Zviad Izoria has beaten Hikaru Nakamura to leave the 4-time champ’s lingering hopes of winning the 2018 US Championship in ruins. Hikaru now trails another of Zviad’s victims, Fabiano Caruana, by two points, after Fabi crushed Varuzhan Akobian’s French Defence to catch Sam Shankland in the lead. The hero of the women’s section is 15-year-old Annie Wang, who tricked Anna Sharevich in a lost position to move to a stunning 6/7, a full point ahead of her nearest pursuer, Nazi Paikidze. There are four rounds to go in both events.
There were three wins with White in Round 7 of the open section, with one of them a shocker:
2599-rated Zviad Izoria started the 2018 US Championship by almost losing to Jeffery Xiong and then suffering heavy losses to Ray Robson and Sam Shankland. The bad start for the underdog and least familiar player in the field shocked no-one, but what followed was stunning. In Round 4 Fabiano Caruana rejected a draw offer and went on to get put to the sword with aplomb by Zviad, who demonstrated cool calculation and confident time handling in the final stages of the endgame. Hikaru Nakamura commented, as we reported at the time:
Fabiano underestimated Zviad. He was really good slightly before Caruana started getting good… I think Fabiano just got overconfident and felt like he could do no wrong, especially after what happened in the last two events.
In Hikaru's case it’s unlikely overconfidence was the issue after six disappointing draws in a row, but opening with the Modern Defence and then allowing 7.e5! showed a willingness to take huge risks in order to win:
The positive sign for Hikaru was that Zviad spent “way too much time”, with 7.e5 costing him almost 27 minutes, and then 7…Ng4 8.h3 requiring another 12. That was where the good news came to an end, though, since Zviad began to speed up but never allowed his grip to waver until after the first time control. He then decided to head for a rook ending:
He wasn’t sure if it was won or not, but he gradually created and then nursed a passed c-pawn up the board, before jettisoning that pawn to set about queening a kingside pawn instead. Zviad showed the same confidence he had in the ending against Caruana, while Nakamura was down to playing on increments and slamming down his moves just before his time ran out.
Black was only one tempo short of drawing, but Zviad knew what he was doing and Hikaru suffered the ignominy of losing on time as he tried to make the losing move 92…Re1:
When asked afterwards if he could have imagined defeating Caruana and Nakamura and drawing with So, Zviad commented:
No, absolutely not! I was excited just to play those guys. Clearly you can’t expect to beat them. That makes me very proud.
For Nakamura, meanwhile, the tournament had gone from bad to worse. The loss of 7.4 rating points compounded his losses for the event, which have seen him jettison 19.7 points to stand on the verge of dropping out of the live Top 10:
Meanwhile Fabiano Caruana is heading in the other direction and is currently exactly 20 points behind Magnus…
Caruana’s recovery from his own loss at Zviad’s hands was completed on Wednesday, as he crushed the French Defence for the second time in the tournament to return to a tie for the lead. He felt that Varuzhan Akobian “played a very dangerous line” and was able to unleash another strong novelty with 10.0-0-0. A few moves later Fabiano spent half an hour on a choice that was difficult simply because he had so many good options:
Fabiano was tempted by 13.Bg5! but eventually went for the thematic pawn sacrifice 13.f6!, when after 13…gxf6 14.exf6 Bxf6 15.Rhf1 he called Varuzhan’s 15…b5? “too optimistic” (Akobian himself thought it allowed him to “play for 3 results”, but realised too late he misevaluated the position). It was probably already the losing move, since after 16.Qf2! there were multiple ways for White to win.
In the final stages Akobian could have bailed out into an ending, but it would merely have delayed the inevitable. Instead he went out in a blaze of glory:
28.Rf7+! Nxf7 29.Bf4+ Kb7 30.Qxf7+ with mate on c7 to follow.
It had been another sparkling display from the World Championship challenger:
Watch his post-game interview – and the rest of the day’s show:
That result proved enough for a share of first place, since Sam Shankland got a fairly easy draw against Wesley So’s Grünfeld Defence. The opening surprised Sam, who expected something “less forcing” that would give a stronger player more chance to demonstrate superior understanding. In the game little of note happened, with Shankland feeling lucky that his “haphazard play” (he dropped a pawn for no reason) didn’t upset the balance.
He just made the professional decision. I’m kind of honoured that these 2800 guys are giving me enough respect that they’re willing to force draws with Black. I sort of expected him to be trying to outplay me, because I’m a total fish compared to him!
He’d previously noted:
I thought he’s going to be coming after me and maybe I could have trolled him a little by trying to force a draw and watch him do something totally stupid to try and keep pieces on the board, but that’s not really in my nature.
Wesley himself saved his trolling for the post-game interview with Maurice Ashley. First when asked about Nakamura’s streak of draws:
Maybe he’s starting to like how Anish Giri plays! He’s the man to follow. All draws is not too bad, in certain tournaments… There’s nothing to be ashamed about for Anish. What’s wrong with 50%?
Wesley was on a roll, and after Nakamura and Giri he turned
to none other than Garry Kasparov:
It’s really unfortunate that there’s no more Ultimate Blitz, because I’m still +3 against Garry, I believe... He may be the best player ever, but I still have a plus against him!
Elsewhere Alex Lenderman beat Alex Onischuk in a game where it was hard to pinpoint where Black went wrong (though Lenderman’s suggestion of 31…Nh5! looks a good one), Jeffery Xiong and Yaroslav Zherebukh played out a relatively quiet draw, and Awonder Liang came very close to scoring his first win of the event, against Ray Robson.
The 15-year-old nearly converted an extra pawn in the endgame, but in hindsight he might have been better going for a tactical shot on move 17:
17.Nxc7! Rxc7 18.Bf7 Rxf7 19.Qxh5 was a line Awonder had seen but decided, not without some justification, was “very messy”. The standings therefore look as follows with four rounds to go:
Every single game in the women’s section could have ended decisively, but in the end only three games did:
There were stories everywhere. Jennifer Yu explained her decision to start her game against Maggie Feng with the Orangutan, 1.b4:
Honestly, I have no idea why I played that. I just didn’t want to play a normal opening. This wasn’t my best tournament… What’s the worst thing that might happen? I might lose, but at least if I lose I’ll have fun losing!
She added “you only live once” and “weird things happen in my games”, after she got to sacrifice a piece, build up some extraordinary pawn centres…
…and give mate on the board.
37-year-old Rusudan Goletiani lost to young Akshita Gorti, but had a nice story afterwards about how she was persuaded to play, despite not having played chess for three years due to a full-time job in finance, by her 10-year-old daughter. The kid felt a bit guilty after Rusudan began to lose (now 5 games in a row), but still tried to encourage her mum, in a reversal of the usual roles:
Mommy, did you try your best?
Yes I did.
Well, that’s a win, then!
Meanwhile the key games Paikidze-Zatonskih and Krush-Foisor ended in draws, while Annie Wang pulled off a miraculous win from the toughest of positions against Anna Sharevich. 29…Na6! was a clever final roll of the dice from Annie:
If Sharevich had taken a little longer to consider the position she would probably have found the zwischenzug 30.Bf1!, when after 30…Qh5 31.Bxa6 Rh8 White can block Black’s attack with 32.h4, while 30…Qc8 can be met by 31.Bc4!
Instead after the rash 30.Bxa6? Rh8! 31.Rxe4 all White’s advantage had gone, and soon Sharevich found herself giving up material to avoid mate. Annie Wang kept her nerve to grind out an endgame win in 83 moves and seemed the most relaxed person in St. Louis when she commented afterwards:
I think I’m doing better than I thought I would. I’m very happy about that, actually!
She now leads Nazi Paikidze by a point, Irina Krush by 1.5 points, and Anna Zatonskih and Tatev Abrahamyan by a full 2 points, though the road ahead won't be easy - three former and one current US champions await!
In Round 8 of the open section we finally get a clash of the big three, So-Caruana, with Wesley able to leapfrog into the lead with a win. Nakamura-Shankland will also of course be one to watch – will things finally click for Hikaru?
Follow all the action from 13:00 CDT (20:00 CEST), with live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley here on chess24.