Highlights from the US Championship

Highlights from the US Championship

| 7 | Middlegame

In the last three articles I told you about my games at the US Women's Championship. Today we will wrap-up the topic by looking at some of the interesting moments from the US Championship. With 24 players and 9 rounds, there were a lot of fighting and interesting games played but here I will concentrate on a few moments that made an impression on me and which are instructive.

GM Gata Kamsky won the event with 6.5/9 points and it is makes sense to start with an example from his play. Gata's technique and positional understanding are among the best in the world. He can also be dangerous in positions with the initiative, as the following example shows. Black is probably better due to healthier pawn structure, whereas White's c5 pawn can become a real weakness. White occupies two open files and generally has well-placed pieces, so defending this position should not be a big problem for such a strong GM as Holt.

A powerful display of attacking skills by the Champion! Speaking of attacks, there was a nice moment from GM Sam Shankland's game where he missed a chance to end the game with a crushing attack.

Christiansen-Shankland | Photo Tony Rich courtesy of USChessChamps

Check out this position - Shankland has all his pieces aiming at the white king (the rook on a8 can join shortly in the attack after Ra2). The position is asking for a tactical solution. For now White wants to exchange the bishop on d4, so Black can either retreat it or find something better.

In both examples, the white king was under attack and the Ra2 maneuver could have been fatal in both games. An open king is generally a trigger for attack, but sometimes one has to find very subtle moves like the Ra2-Rd2 maneuver in Shankland's game instead of the obvious Qxh4 that loses the game. In the next example it is again Black who has better pieces for a pawn and it is again the white king that is in search for a safe haven.

White has massive weaknesses on the kingside - all the light squares are weak, Bd2 cannot move and Qa6 is far away. How to use this advantage? Black had an excellent but not so obvious continuation that is connected to the pin of the knight and weak position of Bd2.

I find the above combination beautiful. It seems that White has just enough resources to defend but in reality he falls short of one consolidating move. Another bright tactical example from the Championship is the defensive move that Shabalov came up with in a losing position against Akobian. Not only did he manage to save the game, but even turn the tables and win it!

Akobian-Shabalov | Photo Tony Rich courtesy of USChessChamps

When you look at the following position, it is hard to imagine that Black can defend it, for several reasons. First of all, White has an extra passed pawn in endgame and his pieces are all active and well placed. The white king is open but the black king is open as well, and it is well-known phenomenon that a knight is an excellent defender.  With his next move Black hopes to deflect the white rook from the d-file to try to give perpetual check.

Thus far we looked at positions with tactical solutions. Let's now look at a few games that feature positional maneuvers or pawn breaks.

In the following position Black is down a pawn but his position is by no means worse. White grabbed a ton of space but he does not have enough pieces to occupy it. Moreover, Bc1 and Ne1 are underdeveloped on the fist rank. Christiansen concentrated his minor-piece attack on the d5-pawn and now it is time to undermine it with a pawn break.

The next three positions are about knight maneuvers. In the first example the knight on b3 is really annoying, so White found a way to spend three tempos but to exchange it. White has a solid position with well-developed pieces. For this reason he could get away with spending that much time on the knights exchange. Moreover, you probably noticed that White has an excellent d5-square, but he also has two pieces that want to be there, the knight and the bishop! Thus, exchanging one would solve the problem of the "superfluous piece".

In the next example Black has a big problem on the queenside. The bishop on by is terribly passive. White has more space and can take the c- and e-files with his rooks. Black's last move was N7f6, trying to exchange a pair of knights since there is only one good d5-square for the knights but there are two knights present.

The last position is once again from a game by Onischuk. This is no coincidence as he has a deep positional understanding of the game and can outplay strong players in slightly better or equal positions.

Alexander Onischuk | Photo Tony Rich courtesy of USChessChamps

After the game he said that he was happy to find the knight transfer in the position below. Black's plan is to double on the c-file and to put pressure on the c4-pawn. This prophylactic thinking should lead one to the correct idea of the knight transfer or at least to move the knight to support the pawn with c4. Due to more space, White does not want to exchange the pieces.

A very impressive win by Onischuk!  

Now that we are done with the games from the Championship, it is time to move on to a different topic. This topic would be "Converting Advantage according to Kramnik".

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