Hikaru Nakamura has won his 4th US title and Irina Krush her 7th as the top seeds emerged triumphant in St. Louis. For much of the last round it had looked as though we were set for a Monday playoff, but when Alexander Onischuk collapsed in a drawn position against Nakamura it meant Ray Robson’s victory over Timur Gareev was only enough for second place. Wesley So again set his off-the-board issues aside to claim his 6th win and 3rd place overall. Garry Kasparov made an appearance on the live show, lambasting FIDE over the forfeit rule.
The last round of the 2015 US Chess Championship started badly for Nakamura. He played the Scotch against Onischuk but said he’d forgotten to check the line with 11…Rb8, which plunged him into an 18-minute think.
As he was wondering what to do with a position where he had no more than equality he could only watch in bemusement as Timur Gareev took a walk on the wild side.
His 8.a4 and 9.Ra3 idea even had Yasser Seirawan
commenting that, “Timur has absolutely lost it”, while Maurice Ashley’s string
of adjectives included “embarrassing” and “ridiculous”. By move 13 a whole
piece was on offer:
Ray Robson took it with 13…axb5, though Seirawan criticised that move as a sign of inexperience, since 13…f5 was a very solid alternative. If you just glance back at the game score now it may look as though Robson smoothly defeated his opponent in what followed, but in real time the 20-year-old left himself 12 minutes for 24 moves, made some inaccuracies and left the game hanging in the balance for much of the crucial period when the fate of the title was being decided on Nakamura’s board.
Alexander Onischuk had gone into the final round with a theoretical chance of becoming US Champion, but for that he needed to beat Nakamura while Robson only drew. It seems that glimmer of hope led him astray, since he looked unsure whether to play for a draw or try and seize the initiative. The end result was that Nakamura was soon a healthy pawn up and it all fell apart for Onischuk when he grabbed a pawn with 27…Nxf2?:
Yasser Seirawan had only just finished explaining why this was a trap when Onischuk fell for it, with the fly in the ointment being that the 28.Nd4 fork can’t be parried after 28…Nh3+ 29.Kh1 by 29...Rd2 due to 30.Re8+ Kg7 31.Ne6+!. In the game Onischuk avoided that line but lost even faster, actually blundering a whole piece on the final move, much to both players’ amusement:
So Hikaru Nakamura had won his fourth US title with an unbeaten
8/11. Afterwards Hikaru talked to Maurice Ashley and admitted that during the
game he’d been ready to prepare for playoffs, though the unexpected win made up
for a missed win in an earlier game:
Throughout the tournament not winning that game against Gata left me in a bad mood.
When asked about his fantastic start to 2015 Nakamura was apprehensive, pointing out that it might bode badly for his next tournament, the final Grand Prix event starting on May 13 in Khanty-Mansiysk, which “is far more important than any tournament I’ve played this year”. Nakamura has his sights set on a place in the 2016 Candidates Tournament and a chance to fight for the World Championship.
Watch the full interview:
It's a decade since Nakamura first won the US Championship:
Afterwards he dedicated the win to some important people in his life:
Nakamura’s big rival for the 2015 US Championships, Wesley So, has had a lot to endure in St. Louis, but he still managed to showcase his great talent on the board, notching up six wins – more than anyone else in the open tournament.
The final-round win was a smooth positional victory over Kayden Troff, who was in trouble on move 11 and finally stumbled into a mating net at the end:
Troff resigned here, since 44…Ke6 45.Nd4 is mate. So received some high-level backing over the forfeit incident, with the legendary Garry Kasparov blaming “a bunch of idiots in FIDE” for introducing the rule that So broke (he didn’t criticise the arbiter for applying it). You can watch the full Kasparov segment below - it should perhaps be pointed out that Garry wouldn’t have been forfeited for writing down times on the scoresheet, something still allowed by the rules:
In the final reckoning Wesley So’s forfeit had no effect on the top three standings. Even a win against Akobian would only have tied So with Ray Robson on 7.5/11, and since he lost against Robson he would still have finished third. The person who has a real cause for complaint seems to be Gata Kamsky, who was edged out of 5th place – his goal in order to qualify for the World Cup later this year – by Akobian.
The other player who finished on 5.5/11 alongside Kamsky and Akobian was 14-year-old Sam Sevian, who Garry Kasparov singled out for an all-consuming love of chess.
The youngster seemed to have run out of steam over the course of the long event, but he finished on a high note with a very strange win. Conrad Holt again played the Winawer French and despite initially getting a good position then allowed his opponent a beautiful tactical blow:
Here 27.Nf5!! might have seen the board showered with gold coins in an earlier era. The main line is 27…exf5 28.e6! Qg7 and then a quiet king move in order to be able to swing the a1-rook over to h1. There’s nothing reasonable for Black to do to prevent the mating threats down the h-file.
Instead Sam moved his king immediately with 27.Ke2? and was soon worse, a situation that didn’t change until the move 100.Kb4:
And here, despite the 30-second increment per move, Conrad Holt lost on time, still trying to win a position two pawns up. It was a cruel end, but still testimony to Holt’s fighting spirit – like So he had only one draw in 11 rounds!
So the final standings were as follows:
In the women’s event the real drama had taken place the day before in Round 10, when the unbeaten Nazi Paikidze and Katerina Nemcova met in a crucial game. Katerina was in the driving seat with good chances of a win that would have kept her level with Irina Krush, but she instead slipped into a mating net. This is the final position after Paikidze's 40...Kd3:
That meant Irina went into the final round knowing that a draw would suffice to claim an incredible 7th US Championship, and her 4th in a row. She managed that task with ease, and completed a hugely impressive “comeback”, which included winning 6 of her next 7 games after a loss in Round 3. She explained that her coach had told her after that loss, “now we’ll see what you’re made of!”. Watch her full interview, where she also reveals her goal of surpassing Gisela Kahn Gresser's record 9 US Championship wins:
Irina’s task in that game was made easier by the fact that her opponent, Katerina Nemcova, was delighted with a draw since it guaranteed her third place and qualification for the World Cup.
Katerina afterwards explained that as a student she has only a couple of days to submit her coursework before heading to China for the World Team Championship:
Nazi Paikidze also eased to a draw to finish in second place, living up to her billing as the tournament's second seed:
Viktorija Ni finished fourth after recovering from a shaky start to power home with 5 wins and 2 draws in her final 7 games.
The final standings were as follows:
So that’s all from the 2015 US Chess Championships!
We hope you enjoyed the show, and there’s just time to remind you that for a few more days you can still take advantage of the U.S. Championship special offer to Go Premium for only €89 / $99 per year (or €8.99 / $9.99 per month).
The next big chess action is the supertournament in Shamkir, Azerbaijan that starts on Friday. Wesley So will be making the trip there, to be joined by the likes of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, former World Champions Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik and world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana. Don't miss it!