Reports Mar 26, 2019 | 8:40 PMby Colin McGourty

US Champs 5-6: Naka leads as Fabi finally wins

Fabiano Caruana’s drought finally ended as he beat Jeffery Xiong in Round 6 of the 2019 US Chess Championship to score his first classical win in 28 games and 5.5 months. It was enough to take him into a 4-way tie for second place with Leinier Dominguez, Wesley So and Sam Sevian, since Hikaru Nakamura beat Timur Gareyev to take the sole lead on 4/6 going into the rest day. In the women’s event Tatev Abrahamyan now has 4 wins in a row while Anna Zatonskih is on 5/6, but they’re still trailing 17-year-old Jennifer Yu and her stunning 5.5/6.

Nakamura and Caruana drew in Round 5 | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Replay all the games from the 2019 US Chess Championship using the selector below:

Fabiano finally wins again

After Round 4 of the US Championship Magnus Carlsen had observed that Fabiano Caruana had failed to win in as many classical games as his age, while Anish Giri noted that Magnus and Fabi were depriving him of the chance to set records. In Round 5 Fabiano went one better:

But he had no reason to complain about a relatively painless draw with Black against Hikaru Nakamura, and he wasn’t going to fight back… at least yet:

That calmness is what helped him go unbeaten in the classical games of the World Championship match, and in the very next round he finally got back to winning ways, against 18-year-old Jeffery Xiong. 12.b4 was an Anti-Berlin idea that had been used by Vishy Anand against Hikaru Nakamura in the 2017 Saint Louis Grand Chess Tour blitz:


Nakamura spent 50 seconds, an eternity for blitz, before eventually going for 12…axb4 and making a draw, but Jeffery seemed unaware of that game and chose 12…Bb6!? instead after 15 minutes. It wasn't an improvement, and Fabiano explained afterwards that although Black gets play on the queenside it’s not really going anywhere, while White’s kingside attack is slow but hard to stop. 

28th time lucky for Fabiano Caruana! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Still, that didn’t mean desperate measures were the best way forward:


Xiong's 26…g5?! was asking for trouble, which soon arrived with 27.hxg6 Bxg6 28.a4 Qa6 29.Bh6 Rg8:


Fabi here gave up the a-pawn with 30.Rag1, describing it as “not a difficult sacrifice”, since after 30…Qxa4?! 31.Ne7! it was essentially game over – avoiding material loss with 30…Re8 would only bring Black pain and suffering on the g-file after 31.g5! Xiong played 31…Qd4 and was soon in a hopeless endgame, and this time Caruana made no mistake finishing things off. 45.Ba5! was a last twist of the knife!


Caruana commented, “it’s not necessary, but it’s really clinical!” 46...Rd8, giving up the bishop, would also have got the job done, but this way Black can queen the pawn only to see the new queen picked up by 46.Rc8+ and 47.Rd8+.

Fabi told Maurice:

It feels really good. It’s been a long time, about 7 months since I won a classical game. It feels good, and I think overall it was a good game.

It hadn’t been that long – a mere 5 months and 23 days or so! – but you could see the World Championship Challenger’s obvious relief:

On 3.5/6 Caruana is in second place level with Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez, who played out an exciting draw in Round 6, and Sam Sevian, whose attack was too much for Varuzhan Akobian to handle in his customary time trouble:


25…f4!, opening the d7-bishop’s path to the h3-pawn, was the start of the onslaught. It would go from bad to worse for Akobian, who lost in the next round to Awonder Liang, despite an entertaining conclusion:

After 46.Qxe2+ Kf8 White was forced to play 47.Qxd2, allowing the fork 47…Ne4+, but although one queen bit the dust, the a5-pawn was unstoppable.

Alex Lenderman observes Timur Gareyev and Awonder Liang's varying approaches to chess and life | photo: Crystal Fuller, official website

That was a great comeback for Awonder, the youngest player in the field, who had blundered in a drawn endgame against Timur Gareyev the day before. Gareyev, meanwhile, faced Hikaru Nakamura in Round 6. Perhaps predictably the game got off to a strange start, with the players on their own by move 6. Up to a point Timur was doing fine, but it seems move 21 was the point at which things turned:


Hikaru said his opponent’s problem was that he “didn’t try to trade the dark-squared bishops” when he had the chance, and here he could have done that with 21…Nh5! Instead after 21…Qf5?! 22.Nf1! there’s suddenly no time, with Ne3 threatening to hit the queen and d5-pawn. 22…Rad8 shored up that pawn, but 23.b4! upped the pressure again, and Nakamura described what followed as “smooth”. By the time he finally took the d5-pawn on move 31 it was just dessert, since he’d already gobbled up the black a and b-pawns! The game didn’t last much longer:   

That leaves Nakamura in the sole lead with five rounds to go in Saint Louis:

Tatev Abrahamyan piled misery on Irina Krush | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The battle in the US Women’s Championship has been more dramatic, with top seed Irina Krush just half a point off last place after suffering three losses in her last four games. The last of those came against Tatev Abrahamyan, who is now on a run of four wins in a row in a tournament she started with a loss:


The hero, however, remains 17-year-old Jennifer Yu, whose chances of winning the $64,000 Bobby Fischer prizes were extinguished with a draw in Round 5. She “bounced right back”, though, to win a fifth game in Round 6, with her confidence that she could outcalculate her opponent leading her to spurn a winning line! 

Jennifer Yu is juggling chess with her homework, but 5.5/6 isn't a bad score! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Objectively Jennifer got into trouble, but Maggie Feng’s 37.Qxc6? was the last mistake (37.gxh4! was winning):


Jennifer pounced with 37…hxg3+ 38.fxg3 f4!, when Maggie decided to fall on her sword with 39.Qc7 (other moves just prolong the agony) 39…Qxg3+ 40.Kg1 Rd1#

Jennifer has a 1-point lead over Tatev Abrahamyan, but is only half a point clear of 4-time US Women’s Champion Anna Zatonskih, who has won all four of her games with the white pieces.

Anna will face her arch-rival Irina Krush in Wednesday’s Round 7, while in the open section the Big 3 have the black pieces but are still likely to be out for blood in Akobian-Nakamura, Xiong-So and Gareyev-Caruana. Don’t miss all the action from 13:00 local time, 19:00 CET live here on chess24: Open | Women

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