Reports Apr 1, 2017 | 2:29 PMby Colin McGourty

US Championship 3: So survives Caruana scare

Wesley So moved to 59 games unbeaten by drawing Fabiano Caruana in Round 3 of the 2017 US Championship, but admitted, “I didn’t have anything but trouble” after his Berlin Wall almost toppled. Hikaru Nakamura was also held by 16-year-old Jeffery Xiong, allowing Daniel Naroditsky and Yaroslav Zherebukh to join a 5-strong leading pack. Irina Krush is sole leader of the Women’s Championship after beating Tatev Abrahamyan with an interesting novelty, while the Game of the Day was an incredible rollercoaster where Anna Zatonskih finally beat Nazi Paikidze in 129 moves.

Fabiano Caruana's Berlin almost brought home the bacon against Wesley So | photo: Austin Fuller 

You can replay all the games by clicking on a result below:

You can also rewatch the 6.5 hour live show produced in St. Louis:

Wesley’s streak continues

Careful what you wish for! Wesley So said after this game that given how strong Fabiano Caruana is in sharp tactical positions he decided, “to go for an ending”. What he got was the infamous Berlin Endgame, and although they entered a line that had previously almost always ended in a draw, he admitted, “I didn’t have anything but trouble”.

Where did it all go wrong? | photo: Lennart Ootes

Eventually the players reached a bishop vs. knight position where it was just a question of whether Caruana was winning with Black or it was a draw. That still wasn’t clear to Wesley after the game, but it seems the critical moment came after he played 37.Nf5:

Fabiano took the pawn with 37…Bxb3 but after 38.h5! it turned out he'd lost a key tempo. After 37…Be6! Black keeps many more options open (e.g. to play …f6 and then Bg8 to stop the white h-pawn) .In the game there followed 38…Kf6 39.Kg3 Kg5 40.h6 Kg6 and, having made the time control, Wesley didn’t hesitate to play a beautiful drawing move:

41.g5! Taking the pawn or knight would of course allow the h-pawn to queen, and by the time Black had dealt with White’s kingside pawns the white king was able to make it over to the queenside and ensure a simple draw.

Jeffery Xiong was a move away from having Hikaru Nakamura in some trouble | photo: Austin Fuller

The day’s other top clash saw Hikaru Nakamura take on World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong with the white pieces, but he got nothing at all from his Italian Game, admitting, “I was just trying to simplify and get it over with - I just shut it down.”

Even that didn’t go well, since for a half-move Jeffery had a chance to apply real pressure:

27…Qd6! immediately threatens to put the queen on g6, hitting g2 and the e4-pawn, as well as putting the knight on d3, where it blocks a queen on c2 from defending the pawn. Xiong said he simply missed that idea, and in the game 27…Rab8 gave White an extra tempo to put the queen where it needed to be on c2, covering the key d3 and e4-squares. Nakamura correctly pointed out, however, that even after 27…Qd6 White would probably grovel his way to a draw with 28.Qd1.

After that relatively early draw Hikaru Nakamura watched the other games and joined in the chess24 chat when a discussion about nationality saw someone point out that Hikaru would be eligible to be US president:

The only other draw of the day was Onischuk-Shankland, where first Onischuk seemed to have an almost decisive edge, then Shankland emerged an exchange up, and then the “reality star” (as Nakamura labelled Sam after his adventures on Kicking and Screaming) decided he’d seen enough and forced a draw.

Three painful losses, no retirements

Two players were able to join Nakamura, So and Onischuk in the lead on 2/3. Yaroslav Zherebukh probably didn’t make Alexander Shabalov feel any better about “castling long” with three losses at the start of the event, when he noted he’d had to go to university lectures for three hours after his long game the day before. Not having had time for much preparation, “Yaro” described his plan of fianchettoing his kingside bishop as, “Just build a house and see what happens next!” What happened was that Shabalov's house collapsed in a painfully one-sided game. When Zherebukh was asked how he felt about getting his first US Championship win and joining the leaders he replied, “It feels like where I’m supposed to be”.

21-year-old Daniel Naroditsky also joined the leaders | photo: Lennart Ootes

After taking time out from chess to study at Stanford University, Daniel Naroditsky is now also among the leaders, after managing to grind out a win a pawn up in a drawish ending against Varuzhan Akobian. In the post-game interview, Naroditsky explained that his 6.h4 in the Najdorf the day before had been preparation from his friend Tal Baron, but that over the board he mixed up two lines of analysis in what should otherwise have been a very good position.

Ray Robson got his first win over Gata Kamsky after many attempts | photo: Lennart Ootes

Akobian put most of the blame for his loss on his playing too ambitiously with a queen sortie on move 13 rather than simply castling. Gata Kamsky’s queen also found herself out on a limb after an opening that had initially gone very well for Black:

Here Ray Robson is threatening to win the queen with 27.Re2, making Gata’s 26…d4 an only move. What followed should still have been a drawn ending, but again an extra passed pawn was to prove decisive, with Ray also showing he knows his pawn endings!

He played the only winning move 58.Kf2! and White is just in time to queen a pawn first. Kamsky resigned after a second tough loss in a row. The following didn’t actually happen, though:

Sorry, that was a little joke for what might now be known as April Fake News Day – Maurice Ashley didn’t interview Kamsky and we have no reason to think Gata is planning on retiring anytime soon, despite some blogs you might read

After three rounds, then, the favourites have yet to demonstrate domination of the US Championship:

Reigning Champion loses thriller

The key results of Round 3 of the US Women’s Championship were victories for the perennial favourites Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, but they simply couldn’t have been more different.

Irina Krush has her mojo back and put in a dominant performance against a player who has come close to winning the US Championship on multiple occasions - Tatev Abrahamyan. Irina explained afterwards that her 9…h5 was very much not a “mouse slip” but a new idea directed against the setup Tatev played. She added, “maybe it will get some followers”.

Krush said that in the play that followed she focused on getting the kind of position she wanted rather than concrete ideas. It worked to perfection, as she achieved a very smooth win with the black pieces.

If one player can be identified by the blurred side of her head it's Tatev Abrahamyan, but it was Irina Krush's day in St. Louis | photo: Austin Fuller

Her big rival Anna Zatonskih’s path to victory, however, was anything but smooth! The scene was set for a strange game when she spent 31 minutes on move 4 in a position seen something like 2,000 times before. She joked to Maurice when he asked about it:

Don’t give me a hard time! My coach will ask me the same questions. It will be even more painful to answer than you.

It was always going to take something special for Nazi Paikidze to lose her first game at the US Chess Championships! She finished unbeaten in 2015 and 2016 | photo: Lennart Ootes

By around move 20, reigning US Champion Nazi Paikidze was a full hour up on the clock with 1 hour 18 minutes to Anna’s 18 minutes. She said afterwards she was following all the familiar advice:

I was trying to basically concentrate on the game and play objectively and hopefully the time would affect her eventually, but it didn’t…

The first moment of real drama came on move 27, when Paikidze grabbed a poisoned pawn with 27.Nxa7?

That ran into 27…Qxa4! hitting the e1-rook as well as the knight on a7. At a glance it seems that’s nothing fatal and you can simply move the rook, but after the follow-up …Nc4 it turns out the white queen can’t maintain a defence of the knight. After a tough 12 minutes Nazi went for 28.Rxd6 but after Anna’s correct 28…Qa1+! 29.Bf1 Rc1 it should very soon have been game over.

The clock finally did make a difference, though, and Anna exchanged queens and ended up with “only” an ending two connected passed pawns up. There were some study-like ways for Nazi to make a draw, but then it seemed Anna finally had it all worked out, until disaster struck on move 78:

All Anna needed to do was play 78…Kd3, hitting both white pieces, and she would soon wrap up the game. Instead, she played 78…Ke3??, avoiding any rook checks, but allowing 79.Nxg3! Anna was so horrified at what she’d done she almost allowed herself to lose on time before playing 79…Bxg3 with under 10 seconds remaining. When the f-pawn fell two moves later, she had only the famous theoretical draw with Rook + Bishop vs. Rook.

The ending is one the stronger side often wins in practice, though the defender knows that it’s only necessary to survive 50 moves until it’s possible to claim a draw. At first it seemed to the commentary team that Anna had very little idea what to do, since she played slowly and was making no progress. Eventually, though, she pushed the white king towards the edge of the board, and all it took was one slip by Paikidze:

122.Ra6 would keep the black king out, while 122.Kc7 is also drawn. Other moves all lose (tablebases tell us), but e.g. 122.Rb5 probably wouldn’t lose fast enough for Anna to take the full point. Alas, 122.Ra8? was mate-in-12, and Anna pounced with 122…Rh7+!, forcing the king to a6. It was still an absolute cliff-hanger as to whether Zatonskih would be able to capture White’s rook or mate before the 50 moves were up, but she managed – just! 

This is the final position after 129…Rg7:

Only White’s rook can move, and the black rook will give mate on a7 next move. It was the cruellest of losses for Paikidze, who said afterwards, “It feels like I played three different games”.

Yasser seems to know the answer! | photo: Lennart Ootes

In Round 4 Gata Kamsky will try to avoid a third loss in a row when he faces Hikaru Nakamura with the white pieces, while Fabiano Caruana will have a chance to see if he can do better than Nakamura when he plays White against Jeffery Xiong.

Don’t miss all the action from 20:00 CEST onwards here on chess24: US Champs | Women's US Champs  You can also watch all the action for free in our mobile apps:


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