U.S. Championships Cool Down After Scorching Start
Still leading: WIM Annie Wang (foreground) and IM Nazi Paikidze. | Photo: Mike Klein/

U.S. Championships Cool Down After Scorching Start

| 12 | Chess Event Coverage

Today in Azerbaijan, the field scored its first win.

Meanwhile in St. Louis at the 2018 U.S. Championships, they recycled the result. It was, after all, Earth Day.

Despite tallying 27 wins over the first four rounds, today the field mustered a solitary win. The other 11 games ended drawn and all leaders stayed the same. Nobody said recycling was exciting.


Earth Day celebrations in Forest Park, where the Saint Louis Chess Club also had a booth. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Despite the lack of wins, some tried well beyond the point most masters would go. The round dragged on nearly six hours thanks to a 112-mover on the ladies' side. The longest fight of the first week ended king vs. king. That took a little extra energy.

The men did their part to conserve on electricity usage. GM Awonder Liang and GM Yaroslav Zherebukh drew in 30 minutes thanks to a five-fold repetition. GM Jeffery Xiong and GM Wesley So lasted a little longer, drawing in about 80 minutes.

All six games in the open championship ended drawn. By the time they turned out the lights, five of the six women's matchup were still going.

Even they could only muster one win, meaning the two fields slowed down greatly today, going from eight wins yesterday down to one today.


This poor girl was kept waiting; the final five games of the day happened in the women's event. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

We'll start with the ladies again, since they showed more moxie and produced the only win. Unsurprisingly, it came from FM Maggie Feng, who has yet to draw a game in five rounds (three wins and two losses).

Today's win came at the hands of IM Rusa Goletiani. At 37, she's the second-oldest player in the field, but she nearly pretended she was 129. That's not an insult -- her setup and tactical ideas reminded of Emanuel Lasker in his famous double-bishop sacrifice in 1889.

Feng contemplated the idea (it's one of those "must-see" games for masters and amateurs alike), but she wasn't worried.

"I saw that but I couldn't find a checkmate," she said. Feng's 11...e5 limited the offering to just one bishop, which she refuted with ease.

You've now seen the one Sunday win. The other players "rested" but only slightly. Many of the draws could have been more for one player.

The most consequential game for the top of the standings was GM Irina Krush versus pre-round co-leader IM Nazi Paikidze. Their only three previous games came in the last three U.S. Women's Championships, with Paikidze winning them all.

Still, that means she'd need seven more to "adopt" Krush, a term that the non-online playing Paikidze needed defined.


She couldn't keep her perfect record today against Krush, but IM Nazi Paikidze still protected her piece of the lead. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Krush didn't put much stock in her 0-3 record. After all, she didn't beat rival IM Anna Zatonskih until 2011, after they'd played several encounters.

"I didn't see that stat as the big obstacle of my life," Krush told "I was coming into this game with those three games as being irrelevant."

Far more foreboding was the premonition Paikidze had prior to the start. She pictured in her mind what theme she wanted to avoid, but this turned out to be the wrong kind of visualization exercise, since it happened anyway.

"Even before the game, I was afraid to get the kind of game I got where I was slightly worse and she had no risk," Paikidze said, adding later to, "Going into the game, I was scared I was going to lose."


GM Irina Krush, who won her first of seven U.S. Women's titles 20 years ago. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Krush had pretty much given up on getting opponents into her preparation, but today, Paikidze at least played the structure she envisaged.

"She's not an easy opponent to prepare for," Krush told "She doesn't play as much. Everyone else surprised me in the first four games, too. Out of my five opponents, she at least stuck with her normal opening."

Paikidze's visions came true -- she struggled for any counterplay --but in the end, she held. Part of her issues came from Krush mis-analyzing a queen sortie. The other part came from grabbing the wrong piece!

"I had a feeling that if I lost because of this move, it's going to be a nightmare," Paikidze said about mentally picking one piece but physically moving the other.

Krush wasn't worried not being able to win with the extra pawn. "If I keep playing this level everything is fine," Krush said.

She's been buoyant the last two days. And why not? Not matter what happens this year, she has as many national titles (seven) as the entire open field combined (Nakamura four, Onischuk/Caruana/So one each).


Paikidze, back into familiar opening waters. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Another pivotal game for the top of the tables was WIM Akshita Gorti against pre-round co-leader WIM Annie Wang. (While we're in the combinational stats game, their combined age is less than Krush's. Kids these days!)

Wang, the current U-16 Girls World Youth Champion, almost lost her place at the top. She said she made some errors in the late middlegame.

"[Gorti] just outplayed me, then she got into time trouble, then she messed up" Wang said.

Annie Wang

WIM Annie Wang, who has to do schoolwork each night after her game. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

But unlike the rook-and-knight ending that plagued GM Fabiano Caruana yesterday, Wang was able to hold the game and her piece of the lead.'s interview with Wang.

Still trailing Wang and Paikidze is IM Anna Zatonskih, who played 112 moves in the battle of the Annas. Eventually she and WGM Anna Sharevich agreed to share the name, and the point.

Speaking of things that happened yesterday, Caruana got a remarkably similar ending as his ill-fated round four loss. It was another rook+knight+two pawns for each side. In fact, in one line, he would even have to defend the exact preferred variation from yesterday's game: rook and knight battling rook and knight and side pawn!

"I noticed that it was very similar," Caruana told about the realization during the game. He also gave some insight into what happened yesterday that precipitated his late-game blunder.

"I had a feeling I was going to lose halfway through," he said. "Today at least I was thinking clearly."

Caruana said yesterday he played in a "haze" which he often only realizes at the game's conclusion.


GM Fabiano Caruana had to be lucid to hold his ending today. | Photo: Mike Klein/

"At the end of the game, you might feel a bit dizzy," he said of the feeling. "You don't have a clear grip on your thoughts."

If anything, today he bamboozled his opponent. Caruana played with speed but entered an obviously worse position. That combo perplexed Shankland, who hadn't prepped the Queen's Gambit Accepted much before the game. That's not the kind of home preparation you usually get from a 2800.

"He was playing so quickly," Shankland said. "It just confused me more than anything else." 

Caruana, harkening back to his upset loss yesterday: "Obviously, I was still a bit tilted."

Shankland, a new author of a book on pawn moves and how they are irreversible, had art imitate his own life today.

"If at any point today I could have just played pawn on a4 to a3, the game is completely over," he said. "To get this rook off of b4, I'm just a pawn up."

"It's not a disaster by any stretch to draw the world number two," Shankland said. He also told he has found holes in Caruana's game. 

"I certainly have my opinion about Fabiano's weaknesses, but if I explained what they are, that would make the U.S. Championship that much harder," he said.

Shankland is thus still tied for the lead (3.5/5), along with GM Varuzhan Akobian and GM Wesley So. (They are plus two; Akobian said he thinks plus four will win the tournament.) What did Shankland think of the 87 percent of Twitter respondents picking the collective "Big Three" over the field before the event began?

"It's probably still the most likely result," he said. Caruana trails by a half point and GM Hikaru Nakamura's five draws trail by a full point.


From this great angle, GM Hikaru Nakamura's pawns form a menacing line toward the white king. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Nakamura needed to get going, so he brought back an old friend, essaying the King's Indian Defense against GM Alex Lenderman

"It was a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game," Nakamura said about trying to expand more on the kingside, adding that he was only playing for two results: a win or a loss! But today, the draw fairy sprinkled her dust everywhere.

Nakamura also was asked to weigh in on his thoughts from Caruana's loss yesterday and the bigger picture.

"I think Fabiano underestimated Zviad (Izoria). He was really good right before Fabiano was getting good. It bodes poorly for the match because Magnus is very good at drawing out long games. That's one of the big weaknesses Fabiano is going to have to work on."


Nakamura, always happy when he gets to play his King's Indian. | Photo: Mike Klein/

2018 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 5

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM So, Wesley 2786 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 3.5
2 GM Shankland, Samuel 2671 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 3.5
3 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2647 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 3.5
4 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2804 ½ 1 1 0 ½ 3
5 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.5
6 GM Zherebukh, Yaroslav 2640 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 2.5
7 GM Xiong, Jeffery 2665 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 2
8 GM Robson, Ray 2660 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 2
9 GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2599 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 2
10 GM Izoria, Zviad 2599 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 2
11 GM Liang, Awonder 2552 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 2
12 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2672 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1.5

2018 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 5

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 IM Paikidze, Nazi 2352 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 4
2 FM Wang, Annie 2321 1 ½ ½ 1 1 4
3 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2444 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 3.5
4 GM Krush, Irina 2422 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 3
5 FM Feng, Maggie 2243 0 0 1 1 1 3
6 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 2.5
7 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2308 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 2.5
8 WGM Sharevich, Anna 2281 0 ½ 1 0 ½ 2
9 FM Gorti, Akshita 2252 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 2
10 FM Yu, Jennifer 2367 0 0 0 ½ 1 1.5
11 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 2306 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1
12 IM Derakhshani, Dorsa 2306 0 0 0 ½ ½ 1

The 2018 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship are twin 12-player round robins from April 18-30. The time control is 40/90, SD/30 with a 30-second increment from move one. You can follow all the action at the official website. Games will be daily at 1 p.m. Central time (11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. UTC). is on site and will be bringing you daily reports and video interviews.

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FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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