So Grabs Lead At U.S. Chess Champs

So Grabs Lead At U.S. Chess Champs

Is Wesley So the strongest player in the world?

He's got a big mountain to climb named Carlsen, but every day he makes his case a little more compelling though he would never say it out loud.

To recap: he hasn't lost a classical game since July 07, 2016. He's won the Sinquefield Cup, the London Chess Classic, Tata Steel, and just last week, he was declared the PRO Chess League MVP. Now at the U.S. championships, he has stepped into clear first place.

Lead photo courtesy Lennart Ootes for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

He took the lead in round four with an interesting win against GM Alexander Onischuk that proved to be the round's only decisive game. Despite a bumpy ride against world number-three Fabiano Caruana in round three, So has been characteristic of his last year: smooth accurate play and a patient willingness to take the points as they come.

A draw in round five against GM Yaroslav Zherebukh kept So in first place, but it also meant that he has actually lost a fraction of a rating point. The margins are thin above 2800!

Meanwhile, Caruana continues to play generally powerful chess without accruing any full points. He applied pressure to both Nakamura and So (but suffered in round four against Xiong), and he was likely winning this rook endgame against Onischuk in round five, but he still sits on 50 percent.

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Photo courtesy Austin Fuller for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

While So's status at the top was unchallenged after round five, the round had plenty of action with three fascinating decisive games. Perhaps the best was GM Gata Kamsky's positional strangulation of World Junior Champion GM Jeffery Xiong.

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Photo courtesy Austin Fuller for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Ray Robson also made a case for brilliance (though a bit flawed) with a more aggressive approach against GM Alexander Shabalov. As the hosts noted, you can be certain that Robson was doing well because he was up on time.

A game that contained plenty of interest, but also a few flaws, was the duel between GM Varuzhan Akobian and Sam Shankland in which Akobian looked close to finishing out of the opening. After some errors, Shankland could have miraculously drawn in a rook endgame, but he rejected the key line. Certain it lost, he said in the post-mortem, "The computer was wrong. It's actually winning for White. We checked it."

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Photo courtesy Austin Fuller for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

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Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

U.S. Women's Championship: The Big Three Share First

After round five, GM Irina Krush, IM Anna Zatonskih and IM Nazi Paikidze, the three pre-tournament favorites, all have 3.5/5 and a cut of the lead. However, all have taken very different routes to victory. For instance, Krush lost in round four against Jennifer Yu after mis-evaluating an endgame transition, but she won in round five after her opponent, WIM Emily Nguyen, did the same.

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Photo courtesy Austin Fuller for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Zatonskih and Paikidze both defeated WFM Apurva Virkud in rounds four and five respectively while Paikidze also won a nice game against WFM Carissa Yip in round five.

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Photo courtesy Austin Fuller for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Perhaps the most interesting game of round five in the women's division was Yu vs WGM Anna Sharevich. Multiple games in the women's section have been divided into lengthy phases, and this one was similar. Sharevich had a crushing opening position, then she allowed a near fortress before finishing things in an instructive endgame.

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Photo courtesy Austin Fuller for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

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Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

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