Fabiano Caruana is enjoying his first ever US Championship! In Round 2 he left Sam Shankland a helpless bystander as he won a slow-motion strategic masterpiece that keeps him on 100%. He’s joined by Wesley So, after Akshat Chandra missed a one-move opportunity to score a sensational win, and Ray Robson, who beat Alexander Onischuk in a game GM Pepe Cuenca analyses for us. Hikaru Nakamura was held to a draw by Gata Kamsky, who wanted to stop the bleeding after his Round 1 loss.
Hikaru Nakamura will not be taking home the $64,000 Fischer prize for a 11/11 score after he was held to a 30-move draw by Gata Kamsky, who thought for less than 10 seconds on all but five of his moves (his longest think was a whopping 1 minute and 8 seconds!).
The players had followed the regulations, but that didn’t stop the interviews afterwards with outspoken draw critic Maurice Ashley being a little uncomfortable for all concerned. Gata admitted his 10.Ne5 in wasn’t an ambitious move:
I just wanted to play something solid. I'm the kind of guy who gets into tournaments really slowly and I was extremely unlucky, I think, to be paired with Wesley and Hikaru in the first two rounds, because I just got here and you need time to recuperate and acclimatise and prepare.
Gata linked his safety-first approach to his age:
It's part of the strategy. It's not just this game or yesterday's game, it's the whole tournament. I have to conserve my energy since I'm a new Hall of Famer!
Nakamura felt it had been a clever choice by Kamsky, who was following the Soviet School advice of stopping the bleeding after a loss at all costs, regardless of whether you have the white or black pieces.
Just to prove that it wasn’t the fault of what Gata called “my opening”, Ray Robson showed that the London System with d4 and an early Bf4 could also lead to some fine attacking chess. Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca takes us through a nice miniature that he considered the game of the day:
That put Ray on 2/2, where he was joined by some usual suspects:
Wesley So looked to be smoothly outplaying his young opponent Akshat Chandra in a complex position, but as the time control approached, with Akshat perilously low on time, Wesley lost control:
Akshat could have claimed a huge scalp with 33.Rxe6+! fxe6 34.Qxe6+ Kf8 35.Rd3!, forcing the win of material, since, as Wesley realised only in the post-mortem, there’s no Rh3+ to save the day, as the queen on e6 covers that square. In fact even 35.Re3 would have left So with nothing better than perpetual check. Instead Chandra took 42 seconds to play 33.Kg4, and sank without a trace.
Wesley had no qualms about enjoying the outcome:
It’s the result that matters… Believe me, I’ve lost a lot of winning games in the last few months! They never give me a break if I’m winning and fail to win, so I won’t give them a break now.
There were two candidates for the most remarkable game of the round, but only one of them was a great game:
Fabiano Caruana seems to be in great spirits in St. Louis. He’s the only player to have appeared in the Confessional Booth so far, and in both games he’s played he’s achieved a huge advantage and then played with his opponents the way a cat plays with a mouse. He’s also adopted a curious vocabulary. Against Akobian he described 8.b3 as “bespoke” and then he waxed more lyrical about 18.f3 against Sam Shankland:
I thought I had an excellent position after I played 18.f3. What’s a good word to describe f3, let’s say... creamy!
By this stage Shankland was already fearing the worst, admitting that when he prepared the Winawer French for the game he’d overlooked the 10.Nh3 sideline played by his opponent (Caruana already pinpointed 11…c4 as a mistake). By the time White’s bishop had reached the a3-f8 diagonal and the queen invaded on b7 the game looked like it was heading for a very quick conclusion:
Simply 37.Nxe6 seems crushing, but Fabiano felt that would be giving too many chances for counterplay. Or perhaps it was just too much fun to play the position he reached after move 43!
Black is restricted to nothing moves like Kh7 and oscillating the bishop between f7 and g8, while White has the full freedom of the board to plot regicide. For the sake of completeness we should point out that Caruana was right that his 49.Ke3? was “just a very bad move” – allowing 49…Qf7! to force an ending which White may still win, but not in style – but apart from that slip it was a wonderful display of domination.
In the final position the knight’s journey is complete, and Black had little choice but to resign:
So far so good for Caruana, but his opponents in the next two rounds, So and Nakamura, are unlikely to let him enjoy himself quite so much! Shankland, meanwhile, consoled himself with the thought that if he can focus on chess he still has the potential to reach the kind of heights that Caruana has:
I think the big difference between me and him is the amount of time he’s put into the game. By the time I played my first tournament I think he was already 2200.
The two remaining games were another hard-fought draw for Jeffery Xiong, this time against Varuzhan Akobian, and an incredible draw between Aleksandr Lenderman and Alexander Shabalov.
4-time US Champion Shabalov was winning until he lost his edge around the time control and then played a losing move with 42…f5?. Lenderman correctly replied 43.Bxf5 but after 43…e2 he missed a shot when blitzing out 44.Rb1?
44…Rc3!! proved sufficient to force a perpetual, though if Lenderman had played 44.Be6+! first he would still have been winning – e.g. after 44…Kf8 45.Rb1 Rc3 he would have had 46.Qxf4+. It was a game for both players to forget in a hurry!
So that leaves us with three leaders after two rounds of the US Championship:
In the women’s event, meanwhile, there’s been a fairy tale start for the youngest player, 12-year-old Carissa Yip.
She leads on 2/2 with Tatev Abrahamyan, after beating Ashritha Eswaran in 71 moves, with the two leaders paired against each other in Round 3.
In the men’s event, meanwhile, all eyes will be on So-Caruana, while you have to fear for Akshat Chandra. After two losses to have Black against a rested Nakamura isn’t anyone’s idea of fun! Tune in for the live show from just before 20:00 CET - you can also replay the Round 2 show below:
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