Caruana, Shankland Lead U.S. Championship
GM Sam Shankland (left) checks analysis with GM Josh Friedel's phone while Chess.com Director of Support Shaun McCoy photobombs. | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Caruana, Shankland Lead U.S. Championship

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Apr 26, 2018, 8:05 PM |
22 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Sam Shankland looked at his remaining docket at the 2018 U.S. Championships yesterday and saw one glaring outlier: Black against GM Hikaru Nakamura in round eight. Turns out, it wasn't so bad.

Despite ceding the first move to the four-time champion in four straight championships, Shankland (5.5/8) passed his biggest hurdle today. It would be wrong to say he drew with ease; instead Nakamura drew with a struggle.

Nakamura Shankland U.S. Championship  2018

"See, I was trying to smack your king!"  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In their opposite-sides castling game, Nakamura's kingside pressure never got going. Instead, his knights hustled back to stand vigil over his own king. That un-Naka-like strategy proved to be unassailable despite Shankland's best attempts.

GM Fabiano Caruana (5.5/8) kept pace by also drawing with Black. He didn't have nearly as wild of an adventure against GM Wesley So (5.0/8). Another Petroff came, and even though Caruana was "held" to a half-point, he never faced any danger.

In the U.S. Women's Championship, the two with the most points also copied each other, except with wins, not draws. IM Nazi Paikidze (6.0/8) dominated after knowing the opening better, but even playing her most convincing game wasn't enough when trying to catch the invincibility of youth.

Paikidze

IM Nazi Paikidze was tied for the lead for about an hour today. Nothing has stopped Annie Wang, but tomorrow Paikidze can do it herself.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Paikidze caught up into a tie with WIM Annie Wang (7.0/8) only momentarily; the 15-year-old surprise-leader turned around a losing position to open the gap back to one point. Wang and Paikidze will play tomorrow.

Back in the U.S. Championship, Nakamura played another one of his amorphous hypermodern openings, which is about as much as you can prepare for him when he's playing lower-rated players. He earned the only center pawns on the board, but they proved to not be terribly useful as his upstart opponent came after him on the a- and b-files.

When kings are on opposite flanks, usually the player earning the first open file is home free. Just at the critical moment, Shankland switched gears with 24...f5, trying to break down the center for his bishop to come out and play. Nakamura's pieces suddenly roared to life, and created just enough of a tickle to unnerve the leader.

Shankland

GM Sam Shankland, trying to find a way through to the white king.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"He's a very resourceful defender," Shankland said. "I think I was doing better but I don't know if I ever had a chance to put him away."

Analysis by GM Robert Hess.

In 2011, Shankland promoted out of group play to qualify for the four-player knockout finish, eventually losing to GM Gata Kamsky in the semifinals. In this normal round-robin format, he is closer than ever before to his first title.  

He admitted to some nerves before the games, but that all goes away once the arbiters ring the clone of the Titanic's bell at 1 p.m. each day. So far, Shankland has avoided all the icebergs.

"When I sit down at the board, basically nothing can distract me," he said. Shankland mentioned that in one event from the past, even a fire alarm didn't rouse him from his focus. His friend needed to shake him to get his attention.

Nakamura

GM Hikaru Nakamura, who lives in Sunrise, Florida, just participated in a local race. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Shankland said he's now very much rooting for Nakamura, since he's yet to play Caruana (tomorrow, as Black) or So (final round, also as Black).

Chess.com's interview with Shankland.

"I actually thought [Nakamura] would bounce back today," an earlier-finishing Caruana said as he actively rooted for Nakamura to hold the ending.

But what about his own game? Caruana already won an earlier round in the championship with some help from a chess magazine. Today he gleaned a little more useful information from simply observing another major chess event in progress.

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GMs Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana turned their game into "Shamkir West."  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In Mamedov-Giri, which took place only hours before in Shamkir, the Azeri fought the Petroff with the obscure 5. Bd3. Caruana said developing in front of the d-pawn, à la the Kopec System in the Sicilian, is too mechanical versus the Petroff. He had seen the game before arriving at the board today, but said there's not much Black needs to know to counter the lethargy.

"Playing Bd3, c3, Bc2 is not going to get you anything," Caruana told Chess.com. "I didn't expect him to play so solidly."

Caruana explained to Chess.com the rationale behind about his sudden go-to weapon, the Petroff.

"If you look at it from White's point of view, after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6, then 5. Ne5 is not such a bad move," he said, pointing out this is the exact main-line position with colors reversed in the Petroff.

Wesley So

GM Wesley So had to wait a few minutes for GM Fabiano Caruana to arrive, but Black didn't need a ton of time to diffuse White's meek plans. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

In another decisive game on the east side of the playing room, GM Alex Lenderman won his second game in a row, today beating GM Awonder Liang as Black.

Lenderman

GM Alex Lenderman entering the club yesterday. By the time he left today, he'd gone from a minus score to a plus.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

You'll never guess the opening. The Petroff!

If you type "Petroff" into a browser at the Saint Louis Chess Club, the first hit is for Petroff Towing. It was Liang's knight that needed the wrecker today—he was broken down in the middle of the highway.

With the couplet of wins, Lenderman vaulted to sole fourth place (4.5/8). By his own admission, he thinks he needs to close with three out of three to have a chance to win.

GM Ray Robson also won today, needing to mate with bishop and knight. He dealt GM Varuzhan Akobian his third straight loss. Akobian incorrectly made a three-fold repetition claim, then went down in 144 moves. For the record, Robson needed only 27 moves to perform the bishop+knight mate.

Robson vs Akobian U.S. Championship 2018

Hey Ray, you're going to need a few more of those scoresheets.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

According to research done by U.S. championship unofficial statistician Ed Gonsalves, this appears to be the longest decisive game in the tournament's long history (but not the longest game—that would be Akobian-Lapshun 2003, 164 moves). It is also the third-longest game of any kind.

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All 100+ move U.S. championship wins, before today. | Research and file: Ed Gonsalves.

In the U.S. Women's Championship, WIM Annie Wang is stealing hearts. And that's hard to do—the ladies played their second round of all decisive games and have produced 31 wins from 48 games!

So how has Wang stood out? By the count of one grandmaster here, she's flipped three losing positions (Wang to Chess.com: "I have a surprising ability to not lose from them."). The teenager has done all of it while remaining perfectly composed at the board, a trait she thinks might come from her dad, who barely showed any emotion himself when his daughter descended the stairs. She saves the animation for her interviews.

Annie Wang

WIM Annie Wang's six wins represent about 20 percent of the entire women's field's tally.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

"We have been working on her calculations, understanding of different situations of middlegames a lot," her coach GM Melikset Khachiyan told Chess.com. "I taught her to control her time management, to keep her cool, and stay calm."

She's got a grandmaster coach but doesn't seem to care much about titles. First, Wang told Chess.com that she doesn't care if she's referenced as a WIM or FM, despite holding both titles.

Annie Wang

Both GMs Irina Krush and Bobby Fischer won national titles at the age of 14. But 15 wouldn't be too bad if Wang can hold on.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Then today, Chess.com asked her if she had any IM norms (her 2654 performance rating after round eight ensures her one if she just shows up tomorrow). Wang said she didn't and seem perplexed why this reporter would ask; after all, you need a certain number of foreign opponents for one, don't you? Wang was then informed that there's a exception for national championships, to her delight.

Lastly, had she defeated any GMs before today's win over GM Irina Krush? Wang couldn't remember, but upon reflection, she didn't think so (not many chess players fail to remember their first!).

The tournament leader is coming off an abysmal norm event in Charlotte, North Carolina, the last tournament she played before this one. Wang finished with 2.5/9 and in last place

"I studied a lot over spring break, but I don't think it kicked in," she said about that event.

Wang shares one curious trait with a recent champion. Like Caruana at the Candidates' Tournament, her phone is broken. (You'd think all the prize money would afford these players the means for a top-of-the-line model, but before St. Louis, Caruana finally went out and bought a similar replacement phone. It doesn't even offer a touchscreen. He proudly announced that it can text and even has a camera!)

Paikidze kept pace by walking her king forward for the second game in a row. The difference is that yesterday's Kd2 was desperate while today's ...Ke7 was cozy. In fact, it was WGM Sabina Foisor who walked to d2 today, but without any pawn cover.

Paikidze

Paikidze adores cats, so naturally she is also drawn to sunlit windows. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

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...But WGM Anna Sharevich prefers dogs. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Paikidze told Chess.com that she does indeed plan to return to normalcy at some point in the last three games. "Yes, of course I love to castle," she told Chess.com.

It was clear the game was trending her way early. In a highly-contentious and theoretical position, Foisor chewed through 30 minutes on the clock while Paikidze enjoyed all of her starting time.

"Since it turned out she doesn't know the line, she should have chosen something more solid," Paikidze said.

Paikidze has a habit of getting up from her board early to look at the monitor, which shows the games of both championships. She said she wasn't checking Wang's game specifically. More like wanting to see if any of the grandmasters on the other side of the room were playing her opening.

Paikidze

Just checking to see if any 2800s are copying me!  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

She said she will start focusing on Wang's games now before their big clash tomorrow. What does Paikidze think of the youngster's equanimity?

"I was very emotional at 15," Paikidze told Chess.com. "I was all over the place. I couldn't hide my emotions."

Other winners of the day include a pair of women who lurk in third place: IM Anna Zatonskih, who mated FM Maggie Feng, and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, who beat WGM Anna Sharevich.

Goletiani

IM Rusa Goletiani's daughter is a big reader of Chess.com news.  | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

WIM Jennifer Yu took out WIM Akshita Gorti, while IM Rusa Goletiani won her first game of the tournament by beating IM Dorsa Derakhshani today.

The win brought relief to Goletiani and her family. Her 11-year-old daughter is a confirmed reader of these reports. Mom reported from the homefront: "I heard that she was screaming today after I won."

Past championship winner Goletiani had lost five in a row before today. "I always tell my students you have to keep fighting."

Chess.com's interview with Goletiani.

The work is just beginning for Wang, who still must play three more former U.S. women's champions in the final three rounds.

2018 U.S. Championship | Standings After Round 8

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2018 U.S. Women's Championship | Standings After Round 8

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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). Chess.com is on site and will be bringing you daily reports and video interviews.

Previous reports:

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