Caruana 'Interferes' With Chase Group, All Alone In St. Louis

Caruana 'Interferes' With Chase Group, All Alone In St. Louis

| 21 | Chess Event Coverage

Love kingside pawn storms? Pack your umbrella.

Today the weather turned south and so did the results for the aggressors at the 2016 U.S. championships. Four adventurous pawns storms resulted in only one half-point, while GM Fabiano Caruana used some old preparation to defeat GM Alex Onischuk.

The final combination included an interference tactic so sweet that Caruana enjoyed the chance to explain it in the confessional booth verbally just prior to producing it visually. GMs Wesley So and Ray Robson could only draw, thus Caruana can for the moment take a "first-place selfie."

The "Sith Lord" of chess, GM Jeffery Xiong, still using the force to stay undefeated.

In the U.S. Women's Championship, things got murkier instead of clearer. IM Nazi Paikidze threw away her advantage in one move, allowing pint-sized NM Carissa Yip to salvage another draw from a desperate position. That stumble, combined with wins from both ladies in the chase group, meant that GM Irina Krush and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan now dine at Paikidze's first-place table with five rounds to go.

The confessional booth was a good place to be today, as the only men that entered both won. We can't write that both men who spoke were victorious -- GM Alex Shabalov attempted to record a sound bite but didn't know that the camera was automatic! Luckily both he and Caruana are being paid for their chess skills.

First, the leader's game. Caruana played the exceedingly rare 8. a4 in the ...Bc5 Spanish. A deviation on the eighth move in the world's oldest studied opening is refreshing, and Caruana didn't spoil the moment, even if it did come much later than planned.

GM Fabiano Caruana's game face.

He explained afterward that the preparation wasn't born on the rest day; instead it came well before that, in anticipation of using it against GM Michael Adams. The aforementioned move wasn't a novelty. It has been essayed five times previously, with the first iteration coming from Anand-Shirov in the FIDE World Championship Knockout in 2000 (1-0, 64). The divergence from theory came on move 10 with the critical 10. bxc6! instead of the more solid 10. Bxe4.

Judging by today's game, the new idea was not a ruse as Onischuk was hoping for.

"Maybe your opponent is just bluffing," Onischuk recounted about his thought process. "I have refuted my opponent's preparation before. Fabiano, he's a completely different level. This preparation is very deep.

"[In] ...Bc5 [variations] you have to know so many lines as Black. Literially hundreds of lines." Make that hundreds and one.

GM Alex Onischuk, father of three, triathlete, and coach of the Texas Tech chess team.

Before showing the opening, see if you can spit out the same tactic Caruana gave in confessional booth, before he played it over the board. There are several winning lines, but his is best, so you only get credit for 2800-level chess! Need a hint? Read the article's title.

The round six coverage of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of
Saint Louis. Find Caruana's “confession” starting from 2:27:46.

And here's the full game.

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila, courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Games via TWIC.

"I'm still a little puzzled," Onischuk said, and surprisingly, Caruana concurred. Neither combatant could quite explain in strategic terms how Black ended up worse.

"[My] instinct is that Black is OK but somehow he's not," Caruana said. He has now won all of his games with White. caught up with Caruana and asked more about the genesis of the opening idea, his basketball skills, and whether he'll attend the world championship. Here's the video interview.

The marquee ratings matchup of the day was So against the defending champ. GM Hikaru Nakamura faced a more extreme version of his round-four matchup -- Black, against a world top-10 player, trailing in the standings (this time by more than earlier). He said he didn't regret his play over the weekend, but decided this time to tack away from turbulent waters.

Against GM Wesley So, GM Hikaru Nakamura was Wincing the 'Knight' Away.

"You run a bit of risk of losing if you gamble," he said. "That's what happened against Fabiano."

Thus unlike their last classical game, Nakamura would not go all-out as Black to checkmate So before the first time control. Today, a French, where So pressed but bailed out into a perpetual.

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila, courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Nakamura hoped So would play on, "but of course he's not stupid."

The biggest improvement Nakamura thought of for White was 19. Nh5, simultaneously hitting g7 and clearing out a path for the queen to join the fun. Black may survive, but he would have to barricade his king in the corner and hold on to the handrails.

Can the champion make up his 1.5-point margin in the final five rounds? He demurred a direct answer, but said, "If Fabiano's going to win every game, there's not much I can do about it."

Robson could have helped So draft in the chase group, but he fell another half-point off the pace with a fortress draw against GM Gata Kamsky. As has become the norm, he drained is clock down to three seconds several times, living on increments like chimps do bananas.

GM Ray Robson, creator of heart attacks.

"Ray, he does it all the time," Kamsky said. He should know. According to U.S. championship statistic guru Ed Gonsalves, the two have now met in seven consecutive championships, the longest streak in the event's history.

Robson gave the classic kid excuse: He made me do it!

"Gata was just putting so much pressure on me and making unexpected moves," Robson said, explaining that he had intended to play faster. "Without increment, I would just get destroyed."

The Tatar Kamsky could have sauced his opponent with a tactic on move 21, which would have given excellent winning chances. Try your hand at playing in the championship:

And here's the full game:

Robson's high-wire hold denied the five-time champion his first win. In fact, in a sign of how strong the tournament has become, here's a stat humbly submitted to me by the afflicted subject: No player who qualified for the 2014 U.S. Championship playoff has won a game in the first week this year. GM Varuzhan Akobian noticed this on the rest day, and it still held true after today (Kamsky, GM Alex Lenderman, and himself are the chagrined trio).

"Sometimes I'm happy I'm semi-retired," Kamsky said.

In other action, Akobian and Lenderman played a correct draw, as did the two teenagers, IM Akshat Chandra and GM Jeffery Xiong (still without a loss and +1).

GM Sam Shankland told on the rest day that he's getting only equality with White, and worse positions as Black. Today that trend got one measure worse -- he lost as White to four-time winner GM Alex Shabalov.

"I'm a professional chess player," Shankland said. It's painful to lose like that to a lower-rated player as White."

Shhh! It's Shankland-Shabalov and it's full of sibilance.

Shabalov said he was surprised that Shankland didn't close the pawn structure by answering 11...d5 with 12. e5. Why the shock? Well that was the approximate formation with colors reversed that Shankland had just lost to against Nakamura!

This is the first "failed pawn storm" of the day (three more coming later on the women's side).

"The rest day was very timely," the senior statesman, Shabalov, said. The 48-year-old credited his fellow Baltic-born second, GM Jaan Ehlvest, on the suggestion for today's line.

Shabalov's first win comes just before his upcoming back-to-back games against 2700s So and Nakamura. "I'm glad I'm 50 percent before playing them," he said.

On to the women's event, where six games produced five winners (WIM Akshita Gorti has no draws at all in her six games).

If the players are hungry for more than just kings, this is the standard in-game catering.

Our next rebuffed kingside aggression can be found in Yip's meeting with tournament-leader Paikidze. The standard space-gaining line in the Caro-Kann involved an exotic rook lift, but a voluntary king walk could have been punished.

Instead Yip escaped with another unlikely draw, just as she had in round three with another current co-leader, Abrahamyan.

"I played really well, but just one move and it's already [a] draw," Paikidze said. "It happens...I can't be too hard on myself." 29...Bb5! was the cruncher.

IM Nazi Paikidze plays so little, she hasn't lost in years!

You might think the 12-year-old would be satisfied with an even score after the halfway mark, but not so. "I expected more after my 2-0 start," Yip said.

Abrahamyan and Krush both took advantage of Yip's tenacity.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, who you've seen by now with purple hair, but what about her other love?...

...penguins! She spent part of the rest day at the St. Louis Zoo.

"I don't think I've ever been worse in any of my games," Abrahamyan said. Today she slowly went through the Breyer like a warm spoon through ice cream.

Analysis by GM Robert Hess:

The next kingside expansion to get pummeled was in WFM Jennifer Yu-WGM Katerina Nemcova. The number-three seed got her first win of the event by channeling her inner Richard Rapport and pushing her h-pawn early. 9. f4 didn't help White, bringing Black's dark-squared bishop to life.

Indeed, every long-range piece had a field day:

Looking ahead, Abrahamyan has yet to play either of the top two seeds (Krush and Zatonskih). "That's gonna be pretty tough," Abrahamyan said. Paikidze and Krush tussle in the final round.

It appears to be brunette versus blonde versus purple coming down the stretch.

FM Alisa Melekhina dropped her third game in a row, today to WIM Ashritha Eswaran. Krush won the longest game of the day to equal the leaders' scores.

The final game was IM Anna Zatonskih's far-from-trouble-free win over WIM Agata Bykovtsev. After surviving a pawn phalanx of her own, she calculated a long king-and-pawn endgame win to remain undefeated.

White resigned as Black will be careful to create a queen on the b-file, which gives check just in time in lines where White's king walks to h7.

Here are the standings. Graphics courtesy of Spectrum Studios.

As a bonus, here's a sampling of pictures of the "Pop-Up Chess Demo" during the off day at the World Chess Hall of Fame. All 12 female players participated in blitz, bughouse, bullet and blindfold, and using some of the artistic chess sets on display.

GM Irina Krush relaxing prior to the evening.

The exhibit's curator explains to the players this piece; Gorti leans in for a closer look.

Krush enjoys the explanation for why there's a white king beginning on e8. But that wasn't as weird as...

...Yoko Ono's "Play It By Trust" chess, which dispenses with colors altogether. Imagine that.

Instead of optimism, here's some realism. Inspired by the recent events with the Ferguson police department, this set makes the police "White" and the Black pieces are adorned with protest signs. Gunshot spiderwebs litter the board. Provocative? Yes, but the artist sought to foster conversation.

Abrahamyan ponders the symbolism.

An FM, an IM, and a GM walk into an art gallery...

Then the games began. Melekhina-Paikidze played using Ono's idea of 32 white pieces. Surprisingly, no illegal moves were made.

The youngsters hung out all night. Agata Bykovtsev (left), 16, is the one they all look up to!

Yip/Bykovtsev was an unbeatable bughouse team.

Foisor-Abrahamyan playing bullet. Look closely at the clock -- can White's seventh-rank pressure win with four seconds left? (She did!)

The final event of the night. GM Maurice Ashley is helped by a youngster in tying the blindfold around IM Anna Zatonskih's eyes. The little one's name? Irina! (No relation to Krush, as you guessed.)

The "real" Irina, posing with a Crystal Fischetti set.

Live coverage of each round can be found at the official site or at Rounds begin at 1 p.m. Central Time daily until April 25. Any possible playoffs will be April 26.

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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