Apr212018

    2018 U.S. Championship, Round 4: Three Leaders - But Not the Same Three

    It was a strange day at the U.S. Championship - or at least it was a day with one extremely strange game. Entering the round there were three co-leaders: Wesley So, Varuzhan Akobian, and Fabiano Caruana - all of whom had White in this round. And there were three co-leaders at the end of the day, too, but the identity of one of the leaders had changed.

    So had some advantage against Aleksandr Lenderman, but although he managed to win a pawn it wasn't enough to win the game. Varuzhan Akobian likewise managed to win a pawn in his game, against Jeffery Xiong, but once again it wasn't enough to collect the full point. He came closer than So did, and maybe would have managed a win had he played 33.Qc8 Qd5 34.Qe8+.

    Fabiano Caruana played as if he had a death wish against Zviad Izoria. If this had been the last round and he were in a must-win situation his play would be explicable, but not in an early round where a draw, though not ideal against a lower seed, isn't a real problem. Caruana was better early on, but by move 20 or so the position was equal. Izoria was happy to repeat (see his 31st and 32nd moves, and then his 34th, 35th, and 36th moves), but Caruana played on with no justification except for his higher rating. He was even in a bit of trouble after that, but managed to wriggle his way out of it.

    But once again, Caruana was bound and determined to avoid a draw, and he succeeded. Playing for tricks, he went for the dubious 67.c4, apparently counting on 67...Nxg2 68.Kd5 Rc8 69.Nb6? to pick up Black's d-pawn and give him some minuscule winning chances. But Black played the obvious 69...Ne3+, and after 70.Ke6? (70.Ke4!) gave Caruana one last chance to save the game. 70...Rh8 won, but the trappy 70...Rc6? allowed several drawing moves. Caruana's 71.Kd7? wasn't one of them, and he fell headlong into the trap. After the neat 71...Nxc4! Caruana was caught. Maybe 72.Nd5 offered some hope, but after 72.Kxc6? Na5+ 73.Kxd6 Nxb7+ the battle was decided: White would not be able to stop Black's h-pawn.

    Meanwhile, Sam Shankland won a good game with Black against Ray Robson in an Open Ruy, and caught up to the leaders on +2.

    As for Hikaru Nakamura, he drew again, despite having White in three games out of four. This time it was against Awonder Liang, who was entirely ready for the King's Indian Attack. If anything, Liang had the better chances, and Nakamura had to earn the draw that was agreed on move 32.

    Here are the pairings for round 5:

     

    • Onischuk (1) - Robson (1.5)
    • Liang (1.5) - Zherebukh (2)
    • Lenderman (1.5) - Nakamura (2)
    • Xiong (1.5) - So (3)
    • Izoria (1.5) - Akobian (3)
    • Shankland (3) - Caruana (2.5)
    Saturday
    Apr212018

    U.S. Championship and Shamkir (Gashimov Memorial): Catching Up

    I've been doing a little traveling, partially but mostly not chess-related, so I haven't had anything to say about the two major events that started this week, the U.S. Championship and the Gashimov Memorial. I won't say too much now, either, just enough to get the ball rolling (or ready to roll tomorrow).

    We begin with the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, which features a stellar field including World Champion Magnus Carlsen, world #2 (#3 on the live list, but still officially #2) Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2016 World Championship finalist Sergey Karjakin (and co-runner up in the 2018 Candidates, along with Mamedyarov), Ding Liren, Anish Giri, and five other 2700+ rated players. Round 3 is on Saturday (today, for most of you), and sees the players in a ten-way tie for first (and last), as all ten games in the first two rounds were drawn. Most of the draws were "correct", with neither player in serious trouble, but there were two exceptions. Ding Liren should have beaten Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 1, and Veselin Topalov failed to convert a decisive material advantage against Giri in round 2.

    Here are the round 3 pairings: 

    • Giri - Rajdabov
    • Ding Liren - Topalov
    • Mamedyarov - Karjakin
    • Navara - Wojtaszek
    • Mamedov - Carlsen 

    In the U.S. Championship there have been many decisive results: nine in three rounds. In round 1, defending champion Wesley So and Varuzhan Akobian both won with the black pieces, against Yaroslav Zherebukh and Alexander Onischuk (who tied for first last year, only losing to So in a playoff), respectively. Fabiano Caruana only managed a draw against the barely-15-year-old Awonder Liang (though with Black), while Hikaru Nakamura got nowhere on the white side of a Scotch against Ray Robson.

    In round 2, So and Akobian won again; this time they both had White. Their victims were Onischuk and Liang, respectively. Caruana also won, beautifully crushing Aleksandr Lenderman, and Robson managed a win against Zviad Izoria. Nakamura again had White, this time against Zerebukh, but was unable to achieve anything against the Petroff.

    In round 3 So and Akobian were finally held to draws, with neither player coming close to winning or even having a real advantage. So had Black against Liang, and with the exception of a brief period around move 30 was always on the way to a comfortable draw. Akobian had to defend for many moves against Lenderman, but good defense in time trouble led him reach an easily drawn position in the second time control. Caruana caught up with them in shared first after defeating Jeffery Xiong with the black pieces. All three have 2.5/3. The day's other winners were Zherebukh, who took advantage of multiple errors by Robson just before the time control; and Sam Shankland, who defeated Izoria after the latter self-destructed for no obvious in time trouble. As for Nakamura, it was yet another draw - and not a particularly comfortable one as he was in some danger with Black against Onischuk.

    Here are the pairings for round 4, on Saturday: 

    • Caruana (2.5) - Izoria (.5)
    • So (2.5) - Lenderman (1)
    • Akobian (2.5) - Xiong (1)
    • Robson (1.5) - Shankland (2)
    • Nakamura (1.5) - Liang (1)
    • Zherebukh (1.5) - Onischuk (.5)
    Tuesday
    Apr172018

    U.S. Championship Starts Today/Tomorrow (Wednesday)

    The action in the 2018 U.S. Chess Championship, 12 player round robin, begins at 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis (= 2 p.m. ET, = 7 p.m. CET), and here are the pairings:

    • Hikaru Nakamura (2787) - Ray Robson (2660)
    • Yaroslav Zherebukh (2640) - Wesley So (2786)
    • Alexander Onischuk (2672) - Varuzhan Akobian (2647)
    • Awonder Liang (2552) - Fabiano Caruana (2804)
    • Aleskandr Lenderman (2599) - Samuel Shankland (2671)
    • Jeffery Xiong (2665) - Zviad Izoria (2599)

    Predictions? I'll say Caruana, and hope he doesn't collapse in a heap due to exhaustion.

    Saturday
    Feb172018

    U.S. Championship Lineups Set

    The tournament(s) won't happen until mid-April, but the lineups are set for the Open (de facto Men's) and Women's sections of the 2018 U.S. Championships. They can be found here and here, respectively.