Caruana Dodges the Bullet; Abrahamyan is One Game Away from the Title

By GM Cristian Chirila

Another exciting day in the capital of chess: Saint Louis! Round 10 was one filled with plenty of drama and turnarounds. In both the U.S Championships and the U.S. Women’s Championship, the leaders had to sweat quite heavily and go through nerve wracking situations in order to get positive results. Fabiano almost blew away his lead when he allowed his opponent to get a winning position while Tatev played a dubious middlegame and allowed her young opponent to grab the initiative.

Luckily for Tatev, Gorti was not very familiar with the requirements of the position and failed to make use of her superior piece placement. Plenty of other exciting results happened in round 10, the stage is set for the grand finale tomorrow at 1 PM Central Time!

Let’s start the recap and get a better understanding of today’s critical round!

U.S. Championship

Caruana vs. Kamsky ½ - ½

Fabiano Caruana

The immovable Fabiano was almost shaken out of his leader’s chair today as he played the five-time U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky.

Despite the fact that Gata did not have a great tournament up to this point, he is still one of the leading players on American soil and is a threat to anybody when he is in shape. Today he looked like he was in great shape as he slowly outplayed the number one American player. Fabiano chose not to enter the open Sicilian and instead went for the popular 3.Bb5, Gata was well prepared and comfortably equalized out of the opening. As he started feeling the pressure of Black’s active pieces, Fabiano went for the queen trade with 20.Qb4. In the ensuing endgame, Black was just marginally better but Fabiano gravely erred and allowed Black to obtain an almost winning position.

So vs. Robson ½ - ½

Wesley So, Ray Robson

As he was leaving the press conference, Nakamura seemed puzzled at Wesley’s opening choice as he accurately pointed out his game against Giri from the Candidates should be a clear indicator that Black is doing well in the line played. We will never know what Wesley had in mind if Ray would have followed Giri’s footsteps, as Ray played the novelty 16…Bc8?!—which in my opinion is not a great improvement. Wesley should have followed with 18.Bxg4!? and the advantage would have been on his side. Instead he played the dull 18.Bf3 after which Black had no problems holding his ground. The game was very balanced up until the end as Wesley spoils a good opportunity to catch the leader going into the last round.

Nakamura vs. Xiong 1-0

Hikaru Nakamura

Almost every round of the three titans spoil us with an almost perfect game, today it was Naka’s turn to show his immense star power and completely demolish his opponent. The opening was a dream for Naka, as he showed incredible preparation and played the most critical variation of the obscure 3.f3 Nc6 Grunfeld.

Jeffery had to experience firsthand what happens when you allow an elite GM to have a comfortable advantage without no counterplay on your side. Jeffery tried to complicate matters at all costs but it was to no avail as Nakamura courageously accepted his pawn sacrifice and annihilated any potential counterplay with precise moves.

Game annotation by GM Robert Hess.

Shabalov vs. Onischuk ½ - ½

Alex Shabalov, Alex Onischuk

In one of the tamest games of the round, Shabalov tried to obtain an advantage in the classical variation of the Queen’s Indian. It was to no avail, as Onischuk knew his setup and never allowed White to build the momentum. The pieces were quickly exchanged and the players agreed to a draw at move 30.

Shankland vs. Lenderman ½ - ½

Alex Lenderman

It has been an extremely frustrating event for Shankland and, despite the fact that he did not lose this round, he stated at the post-round press conference that this one game has left an incredibly bitter taste.

Sam tried to break the bad streak by playing an ultra aggressive f3 Nimzo. As he got a huge opening advantage, it felt like this is going to be his point. But as it often happens when you are not in optimal form, he failed to convert his massive advantage and allowed his opponent to escape. A disappointing game for Sam, but definitely one from which he will learn and grow from. As we are eagerly waiting for the final round show; he is surely waiting for this nightmarish tournament to be over.

Akobian vs. Chandra 1-0

Var has been having a pretty difficult tournament as well, but in today’s game it seemed like we are witnessing a resurgence of his impressive power. His opening preparation was very accurate and he obtained a stable middlegame advantage due to his bishop pair and full control over the White squares. With great patience he improved his position move by move and placed his younger opponent under extreme pressure. Chandra went for a desperate attack on the kingside, but Var’s bishop on g2 was like a power pole that would not give up under any burden. Var attacked Black’s structure with 32.b4 and after the c file was open it was only a matter of time until his pieces would invade and produce irrecoverable damage. Chandra could do nothing as he waited for his execution.


U.S. Women’s Championship

Abrahamyan vs. Gorti 1-0

Tatev Abrahamyan, Akshita Gorti

It has been an ongoing race between Tatev and Nazi throughout the whole tournament with Krush and Zatonskih coming along at times but never really managing to keep up with the pace imposed by these two impressive players. There is a change of guard going on, and the question was who is going to break first? Tatev was coming into this round with a half point advantage and a burning desire to win the title that has slipped through her fingers in previous years. Gorti on the other hand, is a newcomer to the Championship and was surely looking to print her arrival stamp on the championship’s standings sheet. Tatev started with 1.e4 and the opening of the tournament made an appearance once again, 1…e6! The French is Tatev’s only opening against 1.e4 as Black and she surely had an idea of what’s going on, but despite that, it seemed like Gorti is the more knowledgeable out of the two. The tension was rising and Tatev’s nervousness could be felt everywhere in the Club.

With all the eyes on her, she knew a slip up of this magnitude would haunt her for ages. She took her breath, and continued fighting through adversity with the resilience of a champion. Gorti, who came into this game with no pressure on her shoulders, was starting to feel the raw emotion coming of Tatev’’s presence. She started erring, she made the first few inaccuracies, and it was all downhill from there. After turning the tables and obtaining an advantage, Tatev’s play was flawless and blunders were nonexistent. She only has one more round to go, the gold is shinning bright…

Paikidze vs. Melekhina 1-0

Nazi PaikidzeIt can easily be concluded that Paikidze is the athlete of the tournament. She works out twice a day, she cooks her own healthy meals, and on top of that she is among the best female chess players this country has to offer. Her bid for the U.S. Women’s Championship has been nothing short of extraordinary, and in her second championship now we can easily conclude that she will be staying at the top for a long time.

Melekhina has been having a very difficult tournament, but to count her out of this game would have been a terrible thought. Paikidze started off with yet another surprise: the Torre System! All these new openings that she is presenting in this tournament are a badge of her work at home. When your opponent is throwing new things at you and you are stripped of your theory cushion, you can only wrap your head in your hands and fight through. That is what Melekhina tried to do, but unfortunately for her Paikidze was just too strong. White slowly tried to create new weaknesses, and after she managed to do so (the doubled pawns on the “e” file) Melekhina could only wait for her imminent execution. After an impressive strategic showing, Nazi gets an important victory and stays within fighting range from Tatev. It will be an explosive last round!

Yip vs. Krush 1-0

Krush, Carissa Yip

To keep her chances alive, Krush had to roll past the youngest opponent in the competition and hope that her rivals in the title bid would not win their games. She was ready to do so, but her young opponent also had something to prove! 

Krush saw her title dreams shaping up in her favor after the first two hour of play. She repelled her opponent’s attack and was slowly imposing her will on Carissa. On the other boards, Tatev was having difficulties, while Nazi still had plenty of fight left before she could claim her victory. Then the blunder came! 27…Rxd3?? and her dreams were shattered into pieces, making way for her opponent’s reveries to shape up from ashes. Carissa grabbed her opportunity and never let go, claiming her second win against a GM at the ripe age of 12!

Yu vs. Zatonskih 1-0

Jennifer YuZatonskih was coming off a heartbreaking loss against Tatev the previous round, and the remaining damage on her was quite obvious today as well. Anna played a very good game and managed to create chances for a completely equal position.

Her knight corralling the White king, the passed “d” pawn, and the extremely unpleasant pressure on the “e” file was a mix that Yu had difficulties dealing with. Anna could have gotten a winning advantage on the last move before the time control with 40…f5! breaking White’s position apart. Instead she played the dull 40…R5e6 which turned the tables in her opponent’s favor. After that it was only a matter of time before Yu converted her space advantage on the kingside into material advantage, claiming her second victory of the tournament and plummeting Anna’s chances at a title comeback.

Nemcova vs. Foisor ½ - ½

Katerina Nemcova, Tatev Abrahamyan

Nemcova came into this game with a clear game plan: she had to take her opponent out of her comfort zone and outplay her in the middlegame for a smooth victory. It seemed to go that way for the most part of the game, but in the end Sabina’s resiliency proved strong enough to repel Nemcova’s initiative and force a draw in a materially unbalanced endgame. The players remain tied on the 5th and 6th place respectively and will give everything in the last round to try and surpass the other on the standings for a heftier payday.

Bykovtsev vs. Eswaran 0-1

Ashritha EswaranBykovtsev has had a few good results throughout the tournament but her results have been quite unstable. The same can be said about Eswaran, but she seems to have elevated her game as we approached the later stages of the tournament, while Bykovtsev seemed to do better at the beginning.

The game was a tense affair with Eswaran managing to outsmart her opponent in a complicated endgame with opposite colored bishops and rooks on the board. Eswaran climbs to the 9th spot sitting at -1 and Bykovtsev sits on the 11th spot with -4.


Manic Monday will have a dramatic finish, no doubt about that!