So, Akobian Still Perfect At U.S. Champs In Decisive Day 2
Yeah, he's doing it again. | Mike Klein/

So, Akobian Still Perfect At U.S. Champs In Decisive Day 2

| 14 | Chess Event Coverage

Talk about a whitewash.

In round two of the 2018 U.S. Championships, more games produced wins than draws, and White had seven wins and no losses. The women fought much longer, but the men had more kills.

When all of the games had finished in the open championship, two-thirds of the dozen ladies were still battling. That group took a few more hours to lay down their arms. 

No women remain perfect, but the $64,000 "Fischer Prize" for a perfect score is still available to two men. Both GM Wesley So and GM Varuzhan Akobian picked up their second wins today within minutes of each other.


GM Varuzhan Akobian got a second chance at a tactical win today. Is that a sign that this is his year? | Photo: Mike Klein/

Club officials confirmed that the Saint Louis Chess Club chose not to buy insurance on the prize, despite it being very affordable. But why would they? No man has come even halfway toward going 11-0 since the prize's inception, and besides, founder Rex Sinquefield would likely be happy to see someone match the history of Bobby Fischer's perfection more than a half century ago.

Before getting to the two players on 2-0, let's start with GM Fabiano Caruana, who might have been expecting a protracted struggle but instead got a walk in the park. How exactly did he beat GM Alex Lenderman in less than two hours? Just some light reading.


GM Fabiano Caruana read the writing on the wall, or in this case, the magazine. | Photo: Mike Klein/

As the world championship challenger explained afterward, he was up one night a few days ago reading "New In Chess" and saw some analysis of an early h-pawn advance in the French. Although he didn't check it and merely knew of its existence, it worked to perfection. In modern times of computer preparation and online databases, Caruana won a game in 1980s style, despite being born in 1992.

"It turned out to be pretty nasty practical preparation," Lenderman said. "I'm sorry that I couldn't really give him a battle today." asked Lenderman if he had skipped over that salient article. Turns out, he doesn't subscribe at all.

"That's why I should not try to save the $100 a year," he said about not paying for New In Chess. "That's a good lesson. Like the quote says in Russian, 'A cheap person pays twice.'"

And for those of you taking Russian lessons, that's "скупой платит дважды."


Most of the teenagers arrive each day accompanied by their parent. Must be "Take your parent to work day" because GM Hikaru Nakamura did too! | Photo: Mike Klein/

Caruana said, "If [Lenderman] analyzed it, it would have been unpleasant, because I was totally on my own." The winner reasoned that since it was played in a correspondence game, it must have been checked by someone!

Caruana's position was so dominating that he went into the confessional booth to try to rationalize how it came so easily. Only 20 minutes into the game, he already thought he was winning. Lenderman took a pawn, leaving Caruana incredulous that his opponent could be "really cooperative."

Afterward, Caruana put his good fortune this way: "Usually you have to work a lot harder to get a position like this. Usually have to sacrifice more than one pawn. You have to sacrifice a rook, maybe a queen. And then maybe slip him some money under the table as well!" 

"You almost never get wins like this," Caruana said. He later said he puts a ton of faith in correspondence games like the one he studied because "you know these guys are using engines very methodically."'s interview with Caruana.

Caruana still trails two men: So, the defending champion, and Akobian, the so-many-times close to champion.

So beat GM Alex Onischuk, who is now 0-2. That's not a nice way to treat a newly-minted member of the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. Maybe it's the chess version of the "Sports Illustrated curse."


GM Wesley So looks away, wondering if he erred in the rook ending. Then he remembered 45. Ke2, and all was well. It turned out to be the final move. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The hall-of-famer's loss ends a lifelong streak for Onischuk. Until today, he had the record for most career U.S. championship games played without every suffering back-to-back losses (127).

So called Onischuk an "ironman player," taking advantage of the double meaning since his opponent also runs triathlons. "I didn't really expect to just win the game," So told "It's clear Alex was going to defend really well...Probably he's in shaky form this tournament."

Analysis by GM Robert Hess.

Just a few moments after So went 2-0, the only other winner in the first round, Akobian, joined him on 2-0. 

As mentioned yesterday, Akobian is not only playing for his first national title, but he's also fighting in the ratings race to land one of the final two spots on the Olympiad team. If you have a good memory you might be wondering how would So potentially get along with Akobian in Batumi, considering it was Akobian who claimed the controversial forfeit win at the 2015 event.

"We've moved on," So said about that incident. "From what I remember, he was having a bad tournament, and it was a free point with Black!" So added, smiling. He said he doesn't care who plays fourth board and alternate for the team, as long as he does well.


Akobian and So agreed they'd be just fine as potential teammates in Batumi. | Photo: Mike Klein/

As for Akobian, he first missed an easy tactic encompassing the the c- and d-files, but then GM Awonder Liang allowed another easy tactic, on the same two files!'s interview with Akobian.

The final win on the men's side of the room came from GM Ray Robson, who missed a chance to finish in a flurry. He still won prosaically, but only after a later mistake from tournament newcomer GM Zviad Izoria

With three men grabbing wins today, including two of the "big three," where did that leave GM Hikaru Nakamura? Despite the double-White beginning, which he doesn't care for, he failed to register any advantage against GM Yaroslav Zherebukh's Petroff Defense.

"I felt it was very annoying that Yaro decided to become Fabiano," Nakamura said about the collegiate player adopting the world number-two's new favorite Black weapon. "Perhaps if he hadn't lost his game yesterday, he would have played differently."


Nakamura usually drinks Red Bull, so Saint Louis Arch Bishops manager Mike Kummer counters by giving GM Yaroslav Zherebukh a Starbucks Dark Cherry Mocha. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Speaking to, Nakamura said he understood when people lose a game, then try to play only for equality as Black the next day. "It's completely reasonable for Yaro to do that." It was only Zherebukh's third time playing the Petroff in his life (the Starbucks must have been decaf!).

Even with the draw, Nakamura did make history. With Onischuk's loss, Nakamura is now the new leader for most games played in a career without back-to-back losses at the U.S. championship (101). He told that he's no longer the player he was from 2003-2010 and, "I guess that means that perhaps I'm solid. In recent years I tend not to do crazy things."


Speaking of new stars to the chess world...Mike Kummer is an IA, PRO Chess League manager, original employee of the club, new Twitch emoji, star interviewee, and now doorman!? Is there anything he can't do? | Photo: Mike Klein/

The U.S. Women's Championship produced three winners and one very stressed boyfriend.

GM Irina Krush survived a lost position to beat IM Dorsa Derakshani; IM Anna Zatonskih's veteran skills mowed down FM Jennifer Yu; FM Maggie Feng rebounded against WGM Anna Sharevich; and GM Elshan Moradiabadi nearly killed a television.

"I yelled at the screen about 10 times," he said about fiancee WGM Sabino Foisor's game. His girlfriend was winning, then losing, then had a perpetual played against her by IM Rusa Goletiani. Moradiabadi had to call his FM friend in Iran just to calm down.

"He does get stressed out," Foisor said. "He's caring and always wants the best for me. I tell him not to look at my games but I guess he can't help it."


"Honey, I promise I won't watch your game today. Also, and this is totally unrelated, Thursday is 'opposite day' in Iran." | Photo: Mike Klein/

Goletiani is having a problem of a much different sort. Used to waking at 5 a.m. to take the train into New York for work, she's still on the same sleep schedule here. She does maximize her time on the commute at home, solving tactics and getting her puzzles rating over 2700.


Up at 5 a.m. but still smiles for IM Rusa Goletiani! | Photo: Mike Klein/

Still, that must not impress her 10-year-old daughter, who's rated about 1100. When Goletiani got done with her game today, she retrieved her cell phone from the concierge, only to find her eldest child texting her many of her mistakes.

Krush also benefitted from some good luck, although good players find ways to create the chances for that to happen.

"I wanted to keep it complicated in the time control," Krush said about her opponent's dwindling time.


Ladies in red. | Photo: Mike Klein/

She said she was always more optimistic than the computer evaluation would likely say. Even when she knew she was worse, she wasn't settling to just try to draw the game.

Krush said until right up until just before move 40, Derakshani outplayed her. Today's winning technique was summed up this way by Krush: "Work, work, another half-hour or 45 minutes, work, work."

Derakshani, new to the tournament and also to the federation, was happy to get two winning positions in her two games from two openings she didn't know.

"It's one thing to train, it's another thing to play five or six hours and go through everything," she said about shaking off the rust.


IM Anna Zatonskih: No! I can't watch...


...Wait, I'm leading the tournament? OK! I'll watch. | Photos: Mike Klein/

2018 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 2

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM So, Wesley 2786 x 1 1 2
2 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2647 x 1 1 2
3 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2804 x 1 ½ 1.5
4 GM Robson, Ray 2660 x ½ 1 1.5
5 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 ½ x ½ 1
6 GM Shankland, Samuel 2671 x ½ ½ 1
7 GM Xiong, Jeffery 2665 ½ x ½ 1
8 GM Zherebukh, Yaroslav 2640 0 ½ x 0.5
9 GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2599 0 ½ x 0.5
10 GM Izoria, Zviad 2599 0 ½ x 0.5
11 GM Liang, Awonder 2552 0 ½ x 0.5
12 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2672 0 0 x 0

2018 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 2

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2444 x ½ 1 1.5
2 GM Krush, Irina 2422 x ½ 1 1.5
3 IM Paikidze, Nazi 2352 x ½ 1 1.5
4 FM Wang, Annie 2321 x ½ 1 1.5
5 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366 ½ x ½ 1
6 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2308 ½ x ½ 1
7 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 2306 ½ ½ x 1
8 FM Gorti, Akshita 2252 ½ ½ x 1
9 FM Feng, Maggie 2243 0 x 1 1
10 IM Derakhshani, Dorsa 2306 0 x ½ 0.5
11 WGM Sharevich, Anna 2281 0 ½ x 0.5
12 FM Yu, Jennifer 2367 0 0 x 0

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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