US Chess Champs 4: Robson leads as So lets Caruana escape
Ray Robson is the lone leader at the U.S. Chess Championships on the first day of rest after beating Jeffery Xiong to move to 3/4. He could have been joined by Wesley So, but on his 28th birthday the defending champion decided to play it safe rather than push for a win over the world number one. 2 Fabiano Caruana. Leinier Dominguez defeated Sam Shankland to join Wesley, Fabi and Sam Sevian in a 5-man hunt pack. In the women’s section, 18-year-old Carissa Yip now co-directs with Katerina Nemcova after eight-time champion Irina Krush blundered on the 21st move.
You can replay all games of the 2021 US Chess Championships using the selector below.
And here are the live commentaries of the day from Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Maurice Ashley.
A missed birthday for Wesley So
The big heavyweight clash of the day, two-time champion Wesley So against 2016 champion Fabiano Caruana, quickly left the frequently used path.
White had a space advantage, but on the 11th move Fabiano found a nice way to take the initiative, at the cost of a pawn.
11… b5! was a move Fabi said he had “discovered over the board today”, when Yasser asked him how he found it, with the world number. 2 explaining, “b5 was more of an equalizer attempt without playing a long, prolonged game”.
When Fabi also inflicted double f-pawns on Wesley, he was starting to have more chances, but the players and the computer agreed that Black had blundered on the 18th move.
18… f5 !, the move Caruana originally planned and expected Wesley to have held promise for Black, although both players felt it should likely end in a draw. Instead, Fabiano opted for 18… e5 ?!, later confessing, “I don’t even know how to explain my thought process!”
After 19.dxe5 Re6 we had the critical position of the match.
If White does nothing, the rook will move on to the next move h6 and Black wins, but it turns out White has defense… and more! Fabi was shocked to see the computer’s rating: “I saw the computer say, ‘I’m quitting’, which wouldn’t have been great! He elaborated:
I wanted to play f5 and then I was drawn to this e5 idea, and I’m a little shocked that it’s so bad, although now that I think about it it’s an incredibly anti-positional move, but I thought the tactic would make it work for me, and they don’t! There are several issues, which shows how far off I was.
Neither player had spotted the absolute killer move, 20.Re1 !, Wesley noting that you must have seen the whole line: 20… Rh6 21.Kf1 Nxe3 + 22.fxe3 Qxh2 and now the only move 23.Re1! (since after the natural 23.Be4 Black is in the lead after 23… Rh3!).
In this position, the black attack is over, with the king ready to escape, or the bishop coming to f1 or e2 to block chess.
Both players had at least seen the computer’s second best move, 20.Qg1!?, However, with Wesley pointing out that after 20… dxe5 21.Qc2 g6 the computer does not give White such a clear advantage, if you let it run for a long time. Fabiano, meanwhile, admitted that he realized too late that his initially expected 20.Kg1 Rh6 was bad for him after 21.Kf1, so he was indeed predicting 20..dxe5.
In a practical game anything could have happened, but instead we got an amnesty, with Wesley playing 20.exd6. He said he initially thought he was winning, with the point that Be5 is suddenly possible to defend the king-wing, but by the time he played it he realized that 20… Qg5 +! by Fabi would mean a draw. The game ended 21.Kh1 Qh5! 22.Qb2 Qxf3 + and there was no escape from the controls of f3 and g4.
Fabiano had perhaps been saved by the 28 years of his opponent! Wesley explained:
The last thing I want to do is play chess on my birthday. Very happy that tomorrow is a day off so this is also one of the reasons why I decided to play a little safe today because the last thing you want is to lose on your birthday .
Caruana sighed with relief:
I can consider myself quite lucky overall. From the positions I had in this tournament, I think I extracted the absolute maximum. I couldn’t have got more points! I could easily have scored -2 in this tournament from the positions I had, so yeah, I’ve been pretty lucky so far. e5 is a terrible blow, I’m a little ashamed that I played it. I’m not sure how to explain it!
This meant Ray Robson was able to take the lead in the tournament with a win over an out of reach Jeffery Xiong. The 20-year-old opted for a risky opening that Magnus had been among those to try, but only landed in a very tricky final.
Ray later said that he only considered 20 … Kd6 and 20 … Kf6 (the move he thought was slightly better) for his opponent, whereas he thought 20… Kd8 “a big mistake”. The computer actually considers this to be the strongest hit of the position, although that may tell you more about how dangerous the position is to black.
21.d6! locked Black, but it seems that after 21… a5 22.Bd3 Jeffery might have avoided the worst with 22… Ba6! Instead after 22… Rb8? 23.Rab1 there was no way to go back, and things escalated incredibly quickly until Black resigned five hits later.
There is no stopping for Ba6 and Rc8, and Xiong had to concede a third defeat in a row. Ray Robson has two wins and two draws for 3/4, although he later pointed out that he had a very good chance of beating both Sams, Shankland and Sevian, and making 4/4.
The second biggest clash of the day was Shankland-Dominguez, which looked likely to end in a 4th draw for both players until Leinier managed to cheat Sam and win a pawn. “Those knight’s final stages are very dangerous when you’re out of gear,” he said, and ultimately Leinier converted with a well-timed knight sacrifice.
53 … Nxg3! would have won after 54.Nxg3 d3! 55.f1 g3 and both pawns are too strong, although some precision is still needed. Sam rejected the sacrifice with 54.Nd2, but resigned a blow later in a desperate position.
The other Round 4 winner was Aleksandr Lenderman, who managed to get Daniel Naroditsky out of the book on move 5 and then took over before correctly grabbing a pawn on move 30.
30… Bxa3! was met by 31.b4, corn 31… Tc8! 32.Nd1 a5! assured that the bishop was not trapped. The game stretched to move 74, Daniel applying pressure to the clock, but Alex was right. He later stressed that he could have scored more, given he missed a clear win over Leinier Dominguez in the first round.
The remaining matches were drawn, including Sam Sevian unable to convert an extra pawn against Dariusz Swiercz in a 110 move encounter, so the standings are as follows on the rest day.
Carissa Yip accepts a gift
Eight-time United States champion Irina Krush made the very rare choice for her to play Caro-Kann in the crucial Round 4 match against 18-year-old Carissa Yip. The youngster later explained why she had opted for e5 on move 3:
I thought I would just play e5 for fun, because I haven’t really played it before and I was hoping that since I hadn’t seen Irina play it before, she wouldn’t really know what to do either, and we get out of the book, and I think that’s what happened.
When the queens were traded, Carissa had the advantage, but there was a long game ahead until 21… Nb4 ?? was on the board.
Carissa took almost three minutes to respond, but not because she hadn’t seen the winning idea.
At first, I thought I had hallucinated something. I was like, is Rd4 really winning, so I had to take a few minutes to check everything out, but it’s a really nice thing when your opponent is messing around and you don’t have to fight for another two hours.
Carissa went to get 22.Txc8 + Rxc8 23.Td4 and Irina resigned. Did Carissa feel sorry for her opponent?
I have a lot of homework to do! I had to finish quickly here.
This gave Carissa a share of the lead with Katerina Nemcova, who missed a few chances in a draw against Nazi Paikidze. There were fight matches everywhere, but the only other decisive result was Sabina Foisor coming back from two straight losses to inflict a third loss of the tournament on Tatev Abrahamyan.
It was a game upside down, but Sabina found a stunt afterward 27… Rb8?
28.Qb1! leaves the Negro only bad choices. 28… Bd5 collides with 29.c4 !, with d5 to call, and Black is kicked off the board. Tatev instead opted for 28… c4, but that left the b3-bishop as a glorified pawn and White with a huge advantage. The rest of the game wasn’t quite smooth, but Sabina won an opposing-colored bishop final.
This leaves a youthful air at the top of the standings before the rest day. Carissa Yip, 18, and Katerina Nemcova, 30, are closely followed by Thalia Cervantes, 18, and Ashritha Eswaran, 20.
The action resumes Monday from 1:00 p.m. in Saint Louis, or 2:00 p.m. ET and 8:00 p.m. CEST: Open | Women