U.S. Champs Round 4: Nakamura Holds Off So; Nemcova Takes Clear Lead

Grandmasters Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura // Lennart Ootes Photo


By FM Kostya Kavutskiy

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Saint Louis, all eyes were on the key matchup of the 2015 U.S. Championship, as GM Hikaru Nakamura pressed for an edge against GM Wesley So in a strategic Queen’s Gambit Declined. Fighting against two bishops and a small space advantage, So lashed out with 28…g5!?, aiming to open up the kingside and in his own words: “complicate things.” Though after seeing Nakamura’s reply of 29.f4!, Wesley “immediately regretted” the move. The gamble, however, paid off as Nakamura blundered two moves later with 31.Bxf4?, overlooking the simple 31…Nf3+! This trick allowed Wesley to trade into a rook-and-bishop endgame with an extra pawn – though he was ultimately unable to convert.

“I thought I had good winning chances in the endgame,” So said. “But it wasn’t easy, and he defended very well.”

Nakamura expressed candid thoughts on the game, offering “I think I was a little bit worse in the middlegame. I thought Wesley was imprecise with 27…Qf6, and I thought 28…g5 was just a blunder, frankly. If I go 31. Qxf4 instead of Bxf4, I suspect that I’m much better -- if not winning. So to miss Nf3+ is very upsetting. If I lost today, I probably would not be sleeping tonight, but fortunately I was able to defend.”

GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Wesley So Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

The other leader, GM Ray Robson, was slightly better against GM Varuzhan Akobian’s solid Petroff Defense and tried an interesting pawn sacrifice to secure his strong dark-squared bishop on f4. This provided Ray with good compensation, but without a clear plan to continue, the two players repeated moves before the first time-control. The draw pushes Robson to 3/4, sharing first place with Nakamura.

“In the end, I didn’t really think that I had more than enough compensation,” Robson said. “But I didn’t really see a way to improve my position, so I basically just tried to force a repetition.”

GM Timur Gareev continued his extravagant opening play, impressing commentators and spectators worldwide with the Wing Gambit against the Sicilian Defense of GM Gata Kamsky. The reigning U.S. Champion did not play the most theoretically challenging response, allowing Gareev to build up a powerful attack. Gareev continued to spice things up with the enterprising exchange sacrifice 26.Rxa5!, gaining two connected passed-pawns that looked to win the game. Unfortunately he missed his best chance in time trouble and allowed Kamsky to equalize, drawing an exciting game.

GM Timur Gareev vs. GM Gata Kamsky Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

2014 U.S. Chess Champion GM Gata Kamsky // Kevin Duggin Photo

In the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, WGM Katerina Nemcova emerged as the clear leader after a tense victory over FM Alisa Melekhina. After finding the nice shot 9…Nxc3!, Nemcova was able to damage White’s pawn structure on the queenside, forcing Melekhina to search for attacking chances on the kingside. Nemcova proceeded to grow her advantage considerably, but things weren’t easy as she needed to keep her king safe in the center. In a controversial decision influenced by time pressure, Nemcova gave up a powerful bishop for Alisa’s passive knight with 37…Bxf3, making victory difficult. Fortunately her advantage stayed decisive, and Nemcova was able to collect the full point in a rook endgame, taking clear lead of the event with 3.5/4.

“I felt that my advantage was slipping, so I thought ‘Let’s be focused, let’s not repeat the same mistake from the first round,’” Nemcova said, referring to her only draw in the event, where she was unable to convert a winning endgame against IM Rusudan Goletiani in the first round. “Besides some strong inaccuracies, I think overall I’ve played quite well, so I’m happy about that.”

FM Alisa Melekhina vs. WGM Katerina Nemcova Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

WGM Katerina Nemcova // Austin Fuller Photo

In another game important to the women’s standings, Goletiani outplayed IM Nazí Paikidze in the early middlegame to apply strong pressure against Paikidze’s hanging pawns in the center. This pressure allowed Rusudan to win a pawn, but offered Nazí certain drawing chances as only the queens and rooks were left on the board. Nazí defended actively, and Rusudan was never able to create any serious winning chances, ending in a draw.

IM Rusudan Goletiani vs. IM Nazi Paikidze Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

IM Rusudan Goletiani // Kevin Duggin Photo

Once again the overall action in the women’s event was quite decisive, as GM Irina Krush, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, and WGM Sabina Foisor defeated the rising stars WCM Apurva Virkud, WFM Jennifer Yu, and WIM Annie Wang. This means that Krush and Foisor are in striking distance of Nemcova with 2.5/4, while Abrahamyan is back to an even score.

Round 5 continues on Sunday at 1:00 p.m CDT, as serious contenders begin to emerge for the U.S. Chess Championships. Tune in to www.uschesschamps.com/live, for live coverage by GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Maurice Ashley.