Princes Of The American Revolution: Caruana And So Tied Again, Robson Lurking

Princes Of The American Revolution: Caruana And So Tied Again, Robson Lurking

| 17 | Chess Event Coverage

Two days removed from the rest day at the 2016 U.S. Championship, a lot has happened and yet nothing has changed.

Just like after round five, GMs Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So are tied for first, with GM Ray Robson trailing by a half-point and GM Hikaru Nakamura one further half-point back. The accordion contracted again after a draw by the top seed and wins from the latter three in that group.

GM Wesley So, still speeding to victories in his little red corvette.

In the women's side, they are playing a similar tune, except the accordion is on the next note. GM Irina Krush and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan were a half-point off IM Nazi Paikidze's lead on the rest day before both catching her yesterday. Today, Paikidze won and Krush drew, while Abrahamyan messed up the script by winning an imperfect game. (IM Anna Zatonskih disrupted the song somewhat too -- her win today meant she joined the fun in a three-way tie for second.)

The round began after remarks by IA Carol Jarecki, informing the players of Prince's death. Nakamura wore a purple polo shirt, but he told it was just a coincidence. Prince's song "Purple Rain" was among the more famous in his catalogue.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan still has her purple hair; it's her favorite color. The two purple lovers did the rocker proud -- Nakamura smashed his way through Black's defenses and Abrahamyan survived a dead-lost position to stay close to the lead.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan has three IM norms and previously got her rating to 2396. So close! Enough to make doves cry.

We start with one of the shorter decisive games of either event. Usually when GM Alex Shabalov wins quickly, he's blown someone off the board. Not today. His calculation went awry and as soon as he realized it, he resigned to So. The game was merely one hour and 45 minutes.

"I was praying during the game that I wasn't losing by force," So said about his game against the legendary attacker. "He doesn't play quietly; he goes for the kill."

Facing the Semi-Slav, Shabalov offered his c-pawn for the third game this tournament. He got an initiative but after a wayward move by Black, the hall of famer placed the wrong piece on f5.

White's pieces galloped much farther down the board than Black's, but as GM Maurice Ashley put it, "sometimes you put your arm too far in the cookie jar."

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila courtesy Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis:

"I feel sorry for him; every chess player has misses like this," So commiserated. 

GM Alex Shabalov would like to party like it's 1993, the year of his first U.S. title.

"Nf5, Kf8, Nd6, this position looks very dangerous for me," So told He resigned himself to giving away his light-squared bishop. "He has the f5-square and it doesn't seem like I can create counterplay easily. He's not risking anything at all. It would have been suffering for me...My position would be critical."

When asked what he felt about Nakamura's statements last year question his opening preparation, So said, "It's not really objective. It's his opinion." He added that extrapolating preparation is essentially based on the one game at hand. "It takes a lot of work. I know for Fabiano that it took him years to build his 1. e4 with White. It's a really subjective matter."

What about a hypothetical playoff with Caruana? "I would be extremely glad if it went to a tiebreak for first place," So said, adding that he didn't know the particulars of the usual procedure: "I enjoy the feeling of the pressure of a short time control." He said it's all speculation at this point as there's still many pitfalls left to avoid.

Finally, asked about any connection to Prince -- both the musician and So live in Minnesota. "Is that the guy they (Jarecki) were talking about?" So said he thinks he heard a few of his songs once.

Lotis Key, So's in loco parentis, informed that they reside very close to Prince's house, who lived a private life while at home. 

An additional aside to show the youth movement in St. Louis: When I spoke with 12-year-old NM Carissa Yip before the round, she'd never heard of the pop star. I said, "He was big in the 80s and 90s, and one of those stars who went by only one name, like Madonna."

Yip: "Who's Madonna?"

NM Carissa Yip's favorite music includes Taylor Swift and One Direction.

Back to chess, where Nakamura used some teamwork to defeat another past teammate. How so? While training with the national team during the 2014 Olympiad, GM Sam Shankland showed him a novel rook lift/pawn sac in a line against the Petrov Defense. Nakamura got a chance to use it, which caused Shankland to rush into the confessional booth and take credit, followed later by Nakamura in the booth thanking Shankland!

"Hopefully I can win and prove that Sam had some very good preparation," Nakamura "confessed."

GM Varuzhan Akobian's Petrov could not have been a complete surprise for Nakamura, as the former did play it last year against Robson. Nakamura added that at this level of chess, wins come only when the opponent is complicit. 

GM Hikaru Nakamura was the purple piece eater today. And if this were soccer, Shankland would be credited with an assist.

"When I play chess these days, it's almost not even chess. It's about the mathematical probabilities of them going wrong," Nakamura said. Today after the mistake 24...cxd4 Nakamura cashed in with the cruncher 26. Nxf7!

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila courtesy Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis:

Games via TWIC.

"I felt like the whole line in general is very dangerous for Black," Nakamura said. He added that he expects there to be less sharing at this upcoming Olympiad, since the three top-10 players will have to face each other so often on the top circuit.

Caruana or Nakamura -- who will play board one in Baku? Neither man made a claim and both deferred to the captain.

For more on this and other insights into Nakamura's game, and a bet he made about Magnus Carlsen's game, check the video interview:

Robson played a new move with 9. Qe2. Previously GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave chose to play her to f3 against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in Beijing, 2014 (1-0, 60), but with a similar idea. By clearing the queen from the d-file, White can kick the Black queen without allowed them to be traded.

Robson was near the lead late in last year's event, missing out on first in the end by a half-point. That's the same margin he's facing now. It may seem like he's climbing the same mountain, but the pairings suggest it's a little higher in elevation.

"I still haven't played the top three yet. After my game with Fabiano I'll have an idea of where I am," Robson told "I don't feel like I'm in good form, just playing normally."

On playing the top three plus Shankland rounds, which might be his four Olympiad teammates: "It's funny that I play them all in a row. The only difference will be our energy levels. They'll be trying to beat me and exploit my slow play."

He's more worried about his lethargic pace and resulting time pressure in these upcoming rounds. "They're gonna play better moves and also maybe make fast moves that don't give me time to calculate like some other players have done. Against guys like Hikaru I definitely can't get into a complicated position with less time because he's going to exploit that and show no mercy."

Caruana couldn't keep sole possession of the lead. His promising position didn't result in a win, but at the same time, he also didn't have to defend a piece-for-three-pawns ending. As big of a story has become his opponent, GM Jeffery Xiong, who is becoming "Anish 2.0" -- all draws and one win.

Wayne Xiong and son GM Jeffery Xiong walking to the club.

"During the game it wasn't a very fun experience," Xiong said. "It looked like he was going to outplay me." Instead, Xiong has now drawn the top two players.

"I think he missed ...Bc6," Caruana said. His oversight? Not seeing Rd8. "My bishop is eternally pinned." He was surprised Xiong didn't play on with rook+three versus rook+knight.

GM Maurice Ashley continued his crusade against draws in the post-game interview, and induced Xiong to admit that he should have kept fighting.

"I offered a draw, it was a good move!" Caruana said. "He had every reason to play on." When asked to compare Xiong to GM Wei Yi, Caruana said that the American hasn't played in enough big tournaments to make a comparison.

GM Fabiano Caruana, looking to make his lifetime winnings in St. Louis exceed $200,000.

In other action, GM Gata Kamksy drew GM Alex Lenderman. Both are still winless. As good as Shankland's prep, he didn't get any karma today, dropping his fourth game. GM Alex Onischuk outplayed him in a slightly better endgame.

In the U.S. Women's Championship, IM Nazi Paikidze continued to play the most solid chess of any woman in the event. As you might guess, that's earned her a continuous placement at the top the last few days. She won again, although this was perhaps the first real chance for one of her opponents.

"I felt like I had an advantage the whole game, but I was feeling it less and less," Paikidze said. "I think my opponent got tired." 

IM Nazi Paikidze, perfecting the stare-down.

Just like the much-discussed game Melekhina-Krush from round three, it helps when your opponent is just short of the time control when trying to calculate the best plan.

"For me the tournament starts now," Paikidze said.

She could easily have been back in solo first, as the topsy-turvy five-hour game between FM Alisa Melekhina and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan was simply a mess. Black made some wayward queen moves.

Abrahamyan missed 19. Qh4, rebuffing her queen trade and leaving the Black king perilously weak. Melekhina failed to have her bishop join the attack.

FM Alisa Melekhina is having a hard time shaking off round three. She's now dropped all four games since then.

In case of 20. Bh6, Abrahamyan said, "My king is so alone. I just can't find a move."

Another error came on move 32 when she could have redirected her queen to a5 and tried to advance her itchy passed pawn. Instead she hung her f-pawn.

Abrahamyan shook her head while recounting the game but did redeem herself with a unorthodox rook trade to reach a winning knight ending. She called the maneuver "clever."

Going forward in the tournament, she thinks GM Irina Krush may try to push for more against her tomorrow since she's a half-point back too. Krush could have had to go berserk at one full point back, but salvaged a draw using moves that she dubbed "beyond pathetic."

WIM Ashritha Eswaran nearly beat the seven-time champ.

"It's the worst game I've ever played in my whole life," she said. See if you agree with the negative superlative:

"I don't feel tired," Krush said. "Maybe because I sleepwalked through the game."

The last notable result for the top placements came from IM Anna Zatonskih, who's never had a slice of the lead but is slowly creeping up. She's more relaxed this year it seems, bringing her family from Germany and referring to her infant son "Josh" as her second (husband GM Daniel Fridman has been replaced!).

GM Anna Zatonskih. Did we say she was relaxed? Well, not during the games.

Zatonskih opened with 1. e4 for a change and her win was much cleaner than her peers.

Here are the pairings for round eight and the standings, with graphics courtesy of Spectrum Studios.

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.

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