So Channels Kasparov To Annihilate Akobian, Tie Caruana At Top

So Channels Kasparov To Annihilate Akobian, Tie Caruana At Top

| 31 | Chess Event Coverage

When two baseball teams are about to have an off day and want to play the game quickly, pitchers throw a high percentage of fastballs to get a jump on their freedom. So too in round five of the 2016 U.S. Championship.

The day before the only rest day of the fortnight, several players tossed heaters at their opponents, producing four quick wins on or before the time control. 

A fifth win collapsed later on when the pitcher tired, but not before GMs Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura threw some "chin music" high and tight on their opponents. Try to deduce who had nastier "stuff" and let us know your scouting report in the comments.

If you capture the piece with the hidden dot on the bottom, you win a door prize (kidding).

So caught up to Caruana, who ceded a half-point when GM Alex Shabalov played restrained chess to draw the 2800.

GM Jeffery Xiong also won after GM Gata Kamsky booted his chances with one poor move. GM Alex Onischuk continued his late-inning resurgence, mixing up his pitches and controlling IM Akshat Chandra from start to finish.

GM Ray Robson was in his home-run trot when he forgot to touch third base. After numerous endgame errors from the ladies this week, this time the open tournament produced one as well. Robson's time pressure allowed GM Alex Lenderman a miracle draw despite only having pawns remaining.

We will begin with So, who sacked not one but two pieces on successive moves. Then, even though not needed, his third offering struck out Akobian.

Akobian sinks into a think after So shows his preparation.

He told afterward that he was mimicking Garry Kasparov's defeat of Ruslan Ponomariov in Linares, 2002. "I was inspired by that and that was the basis of my preparation," he said.

That may be, but he must have "improved" upon Kasparov by choosing 8. Be3 instead of the former world champion's 8. Ne5. Both moves are good, and both men won in style.

"Why would Var play this line against Wesley So when the odds are that he will be blasted off the board?" GM Maurice Ashley wondered as the fastballs kept hitting the back of the catcher's mitt.

Analysis by GM Robert Hess.

"I did some critical preparation today," So said. "I decided to play more safely but then I couldn't control myself."

Akobian labored exhaustively over the line 18...Bb4 19. Bxb4 Qxb4 20. Rg1 Bc6 21. Qe3 Kf8, but decided he was unlikely to survive.

So joked that in case the attack didn't work, he'd throw a curveball based on Akobian's dwindling time. "Similar to Ray's [Robson] game yesterday, where he went down to one second, my plan if Akobian got down to one second was to scream and make him lose on time!"

So told that after a few years in the big leagues, it was nice to play 2600s for a change. He intimated that he doesn't want to do it too often though.

"It's not because I don't want to play lower-rated opponents. I don't mind playing anybody. There's only a certain number of days in the year. It's more important to prepare and study than to play non-stop. I have to manage my energy levels. Seven years ago I would play five tournaments in two months."

"The main thing is not to get a headache before the game starts," So said of the right balance between preparation and relaxation on the free day.

Teammates WGM Katerina Nemcova and GM Ray Robson discuss strategy before their game. Whomever finishes first usually stays to watch the other finish.

In the other half of the quick-strike doubleheader, Nakamura came out blazing after yesterday's loss to rival Caruana. He again surprised this opponent out of the opening -- but that's no easy task against the proud theoretician GM Sam Shankland.

"I think that's the name of the game no matter who you're playing," Nakamura told "Whether it's Anish [Giri] or whether it's Sam, it doesn't really matter."

Nakamura was especially glad Shankland didn't exchange queens. "Objectively Black should hold but it's going to be unpleasant and I don't think Sam was looking for that kind of game."

Did he play differently after yesterday's critical loss to Caruana?

"I was very annoyed about yesterday. Not so much that I lost. It seems like lately I've been playing very solid, very positional chess. I was king of annoyed that I didn't handle the dynamics well. Today at least I wanted something more aggressive, more open."

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

"If I was playing anyone other than Wesley, I would be unhappy with the rest day." Nakamura said. "It gives me some extra time to think about my plan is if I want to try to win this tournament."

So echoed the same thoughts -- he appreciated the respite before their round six encounter Wednesday.

"I'm just the underdog in this event," So said.

Nakamura has six innings left to make up the one-point gap between him and the three men ahead of him in the batting order. also asked Nakamura about the other event of the day, the blitz tournament that opened Altibox Norway Chess. Would he like to see a similar round-robin preceding the U.S. Championship that also counted for the drawing of lots?

"I don't think they should because I think if there's a blitz tournament we know who number one, two, and three will be. At least in blitz, more than in classical, we're big favorites [himself, Caruana, and So]. It's a reasonable idea but not for the U.S. Championship where there are players of all different levels."

Kids from a local school district came to watch the games and play some of their own.

Onischuk began slowly but has "hit safely" in the last three games, with 2.5 points to show from them. Today he tricked Chandra early with the pawn sac 9. Qd2! Black didn't accept, but that caused the loss of multiple tempos and by move 17 Black's players were all still in the dugout.

"I just needed some time to warm up," Onischuk told "I was not prepared on openings but now I'm prepared."

Like So, Onischuk referenced Kasparov too, albeit for a completely different reason.

"I think Kasparov would have resigned after move 25," he said.

Onischuk discussed with his chances for the Olympiad. He said that he thinks he's chasing Robson and Shankland, especially with the latter's bonus qualification points from winning an individual gold at the 2014 Olympiad.

"Realistically, I'm behind these guys," he said. "I don't want to be on the team just for the sake to be. If I qualify, I would have to think about accepting." He explained that since he'd already played in "five or six" (it's six!) that he'd put the strength of the team above his personal desires.

The biggest shocker of the round came later when Xiong hit a bottom-of-the-ninth pitch over the wall. Kamsky had his usual small plus and needed to milk his advantage in the way he's done all career. But instead of painting the corners to set up the youngster, his brush-back pitch was punished on the spot.

Today Xiong showed why veterans sometimes steer clear of tactics against youngsters.

According to the championship's stats guru Ed Gonsalves, Kamsky has not won with Black since the fourth round of the 2013 event. That streak remained active today due to his 35th move.

"I missed everything," Kamsky said. "I just couldn't find the moves when I was pressing. I was so disappointed that I blundered at the end. I just wasn't satisfied with the draw.

"I'm getting too old for this." caught up with Xiong after the game. Here's a video interview with yet another mention of how Kasparov influenced a game this round.

Nearly tantamount to Kamsky's mistake was Robson's own. With the ball right over the heart of the plate, he swung and missed.

"It was so winning at the beginning. I don't even understand how he messed it up," GM Yasser Seirawan said. 

"This is going to feel like a loss to him," Ashley said about Robson's failure to get into a tie for the lead.

Next to these five pulse-quickeners, the leader's game was the dullest of the round. Shabalov drew Caruana.

The underdog wasn't expecting 1...d5, saying he'd never seen Caruana play it, but the world's number two insisted he had.

"I thought I was pressing," Shabalov said. "To beat these people requires a completely different effort."

"I just didn't get any chances from the opening," Caruana said. He wasn't that thrilled by his own game, so he strolled around the hall today.

"It was just a very strange day. There was no excitement in my game. I had to look around to have some fun."

On the women's side, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan relinquished her lead for the first time all event, thanks to her completely uneventful draw as Black against WGM Katerina Nemcova, who is still winless halfway through the event.

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and her signature purple hair...

...inspired this young fan.

That allowed IM Nazi Paikidze to take over sole first by beating WFM Jennifer Yu.

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

IM Nazi Paikidze also led early in last year's championship. She goes into the rest day with the lead.

Her placement at the top of the standings is lonesome also thanks to the top two seeds. GM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih have combined to win the last 10(!) U.S. Women's Championships. They drew after 69 moves of rough parity.

"I could have had a draw 30 moves ago," Zatonskih said afterward. "I was trying hard to win." She joked that in the final position, even her pawn is farther advanced than White's.

"I got a position I was happy with but I wasn't sure how to make progress," Krush said. She said that she's pleased that she still controls her fate, as she has yet to play Paikidze.

In other action, FM Alisa Melekhina lost a drawn rook ending to FM Akshita Gorti. The lawyer admitted that her missed win in round three against Krush might still be affecting her (she's lost both games since then).

NM Carissa Yip also lost her second straight, this time to WIM Agata Bykovtsev. WGM Sabina Foisor joined Melekhina in another way -- she misplayed a rook ending of her own (two pawns to the good), though still escaped with a draw.

Standings and results graphics courtesy 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, with the lone rest day coming April 19.

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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