Lenderman's Lead Grows in U.S. Championship
The changing of the guard continued in round five of the 2014 U.S. Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.
GM Alex Lenderman held his endgame against GM Sergey Erenburg to move to 4/5, while second place GM Timur Gareev overpressed and lost. Lenderman now leads by one point over Gareev, GM Alex Onischuk, GM Varuzhan Akobian, and defending champion GM Gata Kamsky.
Although the tournament has yet to pass the halfway mark, Kamsky remarked after his game that he expected a new U.S. Champion this year. He has four draws and one win, which represents nearly the opposite of his title run last year. In 2013, he won his first four games before drawing the final five en route to a playoff win.
Gareev seemed to have the upper hand against Akobian, especially after the insipid 11...Qg5 was summarily rebuffed by 12. Nf3. The point is that taking the pawn on g2 is poisonous after 13. Ke2! and the queen is soon trapped.
But Black fought back and eventually won a rook and pawn ending, pulling an undefeated Akobian even with the chase group.
"It just goes to show you one bad move doesn't always cost you the game," GM Maurice Ashley said on the live commentary.
Lenderman's draw with Erenburg didn't feature as many swings. Perhaps slightly worse, he drew without too much of an issue.
He did not consider his play dominating over the first five rounds. "The games were very complicated, sharp battles," he said. Lenderman went on to say that he felt he had been quite lucky so far.
"Against Timur Gareev (in round two), he found the only way to draw. Everything else would have won," Lenderman said. He also would have accepted a draw against GM Josh Friedel in the opening round before going on to win.
According to the leader, luck is required to win a tournament like this, "unless of course you're Magnus Carlsen...or maybe Hikaru Nakamura. They could win without being lucky."
He has three wins and two draws despite playing three Blacks in the first five rounds. Lenderman has yet to face top-seeded Kamsky.
The U.S. Championship assigns the winner an automatic qualification spot on the Olympiad team in even-numbered years. In recent times, the free pass has hardly been needed, as Nakamura and Kamsky have wrapped up every title since 2009. When asked if he had begun to think of qualifying, Lenderman said he had heard something about the rule. "I wasn't sure until you told me," he said to Chess.com. "I don't want to think about it and put pressure on myself."
In round six he gets GM Sam Shankland as White. The color is not terribly notable until you consider that he has had Black against Shankland in all eight previous games (scoring a dismal 1.5/8).
Getting back to even was GM Daniel Naroditsky. In a battle of youngsters, he ceded control of the board's only open file but later ensnared GM Ray Robson's knight to win.
Last year's Cinderella, GM Alejandro Ramirez, started meekly in 2013 but ended with a flourish to nearly topple Kamsky in the playoff. This year more of the same - he went winless in the first four rounds before breaking through today against GM Mackenzie Molner. He joins Naroditsky with an even score of 2.5/5.
"This tournament is not the same as last year," Ramirez said. "It is stronger. With it being a closed competition, it's harder to go on a streak." Last year was a 24-player Swiss; this year is a 12-player round robin.
His exchange sacrifice turned the tables. "The only issue is if I could get my knights back in the game," Ramirez said. "I thought if I could consolidate I would be better." The game already decided, Molner slipped and allowed mate. One of those knights did get back in the game - all the way back to his home square for checkmate (Black resigned before it was actually played).
Unlike Lenderman, Ramirez was well aware of the automatic Olympiad berth to the winner. "I've always wanted to play for the U.S." the former Costa Rican Olympiad leader said. "I'm just happy I won a game...at least I'm back in the tournament."
In the 2014 U.S. Women's Championship, GM Irina Krush, opened up a slim lead on her annual rival, IM Anna Zatonskih. Both entered the round on 2.5/3. Today Krush played a blistering attack, which she admitted is a relatively rare occurrence for her.
Krush said allowing the battery on the d-file was probably a mistake for Black. After 19. Ng5 "it's becoming very bad," she said. "The critical move is 19...h6. I was looking at Nxf7 but I like the move Qh5." Her analysis concluded that 20. Qh5 hxg5 21. Rxg5 Ne5 and Black limits losses to a pawn. Instead, if 20...Re7 21. Bf6! "That is really beautiful and it wins. When I saw it I felt confident in my position."
Instead, WGM Camilla Baginskaite poked the knight with her f-pawn, but opening up her king proved fatal and Krush's bishop got to land on f6 after all.
Zatonskih could not keep pace as she drew in a wild affair with struggling WIM Viktorija Ni. In fact the lower-rated player became the hunter in the ending until admitting that Zatonskih's fortress was impregnable.
The tournament's sensation, 13-year-old Ashritha Eswaran, nearly stayed within a half point. She built up a sizable advantage against FM Alisa Melekhina before settling for a rook and pawn ending, which Eswaran could not win. "I probably messed up the endgame," Eswaran said. She said her expectations are going up as the tournament progresses.
"She's got good fighting spirit," Krush, the top-seed, said of Eswaran, the bottom seed. "She's not intimidated by the players here. She's got good time management and it shows she's prepared."
All competitors play again Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. Central Time (GMT -6). It will be round six for the men and round five for the women. You can view the live games and commentary at www.uschesschamps.com/live or at www.chess.com/tv.
U.S. Championship Crosstable:
You can find a complete listing of the standings and pairings here.
Thanks to Mike Wilmering of the St Louis Chess Club. Tune into live play-by-play every day at 1 p.m. CT, 2 p.m. ET, 20:00 CET with GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade at Chess.com/TV!