Yip Rips, Tatev Trounces, 3 Men Still Cruising In St. Louis

Yip Rips, Tatev Trounces, 3 Men Still Cruising In St. Louis

| 27 | Chess Event Coverage

Seven leaders are down to five after 30 hours in St. Louis. GM Ray Robson tried something new and beat his former coach, while GM Wesley So survived as his young opponent missed a winning shot late in the game. Later, GM Fabiano Caruana stifled all of Black's pieces to join them at the top of the tables.

They all lead at 2-0 in the 2016 U.S. Championship as the other winners from round one could not keep pace.

The men were in a hurry today. GMs Gata Kamsky and Hikaru Nakamura only played for 35 minutes before shaking hands. Eight men had pushed in their chairs before any women's games ended, and the five longest games all came from the ladies.

The longest men's game featured a study-like perpetual, saving GM Alex Shabalov from an inexplicable earlier error.

In the U.S. Women's Championshipboth winners kept on the gas, including the youngest player. NM Carissa Yip is on her way toward earning a new cell phone after she won her second game in as many days. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan repeated Robson-Troff from the 2015 U.S. Championship with the same winning result.

Yip and Abrahamyan face off tomorrow in a game that may establish a clear woman to be chased down.

Seven-time winner GM Irina Krush got the wheels going with her first win, while top-rated IM Anna Zatonskih labored out of the opening and could only muster a second draw.

IM Anna Zatonskih was smiling mid-game, but GM Irina Krush smiled post-game.

Today we'll start with the ladies. It's not just chivalry -- the biggest news comes from the tiniest competitor.

Yip is not able to ride the roller coasters at many theme parks, but so far she's enjoyed coasting on the downhills here at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. She didn't have to start out playing the veterans, and she's taken full advantage.

Speaking to, she said she welcomed the pairings. Last weekend, she lost to a 1900, and Yip said her confidence was a bit shaken and she needed a boost. How's a 2-0 start and co-leadership of the U.S. Women's Championship for a buoy? 

Games via TWIC.

She's not just playing for a new mobile phone; she's also playing for a huge wad of cash and the biggest tournament upset in the championship's history. But what about that phone? Yip really wants an iPhone 6s.

"All my friends have one and I feel so left out," she said. Spoken like an honest 12-year-old and her priorities! Does she want to play on her iPhone? Nope. She just wants to text.

"My friend Ivan is having a lot of love life problems. Ivan, you have to move on!"

Ivan, if you're reading, the U.S. Women's Championship co-leader is thinking about you.

NM Carissa Yip donned her personalized All-America Chess Team jacket, won again, and gave some advice to a friend.

The other woman on 2-0 is the veteran Abrahamyan, who is not old, yet is more than twice her compatriot's age. She didn't have boy trouble today; instead she used a boy to help her win. That "boy" would be the eternally fresh-faced Robson.

How could he help? Simple. Abrahamyan copied his game from last year's championship! As first pointed out by Robson's Webster University teammate IM Eric Rosen, Abrahamyan just facsimiled Robson-Troff, 2015 U.S. Championship, an ending that Rosen said is just winning for White. (For more on that stem game, check out GM Ben Finegold's analysis from last year's report.)

Although Rosen admitted it's not easy, the two bishops and pawn imbalance should, and did, overwhelm the rook.

Abrahamyan said afterward that she didn't like her technique in the ending. "I told [this] to Ray, and he said, 'Why don't you just play like me?'"

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan has made it to a championship playoff several times. Is this her year?

The defending champion, Krush, notched her first win with a slow opening that morphed into a King's Indian structure. "My idea was just to get a game," Krush said of her amorphous system against WGM Sabina Foisor.

Her kingside pawns marched four abreast, and with nothing at all happening on the queenside, Krush won without a fight. More space + better bishops = a steamroll:

Krush said she's glad that her longtime rival, Zatonskih, is back in St. Louis. After missing last year, Zatonskih not only returned, but brought her whole family for the first time (which also allows the preparation from husband GM Daniel Fridman to come in person instead of by phone).

"It felt more natural," Krush said. She said she's not ready to make an observation on her main rival's playing shape. "It terms of form it's too early to tell."

Zatonskih drew her second game, this one against third-seeded WGM Katerina Nemcova (who is also joined her by family; her sister has been present since the opening). Unlike yesterday, today Zatonskih got to press, but to no avail.

Two more winners came from the other games (the 2016 Candidates' is firmly in the rearview for those who like full points -- 15 from 24 games).

First up is fourth-seeded IM Nazi Paikidze, who still has yet to lose a game in 13 career championship contests. Although she missed an important move, eventually her knights tangoed in synchronicity.

In the longest game of the day, WIM Agata Bykovtsev converted a theoretical opening into a theoretical ending against FM Alisa Melekhina.

Besides their fantastic chess skills, both are academic superstars. Melekhina, 24, graduated early from both high school and undergraduate school, and was practicing law in New York City before her 23rd birthday.

The two smartest people in the room? Likely.

Bykovtsev, 16, is done with high school herself and said she's debating the "ho-hum" decision of MIT or Stanford. She's already completed college-level math requirements. Here's the clash of the overachievers:

Three of the five men who won Thursday were able to continue their hot starts. That list does not include Nakamura, who said he was forced into a lifeless game at Kamsky's insistence.
Kamsky called the London System "my opening."

After the game, which lasted barely longer than an episode of your favorite sitcom, commentator GM Maurice Ashley wanted to hear both players' thoughts on how the short draw would be perceived by the organizers. Both held firm that nothing untoward happened.

"I have to conserve my energy now that I'm a hall-of-famer," Kamsky said. "I'm old now." He said he didn't have a chance to get to St. Louis early and needed time to recuperate.

"It's part of the strategy. I choose where to play for a win and where to play for a draw."

Ashley, who had just been jointly inducted with Kamsky as a hall-of-famer himself, said afterward that Kamsky was irritated at the questions (on the broadcast Kamsky had already unpinned his microphone before the interview officially finished).

Don't blink! You might miss it.

Nakamura said it wasn't his fault, explaining that at the highest levels of chess the onus is on the first player to try for something. "They dictate the sort of game it will be," Nakamura said. "It's always on White." His stance is consistent a similar controversy he was involved in at the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open (organized by Ashley). 

"I was a little surprised," Nakamura said. "Last year he played the same system and I was probably winning at multiple points in the endgame." He said the move 10. Ne5 "kind of just killed the game."

"Gata is Russian school. And the Russian school is that you stop the bleeding at all costs (after a loss)."

The other two top-10 players would take full advantage of the placid game -- both Caruana and So won again.

Before we get to them, let's look at the ramifications of a popular dark horse. Robson enjoyed the first win of the day. He took out the normally-sturdy GM Alex Onischuk, his former coach.

His lucky blazer? Fresh off winning the President's Cup, Robson is continuing his winning ways.

"In the past I had a lot of games against him with 1. e4," Robson said. "But today I wanted to try something new."

What's old is apparently new again, as he also hopped a charter to London, and won before the Concorde could have crossed the Atlantic:

"I'm not thinking about winning the tournament," he said. "I'm just going to try to keep playing well."

His early success has him controlling his own destiny for a spot on the upcoming Olympiad team (the winner gets an automatic berth, but Robson has excellent chances by rating as well). caught up with Robson after the game for a video interview. Here's the video with more on his thoughts playing his old coach, whether former teammate Kamsky taught him the London, and his upcoming tennis match with yours truly.

So was the next victor, but all could have been lost in the complicated middlegame where both kings suffered weaknesses. Against IM Akshat Chandra, who got perilously low on time for the second day in a row, So admitted to moving too fast when his opponent was forced into a frenetic pace.

"I should avoid this in the future," So said. "If your opponent is in time trouble, lesson 101 is not to keep pace." Here's what both players missed:

Despite the oversight, So didn't seem fazed. "A win is a win as people always say. Believe me, I've lost a lot of winning games these last few months."

The final double-winner was Caruana, who also entered the confessional booth for the second day in a row (the only player out of the 24 to enter it at all).

Yesterday he professed his "undying love for Lawrence [Trent, his manager]" but today it was all about the chess.

GM Fabiano Caruana lamented his performance today, in the booth! He promised to say something more spicy in the confessional booth tomorrow.

"I didn't like c4 for him," Caruana explained in real-time after GM Sam Shankland closed up the queenside. He said he planned to play g4 and expand on the kingside, which he did in due time. "It looks like a very unpleasant defense for him."

Like So, he missed a queen sortie late in the game, and although the ramifications for his oversight were also never realized, they were much tamer if they'd come to fruition.

"I prepared this Winawer French for the World Cup a long time ago," Shankland said. "I got a textbook example of the kind of thing you don't want in this variation."

During the game, manager IM Lawrence Trent said that after working for Caruana for more than one year, he can now predict his client's maneuvers (even though he's not in charge of the chess training).

"I just know all of Fabiano's moves," Trent said. "I just know how the guy thinks."

True to form, after making the claim, Trent guessed correctly the not-obvious retreat 32. Qc1. 

Caruana joked to that they've been working on chess together. "I'm pretty sure he'll be world champion within five years," Caruana said.

Caruana and Trent after November's Showdown in St. Louis. The bromance continues.

Back to the game, Caruana said the king march wasn't just sadism with a helpless opponent. "I wanted to play it safe, but I ended up giving him a chance."

After winning four Italian National Championships, and several U.S. scholastic championships, Caruana's quest for another national title is taking shape nicely.

"He's the best-prepared guy around," Shankland said. "The biggest difference between me and him is the amount of work he's put in. By the time I got started in chess he was 2200. At least I hope that's the answer. If it's native, if it's genetics, I'm kind of screwed."

The most exciting finish of the day was "only" a draw. Although GM Alex Shabalov played a cringe-worthy laugher, he showed incredible resourcefulness in a position that other players might have offered their hand. Instead, Troitsky would have been proud.

"Two days, three blunders, what can I do?" Shabalov said exasperatingly, more relieved than elated at his close escape.

GM Alex Shabalov, a product of the Latvian school, was certainly not trying to draw after yesterday's loss. But it beats one of the two alternatives!

In the final game, GM Jeffery Xiong held another veteran to a draw, GM Varuzhan Akobian.

Here's the round three pairings, punctuated twin 2-0 matchups: So-Caruana and Yip-Abrahamyan.

(All graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.)

Live coverage of each round can be found at the official site or at Rounds begin at 1 p.m. Central Time daily until April 25, with the lone rest day coming April 19.
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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