Penultimate: Nakamura Holds Robson Back; Nemcova Loss Gives Krush Clear Lead

GM Hikaru Nakamura kept his half-point lead of the U.S. Chess Championship by holding the pursuing GM Ray Robson to a draw Saturday afternoon. // Lennart Ootes photo

The stage is set for a thrilling Sunday finale in the 2015 U.S. Chess Championships. In Saturday’s penultimate round, neither leader GM Hikaru Nakamura no GM Ray Robson, who trails by a half point, took any risks in their game before agreeing to a draw on the 30thmove. This gave GM Alexander Onischuk the chance to step within striking distance, after his convincing defeat of GM Sam Sevian.  The results leave Nakamura (7/10) in the clear lead and headed for a clash with Onischuk on Sunday, while Robson (6.5/10) hopes to catch pace taking black against GM Timur Gareev. Though no longer in contention for the U.S. title, GM Wesley So recovered nicely from his forfeit on Friday and won a model game against 2014 U.S. Champion GM Gata Kamsky.

2015 U.S. Chess Championships Standings after Round 10

Saturday’s Round 10 of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship couldn’t have gone better for GM Irina Krush, who scored her fourth consecutive victory with a defeat of WFM Jennifer Yu, while co-leader WGM Katerina Nemcova lost her first game of the tournament at the hands of IM Nazí Paikidze. Now after trailing for nearly the entire tournament, Krush (8/10) finds herself in clear first with a full-point lead over both Nemcova and Paikidze (7/10). Krush will take White against Nemcova in Sunday’s finale, while Paikidze takes White versus WGM Sabina Foisor. A tie for the lead in either Championship after Sunday will lead to an Armageddon playoff on Monday afternoon.

2015 U.S. Women's Chess Championships Standings after Round 10

Robson and Nakamura played a relatively tepid game in the Four Knights Scotch. After a few exchanges and some maneuvering it was clear that neither player would be able to create any serious winning chances. With Nakamura having White against Onischuk in the final round, the U.S. Championship is still his to win.

“I’m leading the tournament, and I’m White, so certainly I like my chances,” Nakamura said. “I’ll try to do something fairly simple and not lose my mind.”

Robson, being a half-point behind, was expectedly more ambitious in his plans for tomorrow: “For me to try to get first, I probably have to win. If I can get some chances, then anything is possible.”

Veteran World Top 100 GM Alex Onischuk has much to smile about, entering Sunday's final round with chances for the 2015 U.S. title. // Lennart Ootes photo

The draw on the top board meant Onischuk, who has stayed relatively quiet thus far, is suddenly in direct contention for the title. Facing GM Sam Sevian’s Grunfeld Defense on Saturday, Onischuk went for a complex line and forced an exchange of queens. Pushed into a slightly worse endgame, Sevian was unable to put up much resistance and lost the thread quickly.

Onischuk has his work cut out for him on Sunday, being a full-point behind Nakamura and forced to play for the win if his intentions are to fight for the U.S. title. Making the matchup even more intriguing is, out of six classical encounters between the two, Onischuk holds the advantage with one win and five draws.

“Of course I am playing Black tomorrow and Hikaru is a huge favorite, but if I was told before the tournament that I would be in this situation, I would think that I’m having a good tournament,” Onischuk said. 

GM Alex Onischuk vs. GM Sam Sevian Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

GM Wesley So bounced back from his black Friday at the 2015 U.S. Chess Championship with an outstanding win over reigning champion GM Gata Kamsky. // Austin Fuller photo

Closely watched was how GM Wesley So would rebound from his shocking forfeit on Friday for his match against reigning champion Kamsky on Saturday. To the delight of spectators worldwide, So played nearly flawless.

“I just wanted to get a position where I can keep on playing, regardless of color,” So said. “I played an early h6 to get the bishop pair and try to slightly imbalance the position. He probably pushed too hard and made some mistakes starting with 20.h4 I think.”

As So proved during the game, Kamsky’s early kingside activity was just an illusion. After the strong 22…Qe4, Kamsky began shaking his head in frustration, as So had already begun to take over the initiative. In order to get his knight back into the game, Kamsky was forced to give up a pawn -- which So grabbed and never looked back, converting the victory in style.

GM Gata Kamsky vs. GM Wesley So Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

Though the other games of the day had no bearing on the top standings, they were no less interesting. GM Conrad Holt and GM Sam Shankland duked it out in the sharp anti-Moscow Gambit of the Semi-Slav Defense. Despite being low on time, Holt launched a furious attack with 23.f4, prompting Sam to give up his queen for two rooks in order to ease the pressure. Messy complications followed, and Holt eventually emerged on top thanks to his powerful queen.

Also sacrificing a pawn in the opening was GM Varuzhan Akobian, who gained long-term compensation against GM Daniel Naroditsky by sacrificing an exchange to boost his attack. Naroditsky failed to find the best defense, but did find himself getting mated just before the first time control. GM Kayden Troff and GM Timur Gareev had no intentions of playing it safe either and, after a prolonged battle, they drew in an equal queen endgame.

Reigning Women’s Champion GM Irina Krush finally claimed a clear lead in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, but only by winning her fourth game in a row – on Saturday over WFM Jennifer Yu.  Krush played solidly on the Black side of an English Opening, first equalizing before taking advantage of Yu’s mistakes for a decisive kingside attack.

Yu could have avoided her fate with 32.h3, taking control of some key squares, but instead played 32.b5 and allowed 32…g5! Ushering Krush’s rook to h6 to deliver checkmate.

IM Nazi Paikidze took down tournament leader WGM Katerina Nemcova in Round 10, now just a point out of first place. // Kevin Duggin photo

Nemcova definitely had chances to win against Paikidze but faltered with 26.Bxc6, giving away most of her advantage.

“I got into time trouble, and I had some difficulties,” Nemcova said. “Taking on c6 looked nice but wasn’t so good.”

Paikidze, the only undefeated woman left in the field, played solidly and seized the opportunity to play 32…Qe1 with a devastating threat of Bf2. Nemcova followed with a blunder of 33.Nd6, as after 33…Ne5 the threat of Bf2 was no longer stoppable. Nemcova was only able to give a few spite checks before being forced to resign.

“Coming to the game today, I was just hoping I would equalize in the opening,” Paikidze said. “Only when I played 32…Qe1, I realized I could win this game.”

WGM Katerina Nemcova vs. IM Nazi Paikidze Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan built an advantage and worked through an excellent endgame against IM Rusudan Goletiani in Round 10. // Lennart Ootes photo

In one of the sharpest games of the tournament, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan launched a direct kingside attack against IM Rusudan Goletiani. The invasion led Goletiani to sacrifice a pawn with 21…h5 in order to defend, though it allowed Abrahamyan to simply pile up on the g-file to break through. After a series of complications and a few missed wins for White, the players found themselves in a complex rook endgame, which was nicely converted by Tatev.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan vs. IM Rusudan Goletiani Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

The final round of the 2015 U.S. Chess Championships is set for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. CDT. Tune in to for play-by-play commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Maurice Ashley.