Robson Catches Nakamura; Nemcova Wins Again in Round 7

GM Ray Robson pulled out a nail-biting affair with GM Daniel Naroditsky in Wednesday's Round 6, at one point falling to just one second on his clock. // Kevin Duggin photo

By FM Kosta Kavutskiy

One could not have predicted a more dramatic finale to the seventh round of the 2015 U.S. Chess Championship. Early in the day, GM Hikaru Nakamura could only find a draw with 14-year-old GM Sam Sevian, allowing GM Ray Robson to catch up in the standings -- but only after winning a grueling, five-hour affair against GM Daniel Naroditsky. Not far behind was GM Wesley So, simply merciless in Wednesday’s victory over GM Alexander Onischuk to stay in clear third, a half-point behind the leaders.

With four rounds to go, Nakamura and Robson are tied for the lead at 5/7. Round 7 wins from GM Gata Kamsky and GM Kayden Troff keep both within striking distance, with 4/7.

2015 U.S. Championships Standings after Round 7

In another game that went the distance, WGM Katerina Nemcova (6/7) added another win to continue her surge, after breaking through in a double-rook and opposite-colored bishop endgame against NM Apurva Virkud. Just behind her was GM Irina Krush, who defeated WIM Annie Wang to maintain her second place standing with 5/7, while IM Nazí  Paikidze (4.5/7) kept pace in third with a win over FM Alisa Melekhina.

2015 U.S. Women’s Championship Standings after Round 7

GM Daniel Naroditsky has seen better tournaments, losing another heartbreaker even after equalizing late against GM Ray Robson in time trouble on Wednesday. // Lennart Ootes photo

Yet again Robson found himself on the Black side of a sharp Grunfeld Defense, this time against Naroditsky, who found a small space advantage and was looking to break through on the kingside. In a surprising turn of events, however, Robson usurped the kingside initiative, transforming his pawns from targets into assets, ready to advance. Naroditsky’s 30.c4 proved to be an ill-conceived pawn sacrifice, giving Robson a strong passed pawn and dangerous queenside counter-play. Robson then gradually outplayed Naroditsky to reach a winning queen-and-bishop endgame, where he only had two worries: Perpetual check, and his dwindling time.

Once the win was within reach, Robson had run himself extremely low on time and played 53…f3, allowing Naroditsky certain drawing chances with 54.g4! But instead of forcing perpetual with 57.Qf8+, Naroditsky erred with 57.Qh8+, suddenly giving Robson a chance to escape the checks and renew his winning chances with his extra pawn.

Robson seized his second opportunity and never looked back, playing perfectly until he forced resignation on the 85th move. In the post-game interview with GM Maurice Ashley, Robson lamented the poor time management in his last two games, saying “I’m sure when I play Hikaru, he’s not going to let me off the hook so easily.”

By answering Nakamura’s Berlin Defense with 4.d3, Sevian indicated he was looking for a fight and to scalp yet another world class player. The two players ended up in a thematic Ruy Lopez structure, with Nakamura snagging the initiative after the moves 19…Nd7 and 20…Qh4, putting pressure on White’s position with his well-coordinated pieces. But the youngest GM in U.S. history stayed calm, and defended patiently with his two bishops, not giving Nakamura any chance to build his advantage. Then came the move 34…Nc3, a tacit draw offer as it allowed Sevian trade into an equal position with opposite colored bishops.

Nicely recovering from his loss to Robson yesterday was GM Wesley So, who swiftly dispatched Onischuk in the sharp Marshall Attack of the Ruy Lopez. Onischuk looked to be close to equalizing after winning back his gambited pawn and trading queens, but Wesley’s pressure against the f7-pawn and lead in piece activity posed serious problems for the 2006 U.S. champion to solve. Onischuk couldn’t find a suitable defense and was forced to resign facing heavy material losses. “I’m so happy to have won today because I’ve had so many good positions in this tournament but just no wins.” said Wesley. “Of course nothing can change the fact that this is one of my worst tournaments for a long time now, but I have to keep fighting every game.”

Despite only being a half-point behind the leaders, Wesley So referred to his situation as “desperate” and indicated he was ready to go all-out in the final leg of the tournament.

“I have four games to go, and I have to play for a win every game,” So Said. “I just have to avoid self-destructing. I have to focus on my opponent, play one game at a time and hope for the best.”

Reigning U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky recovered well from a loss Tuesday with a clean win over GM Conrad Holt on Wednesday. // Lennart Ootes Photo

Not to be counted out of the running just yet is reigning U.S. Champion Kamsky, who also rebounded from a loss yesterday to deliver a positional masterpiece against the struggling GM Conrad Holt. Kamsky gained the two bishops advantage early and slowly outplayed Holt to a favorable endgame: A rook and two bishops against Holt’s rook, bishop, and knight. Kamsky traded a few pawns to leave three for each player on the queenside, but managed to cut Black’s king off on the kingside before finding the opportune moment to exchange rooks with 55.Rg7. The move forced resignation on the spot, as Kamsky’s unopposed light-squared bishop would soon collect Black’s entire queenside.

Kamsky’s efforts earned high praise from World No. 2 GM Fabiano Caruana, who tweeted afterwards: Very nice game from Kamsky. Flawless technique; textbook example of how to play with the bishop pair.

GM Gata Kamsky vs. GM Conrad Holt Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

WGM Katerina Nemcova has turned in five wins through seven rounds, leading the U.S. Women's Championship since Round 2. // Lennart Ootes photo

WGM Katerina Nemcova doesn’t show any signs of slowing down in the women’s event, on Wednesday pressing heavily against NM Apurva Virkud before finding the powerful exchange sacrifice 49.Rxc6! Nemcova’s remaining rook and bishop dominated Black’s two rooks, forcing Virkud to give back the exchange and enter a lost endgame.

Drama developed early in GM Irina Krush vs. WIM Annie Wang. In a very unusual case of “double-blindness,” Wang casually recaptured a bishop with 11…fxe6, simply overlooking 12.Qh5+ to drop the bishop on c5. But Krush returned the overlook and played 12.Nf3 instantly, giving up the chance to win the game on the spot. Unfazed, the reigning went on to win the game quickly, remaining unperturbed by her miss.

“It’s something I’ll be showing to my students,” Krush said. “I guess I wasn’t expecting such a gift so early.”

Trying to catch the leaders is IM Nazí Paikidze, who came back from a worse position to launch a decisive attack against Melekhina on Wednesday.

“Today after the opening I was trying to equalize,” Paikidze said. “But in time trouble she made a few really bad moves, and I think after move 40 she couldn’t save her position.”

As Paikidze pointed out in her post-game interview, nothing is yet decided in the Women’s Championship, as she and Nemcova will face off in the penultimate Round 10, while Krush will have White against Nemcova in the critical final round.

IM Nazi Paikidze vs. FM Alisa Melekhina Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

IM Rusudan Goletiani took a late misstep in her Round 7 tilt against WGM Anna Sharevich. // Austin Fuller photo

An even more topsy-turvy game was the encounter between IM Rusudan Goletiani vs. WGM Anna Sharevich. The game saw several wild swings in evaluation until Goletiani’s horrendous blunder 40.e4??, which allowed Sharevich to play 40…Qh4!, and checkmate was suddenly inevitable.

IM Rusudan Goletiani vs. WGM Anna Sharevich Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

Round 8 will take place April 9 at 1PM CDT. Tune in to to follow play-by-play commentary of all the action live by GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade, and GM Maurice Ashley.