Crowned: Nakamura, Krush are 2015 U.S. King and Queen

Grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush have earned the 2015 U.S. and U.S. Women's Chess Championships, recording a career total of 11 national titles between the two. Grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush have earned the 2015 U.S. and U.S. Women's Chess Championships, recording a career total of 11 national titles between the two.

GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Irina Krush both sealed the deal in Sunday's final round of the U.S. Chess Championships, enshrining their names as 2015's king and queen of American chess. With a half-point lead over GM Ray Robson entering Sunday, Nakamura silenced his last threat to the U.S. title by dropping 2006 champion GM Alexander Onischuk in a deceptively tricky endgame. Meanwhile, in the Women's Championship, Krush pushed a draw against WGM Katerina Nemcova to capture an outstanding seventh title -- and fourth consecutive.

2015 U.S. Chess Championship final standings

2015 U.S. Women's Chess Championship final standings

GM Hikaru Nakamura capped his fourth U.S. Championship with a solid win over GM Alex Onischuk in the final round. // Lennart Ootes photo

Against Onischuk, Nakamura used the Scotch Gambit -- a rare guest at top levels -- but did not emerge out of the opening with a tangible advantage. After a trade of queens, just a few pawns remaining on the board led commentators and spectators to believe the game would be soon drawn.

Despite the equality, however, Nakamura applied pressure and ended up with a passed b-pawn, after which Onischuk could not find the defense to hold.

“Objectively it was just equal somewhere around move 16-17,” Nakamura said. “I found 22.Rb1 which I think is a nice move, and I think 22…Nc5 was probably the critical blunder.”

Onischuk went for counterplay against the f2-pawn with 25…Nd3 and 26…Re2, but blundered with 27…Nxf2. The misstep allowed Nakamura to fork both of Black’s rooks with 28.Nd4, winning a decisive chunk of material.

“When you play tournaments like this, it’s much different than playing against the top players in the world in that you’re pretty much forced to try to win every game, regardless of color. I think that adds a lot of extra stress.”

This is Nakamura’s fourth U.S. title and first since 2012, when he last participated in the event. Now $45,000 richer, Hikaru shed some light on what it’s like to be the top seed and favorite in the event:

Hikaru also said he’s looking forward to his next event, the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansiysk, where a strong performance will likely qualify the World No. 3 for the 2016 Candidates Tournament.

GM Hikaru Nakamura vs. GM Alexander Onischuk Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

Robson finished a strong U.S. Championship with a victory over GM Timur Gareev, but couldn't catch Nakamura in the standings. // Lennart Ootes photo

In the case of a Nakamura draw, Sunday’s attention was also on Robson versus GM Timur Gareev – who yet again showcased his unorthodox style. After choosing the rare Veresov Opening, he seemed shocked commentators on nearly every move. First was the strange 8.a4 and 9.Ra3, and even more eyebrow-raising was leaving his bishop on b5 hanging -- a speculative sacrifice. Robson accepted, but later regretted the decision.

“Probably I shouldn’t have taken on b5, I think I should have just played 13…f5, protecting the e4-pawn,” he said.

Gareev found vague compensation for the piece, but a bigger factor was Robson’s quickly dissipating time, as he sorted through complications to make the most out of his extra piece. As the game progressed, Gareev did not make the best use of his chances, however, and his initiative eventually died out.  The win finished Robson in clear second place with 7.5/11.

“Definitely my best result in the U.S. Championship, and one of the best results of my career,” Robson said. “I thought I’ve been playing well lately, and I continued that in this tournament.”

GM Timur Gareev vs. GM Ray Robson Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

Finishing in clear third was GM Wesley So (6.5/11), who won his second game in a row to leapfrog Onischuk (6.0/11) in the final standings. Wesley exploited a serious error in the opening by GM Kayden Troff to reach an endgame with a clear extra pawn. He then gradually built his advantage and had few problems converting the full point. Rounding out the results include fighting draws between GM Sam Shankland vs. GM Varuzhan Akobian, as well as GM Daniel Naroditsky vs. GM Gata Kamsky. And in one of the craziest games of the event, GM Sam Sevian vs. GM Conrad Holt lasted 100 moves into an endgame where Holt held a two-pawn advantage – though Holt flagged, and lost on time.

WGM Katerina Nemcova turned in an outstanding tournament, tying for second place in her second U.S. Women's Championship appearance. // Kevin Duggin photo

After Saturday’s decisive penultimate round in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, all Krush needed was a draw against Nemcova on Sunday to earn a new title. Krush chose the quiet English Opening, gained a small edge out of the opening and systematically forced exchanges until the players reached a dead-drawn rook endgame.

“It was very important for me to go into the game with the right mindset,” Krush said. “The way it turned out, obviously there weren’t a lot of fireworks on the board. I was prepared for this game to go in any direction.”

This is Irina Krush’s seventh U.S. Championship title and fourth in a row. Despite a rocky start with 1.5/3 Krush went on a furious comeback, winning six out of her next eight games, with two draws. Looking back at her tournament, she singled out a tough moment in her round-six draw with WGM Anna Sharevich, where she missed several chances to win the game.

“I think the hardest point for me here was after my draw with Anna; I was really distraught after that game.” Showing true champion spirit Krush then won her next four games in a row, effectively clinching the title by round ten. Not hiding her ambitions for the future Krush said: “I’d like to break the record one day, which is nine women’s titles, won by Gisela Gresser.”

Since Nemcova had lost yesterday to IM Nazí Paikidze she was a full-point behind Krush and could not find any chances to mix things up. “If I had won yesterday, I definitely would have played for the win today.” said Nemcova (7.5/11), who ended up tied for second along with Paikidze. “I am so happy about the chess I played here.” she added.

IM Nazi Paikidze remained the only woman without a defeat in the 2015 U.S. Women's Championship, her first appearance in the event. // Kevin Duggin photo

IM Nazí Paikidze (7.5/11) finished as the only undefeated woman in the field, taking second place on tie-breaks with Nemcova.

“I’m extremely happy, it’s my first [U.S. Championship], and I finished with second place,” Paikidze said. “I didn’t expect that, to be honest, before the tournament.”

Finishing in clear fourth is WIM Viktorija Ni (7.0/11), a fine result after starting with just a half point through the first three rounds. In her final round game, she solidly outplayed WCM Apurva Virkud with a decisive kingside attack.

WIM Viktorija Ni vs. NM Apurva Virkud Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

In fifth place is Sharevich (6.5/11), who finished with a nice win over WGM Tatev Abrahamyan.

WGM Anna Sharevich vs. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan Annotations by GM Josh Friedel

While the U.S. Chess Championships are now over, there is no shortage of excitement at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Coming up next week is Battle of the Legends: Garry Kasparov vs. Nigel Short, a rapid/blitz match that will take place April 25-26, with a special autograph session with the two legends on April 24.