Drama In Saint Louis, Caruana and Nakamura stunned
If the previous rounds have not kept you on the edge of your seat, round 9 surely did. Today’s round will live in history as arguably the bloodiest round, with both Nakamura and Caruana crumbling under pressure in vivid fashion. In the women’s section, the leaders failed to produce any fireworks, but it was the experienced Zatonskih who amazed the crowd with her fearless and knowledgeable chess game. Let’s delve into today’s recap!
Xiong vs So
An extraordinary fight between the present and the future. Wesley is proving every day that he is the hottest player in the circuit, with each performance he erases any doubt that might not be true. Jeffery is in many expert eyes the next American to cross 2700 and join the elite club. But experience is what separates these two players at the moment, and that was easy to spot early on when Jeffery chose to play what is arguably Wesley’s pet opening, the Catalan.
It is simple, Wesley wins those positions with white, black, or green – if possible. The thousands of hours of preparation simply ingrained certain automatisms and provided knowledge of nuances that can’t be underestimated, and should be avoided at all costs. By move 20, Jeffery was already down to his last 20 minutes, while Wesley had spent about 10 minutes for all his moves. The position had a lot of poise left and simplifying was no easy task. Wesley effortlessly sacrificed a knight for the attack with 21…Nxf2! which stunned Jeffery who was never able to fully recover.
[White "Xiong, Jeffery"]
[Black "So, Wesley"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Be7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. O-O dxc4 7. Qc2 a6 8. a4
Bd7 9. Rd1 Bc6 10. Nc3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 Nc6 12. Bxc6 bxc6 13. Bg5 Rb8 14. e3 c5
15. dxc5 Qe8 16. Rd4 Nd7 17. Bxe7 Qxe7 18. c6 Ne5 19. Qe4 Qc5 20. Nd5 Nd3 21.
Nxc7 Nxf2 22. Kxf2 Rxb2+ 23. Kf1 Qh5 24. Qg4 Qxh2 25. Qf3 c3 26. Rc1 e5 27. Rh4
Qd2 28. Rd1 Rd8 29. Nd5 Rxd5 30. Rd4 Rxd4 31. exd4 Qxd1+ 0-1
The combination between pin point accurate calculation and a sixth sense of dynamics was too much for Jeffery to handle, as he was forced to resign at move 31. An impressive win by Wesley, who is now in pole position to clinch the title, as he managed to build a huge differential between him and his two main rivals, Caruana and Nakamura!
Akobian vs Caruana
While Xiong vs So could be considered the most accurate game of the day, this one is surely the shocker of the round, if not the tournament! Akobian chose a tame variation against the KID establishment and slowly but surely outplayed the reigning champion. It was late in the game when Fabiano regained his poise and managed to complicate matters in a cruel mutual time trouble.
After making the time control, black’s task of converting his vast advantage didn’t seem to be a problem. Despite that, there was still certain technical issues to solve. Fabiano lost his focus with 50…Qe6? which dropped one of his extra pawns for no particular gain. The reigning champion’s unprecedented imprecision was obvious and his advantage fully dissipated by move 60 when Var could have forced a draw with 60…Nf5! Instead, he returned the favor and allowed Fabiano to once again hold the advantage, though far from anything decisive. The shocker of the day came when Fabiano had a lapse of self and blundered with 76…f6?? which loses instantly due to a forgotten check on a7 that forces the heavy loss of material and immediate resignation.
[White "Akobian, Varuzhan"]
[Black "Caruana , Fabiano"]
1. d4 d6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 g6 4. Nc3 Bf5 5. e3 Bg7 6. Bd3 Bxd3 7. Qxd3 O-O 8.
O-O Nbd7 9. b3 e5 10. dxe5 dxe5 11. Ba3 Re8 12. Ne4 Nxe4 13. Qxe4 Qc8 14. Rad1
Nf6 15. Qc2 e4 16. Nd4 Ng4 17. Bb2 Ne5 18. Ne2 Qg4 19. Nf4 Qf5 20. Rd2 c6 21.
Rfd1 h5 22. h3 h4 23. Rd6 Bh8 24. c5 a5 25. a3 Kh7 26. Qe2 Bg7 27. Qc2 Bh8 28.
Kf1 Re7 29. Rd8 Rxd8 30. Rxd8 Bf6 31. Qd2 a4 32. Qc2 axb3 33. Qxb3 Nd7 34. Qc2
Kg7 35. Ne2 Qxc5 36. Bxf6+ Kxf6 37. Nc3 Kg7 38. Kg1 Qxa3 39. Qd2 Nf6 40. Qd4
Qa1+ 41. Kh2 Qa5 42. Kg1 Qe5 43. Qb4 b6 44. Ne2 Qc7 45. Ra8 c5 46. Qb2 Rd7 47.
Ra1 Rd6 48. Nc3 Qe7 49. Nb5 Rd3 50. Rb1 Qe6 51. Nc7 Qd7 52. Qxb6 c4 53. Nb5
Rd1+ 54. Rxd1 Qxd1+ 55. Kh2 Qd5 56. Nd4 Nd7 57. Qd8 Qd6+ 58. Kg1 c3 59. Kh1 Qd5
60. Kg1 Qb7 61. Qe7 Kg8 62. Qe8+ Nf8 63. Qa4 Qb1+ 64. Kh2 Qe1 65. Qc6 Qd2 66.
Kg1 Nh7 67. Qc8+ Kg7 68. Qc7 Qe1+ 69. Kh2 Qxf2 70. Qxc3 Kh6 71. Nc6 Qg3+ 72.
Kh1 Qc7 73. Qc5 Qc8 74. Qd6 Qf5 75. Ne5 Kg7 76. Qd4 f6 77. Qa7+ Kh6 78. Ng4+
Kg5 79. Qxh7 1-0
This was a result that stunned and numbed many, and its aftermath will be felt by the chess world for a long time.
Nakamura vs Onischuk
In this game, we had another shocker, as a new member of the big three fell in the fatidic round 9. Nakamura has faced Onischuk many times, and before this game he hadn’t lost to him since 2007. A lot has changed in the decade since that loss. Hikaru became one of the strongest players in the world, while Alex became the coach of one of the strongest collegiate teams in the US.
Alexander’s methodical and technical style was on full display today, and he neutralized Hikaru’s reckless kingside pawn storm with precision. When the smoke cleared, Alexander was a couple of pawns up and was on his way to a facile win. But then, time trouble came into play, and his 40th move allowed Hikaru to regain one of the pawns and enter a worse but salvageable endgame.
Hikaru’s defense was precise all the way until the second time trouble, when he missed an easy draw with 58.Ne2! His 58.Nd1? was the decisive mistake, and Alex was not forgiving.
U.S. Women’s Championship
Paikidze vs Foisor
The battle of the leaders in the women’s section was something every spectator was looking forward to. Nazi once again changed her opening strategy as she played a popular line of the Catalan. But, it Sabina who knew the theory. Her opening prowess is surely something that her fiancé has assisted her with in training. GM Moradiabadi is currently in Saint Louis as a GM in residence, and doing an amazing job as a second for Sabina, who is simply dominating her opponents in the early stages of the game.
Nazi fell under pressure due to black’s more compact structure, who ultimately translated into an extra pawn. But Sabina’s impression was that she was worse throughout the game, as she pointed out during her post game interview.
When the opportunity to exchange pieces and make a draw was there, she took it. Instead she should have taken a risk with 27…Rce8!, a move that would have placed Nazi under severe pressure, and potentially could have given Sabina the sole lead. Instead, she played 27…Rcd8 and the game ended in a draw four moves later.
Zatonskih vs Feng
Despite Anna’s clumsy performance at times, she is still the four time U.S. Champion and the top seed of this year’s field. Today, her performance showed the confidence and precision everybody was expecting from her.
Anna’s opening preparation propelled her into an almost winning position as early as move 15, and she never let go, finishing her opponent in violent fashion when she mated her on the board before the first time control. A crushing victory for the experienced champion who is now only half a point behind the leaders.
Championship weekend is upon us and the fight for the title couldn’t be more exciting. We have ties in both sections and the next two rounds will surely bring fire to the board!