Reports Apr 3, 2017 | 1:00 PMby Colin McGourty

US Championship 5: Kamsky shocks Xiong

When Gata Kamsky was an untitled 16-year-old he shot up to no. 8 on the rating list. 26 years later he showed some of that talent to teach a lesson to the latest 16-year-old boy wonder Jeffery Xiong. Elsewhere it was a day of frustration for the big three. Wesley So kept the lead with a draw against Yaroslav Zherebukh after Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana failed to capitalise on better positions against Daniel Naroditsky and Alexander Onischuk. In the Women’s US Championship all games were decisive with favourites Anna Zatonskih, Irina Krush and Nazi Paikidze taking the lead.

5-time US Champion Kamsky is back - after a good draw vs Nakamura he beat rising star Xiong | photo: Lennart Ootes

Monday is the one rest day in St. Louis, so there’s plenty of time to get acquainted with all the action so far:

You can replay the Round 5 commentary below:

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Youth 0-1 Experience

Jeffery Xiong had come through the ordeal that is Black against Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana unscathed, but he met his match with White against 42-year-old Gata Kamsky. Kamsky played the King’s Indian Defence and was puzzled when his opponent decided to give up a pawn on move 18.

He just gave me a pawn and I was just like, ok, a central pawn!

The game threatened to end swiftly, with the computer spotting a nice trick:

After 23…Nxa4! 24.Rxa4 Nxe2+! (these moves can be played in either order) 25.Rxe2 Black has 25…Bxb5!, forking the two rooks. White can limit the losses, but after 26.Rc4 Bxc4 27.Ndxc4 b5! the pawn storm looks terrifying.

Gata Kamsky gave a strategic masterclass to his young opponent | photo: Austin Fuller

Instead Jeffery managed to consolidate and put up fierce resistance, leading Gata to showcase a crowd-pleasing strategic theme:

If Black were immediately to push his kingside pawns the black king might prove a liability, so instead he spent the next six moves evacuating the king to the queenside! Xiong could only wait and eventually his resistance cracked after he allowed a clever pawn sacrifice that enabled Black to get a queen on g3 and a knight on f4. It was soon time for tactics:

66…Rxf3! With his house collapsing the best Jeffery could find was 67.Qg4, but after 67…Rxf2 Gata simply exchanged everything until he had an easily won rook ending. A fine victory!

Top trio held

Wesley So’s careful 31-move draw with Black against Yaroslav Zherebukh was the day’s least eventful, but his 61st successive unbeaten game (apologies to the reader commenting on the previous article to suggest we stop mentioning this!) was enough to keep him in the sole lead.

Yaroslav Zherebukh has a very solid four draws and a win in his first US Championship | photo: Lennart Ootes

Hikaru Nakamura also signed a draw against Daniel Naroditsky on move 31, but things there had been much more eventful. The game sparked into life when Naroditsky played the sharp 18…f4!

That not only spoils White’s pawn structure but threatens to win an exchange with 19…Bf5. The discussion with Maurice Ashley after the game centred on whether White should deliberately have sacrificed the exchange with e.g. 19.exf4 Bf5 20.Qd2 Nxf3+ 21.Bxf3 Bxb1, since the unchallenged white light-squared bishop will be able to dominate the board from d5. Nakamura was sceptical if that bishop would be as effective as it looks, though, while Black would get a rook to an open file. In the end he played 19.Nxe5 dxe5 20.exf4 Bf5 21.Be4 and exchanges and a draw soon followed.

That didn't yet set any alarm bells ringing for Nakamura:

If you have chances that’s all you can ask for in modern chess… If I was expected to beat 2650s every day I should be 2900.

Later it was another matter!

Fabiano Caruana came much closer to a win, but also to a loss! 

After an interesting strategic struggle his decision to go for an ending in which Alexander Onischuk had a protected passed pawn on e6 while the a5-knight was locked out of the game looked at the very least disputable. Fabi admitted, “I shouldn’t have had any chances at all” and was surprised by the fate of “the worst piece ever”. It all turned on Onischuk’s careless 35.Kg3?

Suddenly the knight could make a dramatic return to the action with 35…Nc4!, since 36.Rxc3? runs into 36…Nd2!, and if the rook is captured the knight will of course give a winning fork on e4. Instead the previously hapless knight was able to pick up the d5-pawn, when White’s position was collapsing.

Alexander Onischuk survived a tough test from Fabiano Caruana | photo: Lennart Ootes

From that point onwards, though, Onischuk did a very good job of trying to prove the old dictum that “all rook endings are drawn”. Fabiano may have missed a very narrow path to a win at some point, with the game eventually ending in stalemate on move 90.

That was Caruana’s fifth draw in a row, and if he wants to repeat his 2016 US Championship winning +6 score he’d now need to win all of his remaining six games. That’s a tall order, even for Fabi, though in this year’s Championship he’s still only a single point behind Wesley So.

One-way traffic

Fans of rook endings may also want to check out Akobian-Shankland, when it seems Sam Shankland may have been given a lifeline at some point before he finally resigned on move 58. Varuzhan Akobian explained that he was expecting his opponent to resign on move 40, and Sam agreed it hadn’t been his finest hour.

I was just too ambitious. I kind of wanted to play for a win with Black from the start…

Someone joked that April Fools’ was a day earlier when it was noted that Ray Robson had more time than his opponent when he won his Round 5 game. It becomes easier to understand when you learn the identify of that opponent, since Alexander Shabalov has had a woeful event so far and could plausibly have been on 0/5 now. Ray’s attack may not have been entirely sound, but it worked like a dream. How’s this for a final position?

Robson and Akobian are now both among the group of five players just half a point behind the leader Wesley So:

A bad day for the kids

All six games were decisive in the women’s section, with star players Anna Zatonskih, Irina Krush, Nazi Paikidze and Tatev Abrahamyan all beating their young opponents. The first three now lead, while Tatev is just half a point back with Sabina-Francesca Foisor.

The day’s smoothest win came for defending champion Nazi Paikidze, whose Catalan confused the youngest player in the field – 13-year-old Carissa Yip. 14…a5 was identified as a mistake and after 15.c4 and 16.c5 Black’s queenside soon crumbled – it was all absolutely forced:

23.Bxc6! Bxb6 (23…bxc6 24.Rd8+ and the bishop falls) 24.axb6 bxc6 25.Rd8+ Kf7 26.Ba3! Ra8 27.Rxc8 Rxc8 28.Bd6! and the b-pawn wins the game. Simple chess!

Anna Sharevich finally broke the teenager's spell | photo: Lennart Ootes

The most dramatic game, however, was 15-year-old Jennifer Yu’s near escape against Anna Sharevich. The youngster repeated a blunder Anish Giri had made against Wesley So in the London Chess Classic and then compounded her mistake by castling queenside. Sharevich felt the position was so easily winning it didn’t matter too much what she did, but on move 17 it made a big difference:

17…Rxb2+! is crushing after 18.Kxb2 Qa3+! – if the king goes to a1 or c2 Black can force mate, starting with a check. If it goes to b1 then 19…Ba6! threatens death on the b-file, though after 20.Bf1 Black does have to spot the only move 20…Qxc3!. Instead, though, after 17…Qxc3?! 18.Nb3 Qxe3?! 19.Rhe1 Qh6 the players entered an ending where at one point Jennifer was actually the one with winning chances. It looked like another episode in a remarkable tournament that had already seen Jennifer beat Anna Zatonskih and Irina Krush from losing positions.

It wasn’t to be, though, with Anna Sharevich finally making her experience tell on move 91. So it was a day for the experienced campaigners, though if there’s anything you can be certain about with the kids it’s that they’ll be back!

After Monday’s rest day there are no more breaks until the US Champions are decided on Sunday (or Monday, if playoffs are required). Caruana-Kamsky is perhaps the match-up of Round 6, though So (White vs. Akobian) and Nakamura (Black vs. Shabalov) will no doubt be out for blood.

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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