Fabiano Caruana blew Aleksandr Lenderman off the board in just 23 moves as he got his first win of the 2018 US Championship, but Wesley So and Varuzhan Akobian beat Alexander Onischuk and Awonder Liang to stay in the lead on a perfect 2/2. The day’s other winner was Ray Robson, while Hikaru Nakamura was frustrated by Yaroslav Zherebukh. The drama continued in the women’s section, where Irina Krush is in the leading group on 1.5/2 after turning round a lost position against Dorsa Derakhshani.
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Fabiano Caruana barely had to break a sweat as he swept aside Aleksandr Lenderman in the first game of the day to finish in either section. Lenderman played the Winawer French and was happy with life until 9.h4!? appeared on the board:
In the interviews with Maurice Ashley we got to hear all about that move. Lenderman:
At first I was happy to get this opening because I thought I surprised Fabiano because he had a nice game against Daniel Naroditsky last year from the US Championship (Caruana played 9.Nf3 and won in 29 moves), but I planned an improvement over that game, and I thought I covered that line pretty well. But then Fabiano came up with a very interesting, fresh idea, which I personally had never seen before and the computer doesn’t really show it – 9.h4 – it turned out to be very nasty practical preparation because it turned out to be quite difficult to meet at the board.
Caruana put the move down to his bedtime reading:
A few days ago I looked through the New in Chess Yearbook. I was literally just in bed browsing through it, and I saw that this variation was analysed and 9.h4 was given around the end of the article as an option. I didn’t check it, I didn’t know anything about it except that h4 is the move, but I figured it was played in correspondence games, which means it’s definitely not a bad move, and probably he hadn’t analysed it, I figured - I hoped, at least! If he had analysed it, it would have been unpleasant, because I was totally on my own, but thankfully he hadn’t and we were both on our own and I guess he felt the position was very unpleasant. He immediately played some big mistakes, I think.
We saw how as great a player as Vladimir Kramnik was unsettled by an h4-novelty in the Berlin Candidates and immediately went for a highly dubious position against Sergey Karjakin, and the same happened to Lenderman. He commented, “I thought I was playing logical moves”, but after 9…Nc6 10.h5 h6 11.Qd1 cxd4?! 12.Nf3 dxc3?! 13.Bxc3 he was suddenly staring down the barrel of a gun:
At this point Fabiano entered the Confession Booth, noted his opponent seemed to have “blundered into a really bad position” and added, “already he’s looking rather desperate”. Fabiano was wondering what Alex could do, and when after the game he was shown the computer suggestions of retreating the c6-knight to give the queen an escape square, he commented:
It’s one pawn, and usually you have to work a lot harder to get a position like this. You have to sacrifice more than one pawn, usually you have to sacrifice a rook, maybe a queen and then maybe slip him some money under the table as well!
Instead Lenderman went for the reasonable try 13…g5, but after 14.hxg6 Qe4+ 15.Be2 Qxg6 16.Qd2 Nge7 17.Bd3 he chose the suicidal 17…Qxg2?, which ran into the simple 18.Ke2:
The speed with which the final moves came showed that all hope had gone for Black, and it was a swift if not entirely painless end: 18…Qg4 19.Rh4 Qg7 20.Rg1 Ng6 21.Rf4 Nce7 22.Bb4 a5
23.Rxg6! Black resigns.
Lenderman was hoping he’d got his worst game of the tournament out of the way and summed up:
I tried to battle but somehow today I was not seeing things very well. Obviously Fabiano played a great game and I’m sorry that I couldn’t really give him a battle today, but sometimes it happens in chess – chess is a humbling game!
Wesley So remains half a point ahead of Caruana after it turned out he didn’t need to wait so long for another win after all! In a way it was just as easy, with Alexander Onischuk’s 21…Qd6 inviting an onslaught in an already shaky position:
22.d4! was hard to meet, since 22…exd4 would run into 23.e5! while of course the queen can’t capture on d4 due to 23.Qxg6 (that was why Alex retreated to d6). After 22…Kh8 23.Rad1 Qf6 24.h5 Bh7 25.dxe5 Qxe5 26.Bxf7 White had won a pawn and went on to score a smooth endgame victory, though Wesley admitted to a brief scare at the end before he realised he was just in time.
The other member of the Top 3, Hikaru Nakamura, had another frustrating day at the office as he was held to a second draw in a row. Yaroslav played Caruana’s recent “weapon of choice”, the Petroff, “probably for the third time in my life”, and found a nice exchanging tactic to remove all the pieces from the board. Nakamura: “I thought it was very annoying that Yaro decided to become Fabiano!”
Elsewhere time trouble and pressure combined to give us a lot of entertainment. Varuzhan Akobian missed a first chance to beat 15-year-old Awonder Liang:
26.Nxd5! wins a pawn and most likely the game, since the queen is attacked and 26…Qxc2 is hit by the zwischenzug 27.Nxf6+. No harm was done, though, since a little later, with both players down to around a minute on the clock, Awonder tried to solidify his position with 34…Ree7??, instead stumbling into a simple trap:
35.Rxc4! was game over, so Akobian is level with So on 2/2.
Ray Robson burned up 29 minutes in the following position against Zviad Izoria, trying to find a killer blow. He felt he'd failed, but what he found was the best move in the position and a brilliant winning idea:
27.Nh6+! Kh8 28.Qd7!, paralysing Black’s position. The game could have ended spectacularly after 28…Nxd3:
Now Ray had only about a minute, though, and missed that here he had 29.Nf5!! and e.g. 29…gxf5 30.Rg1! Rg8 31.Qxh7+! Kxh7 32.Rh3# Again, though, no great harm was done, since although Black was back in the game after 29.Rxd3 Zviad later missed a chance to force a perpetual and fell into a mating attack.
So the Open standings look as follows after two rounds:
The women’s section also contained too much mayhem to cover in any detail.
Defending Champion Sabina Foisor was heading for a smooth win over Rusudan Goletiani but then admitted to panicking when her opponent counterattacked and doubled down on her own attack instead of putting out the fire. It ended with Rusudan probably still winning in the final position when she decided instead to take a draw by repetition.
2016 Champion Nazi Paikidize said she “had a mini heart attack” when she saw Akshita Gorti’s 29…Ng4!, until she found a clever way to stay in the game after 30.Bf5 Nxe3 31.Qf2 g6:
32.Ne4!! led to immediate mass exchanges and eventually a draw.
Maggie Feng got the day’s only comeback win to beat Anna Sharevich, Anna Zatonskih’s “different strategy” of “just play chess and enjoy it” worked as she smoothly beat Jennifer Yu, but the day’s most dramatic win came for Irina Krush against Dorsa Derakhshani.
Dorsa noted that as a student she hadn’t played chess since July and, “I miss chess way too much to want to play boring!” There was nothing boring about the idea she spotted that had been missed by the 7-time Champion:
13…Ndc5!! saw the initiative swing in Black’s favour, with the knight going on to wreak havoc on d3. Soon Irina gave up a piece in a desperate attempt to whip up counterplay, but she still believed in her position, commenting, “over the board I thought I could also win”. Dorsa said she was “overthinking” moves she would normally play instantly and eventually time trouble led to disaster after Irina’s 36.c6:
Black is still completely winning, but the attempt to force matters with 36…Bd5?! was already a mistake (simply 36…Qc3!), and after 37.Qf4 Qc3? 38.Rc1! White was on top. 38…Qf3? (38…Qb2!) was a final time-trouble inaccuracy, and the game liquidated into a rook vs. bishop endgame that Irina impressively went on to win. Dorsa had some consolation:
The fact that I could get a winning position yesterday and today without really knowing the opening shows I can do better!
Irina, meanwhile, has had a shaky couple of rounds but is still at the head of the pack:
In Round 3 So, Caruana and Nakamura all have Black, but with Wesley and Fabiano playing youngsters Liang and Xiong and Nakamura playing bottom-placed Onischuk they’re still likely to push for wins! Follow all the action live from 13:00 CDT (20:00 CEST), with live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley here on chess24.
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