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    Entries in Hikaru Nakamura (86)

    Thursday
    Jun252015

    Norway Chess 2015, Final Round: Topalov Draws, Wins the Tournament; Hammer Beats Carlsen

    Another exciting super-tournament is now history, and the winner of the Norway Chess tournament of 2015 is the resurgent Veselin Topalov. Coming into the round he only needed a draw with Viswanathan Anand to clinch clear first, and he got it with ease as they played a known variation resulting in a draw by repetition.

    As Anand could have taken (clear) first place with a win, it would be easy to criticize this choice. But this was not a match and he was not in a zero-sum game situation. If he lost - and he had the black pieces - he would slip from at worst a three-way tie for second to potentially fourth place. Moreover, Anand's style and repertoire with black is generally classical and not based on strategically risky lines against 1.d4 like the King's Indian or the Modern Benoni. So while it would have been entertaining for us as spectators to see him go for broke in the last round, it's hard to criticize his decision to bring a successful tournament to a conclusion and to see if anyone would join him in a tie for second, half a point behind the winner.

    Two players had their chances, and one succeeded. If Hikaru Nakamura could defeat Levon Aronian with black, he'd catch Anand; likewise if Anish Giri could upend Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces. Remarkably, both had their chances, but only Nakamura reeled in the full point. Giri drew and finished in clear fourth, a point and a half ahead of Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (Vachier-Lagrave drew with Alexander Grischuk.)

    The fifth game featured two players having bad tournaments, but bad in different ways and for different reasons. The player with the white pieces, Jon Ludwig Hammer, was alone in last place coming into the last round with just two points out of eight. This wasn't really a shock, as he was the lowest-rated player by a considerable margin, but as he had squandered many opportunities along the way he still had serious grounds for regret. The other player was the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. His score of 3.5/8 was terrible by his standards, but it seemed that he was playing his way into form after the catastrophe in round 1 and his getting clobbered in rounds 2 and 4. He had won convincingly in rounds 5 and 8, and looked good in round 6 as well even though that game only finished in a draw. With a win over his countryman and regular second, Carlsen could at least end the tournament with an even score and +3 over the last five rounds.

    But Hammer had his own ambitions. Before and during the tournament he offered two statements about what a good tournament would look like. The (probably) more serious statement was that he wanted to score at least three points; more jocularly, he said he'd be willing to lose every game as long as he beat Carlsen. In the end, then, it was a success: he got exactly three points out of nine and beat Carlsen - without having to lose the remaining games. He didn't even come in clear last place, but finished tied for last with Aronian, only half a point behind Carlsen and Grischuk.

    The games, with my notes, are here, and these are the final standings (the player listed first in case of a tie had the better tiebreak score):

    • 1. Topalov 6.5 (of 9)
    • 2-3. Anand, Nakamura 6
    • 4. Giri 5.5
    • 5-6. Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave 4
    • 7-8. Carlsen, Grischuk 3.5
    • 9-10. Aronian, Hammer 3

    Next stop: Dortmund, which starts on Saturday.

    Friday
    Jun192015

    Norway Chess 2015, Round 3: Nakamura, Topalov Win, Lead

    Hikaru Nakamura has enjoyed a very good career score against Fabiano Caruana, and although Caruana made up some ground by beating Nakamura in St. Louis last year Nakamura struck back today against his countryman. It was a strange win, however, as Caruana was doing just fine and had reached an equal rook ending that seemed headed for a reasonably quick and straightforward draw. Near the end of the first time control, things got out of hand for the Italian-American (and in favor of the American who spends more time in Italy thanks to his Italian girlfriend) when he hit upon the dubious 38...b5 and the outright terrible 40...g5. Both moves weakened Black's structure, and the latter also invited White's rook in to cause lethal damage.

    That put Nakamura at 2.5/3 (and to #2 in the live ratings), the same score enjoyed by Veselin Topalov (now the world's #3). Topalov won with great ease against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the black side of a Meran Semi-Slav, thanks to MVL's choosing a mistaken tactical idea starting with 20.Bd2. That move may not have been so bad in itself, but the plan to go for Nd5 and Ba5 failed completely. Two moves later, Black was winning, and White resigned after a further six moves were played.

    The remaining games were drawn, and that left Anish Giri alone in third place with 2/3. He was completely lost to Magnus Carlsen, whose lucklessness against Giri is a source of endless mirth to the young Dutchman. The only positive for Carlsen is that it wasn't a third straight loss.

    Levon Aronian was very happy with his position out of the opening against Jon Ludwig Hammer, but to his dismay Hammer played very well after that and managed to hold the game, with some effort. Some, but especially after 34.Re4 h5!, it wasn't too tough to save the game. White's rook was stuck for the rest of the game.

    Finally, Viswanathan Anand enjoyed an advantage against Alexander Grischuk much of the way, but didn't manage to convert it into anything substantial. Anand has been getting good positions, but his opponents have been slipping away.

    Tournament site here, games here (but without notes today).

    Here are the round 4 pairings:

    • Grischuk (1) - Hammer (1)
    • Topalov (2.5) - Aronian (1)
    • Caruana (1.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (1.5)
    • Giri (2) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Anand (1.5) - Carlsen (.5)

    Wednesday
    May272015

    Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix, The End: Caruana, Nakamura and Jakovenko Tie For First, and the First Two Are Now Candidates

    Five of the six games were drawn today, with only Peter Svidler managing a win (against Baadur Jobava). As a result, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Dmitry Jakovenko tied for first in the Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix tournament. More importantly, Caruana and Nakamura finished 1-2 in the overall Grand Prix standings, and thereby qualified for next year's Candidates' event.

    (Viswanathan Anand had already qualified by virtue of his loss in the last world championship match, while the other five candidates have yet to be determined. Two will qualify from the World Cup [starting September 10], two will qualify by rating, and one will qualify on whatever basis the organizers see fit. Hopefully it will go to the person who was closest overall to qualifying in one of the other ways, but there's a non-trivial chance that it will go to the strongest available representative of the host country.)

    As for the final round action, two games were crucial: Anish Giri vs. Caruana and Nakamura vs. Jakovenko. Caruana had a small disadvantage in the middlegame, but it disappeared when Giri went for the ebullient plan of g4-g5. Caruana was soon better, and it was only the sufficiency of taking a draw that prevented him from making Giri suffer for several hours. Meanwhile, Jakovenko needed a win to take sole first and to qualify for the Candidates' rather than his opponent. He managed to get a very small advantage, but it never became anything tangible. Whatever small chances he had departed with the last set of rooks, as 26...Rxf2 led to a queen ending where both sides' pawns started disappearing in a hurry. With the draw Jakovenko concluded an outstanding result, but it wasn't quite good enough.

    Friday
    May222015

    Khanty-Mansiysk Grand Prix, Round 8: Three Lead

    As the rounds go on the players get more tired, and as they get more tired the blunders start to accumulate. There were four decisive games in Khanty-Mansiysk today, and in at least three of them the errors were more unforced than forced.

    Fabiano Caruana started the round in clear first and had White against Dmitry Jakovenko, and things were proceeding smoothly. Jakovenko sacrificed a pawn to make things messy, but it really looked like a two-result game: either Caruana would grind out a victory, or Black would draw either by having enough counterplay to keep White from doing what he wanted or by reaching a drawn opposite-colored bishop ending. After a while it looked more like the latter than the former, but a Black win was out of the question until Caruana's 36.Qb3??, overlooking or underestimating 36...c4. (The problem is that 37.dxc4 Qa5 wins a piece.) Black went from being a pawn down to a monster pawn up, and when White decided to avoid the queen ending with 41.Rf2? Black was on his way to delivering mate.

    Fortunately for Caruana, he's still in a first place tie. (Jakovenko, surprisingly, is just a half a point behind.) With a win either Leinier Dominguez or Sergey Karjakin could have leapfrogged into first, but neither did. Dominguez was worse forever against Evgeny Tomashevsky, but defended pretty much perfectly and drew in 101 moves. He is thus tied for first. As for Karjakin, he lost to Alexander Grischuk, and in one move. He had come under some pressure near the end of the time control, but after Grischuk's 39.Qe8+ the position would be about equal after 39...Kh6. Instead, Karjakin played 39...Nf7??, still with several minutes on the clock, and resigned after 40.Qg8.

    The third member of the leading triumvirate is Hikaru Nakamura. His opponent was Baadur Jobava, so you know it must have been an exciting game. Jobava flung his kingside pawns in the opening, but something went wrong and Nakamura was soon better - much better. He was well on his way to a pretty straightforward victory until he played 44...exf5; either 44...gxf5 or especially 44...dxe4 gxf5 would have made his life much simpler. The point is that Nakamura wound up with a group of pawns around his king that constituted a sort of do-it-yourself mating net, and while there were other improvements available to Nakamura later on Jobava had loads of counterplay based on Black's terrible king.

    A key moment came on move 67, when Jobava played 67.Ke7. Given his intention to play Nxg6 next, he should have played 67.Kd5 instead, when the same continuation as in the game would lead to a draw: 67.Kd5 Kg8 68.Nxg6 Rxg6 69.Rxh5 Rg4 70.Ke6! g6 71.Rh1! Kg7 72.Ke5! Ra4 73.Rh2 etc., and when Black plays ...g5 White plays Kf5, and then it's trivial. In the 67.Ke7(?) version, the sac failed, as there was no way to get the king back or to create a sort of mutual standoff where Black must let the king back in order to make progress. Maybe White could have held if he hadn't played 68.Nxg6 - I'll leave that to you guys to work out.

    The final winner of the day was Boris Gelfand, whose win over Peter Svidler was his first win of the tournament - and despite that he's just half a point out of first. This was one of those games where the evaluation moved in waves: equal at the start of the game, then White (Gelfand) was much better (maybe winning), then Black got back to equal, then White was better again, then equal, then White was better...and the third time, Svidler couldn't get back on the wave and he - or rather, his position - went under.

    The last game of the day was an uneventful draw between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri. For Vachier-Lagrave, it was enough to break a four-game losing streak, while Giri was probably tired from yesterday's marathon with Tomashevsky and reasonably happy to get an easy draw with Black going into the rest day. When the players resume battle on Sunday, these will be the pairings:

    • Jakovenko (4.5) - Gelfand (4.5)
    • Karjakin (4.5) - Caruana (5)
    • Nakamura (5) - Grischuk (4)
    • Giri (3.5) - Jobava (3)
    • Dominguez (5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)
    • Svidler (4) - Tomashevsky (3)

    Friday
    May012015

    Nakamura Recaps His U.S. Championship Win

    Here.

    Sunday
    Apr122015

    U.S. Championships, Round 11: Nakamura and Krush are the Champions

    Congratulations to both Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush are in order. They won the U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women's Championship, respectively, and pocketed some nice coin along the way as well - $45k for Nakamura and $20k for Krush.

    Nakamura entered the last round half a point ahead of Ray Robson, and that's how he ended it too. Robson's game finished after Nakamura's, but that Robson would win was clear early on. He faced Timur Gareev, who has been playing somewhat eccentric chess throughout the tournament; today, he went completely out of orbit and left the solar system. Gareev is a great player whose FIDE rating reached a high of 2682 a couple of years ago, so his managing to achieve a lost position with white in just nine moves should be chalked up his having too much talent rather than too little. The game lasted 31 moves, but the final result was seldom if ever in doubt.

    In the meantime, Alexander Onischuk managed to equalize against Nakamura pretty comfortably, and was probably just a few precise moves away from making a draw. Had he done so, Nakamura would have had a rapid playoff against Robson on Monday. Instead, Onischuk made a few little inaccuracies, got in trouble, and then was lost - all within a space of six or seven moves. The fatal moment came for Black when he played 27...Nxf2, which was a tactical blunder. Instead, 27...Rb6 would have led to a double rook ending where White's extra pawn would give him the ability to torture Black for many moves to come, but not probably not win against correct defense. After 27...Nxf2 28.Nd4 Nh3+ Onischuk probably missed Nakamura's 29.Kh1!, winning (at least) an exchange, and he resigned two moves later.

    Nakamura thus finished in clear first with 8/11, Robson in clear second with 7.5 points, and in clear third was Wesley So with 6.5 after another strong win, this time against Kayden Troff. It's to So's credit that he finished so well, and it's to his relief (I hope) that the final margin was such that even if So had defeated Akobian he still would have finished half a point behind Nakamura.

    In the remaining games, Shankland drew with Akobian, Naroditsky drew with Kamsky and, perplexingly, Sam Sevian beat Conrad Holt. It's difficult to be certain about this, in part because the live commentary ended shortly after Nakamura's win and most of what we have to go by is the very fallible result (probably) generated by the DGT boards. Here's the data I have: the tournament website's crosstable and the broadcast board on Chess24 both give the result as a win for Sevian. Moreover, the broadcast board shows Black (Holt) having no time, which offers a reasonable explanation. But look at the game itself: absolutely nothing happened from move 52 until move 99, when Holt finally decided to push his a-pawn up a square to avoid a coming 50-move rule claim, and a move later he lost on time in an absolutely safe position two pawns ahead. If they had been playing without an increment then sure, things like this can happen, but with 30 seconds added after every move Holt must have just lost track of the clock. This is possible, but it's also possible that he just decided that playing the position out was pointless and agreed to a draw, and they didn't bother to stop the clock afterward and/or the kings were put on the wrong squares in the center, at least momentarily.

    We're in rich tangent territory here, and I'll indulge a bit before turning briefly to the women's championship. If it turns out that this is just another DGT error, it might be time to hire some unemployed people to picket that company's headquarters until they make some sort of design fix. But rather than beat that dead horse, here's a new topic: why did the English-language commentators, who were on site, quit their broadcast so early? I'm not sure if the culprit is the St. Louis club or Yasser Seirawan, but this happened all tournament long. I'm sure the Sinquefields are paying him well; is it too much to ask that he (and Jennifer Shahade & Maurice Ashley) actually stay for the entire time? It is frankly incredible to me that the Spanish-language commentary coming from a Chess24 studio in Europe more than once outlasted the on site English-language commentary team based at the tournament site itself. Even if Yaz & crew didn't stick around for all 100 moves of Sevian-Holt, they didn't have to pack their bags when just two of the six games in the open section had finished. The St. Louis club is doing some great things for chess in the United States, but there are some things they could do better - and this is one of them.

    Turning back to the game itself, I should note one especially interesting moment, which would have preempted all of this discussion. Holt was better almost all the way, but a big slip on move 26 gave Sevian the chance to finish in style. 27.Nf5! would have won, threatening 28.Qh8+ followed by 29.Rh7#. The main variation runs 27...exf5 (creating a flight square on e6) 28.e6! (preventing the king from running, after 28...Qxe6 the flight square is gone) 28...Qg7 29.Kf2 (threatening Rh1 followed by Rh8+, mating) and wins. Black must play either 29...Nd8, when after 30.e7! he's going to lose practically everything (30...Qe7 31.Rh8+ followed by 32.Rh7+, 33.Rxe7(+) and 34.Qxb7), or he plays 29...Bf/d7 30.Rh1! Bxe6 31.Rh8+ Kf7 32.Qc7+! Ne7 33.R8h7, when one funny finale is 33...Rbe8 34.Qe5! with mate in three.

    As for the strange way Holt lost - if he lost - it reminds me of one of my luckiest wins ever. After making a huge error in a game where I was clearly better, I had to go into a bad ending a pawn down against a strong expert (approximately 2140 USCF). There were many further adventures in the game, but I somehow reached an ending with king and rook against my opponent's king and queen. This is a theoretical win for the queen, of course, but finishing off the rook isn't trivial against good defense. (Walter Browne initially failed to defeat a computer in that ending in a specially arranged challenge, and years later Peter Svidler once famously failed to win this ending against Boris Gelfand in a crucial FIDE knockout world championship match, in a rapid playoff.) Unfortunately for my opponent, he had only seven seconds to win it, but with a five second time delay every move. (That is, there was a five second grace period each move before the seven seconds would start ticking off.) He made most of his moves without losing any of his time, but at one point he burned five of his "real" seconds, and then around 25 moves into the endgame he spent his last two seconds, and lost. It was a difficult situation for my opponent: just making moves would have been easy, but to make progress against good defense one must concentrate. And once one really concentrates, how does one remember to move?

    So perhaps something like that happened to Holt. Another topic for discussion: should he have kept playing that ending against Sevian, after not making a shred of progress for 48 moves? Normally I'd say that he had carried out the appropriate desire to fight for a win a bit too far, but something important was at stake: a place in the World Cup this September. I'm not sure what the tiebreak situation was in case of a draw: Troff, Holt and Sevian would have all had 5 points and only one last spot was available. (Shankland also had 5 points, but had already qualified from another event.) If Holt had won, the spot would have been his; instead, it's the 14-year-old Sevian who has qualified, along with Nakamura and So (by rating), Shankland (from the American Continental Championship), and Robson, Onischuk, Akobian, and Kamsky from this event.

    Time for a few words about the women's championship. Irina Krush led her closest rivals by a full point entering the last round, and needed only a draw with white against one of them - Katerina Nemcova - to seal the deal. This she managed to do in an efficient and expeditious manner, and she has now won her 7th U.S. Women's crown and fourth in a row. Very impressive! - but it's not the record. Gisela Kahn Gresser (1904-2000) won it nine times from 1944 to 1969; an especially impressive feat considering that she didn't even learn how to play until she was in her 30s! Krush, by contrast, only turned 31 in December, so the odds are very good she will exceed Gresser's mark and then some before she decides to call it a career.

    Saturday
    Apr112015

    U.S. Championships, Round 10: Nakamura and Krush Lead Entering the Final Round

    The open and women's events aren't over and the favorites (Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush, respectively) - who are also the leaders - haven't yet clinched. They are both in fine shape entering the final round on Sunday and look likely to finish as champions.

    Nakamura had an extremely important game today, taking on Ray Robson with the black pieces. Robson was, and is, only half a point behind, so this was a major opportunity for him. Alas, there wasn't much excitement in the game. Robson played 1.e4 and Nakamura decided to play solidly with 1...e5. Feeling relatively empty-handed against the Berlin, Robson opted instead for the Scotch Four Knights. That was probably even less successful than a Berlin would have been--if anyone was better after the opening it was Nakamura, and while Robson may have obtained the tiniest of edges later on it was a pretty routine and easy hold for the leader.

    Still, some drama remains. Robson is still only half a point behind, and if he can win against Timur Gareev in the final round (albeit with the black pieces) while Alexander Onischuk manages to hold Nakamura to a draw, there will be a playoff. In fact, a three-person playoff is possible. Onischuk beat Sam Sevian convincingly, and with the win moved to within a point of the leader. Thus if he beats Nakamura (not likely, at least/especially because he'll have black) and Robson draws his game, all three will move on to playoffs on Monday.

    The situation could have been even more interesting had Wesley So not been forfeited in round 9. Today So bounced back marvelously, winning a very impressive game with black against none other than Gata Kamsky. Had he drawn with Varuzhan Akobian yesterday he would have been tied with Onischuk for third, and of course if he had won he'd be tied with Robson. As things stand, however, he's out of the running. (It should be mentioned that if Kamsky had won, he'd have been tied with Onischuk.)

    In the women's championship, Krush is suddenly leading by a full point entering the last round. She had been trailing Katerina Nemcova all event long, only catching up to her after round 9, but now she has jumped ahead. Krush won pretty easily against Jennifer Yu, while Nemcova lost to Paikidze (who also beat Krush!) - albeit somewhat unnecessarily. Nemcova was better most of the way - at times seriously better - but got careless about her king's safety and went from clearly better to simply lost in the space of about four moves.

    Krush has 8/10, and both Nemcova and Paikidze have 7 points apiece. Krush will have white against Nemcova in the last round, while Paikidze has white against Foisor. Thus the women's championship could also finish in a two- or even three-person playoff on Monday, but only if the slumping and lower-rated Nemcova can defeat the surging Krush. Not likely, but you never know.

    Finally, an addendum to yesterday's post about So's forfeit. I cited an article that included allegations that Paul Truong played some role in creating an emotionally disturbing atmosphere around So. Truong has responded on his Facebook page (HT: Allen Becker), to which I link in the interest of fairness.

    Friday
    Apr102015

    U.S. Championships, Round 8: Nakamura Again Alone in First

    Hikaru Nakamura again leads the U.S. Championship by himself, but it's not yet a breakaway. He leads with 6/8, good for a half-point lead over Ray Robson and a point and a half advantage over the trio consisting of Gata Kamsky, Wesley So and Alexander Onischuk.

    Nakamura's win came with Black at Kayden Troff's expense, in convincing style in a Modern Benoni. I haven't looked at the theory of the Fianchetto System against the Modern Benoni in a while, but I don't recall seeing this play with 10.Re1 followed by 12.e4. Maybe it's not bad, but White is usually concerned to keep Black's knight from reaching the g4 square. Whatever the merits of Troff's plan, nothing too serious happened until Troff's 24th move. Unfortunately for the youngster, the move he chose gave him a lost position; Nakamura's pieces had too many squares available for the attack. Instead, the feistier 24.Nc4 was called for, after which the chances would be roughly level.

    Robson started the round level with Nakamura, and with the white pieces against Sam Shankland would presumably have a decent chance to end the round the same way. Alas, it was not to be, and he was probably losing in the middlegame. Shankland seemed to let Robson off the hook when he played 27...axb3, as Robson was better able to use the c-file than his oppponent. Black's advantage was minimal after that, and the game was drawn soon after the time control.

    The other really major game of the day so Conrad Holt beat Wesley So. As usual in Holt's games, the opening preparation went pretty deep, and it looked like both players were well-prepared. The game really turned on one move: So's 20...b5? This just gave up a pawn (and harmed his position) while not giving him any more play than he had before the pawn sac. Instead, the natural 20...Re8 (preparing to double rooks and/or play ...f4) would have resulted in a tactically rich but objectively equal position (so says the engine, anyway).

    In other games, Akobian and Kamsky drew a short, clean game, while Timur Gareev won with great ease against Sam Sevian. Sevian offered a very naive defense, and Gareev made him pay pretty badly. Finally, Onischuk won a nice positional game (praised by Anish Giri) against Daniel Naroditsky, who has been suffering mightily in this tournament. The fate of Black's light-squared bishop in this game was especially brutal, and the game is worth replaying if only to have a look at the finale.

    In the women's section, Irina Krush won against Alisa Melekhina to close to within half a point of the leader, Katerina Nemcova, who only managed to draw against Sabina Foisor.

    Monday
    Apr062015

    U.S. Championships, Round 5: The Favorites Triumph

    The top seeds, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, regained their momentum today at the U.S. Championship, and occupy the two top places after five rounds, entering the first rest day.

    Nakamura essayed the Dragon against Daniel Naroditsky, and went for a surprising ...Rxc3 sacrifice. That kind of sac isn't so surprising, but as Nakamura's version involved a queen trade and didn't include the usual compensating pawn it was riskier than usual. The computer wasn't impressed by the sac, but then humans aren't computers. Naroditsky didn't maintain an advantage for very long, and when he decided to return the exchange in hopes of achieving a safe position he must have miscalculated something. 28.e5 was pretty much a blunder, and while it's hard to believe Naroditsky could have played it intending to follow up with 29.Bxe5, not seeing 29...Bh6 until it was too late, it's also hard to see what he thought he'd have after 29.Rxe5. Anyway, returning the exchange only exacerbated White's problems, and a flurry of tactics soon forced Naroditsky's resignation.

    So also won, defeating Timur Gareev on the white side of a Fort Knox French, with Gareev offering a funny twist with 9...h5. That didn't work out too badly, and Gareev was still only slightly worse by his 20th move. Unfortunately, the plan he chose with 20...Qb8 followed by 21...e5 wasn't so good, and while So didn't play perfectly he obtained the upper hand and never released it.

    So thereby reached 3.5/5, half a point less than Nakamura. With a draw, Ray Robson would tie with So, while a win would keep him in a tie for first. Instead, he lost to Gata Kamsky, leaving both players in a tie for third place. Robson outthought himself in the opening, and chose 2...d5 rather than his usual 2...g6, aiming for the Gruenfeld. His reasoning was that Kamsky always avoids mainstream theory, opting instead for lines like the London System. Robson felt that 2...d5 would be better there, only to be surprised when Kamsky played 3.c4 and headed for "normal" theory. Robson managed to keep a decent position until around move 30 or so, but that forced him to burn a lot of time. As the time control drew near and time pressure increased, Robson couldn't keep up with Kamsky's level of play, and the veteran obtained his first win of the tournament.

    The tie for third has a third player, Kayden Troff, who was unbelievably lucky against Conrad Holt, who is apparently one of his customers. Troff had a 4-0 score against Holt coming into the game, but he was totally outplayed in the opening and losing by move 13. Holt had his first chance to put Troff away on move 16 with 16.Qa3!, taking e3 away from Black's queen and preparing Bc7. Instead, he played 16.Bc7, which let Troff fight on with 16...Qe3! 19.Be6 was another error (19.Qc2!), after which the game was equal. It was only a few moves later that Holt again enjoyed a winning advantage, and he maintained it to and past the time control on move 40 as well. All Holt needed was to keep alert and make a few more accurate moves, and his two extra pawns and the terrible Black king would give him the full point.

    On move 43, Holt could have played 43.Kf3, 43.Kh1 or even the taunting moves 43.Kg1 and 43.Kf2. Instead, thinking to end the game by stopping the checks, he played 43.Kh3??? This succeeded in both aims: it did end the game, and it did stop the checks. Unfortunately for him, the way the game ended wasn't what he had in mind. Troff played 43...g5!, threatening 44...Qh6#, and to White's misfortune and Black's incredible good luck, there was no way for White to stop the mate that didn't walk into some fork or other. If White played 44.g4, Black would have 44...Qh6+ 45.Kg3 Nf1+, forking the king and queen. If instead 44.Qd6+, then 44...Qxd6 45.Rxd6 g4+ 46.Kh4 and then 46...Nf5+ picks up the rook on the fork. Holt tried 44.Rd6, but once again it was time for a fork: 44...g4+ 45.Kh4 Nf5+. Holt played three more moves and resigned in understandable disgust.

    The other two games (Akobian-Onischuk and Shankland-Sevian) were drawn, so let's turn to the women's championship. Here too, the key decisive game saw the winner enjoy a bit of spectacular luck on the way to victory. Irina Krush was falling prey to a great attack by Rusudan Goletiani, and had Goletiani played the naive and obvious 22...dxe5 she would have been well on the way to a victory. Instead, she got too clever by half with 22...Bxg2??, missing the neat rejoinder 23.Rh5! Qxh5 24.Qd4+!, forcing Black to either trade queens or play 24...Kg8, taking the g8 square from Black's rook. Either way, Black's attack was over and White enjoyed a non-trivial winning advantage. Krush slipped up and let Goletiani back into the game a few moves later, but near the time control Black returned the favor. Krush regained the advantage, this time for good. As a result Krush moved to 3.5/5, within half a point of Katerina Nemcova, who drew with Tatev Abrahamyan.

    Tuesday
    Mar312015

    The U.S. Championships Start Tomorrow (Wednesday)

    The semi-retired Gata Kamsky has won the last two U.S. Championships, but in neither event did he have to overcome U.S. #1 (and now world #3) Hikaru Nakamura. In this year's U.S. championship, he'll not only have to outperform Nakamura, but world #8 Wesley So as well. On the women's side, Irina Krush will be going for her 27th straight title (give or take...it'll be "just" her 7th title and fourth in a row, if she wins). For some reason her main rival, 4-time champ Anna Zatonskih, isn't playing, so her toughest opposition may come from Tatev Abrahamyan.

    Play begins each day at 1 p.m. local time in St. Louis = 2 p.m. ET. The pairings will be determined tonight, and both tournaments are 12-player round-robins. Sticking to the men's event, what do you think: Nakamura, So, or the field?