So's Lucky Day; Caruana's Masterpiece

by GM Cristian Chirila

Yours truly terrified to ring the bell before the start of the second round

What a day in round two of the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship! We’ve seen a positional masterpiece from Caruana, an incredible miss by the young Chandra, along with an uneventful and slightly disappointing draw between Nakamura and Kamsky. As the ladies settled in and got used to the pressure an event of this caliber brings, the excitement levels also raised and the fans were treated with a mixture of great games. So, let’s get right into the analysis and see exactly what each game brought to the table!

U.S. Championship

Kamsky vs. Nakamura ½ - ½

I’ll have to get this game out of the way as fast as possible—similarly to the game itself. Kamsky chose his usual London System; unfortunately, he decided to chop all the pieces off the board starting with 10.Ne5 and the players shook hands in less than half an hour. I can find reasons why Kamsky would want to choose this “stop the bleeding” strategy, but as a chess fan I was a bit disappointed to see it happen.

Caruana vs. Shankland 1-0

This is where the fun of the round began—especially for Fabiano! The players quickly entered one of the main lines of the French defense, but it was Shankland who seemed to have the better preparation. Caruana wisely chose a rare line with 10.Nh3 and took his opponent out of the book. The game continued to be balanced and it seemed Shankland had everything under control. With a stable kingside situation, and a healthy space advantage on the queenside, Black was playing a smart waiting game. Unfortunately for him, Shankland decided to open the position with 21…b4? This move allowed Fabiano to infiltrate into Shankland’s quarters. With the dark square bishop being rearranged to the powerful d6 square, Shankland could only wait for his final execution.

Is this So’s magic bowl that saved him today?

Chandra vs. So 0-1

The young Chandra came in guns blazing and spared no time to make his intentions obvious. Unfortunately for him, he was playing one of the most dynamic players in the world,Wesley So,and he immediately started questioning his opening choice. Wesley accurately built his decisive advantage, but in Chandra’s time trouble he committed a terrible blunder with 32…Rh1?? After which Chandra would have had a decisive advantage after the strong tactical shot 33.Rxe6!. Unfortunately for the youngster, his time trouble addiction took its toll and he returned the favor with 33. Kg4??. After that, Wesley capitalized on his growing advantage and gave no more chances. He now moves to 2-0 but his play is still far from convincing. Chandra needs to deal with his time trouble addiction and find the medicine as soon as possible, otherwise he risks to become the prey of the hungry sharks of the tournament.

Robson vs. Onischuk 1-0

Nobody really expected Robson to start with anything else than 1.e4, but to play the tame and dull London System was a complete shock for the audience and surely for his opponent, Alexander Onischuk.  Robson definitely had a solid strategy going into this game. Onischuk had a difficult decision to make after 8.Ne5: either to leave the knight on the board and allow it to be fortified after f2-f4, or eliminate it with Bxe5. I believe the first option would have been better, and the rest of the game surely proved that. Robson played a patient game, improving his position with every move, while Black’s bishop on b7 remained inactive for most of the game and his king was unable to find shelter. White blasted the center open after c4 followed by e4 and the game finished immediately after due to tactical reasons. A very clean game by Robson as he solidifies his claim for the national crown!

Akobian vs. Xiong ½ - ½

The young Jeffery Xiong chose the sharp Grunfeld defense to try and drift the game into muddy waters as early as possible. Akobian was having none of that and chose an extremely rare line of the Bf4 variation. After 7.b3, Black had the choice of playing 7…c6 and enter a Slav type of structure, but I believe that is exactly what Akobian was waiting for. Jeffery chose the brave 7…c5!—the most critical response. Akobian was a pawn up for most of the game, but Jeffery always maintained a strong initiative and did not allow White to put his king to safety. Akobian’s only chance to maintain an advantage was to retreat 23.Bd3! and not allow the Black rook’s infiltration, which immediately secured the draw.<>

Shaba deep in thought

Lenderman vs. Shabalov ½ - ½

What a crazy encounter this was! A semi slav which immediately turned into an incredibly tactical battle. Lenderman was not going to check Shabalov’s preparation in the main lines and chose the less tested, but very topical plan with 7.Bd2 and 8.0-0-0. Shabalov correctly sacrificed a pawn and a continuous slugfest ensued. Let’s give this game a closer look!

U.S. Women’s Championship

Abrahamyan vs. Yu 1-0

Facing a lower rated and less experienced opponent, Tatev chose to follow an interesting line of the Najdorf Sicilian. Her opponent came well-prepared and blitzed out all her moves all the way to 19…d5? This is an unexpected mistake as it has already been proved that White obtains an almost decisive advantage in the ensuing forced line. What is funny about it is that exactly the same game was played one year ago in the 2015 U.S. Championship in the encounter between Robson and Troff. Tatev was well aware of that game and knew that she has the upper hand. Nevertheless, she mentioned during her post-game interview that she had some doubts due to her opponent’s fast play. Yu had no improvements in her arsenal and Tatev confidently converted her advantage. She is now 2-0 and she is clearly in a favorable position to fight for the title.

Eswaran vs. Yip 0-1

The fruit cup certainly works!

The youngest player in the competition is also having her best result of her career. Yip came very well-prepared for her game and equalized comfortably after the opening. Despite her youth, she clearly had a very good understanding on where her pieces should be placed in the middle game, and her maneuver with Rc5-Qb8-Bd8-Ba5 would make even a GM jealous. She constantly challenged her opponent and forced her to weaken her position. After provoking the move c2-c3, she focused her resources on attacking the weakened b2 pawn which passivized White’s position and maintained an unpleasant pressure throughout the middlegame. Eswaran defended tenaciously but failed to make the right moves all the way through, fatally erring well into the second time control. 59.Kf3? was the mistake that sealed the game; instead she should have played 59.g4! which would have kept the balance and force the draw. Yip skillfully finished her opponent and now moves to 2-0 in joint lead with Abrahamyan. A dream start!

Zatonskih vs. Nemcova ½ - ½

This was a very tense battle between two of the top contenders in the tournament. Both players were quite confused with the opening and spent almost all their time in the first 10 moves of the game. This allowed for a spectacular middlegame. White nicely outsmarted her opponent and obtained an enjoyable strategic edge. Unfortunately for her, she misplayed the last moves before the time control and allowed her opponent to get back into the game. 36. Bxf6?! was a suspicious decision; she should have immediately activated the rook—maintaining a strong grip and forcing black into an unpleasant passive defense. Black defended the endgame well and transitioned into an equal bishop of opposite color endgame. Both players have a solid start, but Zatonskih must feel a bit disappointed for not converting her advantage.

Krush vs. Foisor 1-0

Krush knew that she had to win in order to maintain a close gap with the leaders, and that’s exactly what she came prepared to do. Immediately after an apathetic opening, she launched a scary pawn storm on the king’s side. This could have proved to be a double edged sword as her own king was left naked. This dangerous prospect did not stop her and she skillfully opened the position at the right time. Sabina’s defense was very difficult and she did not manage to find her way through the complicated maze Krush set up. White found a nice tactical shot with 27.g6! which won an exchange and solidified her advantage. She did not allow her opponent to get any counterplay and cruised to victory soon after. Krush now stands at 1.5/2 points and is closely trailing behind the leaders. Sabina needs to start winning games if she wants to stay in the title contention.

Gorti vs. Paikidze 0-1

This game was an exciting encounter between two very tactical and combative players. White stated her intentions as early as move 7 by playing 7.g4. This is a very sharp line and Black has to be very careful if she does not want to fall under an unpleasant attack. Paikidze clearly knows her basics and met her opponent’s flank attack with an aggressive counter in the center with 8…e5! Black should have defended her extra pawn with 14…b5, instead she chose a more quiet approach and found herself under extreme pressure on the kingside. Akshita failed to maintain her initiative after retreating with 21.Nd2 instead of launching her knight into the attack with 21.Ne5! After that, it was all Black and Paikidze skillfully converted her advantage and closed the gap between her and the leaders. It is still early in the tournament, but the top contenders are starting to emerge and solidify their position at the top of the standings.

Bykovtsev vs. Melekhina 1-0

This was the last game to finish for round two. The players entered a secondary line of the Sicilian, and it seemed that White had the better preparation—powerfully sacrificing an exchange for a menacing attack on the king. Black tenaciously defended and the players ended up in a materially unbalanced endgame, with White having a pawn and enough initiative to compensate for the exchange. Agatha pressured Alisa and the latter ultimately blundered with 52…Kb3—allowing White to create a decisive passed pawn. Agata confidently pushed her pawn—tying her opponent’s rooks to the defense while collecting the pawns on the other side. 1-0 and Agata rejuvenates her event in nice fashion.