Leaders Challenged In U.S. Championships Openers

Leaders Challenged In U.S. Championships Openers

Go ahead and take that vacation; it looks to be an unpredictable two weeks in St. Louis.

Some leaders faltered while other top-enders needed reversals of fate, and we're only in round one of the 2015 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship.

Top-seeded GM Hikaru Nakamura burned his ships on the kingside, only to show that his naked king was weirdly safer than White's pawn cover over his own king. Both sides suffered from exposed light squares, but in the end, only GM Conrad Holt's weaknesses were mortal.

Nakamura's knight reached the other side of the board, threatening a nasty fork on f3 and a picturesque smothered mate on the same square!

Analysis by GM Ben Finegold:

"I kind of wasn't sure what I was doing, so I decided to play actively," Nakamura said about his decision to play 14...Nf6 instead of maintaining material parity. If he had the game to play over again, he preferred to offer two pawns, explaining that 15...e4 (to keep the Nd2 at bay) is more accurate than 15...Qxg6.

Overall, he said the "position was complicated enough that it was always playable." Still, it wasn't until White's bishop retreated to its home square that White's advantage dissipated.

"Today's the worst game I've played in a good three to five months," Nakamura said. "I'm counting my lucky stars. If I play like this I'm not going to win the championship." Even so, he is once again knocking on the door of 2800 for the second time in his career.

GM Hikaru Nakamura claimed he wore the shirt to "Look like Timur [Gareev]." Also new this year, a well-stocked Red Bull mini-fridge for the players.

When asked why he decided to play this year after a two-year hiatus, he said it was the "rising level of quality." Nakamura added, "In the last year or so, some players have improved a lot." He specifically mentioned GM Sam Shankland, and curiously, Shankland praised Nakamura while watching the finish to his game: "I really admire [Nakamura's] play. I wish I could play as aggressively as him."

GM Timur Gareev, the sartorial trend-setter for the top American?

So why will they not be teammates at the upcoming World Team Championship? Nakamura declined his invitation. He explained to Chess.com: "I felt like the offer for the World Team Championship was not a fair offer. There was no way I was going to play under those conditions."

Nakamura all smiles after the round (photo: Lennart Ootes).

To bring the Nakamura-Shankland relationship full circle, the American team is discussing Shankland taking over for Nakamura as board one!

Were things easier for GM Wesley So, the number two seed playing his first U.S. Championship game? Maybe only a little! He initially was much better in the opening against GM Daniel Naroditsky, then lost all advantage, only to win the game a second time.

"I misplayed somewhere in the endgame," So said. He wished he had chosen the g4 thrust earlier to force the wayward black knight back to g7.

Instead, the world number eight (who vaulted to number six today) had to rely on a miscue by the youngster. "Good thing he blundered by taking on c4," So said. The computer preferred keeping the worthless pawn on the board and dropping the e-knight back to c6.

GMs Ray Robson and Wesley So, former teammates, roommates, and Millionaire Chess finalists, discuss their collective good starts. Both won today.

"Daniel's a very attacking player so I was expecting this," So said of the early pressure on the f-file. "I'm just glad to be here," he said of returning to St. Louis, the city where he attended Webster University for several years. "This is where I made my leap from 2650 to 2700-plus."

In the ladies' event, the top two seeds also didn't enjoy a breezy opening round. Six-time champion GM Irina Krush escaped with a somewhat miraculous draw, while second-seeded WGM Tatev Abrahamyan blundered badly in an equal position.

"I missed this intermediate move a3," Krush said. "It's an easy thing to miss but it's critical -- a3's just a great, great move. After that it's just about saving the position you have left."

She reminded that she lost to WGM Sabina Foisor in the opening round four years ago, and only managed a draw in last year's opening game versus Foisor. "I don't like to use the word nemesis," Krush said.

"The field is a bit tougher (this year)," Krush said, even though her main rival, IM Anna Zatonskih is not playing this year (Krush is also without her best friend in the field, WIM Iryna Zenyuk, who declined due to her studies). "You have these players taking points off the top players...I don't want any drama."

Meanwhile, if Abrahamyan is to claim her first U.S. Women's title, she's going to have to come from behind. She dropped her opening game to 12-year-old WIM Annie Wang after overlooking a simple pin.

Analysis by GM Ben Finegold:



"If I lose it will be OK," Wang told herself before the game, her first-ever at the event.

She knew was in for a battle as early as last night. "Oh man, I shouldn't have picked 11," she said of her pairing card. As a 300-point underdog as Black in her debut in St. Louis, she proved that her wildcard selection was justified. 

Although she was the former record-holder for the youngest female master in U.S. history, she's not yet comfortable with the press. "I find interviews stressful," she told me after my second question. I asked about the possibility of winning the event and the media attention that will come with it. She relaxed and said smilingly, "Yeah, the trade off will be worth it."

WIM Annie Wang pulled off the biggest upset of the day.

The most off-balance position of the day came in GM Ray Robson vs. GM Kayden Troff (whose combined age is less than defending champion GM Gata Kamsky). After a thematic ...d5, Robson had to consider a long forcing continuation that ended with two bishops vs. a rook, and huge pawn differentials on opposite wings.

"At first I was worried, but I'm not going to stay pinned forever," Robson said. He said that after 25. f4, his queen guards the rook on h1 while he prepares a battery with Bd3. Commentator GM Yasser Seirawan was worried about the ramifications of the sequence, but Robson had no such concerns. "He's not getting anything immediate, so it must be good for me," Robson explained. "I didn't have doubt that I should be better, but I did have doubt that I'd play the right way."

Analysis by GM Ben Finegold:

Robson, 20, is one of four men to play in every U.S. Championship in St. Louis (when the streak began, he was only a boy!).

Chess.com asked Robson if the addition of Nakamura and So would help him fly under the radar this year. "A year ago I might have thought maybe this year I could be one of the co-favorites, but Nakamura or So are now likely to play pretty much every year...You'd think I could win one but I'm not sure when that will be."

GM Varuzhan Akobian, off to another fast start in St. Louis.

Also getting the full point was last year's playoff qualifier, GM Varuzhan Akobian. He dispatched the world's youngest grandmaster, Sam Sevian, in the longest game of the day. As with many endgame studies, promoting with check was a key concept.

Defending champion Kamsky could only muster a lifeless and perhaps slightly worse draw against Shankland. "A draw with Kamsky as Black is not the biggest disaster," according to Shankland. Last year, Kamsky drew in 14 moves vs. GM Timur Gareev in round one. Shankland: "I don't think [today's game] is similar, that game was just chicken."

The only disappointment for GM Sam Shankland today? The draw broke his personal three-game winning streak.

As for Gareev, today he showed more fight than the opening round in 2014. In fact he won a pawn from a facile tactic -- an overworked piece -- but couldn't muster a win from his extra pawn versus GM Alex Onischuk.

"Had he played a4 early on I would have been in trouble," Gareev said. "I felt lucky."

"I feel like I have a different take on the tournament this year," Gareev explained. "Last year I was result-oriented. It cost me a lot of mental energy. [Now I'm playing like] somebody who plays recreational chess would play. I don't consider myself a chess professional anymore."

Over the last few years, Gareev has been focused more on blindfold chess, which you can see from his new website.

Other winners in the Women's Championship include NM Apurva Virkud, who beat FM Alisa Melekhina, and WGM Anna Sharevich, who won in her U.S. Championship debut against fellow first-timer WFM Jennifer Yu.

After sacrificing two pawns early, the former Belarusian champion shuttled all around the board attacking with her heavy pieces until finally breaking through:

WGM Anna Sharevich, a member of the three-time college champion Webster University Chess Team, won her first-ever game at the U.S. Women's Championship.

In the day's other action, WGM Katerina Nemcova missed many wins and only drew IM Rusudan GoletianiWIM Viktorija Ni also drew IM Nazi Paikidze.

Round two is Thursday at 1pm Central (GMT -6). Live commentary can be found at www.chess.com/tv.

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2015 U.S. Championship | Pairings Round 2

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 GM Troff, Kayden W 0.0 2532 GM Naroditsky, Daniel 0.0 2633
2 GM Shankland, Samuel L 0.5 2661 GM So, Wesley 1.0 2788
3 GM Sevian, Samuel 0.0 2531 GM Kamsky, Gata 0.5 2683
4 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 1.0 2798 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 1.0 2622
5 GM Gareev, Timur 0.5 2604 GM Holt, Conrad 0.0 2530
6 GM Robson, Ray 1.0 2656 GM Onischuk, Alexander 0.5 2665

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2015 U.S. Women's Championship | Pairings Round 2

White Score Rating Black Score Rating
WCM Virkud, Apurva 1 2132 IM Paikidze, Nazi 0.5 2333
GM Krush, Irina 0.5 2477 WIM Ni, Viktorija 0.5 2188
IM Goletiani, Rusudan 0.5 2311 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 0.5 2276
WGM Sharevich, Anna 1 2267 WGM Nemcova, Katerina 0.5 2279
WIM Wang, Annie 1 1901 WFM Yu, Jennifer R 0 2180
FM Melekhina, Alisa 0 2235 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 0 2322

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2015 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 1

Rank Name Score Rating TPR
1 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 1 2798 3330
2 GM So, Wesley 1 2788 3433
3 GM Robson, Ray 1 2656 3332
4 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 1 2622 3331
5 GM Kamsky, Gata 0.5 2683 2661
6 GM Onischuk, Alexander 0.5 2665 2604
7 GM Shankland, Samuel L 0.5 2661 2683
8 GM Gareev, Timur 0.5 2604 2665
9 GM Naroditsky, Daniel 0 2633 1988
10 GM Troff, Kayden W 0 2532 1856
11 GM Sevian, Samuel 0 2531 1822
12 GM Holt, Conrad 0 2530 1998

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2015 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 1

Rank Name Score Rating TPR
1 WGM Sharevich, Anna 1 2267 2980
2 WCM Virkud, Apurva 1 2132 3035
3 WIM Wang, Annie 1 1901 3101
4 GM Krush, Irina 0.5 2477 2276
5 IM Paikidze, Nazi 0.5 2333 2188
6 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 0.5 2311 2279
7 WGM Nemcova, Katerina 0.5 2279 2311
8 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 0.5 2276 2477
9 WIM Ni, Viktorija 0.5 2188 2333
10 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 0 2322 1122
11 FM Melekhina, Alisa 0 2235 1332
12 WFM Yu, Jennifer R 0 2180 1467

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