2016 U.S. Championship : BlunderVille in the Women’s section
by GM Cristian Chririla
Round three of the 2016 U.S. Championship and 2016 U.S. Women’s Championship was an entertaining promise for the viewers all over the world. The leaders in both sections were paired against each other, and there was a thick scent of anticipation in the air going into today’s bouts. While talking with Fabiano’s manager, Lawrence Trent, he confessed to me that Fabiano was definitely in a fighting mood and that he was expecting a heated battle. In the Women’s section the games were a complete mess, with the balance of power shifting at unexpected times in almost every single game. Let’s see how the games fared!
2016 U.S. Championships
So vs. Caruana ½ - ½
This was expected to be the game of the day—no doubt about it. Unfortunately, both players knew how important was not to lose and they did not take any unwanted risks. Wesley chose a fairly unambitious line of the English opening and after the opening it was quite easy to guess the final result. The only tense moment of the game was when Fabiano decided to put his safari hat on and go pawn hunting with 13…a5?! This was a surprising decision that could have backfired decisively. Luckily for him, Wesley did not find the strong 20. Bd3! which would have injected some serious poison into the position. After that the game was balanced all the way through the end. Fabiano asked a few questions towards the end, but Wesley had all the good answers and did not allow his opponent to pose any serious problems.
Xiong vs. Robson ½- ½
The London System seems to be the opening of the tournament. In this much-anticipated encounter between Xiong and Robson—who was one of the tournament leaders going into this round—Jeffery chose the solid aforementioned opening to try and get a balanced middlegame in which he can use his notorious middlegame grind. The young player’s strategy seemed to be working well, and Robson started thinking for long periods of time. He chose the very rare 4…g6?!, and it was becoming quite obvious he will be facing an uphill battle for the rest of the game. Jeffery showed his greedy side and solidified his extra pawn with the maneuver Nbd2-b3. Robson chose to go for 8…Ne4 which forced the game into a worse endgame for him. Jeffery slowly built his advantage but failed to convert due to his impatient 37.g4?! This allowed Robson to sacrifice his knight for three pawns and secured the draw.
Nakamura vs. Chandra ½- ½
Nakamura went into this round as the clear favorite at the table. He was White against the youngest and least experienced player in the tournament, not to mention the lowest seed. Chandra came very motivated and ready to produce the surprise of the round. The young talent chose the rare 6…Bd6, a new move (first game played in 2011) that has been recently used by Inarkiev. The point of this move is to restrict the f3 knight and not allow him to jump to e5 at any point. I find this idea quite strong as it limits White’s options and gives Black a straightforward expansion plan on the queenside. The problem for Nakamura was that he was unable to create any sort of complications that could cause some difficulties for his opponent. The players quickly exchanged all the major pieces and soon agreed to a draw. Quite an uneventful draw, the exact type of game Chandra surely envisioned during his preparation.
Shankland vs. Akobian 1-0
The French defense is certainly one of Sam Shankland’s favorite openings. In the first three rounds he has played it all three times. What is more interesting is that White won all of those games. Akobian came into the game with a great desire to revive his tournament after a feeble start, unfortunately for him he was facing a wounded lion that was looking for revenge as well. Shankland seemed to be unfamiliar with the line chosen by Akobian, and by move ten we had our game’s novelty. Akobian played a very sound game all the way to the endgame but fatally erred when he missed the fatal 34.a4! Shankland never let go of the advantage and Akobian’s position collapsed rapidly. A disappointing game for Akobian who seems to struggle with his form momentarily.
Shabalov vs. Kamsky ½ - ½
Shabalov didn’t want to risk too much going into this game. Despite his usually aggressive play, he chose to start the game with a double fianchetto—avoiding the main lines and preparing himself for a long, and potentially slow game. White seemed to understand the position better and had the chance to get a big advantage after the sequence 20.Bd3 Qa6 21.g4! Black would have been almost forced to give up his bishop pair,after which the defense on the kingside would have been quite difficult. Shabalov did not seize this opportunity and his minimal advantage soon evaporated.
Onischuk vs. Lenderman 1-0
Onischuk was clearly not in the mood for a theoretical battle and he clearly showed that as soon as move 3 when he chose the rare sideline 3.e3. The game quickly drifted towards unknown territory and White decided to allow his creative side to flourish, sacrificing a pawn with 11.d5!? Lenderman seemed confused by White’s courageous idea and played some very suspicious moves when he should have simply finished his development with 13…Nf6 followed by 14…0—0. He never really got that chance back and soon found himself under a terrific attack on the kingside. Let’s give this game a closer look!
2016 U.S. Women’s Championship
Yip vs. Abrahamyan ½ - ½
What a miss by Abrahamyan! The game between the two leaders in the women’s section was a one-sided affair in which Black could have finished her opponent on different occasions. Abrahamyan surprised her young opponent by choosing 3…h6. White developed her pieces well, up to a point, but failed to understand the requirements of the position and tried to save a pawn when he should have went for the dynamic compensation. White should have tried to destabilize the center with 13.c4 instead of 13.Ba4?! which was a poor decision. Abrahamyan played a perfect game, improving her pieces and occupying more space with every single move. 29…c4! with the threat of c3 would have almost certainly finished the game in due time but her big mistake was 33…Bb3? Allowing Rc3! A disappointing round for Abrahamyan who is surely going to have a night full of regrets ahead of her.
Melekhina vs. Krush ½ - ½
If Abrahamyan is going to have a difficult time forgetting this round, the same can be said about Melekhina. The young lawyer from New York completely outplayed the reigning champion and could have ended the game on multiple occasions.
Paikidze vs. Eswaran 1-0
After having an incredible event last year, Eswaran seems to be struggling with her form this year. Paikidze surely was aware of that and chose her strategy wisely: she was going to play a lazy opening, avoid theory, and outplay her opponent in the middlegame. That is exactly what happened! Eswaran comfortably equalized after the opening but became just a bit too ambitious immediately after and played the weakening 14…f5?! Paikidze exchanged the knight and slowly but surely started creating weaknesses in her opponent’s camp. Only ten moves after the fatidic f5?! and White was already collecting pawns left and right. Paikidze confidently converted her advantage without giving her opponent any trace of counterplay.
Foisor vs. Zatonskih ½ - ½
This game was a very interesting strategic battle. Zatonskih wrongly released the tension in the center with 13…cxd4—allowing White to obtain a comfortable edge due to Black’s isolated pawn. White played a great game exchanging all the right pieces and increasing her advantage with every move. Unfortunately for White, her impatience got the best of her and instead of playing the strong 25.h3! she chose to immediately gain a pawn, and allowed Black’s pieces to untangle. Zatonskih accurately defended a pawn down endgame allowing her to save a very important half point that might prove decisive in the end.
Nemcova vs. Gorti 0-1
This was definitely the surprise of the round in the women’s section! Nemcova was the clear favorite, especially given the fact that Gorti was having a terrible tournament before today. Nemcova had plenty of chances to get a solid advantage. One chance was when she could have taken her exchange back with 27.Nc6! instead she chose to exchange on f7 first, allowing her opponent to connect her rooks and have the extra option of 29…Qb5! None of the players seemed to have a clear grasp of what was happening on the board, and were exchanging blunders throughout the endgame. Unfortunately for Nemcova, she was the last one to blunder with 37.b3?? After that the game was simply done and Gorti converted her large advantage with ease.
Yu vs. Bykovtsev 1-0
I simply don’t know what to say about this game. Yu played an inspiring opening and got a huge advantage out of it. She then accurately transferred into an endgame with a full piece up before making some completely irrational decisions afterwards. The blunder festival started with 31.Bxe8? exchanging her perfectly active bishop for her opponent’s restricted knight while activating the Black rook in the process. White kept on playing uninspired moves, waiting for her opponent to resign. Curiously enough, she didn’t. White could have ended the game with 51.Kf2 which would have easily won the game. Instead she played 51.Ra1? and soon shook hands for a draw. A very disappointing result for Yu, who had a completely winning position almost the whole game.