Reports Oct 9, 2021 | 5:36 PMby Colin McGourty

US Chess Champs 3: Caruana & Sevian join the leaders

Fabiano Caruana showed just how dangerous it is to repeat a sharp opening against the very best players as he put John Burke to the sword in Round 3 of the 2021 US Chess Championships. It was a day of first wins, with Sam Sevian beating Jeffery Xiong to join the leaders, while Dariusz Swiercz recovered from two losses by beating Daniel Naroditsky. Tatev Abrahamyan did the same in the women’s section, beating Anna Zatonskih, while 18-year-old Thalia Cervantes also grabbed a first win, against Sabina Foisor. 

For the first time in this year's US Champs we had the US no. 1 talking about a win | photo: Lennart Ootes

You can replay all the games from the 2021 US Chess Championship using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Maurice Ashley. 

Fabi comes prepared

20-year-old US Junior Champion John Burke had beaten Dariusz Swiercz in a sharp 5.d3 Ruy Lopez in Round 1, but the opening hadn’t gone to plan. Nevertheless, John had faith in the system, and came ready with the computer-approved improvement 9…Ba7 instead of 9…g5. The only problem? Fabi was expecting it, and later commented:

It wasn’t too much of a surprise because he played this way in the first round and I guess he trusted the opening, I mean it’s a good line for Black, but it is very double-edged. The thing is, I don’t really like these types of positions with White because White is always in danger of getting mated, but it is high-risk, high-reward. Black’s queenside is really suffering and he’s pinning his hopes on the kingside and a slow attack, but he never got time to do it, which was sort of my hope. 

What Fabi called the “very big mistake” of 14…Nc6? essentially decided the game, but if John had found the best 14…b4 there are no guarantees he’d have had an easy day in the office. Fabi showed an amazing long line to demonstrate a beautiful temporary queen sacrifice, where White is able to delay regaining material with Rfd1 rather than immediately playing Nf4 to trap the black queen.

White doesn't even need to hurry with Nf4, since the queen is going nowhere

While John may have dodged that bullet, he was shot down in a hail of machine-gun fire, before the cruel finishing touch 29.Kh2.

Fabi explained the purpose of the move as, "Kh2 is just, now it’s time to resign!” 

Caruana had regained the world no. 2 spot on the live rating list and joined the 4-way tie for the lead in the US Championship. It was quite a turnaround after the previous day’s game.

Yesterday was a miracle, so it’s not often that happens, especially against a player as strong as Leinier, so, we take those!

Jeffery Xiong has had a tough start and dropped 10 points to 2689.4 on the live rating list | photo: Lennart Ootes

John Burke is far from the only 20-year-old in this year’s US Championship, with Xiong-Sevian a clash of two more 20-year-old players. Jeffery has climbed higher in the world rankings and already broken through the 2700 barrier, but this was to be Sam’s day. In a confessional appearance Xiong revealed some Caruana-level calculation…

…but he admitted that he wasn’t thrilled with 15.Qe3!?, the fruit of 36 minutes’ thought, 

Not so happy with what I found, but we’ll see how it works out in any case.

Sam felt it was an awkward moves and it didn’t work out, though it was only when Jeffery unnecessarily sacrificed a pawn later on that his position became hopeless. 

The other win was a comeback for Dariusz Swiercz after two losses. He beat Daniel Naroditsky in a game that at times looked set to fizzle out into an opposite-coloured bishop endgame draw, but in fact Dariusz kept a serious edge all game, until finishing with the nice move 59.c7+!, the only move to stop Black setting up a fortress.

Now after 59…Bxc7+ 60.Kc6 the king is able to support the white a-pawn’s quest to become a queen.

A tough game for Daniel Naroditsky | photo: Lennart Ootes

Wesley So remained co-leader with a draw against Alex Lenderman | photo: Lennart Ootes

The day’s results mean everyone is now on the scoreboard, while there are four leaders with a modest +1 score.

Cervantes and Abrahamyan grab first wins

Tatev Abrahamyan bounced back from two losses with a win | photo: Lennart Ootes

In the women’s section there were just two wins, both for players who had previously been winless, and it was particularly sweet for Tatev Abrahamyan after she’d suffered in the previous two rounds — she referred to her loss from a completely winning position in Round 1 as, “my first round masterpiece”. 

For this 3rd game Tatev switched to 1.Nf3 after talking to her coach Alejandro Ramirez.

I am not having the most inspiring tournament and we just had a long conversation about this tournament, my chess and he was like, you have to play something different... If not today, then when!

The game was very complex, with Tatev finding two crucial pawn moves. 

Capturing the bishop on g2 would have lost on the spot to 40…Qb7+, but instead she found 40.d7! and White wins the exchange.

Then after the mistimed 44…g5 there was again just one pawn move to be better — and in fact to be completely winning:

45.g4! and with no h5-square for the black queen, Black is busted.

Thalia Cervantes is now in joint 2nd place | photo: Lennart Ootes

The other win featured a fine positional performance by Thalia Cervantes, just with one hiccup after 38…Qd7.

Thalia commented, seeing the computer evaluation mid-speech!

I thought that I had messed it up after Qd7, but I’m hoping that 39.Rf7 was good enough, or maybe it wasn’t, whoops! 

It was enough after 39…Qxd6? 40.Rxg7+!, but it turns out that after 39…Qxf7! 40.d7 Qf3! 41.d8=Q Rf6! 42.Qd2 Black has enough counterplay to force a draw. 

With some missed chances the other games were drawn, so that Katerina Nemcova is still the sole leader, now on 2.5/3. No-one in either section can now win the $64,000 Bobby Fischer bonus for a perfect 11/11. 

Round 4 is the last before the first rest day and features some major matchups, including So-Caruana and Shankland-Dominguez in the open section, and Yip-Krush in the women’s. Don’t miss all the action live from 13:00 in Saint Louis, which is 14:00 ET and 20:00 CEST: Open | Women

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