U.S. Championships Go 'Back To The Future' In Round 10
"Shhh!! Don't jinx me." | Photo: Mike Klein/

U.S. Championships Go 'Back To The Future' In Round 10

| 40 | Chess Event Coverage

Looks like the leaders at the 2018 U.S. Championships found some plutonium. They're back from where they just came.

Parts of the music played during the breaks of the live show very closely resemble the "Back to the Future" theme song. But it wasn't 1955 the players harkened back to today. Instead, it was round six.


GM Fabiano Caruana, stalking his prey. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Right before the rest day, play ended with WIM Annie Wang protecting a half-game lead over IM Nazi Paikidze, and GM Sam Shankland nursing the same margin against GM Fabiano Caruana. There's been some jockeying since then, but with those final three names all winning today in round 10 while Wang could only draw, we're right back to the same place as after round six. Both Wang and Shankland have the narrowest of leads (all but these four players have officially been eliminated from title hopes).

The day could have ended both events. Instead, it ramped up the tension. Great Scott!


IM Nazi Paikidze said she doesn't like most pictures of her, but she's helping the press corps take more -- she's been arriving at the tournament hall about 20 minutes before any other player. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Slightly more inconsequentially, we also learned today that GM Fabiano Caruana does have a huge hole in his resume -- he's never given smothered mate in a tournament. Such an underachiever, or as Mr. Strickland would say: "Slacker!"

Wang looked to have the initiative over IM Anna Zatonskih. In the least surprising development, she also had an extra hour on the clock (Wang has managed her time well this event while Zatonskih has several times been rushing to meet the time control).

Annie Wang

WIM Annie Wang of California, trying to become the first West Coast resident to win a U.S. Championship since 2000 (according to NM Michael Aigner on Facebook). | Photo: Mike Klein/

The youngster then inserted a tempo move before a thematic pawn break. Instead, the immediate thrust would have netted her a pretty tactic. The position then quickly got wiped clean of pieces, meaning Zatonskih could easily make the time control.

The missed combination was so involved that Wang wasn't terribly disappointed when she first learned of its existence. Afterword she told to that she wasn't sure she could have put all the elements together, even if forced to look for a trick.

After Wang drew, she briefly enjoyed a 1.5 point lead. At the time it wasn't clear at all if she'd just won the tournament outright even with one round to play.

Wang told she would go back to her hotel room and focus on schoolwork, leaving the other games "off" from her devices. She wouldn't be able to focus on her studies with Paikidze's game on in the background. Although it is now moot, if Paikidze had lost, Wang might have been one of the last people in the Central West End to learn she'd become the champion.'s interview with Wang.

An hour later, Paikidze made half of the video interview old news by winning her game. Not only was the women's tournament not over, it had now become more contested. The lead was halved.


Paikidze, who told she hasn't watched "Back to the Future." | Photo: Mike Klein/

Once again, Paikidze prepped a brand new opening for herself. This one was even more adventurous than the others. Who could have predicted 3...b5?! in the Caro Kann?

"I've never seen 3...b5 myself before last night," she said. "To really go for a win as Black without huge risks, I couldn't find anything (else). I got a slightly worse position but I could have gotten it in any opening."

With Paikidze's limited army swarming WGM Tatev Abrahamyan's king, White ran her clock down to about one minute and blundered right on the time control. The 40th move is often the killer. Abrahamyan would not play a 41st.

Analysis by GM Robert Hess.

The end came much more suddenly than Paikidze had expected. It also revealed a "tell" for Paikidze.

After her opponent's blunder, the 2016 champion leaned back in her chair, slightly slumping, hand to face. This reporter had seen this exact change in posture before. Paikidze confirmed to she reacted the same as just before her winning combination in the final round of 2016 against GM Irina Krush.

"When she played 40. Ne1 my first reaction was just shock," Paikidze told "I thought, 'Am I missing something?'" 

Kudos to the barista for spelling "Tatev" correctly, but even a caffeine boost couldn't help WGM Tatev Abrahamyan on move 40. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Just as she'd done right before the championship-winning moves two years ago, Paikidze needed a moment to collect herself before doling out the finish. Here's that precise moment.

Back to the bold opening, Paikidze told that this was a perfect example of why she doesn't want to work with a trainer (earlier in our reporting, she said it has been six years since she was under someone's tutelage). 

"A lot of games in this tournament a coach wouldn't let me play," she said. "I've played Caro-Kann all my life...If I'm a Caro-Kann player and I've never seen 3...b5, there's a very small chance she knows it."

Paikidze said she knew of the idea from GM Denis Khismatullin, whom she knew when she lived in Russia.


Which woman will leave with the bouquet tomorrow? | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Like her teenage rival, Paikidze will fall back on her routine tonight and tomorrow morning. That doesn't mean unrelenting piles of homework, but it does mean resuming another constant struggle: her dietary regimen of eating not much more than cashew yoghurt with cereal. It seems Paikidze is not nearly as creative with her food intake as her opening choices.

"There are very few vegan options here," she said.

You can expect her to save the creativity for the chessboard instead.

"I have nothing to lose tomorrow."

In the U.S. Championship, both top-enders played Black and both won, leaving all to be decided in the final round. (In a first, the men played more wins than the women, five to two.)

Caruana's point came first, briefly leapfrogging in the standings over Shankland. Needing a win, the 2016 champion switched from his strangely venomous Petroff to the Sicilian. It still had plenty of poison.

"I thought I should just take my destiny in my own hands this game," Caruana said. That's a lot better than your "density."

Caruana showed a multitude of mates from his analysis, played on both kings:

For the second straight day, Caruana sat in the commentary room and was asked to take a gander at Shankland's game. Just like yesterday, his cursory look had him guess that his rival would pull out the ending. 


"Did you see those mates I had to fade?" | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

To his chagrin, he was right both times. It's possible that Caruana's goal for a 1.5/2 finish won't even be enough for a playoff. Still, for the final round, he said, "My style is not to go all-out but I definitely will take my chances."'s interview with Caruana.

Shankland's magical run refuses to end. He's been going 88 mph since the get-go. Or, more accurately, he's now going 2698.

"I didn't play like Fabiano, trying to make a fight from move one," he said. "I prepared the Ragozin at least three times this tournament and had not actually gotten to play it. It was pretty fresh."

Caruana had already precluded going for broke, but Shankland refused to say if he would go "all out" tomorrow. He's already playing for "two results" -- a U.S. Championship and the 2700 club. He told earlier that the national title is more important to him.


GM Sam Shankland staring down at the competition. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

After beating GM Alex Onischuk today, he's now rooting heavily for the hall-of-famer, who is playing Caruana in the final round.

"If he wins, I don't even need to show up," Shankland said.

Today was also "huge relief" day for a trio of men. The other three winners in round 10 curiously came from players without a win yet: GMs Hikaru Nakamura, Jeffery Xiong, and Awonder Liang.


GM Hikaru Nakamura beat GM Varuzhan Akobian's French. The opening is having a terrible tournament. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Finally, an update on the norm-hunting women. According to Chief Arbiter IA Ken Ballou, Wang already has an 11-game IM norm (and that was even before her draw today, and also even if she loses tomorrow). Yu has clinched a nine-game WGM norm by virtue of getting to 5.5. In order to get an 11-game IM norm, she needs 7.0/11, meaning she must win tomorrow.

Jennifer Yu

WIM Jennifer Yu told she already has two IM norms but she has yet to reach 2400. | Photo: Mike Klein/

2018 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 10

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM Shankland, Samuel 2671 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 7.5
2 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2804 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 ½ 1 1 7
3 GM So, Wesley 2786 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 6
4 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 5
5 GM Xiong, Jeffery 2665 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 5
6 GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2599 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 5
7 GM Robson, Ray 2660 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 4.5
8 GM Izoria, Zviad 2599 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 4.5
9 GM Liang, Awonder 2552 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 4.5
10 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2647 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 4
11 GM Zherebukh, Yaroslav 2640 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 4
12 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2672 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 3

2018 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 10

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 FM Wang, Annie 2321 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 8
2 IM Paikidze, Nazi 2352 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 7.5
3 GM Krush, Irina 2422 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 0 1 1 6.5
4 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2444 ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 6
5 FM Yu, Jennifer 2367 0 0 0 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 1 6
6 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 5
7 FM Gorti, Akshita 2252 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 1 1 ½ 4.5
8 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2308 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 4
9 FM Feng, Maggie 2243 0 ½ 0 0 0 1 0 ½ 1 1 4
10 WGM Sharevich, Anna 2281 0 0 1 ½ ½ 0 1 0 0 ½ 3.5
11 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 2306 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 1 3
12 IM Derakhshani, Dorsa 2306 0 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 2

 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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