Top Seeds Nakamura, So, Krush Cruise In Round 2

Top Seeds Nakamura, So, Krush Cruise In Round 2

In a day filled with interesting matchups and storylines at the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship, top seeds GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Wesley So both moved to 2-0, albeit in much different efforts.

Nakamura snatched a pawn and never looked back, winning without any of the drama of round one. So survived a series of mishaps in the endgame, where the boundary between drawing and winning changed nearly every move.

In the women's division, defending champion GM Irina Krush rebounded from circumspect opening round play to win a mostly clean game against WIM Viktorija Ni.

It was also a bad day for the French Defense, as the tournaments' two biggest French aficionados, GM Varuzhan Akobian and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, both lost in their favorite Black opening.

GM Hikaru Nakamura, 2802.4, is 0.1 points off his personal-best live rating.

Nakamura castled queenside when castling kingside was equally valid, signaling his intention to create some complications. Akobian "took the bait" with the pawn sacrifice 11...b6, a natural move to wrest the initiative but with a very good theoretical reputation. Nakamura allowed that it was probably the best move, but not in his opponent's style.

A whole refrigerator full of Red Bull, but one was enough for Nakamura. No other player indulged.

"It wasn't Var's position, basically," Nakamura said. "He's very positional and this is not his style...It's a pawn, why not take it?"

Analysis by GM Ben Finegold:

Below is an exclusive video interview with Nakamura, where we hear his thoughts on the tournament, the $64,000 Fischer prize (which might be missing a zero!), and the Final Four in college basketball.

He is now the current world number two, his first time there, as he is less than a half-point ahead of GM Fabiano Caruana.

So also moved into the top five, also a personal best. This is likely the first time two Americans have been ranked in the top five simultaneously.

The last game to finish was gripping, but not necessarily for its accuracy. A double-knight endgame turned into a tablebase ending where both players committed clock-induced blunders. So was offered about five chances to win, but needed a sixth inaccuracy by GM Sam Shankland to finally find his way.

A small group stayed to watch the final game of the day, a five-hour-plus seesaw between Shankland and So.

The game featured more "red moves" than nearly any other in recent memory in St. Louis. In fairness to the players, "book draws" like 87. Na7! (amongst others available to Shankland) are far from obvious.

Analysis by GM Ben Finegold:




GM Ray Robson, the former student and frequent Olympiad teammate of GM Alex Onischuk, managed to triple Black's pawns but the rook endgame was easily drawn.

Meanwhile, the oldest-youngest matchup (14 going on 40!) of GM Sam Sevian and GM Gata Kamsky also ended with a split point, although with more imbalance. After a Ruy Lopez, Breyer Variation, the teenager performed a slow buildup to execute the pseudo-breakthrough 33. Nf5. Paradoxically, the computer suggests capturing the knight two moves later with 35...gxf5, even though it unleashes White's battery.

GM Gata Kamsky thought for several minutes after 1. e4, but he often waits for camera flashes to end before beginning play.

Instead Kamsky coolly offered the exchanged to reduce the pressure. Sevian never was able to press, even with his pair of rooks.

GM Conrad Holt bounced back from an opening-round loss. He mostly hung back in an Exchange Slav and waited for GM Timur Gareev's mild pressure to fizzle out, after which a c-file invasion netted him the win.

In the face-off of good friends that both tried to recover from opening-round losses, GM Kayden Troff bested GM Daniel Naroditsky, with the first player's central influence proving the key factor in avoiding a really sluggish start.

GM Kayden Troff, who admitted that he borrowed this dapper sports coat from his older brother.

"He's a much better player than 0-2," Troff said of his friend. He admitted that neither player knew his way at the outset. "If you watch the time, you could tell in the beginning we didn't know what was going on."

Troff, the recent recipient of the presitigious Samford Chess Fellowship (which Naroditsky also won), said he learned a lot from his first U.S. Championship, in 2013. After starting 1-2, he rebounded and eventually faced Kamsky for a chance at the top of the tables.

He elaborated: "One of the big things since the last U.S. Championship, Kamsky told me, 'Don't give me so much respect.' That really hit me."

Quiet? Not likely with this grandmaster of gab. GM Ben Finegold did live commentary solo today (GM Alejandro Ramirez guest-starred in the online broadcast).

How will the fellowship change Troff's career?

"Getting out of the country is something every chess player needs to do," he said. Troff also plans to take a two-year mission trip at some point (he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), but he insisted that hiatus would not derail his career. He explained that his brother, currently serving in Indonesia, actually plays chess with community members as part of his mission.

On the other side of the room, the top woman dispatched her opponent without much resistance. The champ took out Ni as "Black's opening idea was refuted," according to Krush. "It was just a matter of time before White breaks through."

GM Irina Krush, being chased by some new names this year.

Her only regret was 27. g5. Instead she wished 27. Rbf1 had appeared (the computers agree). "My (dark-squared) bishop was supposed to limit her, but she can play around it. I then made the best decision, to trade that bishop, but it was a sad decision to make."

Not long after, Black squandered the newfound daylight with 30...Rh4, allowed invasions on the seventh rank and tactics on the unprotected rook. Krush pounced.

FM Alisa Melekhina, who was only able to participate in the event due to a sympathetic employer, dropped Abrahamyan to 0-2 in a sharp French.

"I usually play the Advance French," Melekhina said (she played it exclusively in 2014's championship). "I think she was caught off guard by this."

Melekhina used almost no time on the clock up to move 17, which included the extremely important dynamic offer of two rooks for the queen. She spent only five minutes on the move, which included many complicated ramifications if the offer was accepted. Although it seemed clearly to be part of her preparation, she demurred when asked if she had the position at home. Her only insight: She was "playing to her opponent's psychology; [Abrahamyan] didn't look comfortable."

FM Alisa Melekhina, Esquire, pleaded the Fifth when asked about her preparation.

Later, Abrahamyan could have gone for 27...Qc1+, but decided to continue the fight. "I saw that she could force perpetual," Melekhina said. "It was her decision at this point. After her loss yesterday, maybe she thought she needed to come back with a win."

Analysis by GM Ben Finegold:

Melekhina just began her law career in New York City at Debevoise & Plimpton. So how was she able to take two weeks off for St. Louis, followed by two more weeks for the World Team Championship in China? Simple -- one of the partners is a chess player. Melekhina estimates his strength at "about 1800." She said she feels like she has to play well to reward the firm for their belief in her.

"Of course you have to play," the partner told her about the twin events in April.

Still, things aren't so simple. The week before the championship, she was dumped with two major document reviews ("a normal thing for an associate"), in which she guessed she had to review 4,000 documents. Melekhina said it involves pattern recognition, but "chess theory is a lot deeper."

She's ruminated a lot recently on balancing an outside career and chess. "Back in the day, Alekhine and Euwe had other careers," she said. To read her theories on why chess is now a more viable career (and a necessity for top-level status), you can read her cover story in this month's Chess Life magazine.

First-round winner NM Apurva Virkud drew IM Nazi Paikidze to join Krush on 1.5/2. Also getting to that score was WGM Katerina Nemcova, who recovered in a resounding way after missing many wins yesterday ("I had to understand what I did wrong, otherwise it would drag me down the whole tournament"). She actually mated WGM Anna Sharevich, her roommate and teammate at Webster University.

"The championship is always difficult because you always play friends," Nemcova said.

Yesterday Sharevich offered two pawns early and used open files to attack; today she joked that she had too many pawns. Indeed, it wasn't just a joke, she was hoping Black would take her b-pawn on move 18. Nemcova thought about it, but wisely ignored the offer.

The most fortuitous member of the leading group is undoubtedly IM Rusa Goletiani. The beneficiary of Nemcova's wayward winning plan on Wednesday, today she won R+B+P vs. R+B+P when the bishops were on opposite colors. She must have been saving up her luck -- she hasn't played in a U.S. Women's Championship (or nearly any tournament chess for that matter) since 2012.

IM Rusa Goletiani is the only past champion in the field besides Krush.

Lastly, in the youngest battle in U.S. Championship history (Open or Women's), 12-year-old WIM Annie Wang went down to 13-year-old WFM Jennifer Yu. Chalk one up for experience!

WFM Jennifer Yu won a study-like knight versus bishop ending.


Looking ahead, Nakamura takes White against So on Saturday. But before then, Nakamura must play Kamsky tomorrow. In their last U.S. Championship meeting, Nakamura beat Kamsky on the Black side of a Najdorf in the penultimate round in 2012.

Live games and commentary can be found daily at 1:00 p.m. Central (GMT -6) at www.chess.com/tv.


2015 U.S. Championship | Pairings Round 3

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating Result
1 GM Onischuk, Alexander 1.0 2665 GM Troff, Kayden W 1.0 2532
2 GM Holt, Conrad 1.0 2530 GM Robson, Ray 1.5 2656
3 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 1.0 2622 GM Gareev, Timur 0.5 2604
4 GM Kamsky, Gata 1.0 2683 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2.0 2798
5 GM So, Wesley 2.0 2788 GM Sevian, Samuel 0.5 2531
6 GM Naroditsky, Daniel 0.0 2633 GM Shankland, Samuel L 0.5 2661

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2015 U.S. Women's Championship | Pairings Round 3

Table White Score Rating Black Score Rating
1 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 0 2322 WCM Virkud, Apurva 1.5 2132
2 WFM Yu, Jennifer R 1 2180 FM Melekhina, Alisa 1 2235
3 WGM Nemcova, Katerina 1.5 2279 WIM Wang, Annie 1 1901
4 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 0.5 2276 WGM Sharevich, Anna 1 2267
5 WIM Ni, Viktorija 0.5 2188 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 1.5 2311
6 IM Paikidze, Nazi 1 2333 GM Krush, Irina 1.5 2477

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2015 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 2

Rank Name Score Rating TPR
1 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2 2798 3376
2 GM So, Wesley 2 2788 3447
3 GM Robson, Ray 1.5 2656 2792
4 GM Kamsky, Gata 1 2683 2596
5 GM Onischuk, Alexander 1 2665 2630
6 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 1 2622 2665
7 GM Troff, Kayden W 1 2532 2645
8 GM Holt, Conrad 1 2530 2701
9 GM Shankland, Samuel L 0.5 2661 2543
10 GM Gareev, Timur 0.5 2604 2405
11 GM Sevian, Samuel 0.5 2531 2460
12 GM Naroditsky, Daniel 0 2633 1860

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2015 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 2

Rank Name Score Rating TPR
1 GM Krush, Irina 1.5 2477 2425
2 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 1.5 2311 2471
3 WGM Nemcova, Katerina 1.5 2279 2482
4 WCM Virkud, Apurva 1.5 2132 2477
5 IM Paikidze, Nazi 1 2333 2160
6 WGM Sharevich, Anna 1 2267 2230
7 FM Melekhina, Alisa 1 2235 2227
8 WFM Yu, Jennifer R 1 2180 2084
9 WIM Wang, Annie 1 1901 2241
10 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 0.5 2276 2201
11 WIM Ni, Viktorija 0.5 2188 2212
12 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 0 2322 1279

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