2 Unlikely Leaders At U.S. Chess Championships
GM Fabiano Caruana, Spanish broadcaster!? | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

2 Unlikely Leaders At U.S. Chess Championships

| 30 | Chess Event Coverage

If you had GM Sam Shankland and WIM Annie Wang at the top of your fantasy chess bracket, congratulations, you're eating prime rib tonight.

A little more than halfway through the 2018 U.S. Championships, these two unlikely tournament leaders head into the lone rest day with the field chasing them. Tomorrow is the rest day, so the chase pack will have 48 hours to figure out a plan.


GM Sam Shankland, leading the U.S. Championship the latest he ever has. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

In round six, Shankland beat co-leader GM Varuzhan Akobian, while Wang beat IM Dorsa Derakhshani. The other pre-round co-leaders, GM Wesley So and IM Nazi Paikidze, both drew to fall a half-point back.


Fake news! Actually just an honest error. We assure you that Shankland won. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Shankland can now choose to take the night off from serious chess. The social event "Chess After Dark" featuring glow-in-the-dark pieces will take place across the street at the World Chess Hall of Fame. For Wang, she will hit the books. She told she can't afford any nights off as she prepares for finals and AP tests.

Plus, she's not invited anyway. "Chess After Dark" is strictly 21 and up.

Wang, 15, even told that if she's still leading the tournament with one round to go, she will continue her routine of doing schoolwork the night before.

"I don't know how much it would help me to study chess for nine-and-a-half hours anyway," Wang said.

Annie Wang

WIM Annie Wang has balanced school and "work" nicely. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Shankland didn't have the usual demeanor of someone who'd just taken over the sole lead. But he did have his usual candor.

"If I play for the rest of the tournament like I played today, I don't think I'll stay at the top very long," he said. Shankland then called his game "absolutely disgraceful" and said that both players deserved to lose.

"Unfortunately, only one player can," he said.


GM Sam Shankland putting the finishing touches on his "disgraceful" win. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Akobian's big miss was a relatively simple trick on f7.

"I just didn't event notice Rxf7 at all," Shankland said when Akobian informed him of the miss afterward. "I don't know if I have to resign or not...This move just did not even register."

Analysis by GM Robert Hess

"I outplayed him and I got a big advantage," Akobian said. He was dwelling on a different missed chance for his king's rook. "I don't know why I didn't play 20. Rfc1...If this was a blitz game I would just play it immediately. For some reason I'm just overthinking my moves." He said he also "overthought" the miss on Rxf7.


GM Varuzhan Akobian had been rolling, until today. | Photo: Mike Klein/

"I woke up at the right time," Shankland said after unknowingly surviving the missed tactic. He's now +3 for the first time in his U.S. championship career.

After the rest day, both players' tranquility will be tested right away. Shankland takes on So while Akobian gets GM Fabiano Caruana.'s interview with Shankland.

Speaking of Caruana, he was the only other winner among the men. The now-trusty Petroff worked again, this time against GM Ray Robson.

All that stuff you were taught as a kid? It was garbage. The opening has suddenly become a fierce weapon (of course, in the hands of Bruce Lee, a paper clip is a fierce weapon).

"The last two games were not good, so this is maybe not a perfect game, but definitely a step up," Caruana said.


Caruana, framed for murdering the white king. Actually, he was guilty. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

GM Hikaru Nakamura nearly broke through for his first win, but instead settled for his sixth draw in a row despite claiming that GM Jeffery Xiong didn't play the best moves.

"Somehow I just missed this move," Nakamura said of the critical chance to play either Nb3 or Nc4, when suddenly all of Black's minor pieces become loose. He said the whole idea just "skipped his mind somehow."

"I should have seen that move."

Speaking to, Nakamura offered a little more insight into the missed chance. He said he spent much time looking at 19. Qa4, an alternate way to target the bishop. When he couldn't make that work, he moved on to other ideas.

In the U.S. Women's Championship, a high schooler leads. Wang said she thought she was better throughout but wished she had not traded queens.

Annie Wang

In interviews, Wang hasn't seemed overwhelmed by the moment in only her second championship. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Just prior to entering a pure rook ending, she missed the interjection of 33...Ra1+, after which she was worried that her king would be buried alive after some eventual ...g4. That never came, so Wang went on to earn the full point and the full lead.

"I got a bit careless," she said, even though the computers think she played just fine.

"I'm doing better than expected," Wang said. Then she added about her studies that "chess is like homework sometimes." It's not all sunshine and roses at the top apparently.

In the annual rivalry between IM Anna Zatonskih and GM Irina Krush, the hard-charging Krush got the better of it this time. She came down the stairs jubilant from the win.

"I was only morose for half an hour or an hour," Krush said about earlier disappointments.


GM Irina Krush, sitting on her feet to finish off the game. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Krush said she especially liked her queen positioning on d6 but it was her mobile pawns and dicing bishops that scored the point.

"She gave me a big advantages on time and you want to find the right time to use it," Krush said.'s interview with Krush.

The women again played more fighting chess. They produced five wins from six games, and had three of the four longest clashes of the round. Neither of those factoids are new to this year's tournament.


Kazakhstani Krush. The seven-time champion fought the inclement weather with a hat she picked up at the 2013 Women's World Team Championship. | Photo: Mike Klein/

The only draw came via the pre-round co-leader Paikidze.

"I think I overestimated my advantage," Paikidze said. She added that she was too eager to trade her backward pawn, the usual plan.

"It's just hard to know when is the right time to push c5," she said.

Paikidze told earlier in the fortnight that she remembered these events as slogs, but today she changed her tune by saying that she is "usually more tired than I am right now." But she added, "It's just good to have a day off."

She'll have her usual morning workout tomorrow. Paikidze usually doesn't see other players in the hotel gym—her cardio comes too early for them.


IM Anna Zatonskih lost today but remains in the top half. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Of the three other women who won, no one's game was as significant than WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. Shortly before her game today, the former president, would-be prime minister, and national chess president Serzh Sargsyan relinquished all claims to top posts, in a power struggle that Abrahamyan had been tweeting about.

PRO Chess League star and Armenia Eagles captain Artak Manukyan suggested to Abrahamyan that she dedicate her game to the nonviolent protests by students that helped bring about peaceful transfer of power. On the day before the annual Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, she did just last.

"It was really great news to wake up to," she said. She also told that she doesn't think a country's president should also control the national chess federation.

"The power becomes too concentrated," she said.

After the geopolitical discussion, it was time to enjoy the nightcap of "Chess After Dark."


GM Fabiano Caruana, from world championship challenger to quasi-rave wall ornament. | Photo: Mike Klein/


At "Chess After Dark," where the Kingside Diner became an ersatz nightclub, GMs Maurice Ashley and Cristian Chirila played on an illuminated chess set (and clock app). | Photo: Mike Klein/

2018 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 6

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 GM Shankland, Samuel 2671 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 4.5
2 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2804 ½ 1 1 0 ½ 1 4
3 GM So, Wesley 2786 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4
4 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2647 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 3.5
5 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2787 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3
6 GM Zherebukh, Yaroslav 2640 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 3
7 GM Xiong, Jeffery 2665 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.5
8 GM Lenderman, Aleksandr 2599 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.5
9 GM Izoria, Zviad 2599 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 2.5
10 GM Liang, Awonder 2552 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 2.5
11 GM Onischuk, Alexander 2672 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2
12 GM Robson, Ray 2660 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 2

2018 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 6

Rank Name Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Score
1 FM Wang, Annie 2321 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 5
2 IM Paikidze, Nazi 2352 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 4.5
3 GM Krush, Irina 2422 ½ 1 1 0 ½ 1 4
4 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2444 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 3.5
5 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2366 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 3.5
6 FM Feng, Maggie 2243 0 ½ 0 1 1 1 3.5
7 WGM Sharevich, Anna 2281 0 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 3
8 FM Yu, Jennifer 2367 0 0 0 ½ 1 1 2.5
9 WGM Foisor, Sabina-Francesca 2308 ½ 0 0 1 ½ ½ 2.5
10 FM Gorti, Akshita 2252 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 2
11 IM Goletiani, Rusudan 2306 0 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 1
12 IM Derakhshani, Dorsa 2306 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ 1

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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