Key Games Kick Off Championship Weekend

With the leaders meeting in Round 10, and only the final two rounds to be played, the final weekend of the 2019 U.S. Chess Championships is shaping up to be one for the record books. Leinier Dominguez and Hikaru Nakamura won their Round 9 games to maintain their shared lead in the Open Championship at 6.5/9, and they play each other in Saturday’s penultimate round. Jennifer Yu drew a dicey endgame against Tatev Abrahamyan to keep her spot at the top of the Women’s Championship. Yu is at 8/9, a half-point ahead of Anna Zatonskih, who won her game against Annie Wang. Yu and Zatonskih also meet on Saturday, and Yu could wrap up a Championship title with a round to spare if she defeats Zatonskih. OPEN SECTION In the post-game interview, Hikaru Nakamura was very pleased with his victory over Ray Robson, describing his calculation and play as some of his best since 2012. IM Kostya Kavutskiy shows us why, in these notes provided excusively to CLO.

[pgn] [Event "U.S. Championship"] [Date "2019.03.29"] [White "Robson, Ray"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B77"] [WhiteElo "2667"] [BlackElo "2746"] [Annotator "Kostya"] [PlyCount "110"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 {When Nakamura needs a win in the U.S. Championship, he often takes out the Dragon for a spin.} 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O ({A few years ago Hikaru won a sharp game against GM Daniel Naroditsky:} 7... Nc6 8. Bc4 O-O 9. Bb3 Bd7 10. h4 h5 11. Qd2 Qa5 12. O-O-O Rfc8 13. Kb1 Ne5 14. Bg5 Rxc3 15. Qxc3 Qxc3 16. bxc3 a5 17. a3 Rc8 18. Kb2 Kf8 19. Ne2 Bb5 20. Nd4 Ba6 21. Rhe1 Nfd7 22. f4 Nc4+ 23. Bxc4 Bxc4 24. f5 Nc5 25. Re3 Ke8 26. Bf4 Na4+ 27. Kc1 Ba6 28. e5 dxe5 29. Rxe5 Bxe5 30. Bxe5 Nxc3 31. Re1 gxf5 32. Bf6 Ne4 33. Nxf5 Bd3 34. c3 Rc5 35. Nxe7 Rb5 {0-1 (35) Naroditsky, D (2633)-Nakamura,H (2798) Saint Louis 2015}) 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. O-O-O Rb8 {The so-called 'Chinese Dragon', which has become the main move at the top in recent years, surpassing 10...Rc8.} 11. Bb3 Na5 12. Bh6 {A thematic idea, trading off the Dragon bishop.} ({White has also tried} 12. h4 {here.}) 12... Bxh6 13. Qxh6 b5 14. Nd5 Nxb3+ 15. Nxb3 e5 {A useful move, giving Black some space while threatening Nxd5 and Be6.} (15... Nxd5 16. exd5 $14 {is much better for White, who can continue with h4-h5 unbothered.}) 16. Nxf6+ Qxf6 17. h4 Rb6 18. h5 (18. Nc5 $5 Bc8 19. Nd3 $14 {looks like an interesting way to play for White, improving the knight and planning to play Nb4-d5 if allowed.}) 18... Qe7 19. hxg6 fxg6 20. Qe3 {Around here Ray started to spend a lot of time, trying to figure out how to play this position. Despite Stockfish saying it's equal, it feels like Black already has an easier game, with a simple plan of Be6 followed by starting to pile up on the queenside. Meanwhile, White is unable to achieve anything on the h-file, as h7 can always be comfortably defended with Rf7.} Be6 21. Rhf1 $6 {Preparing to break with f3-f4. Ray had likely decided on this plan with his previous move, but it doesn't do enough damage to Black's position.} Rc6 22. f4 Qc7 23. Rd2 a5 $1 {Launching the queenside minority attack. The position has resembled a Najdorf for some time now, another opening where Nakamura has serious experience as well.} 24. Kb1 a4 25. Nc1 b4 26. Rdf2 $6 {Too slow. It was already time for full measures.} (26. f5 $1 {was White's only chance to complicate matters.} gxf5 27. exf5 b3 $1 { Only this allows Black to keep the upper hand. Both captures of the pawn on f5 would give White some real counterplay.} (27... Rxf5 28. Rdf2 Rxf2 29. Rxf2 $44 {and Black needs to start taking care of his king. White seems to have full compensation for the pawn.}) ({White would simply overtake the initiative after } 27... Bxf5 $2 28. Nd3 $1 b3 29. Rdf2 $18 {where Black is not in time.}) 28. axb3 Bxf5 29. Rff2 axb3 30. Qxb3+ Kh8 $17 {and Black is for choice, but the game is still far from over.}) 26... exf4 27. Rxf4 Rc8 $1 {AlphaZero style -- avoiding the trade of rooks and going for the counterattack on the c-file.} 28. Rf6 {Putting Black to the test.} (28. Qf2 {would be met with} Qe7 $1 $19 { followed by taking on c2.}) (28. Nd3 b3 {is also good for Black:} 29. Rf6 bxc2+ 30. Kc1 Bc4 $19) 28... Rxc2 $3 {Fantastically calculated by Hikaru. Based on his time usage and comments after the game, he likely calculated the relevant details back on move 26 and then used a bit of time to double check his calculations here. Impressive!} 29. Rxe6 Qc4 30. Ref6 a3 $1 {The key point, creating the threat of Rxb2+ Ka1 Rb1+! followed by Qc2+ and Qb2 mate. White has a few defenses, but they all lose material.} 31. bxa3 (31. b3 {allows Black to demonstrate the threat:} Rb2+ 32. Ka1 Rb1+ $1 33. Kxb1 Qc2+ 34. Ka1 Qb2#) (31. Nd3 Rxb2+ 32. Nxb2 Qc2+ 33. Ka1 Qxb2#) ({Even} 31. R6f2 {would lose to} Rxb2+ $1 32. Rxb2 (32. Ka1 Rxf2 $1 33. Qxf2 Qxc1+ 34. Rxc1 Rxc1#) 32... axb2 $19 {and Black has too many threats here.}) 31... bxa3 32. Qxa3 (32. R6f2 Rc3 $1 $19) 32... Rxc1+ $1 {Finally, the main point of Black's play, eliminating the key defender of White's king.} 33. Rxc1 Qxe4+ 34. Kb2 Qe5+ 35. Rc3 Rb8+ 36. Kc2 Qxf6 $19 {This is what Hikaru had to calculate to in advance. Black has a completely winning heavy piece endgame, with an extra pawn and excellent chances against White's king.} 37. Rf3 Qd4 38. Rb3 Qe4+ 39. Kc1 Qe1+ 40. Kc2 Qe2+ 41. Kb1 Qd1+ ({Even stronger was the somewhat cold-blooded} 41... Qd3+ 42. Kb2 Qd2+ 43. Kb1 Rc8 $1 $19) 42. Qc1 Rxb3+ 43. axb3 Qxb3+ {Going for the queen endgame, where two extra pawns are enough to win the game quite comfortably.} ({The king + pawn endgame after} 43... Qxc1+ 44. Kxc1 Kf7 { was winning as well. Black's king can stop the b-pawn while White's king will not be able to contain Black's pawns. For instance:} 45. Kc2 Ke6 46. Kc3 h5 47. Kd4 g5 48. Ke4 h4 49. Kf3 d5 50. Kg4 d4 $19 {and Black's pawns are promoting.}) 44. Ka1 Qa4+ 45. Kb2 Qb5+ 46. Ka1 Qc5 47. Qd2 h5 48. Kb1 Kg7 49. Qb2+ Qe5 50. Qb7+ Kh6 51. Kc1 d5 52. Kd1 Qe4 53. Qb2 Kg5 54. Qd2+ Kg4 55. Qh6 g5 {A model Sicilian from Nakamura!} 0-1 [/pgn]
Leinier Dominguez also held serve, winning another long endgame against Awonder Liang. Judging by the rapidity of his moves, it appeared that Liang had unleashed some home preparation against Dominguez. Unfortunately for Liang, it turned out that Dominguez had also prepared (and recently reviewed) the critical lines. The endgame was always better for Dominguez, and Liang’s dogged defense could not hold out forever.

[pgn] [Event "ch-USA 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.29"] [White "Dominguez Perez, L.."] [Black "Liang, Awonder"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo "2739"] [BlackElo "2590"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "119"] [EventDate "2019.03.18"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. c4 c6 9. Qc2 Na6 10. a3 Bg4 11. Ne5 Bf5 12. b4 c5 {"Very concrete." (Dominguez) While Liang was presumably happy to have gotten into his preparation, as evidenced by his playing quickly, Dominguez noted in the post-game interview that he'd checked this line because it was so concrete, and that he'd reviewed it during the tournament for another White game.} 13. cxd5 cxd4 14. Bxe4 Rc8 15. Nc6 Bxe4 16. Qxe4 bxc6 17. dxc6 Re8 18. Qf3 Qb6 19. Nd2 Rxc6 20. Nb3 Rc3 21. Qd1 d3 22. Bd2 Rc2 23. g3 Bf8 24. Qf3 Nc5 25. Be3 Qb7 26. Qxb7 Nxb7 27. Rfd1 Rc3 28. Nc1 a5 29. Rxd3 Rc2 30. Rd7 Nd6 31. Nd3 Nc4 32. Bf4 f6 33. bxa5 Nxa5 34. a4 Ra8 35. h4 Rc4 36. Be3 Nc6 37. Rc7 Bd6 38. Rd7 Bf8 39. Nb2 { Dominguez thought that White was just much better and it would be difficult to defend Black's position in practice.} Rc2 40. Rb7 Nb4 41. Nd1 Rc6 42. Rb6 Rc7 43. Bf4 Rc2 44. Ne3 Rd2 45. Rb5 Rd7 46. a5 Nc6 47. Nc4 Nd4 48. Rb8 Ra6 49. Bd6 Ne6 50. Re8 Rdxd6 51. Nxd6 Rxd6 52. a6 Nc7 53. a7 Nxe8 54. a8=Q Nc7 55. Qc8 Ne6 56. Ra7 Nd8 57. h5 Rd4 58. Kg2 Rd6 59. h6 gxh6 60. Qc7 1-0 [/pgn]
Fabiano Caruana sits in third place after nine rounds, a half-point behind Nakamura and Dominguez. Caruana defeated Var Akobian in a frantic game where both players were out of theory early, burning a lot of time on the clock to navigate the chaos. Caruana took control and took the full point. Afterwards he said that today’s round 10 game against Alex Lenderman is close to a “must-win.”

Caruana (photo Ootes)

[pgn] [Event "ch-USA 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.29"] [White "Akobian, V.."] [Black "Caruana, F.."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A80"] [WhiteElo "2625"] [BlackElo "2828"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2019.03.18"] 1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 a6 6. Ne5 c5 7. g4 {Akobian takes the fight to Caruana.} (7. Qd2) 7... cxd4 8. exd4 Qb6 9. Na4 (9. gxf5 Qxb2 10. Na4 (10. Bd2) 10... Bb4+ 11. Ke2 Qa3 12. c3 Ba5 {was critical according to Caruana.}) (9. a3 Qxb2 $2 10. Na4) 9... Qa5+ 10. c3 fxg4 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Nxg4 Nd7 13. Ne3 h5 (13... f5 {"also very promising" (Caruana)} 14. Qh5+ Kd8 15. Nc5) 14. Bd3 f5 15. b4 Qc7 16. Rc1 b6 17. Qe2 Kf7 18. Kd1 Nf6 19. Nb2 Bd7 20. c4 Rc8 21. Rc2 Qf4 22. cxd5 Bxb4 23. Bc4 exd5 24. Nxd5 Nxd5 (24... Qxd4+ 25. Kc1 Rxc4 26. Rxc4 Qxd5 27. Rd1 Qb5 {"looks scary" but Black is clearly winning}) 25. Bxd5+ Kf6 26. Qe3 Bd6 27. Qxf4 Bxf4 28. Nd3 Bb8 29. Rxc8 Bxc8 30. Ke2 Re8+ 31. Kd2 Rd8 32. Rc1 Bxh2 33. Bf3 Be6 34. Rc6 Rd6 35. Rc1 Rxd4 36. Ke3 Rd8 37. Bxh5 Bxa2 38. f4 Bd5 39. Ne5 Rh8 40. Bf3 Rh4 41. Nd3 Rh3 42. Ne5 Be4 43. Rc8 Rh4 44. Nd3 Bg1+ 45. Ke2 Bxd3+ 46. Kxd3 Rxf4 47. Bb7 a5 48. Rf8+ Ke7 49. Rg8 Bc5 0-1 [/pgn]
Fourth place Wesley So had the better side of the round’s fourth decisive result, defeating the aforementioned Lenderman. Sam Shankland got his first win of the event over Timur Gareyev, and Jeffery Xiong and Sam Sevian fought out every inch of their 103 move draw. Today’s pairings include Nakamura-Dominguez, Caruana-Lenderman, and Sevian-So. Results today will go some distance in deciding the tournament. WOMEN’S SECTION Jennifer Yu stumbled in her game against Tatev Abrahamyan, giving her opponent a pawn in a difficult endgame. But she showed her champion’s spirit by keeping her head and setting up a virtual fortress. With the draw, Yu is a half-point ahead of second place Zatonskih going into their matchup, and two points clear of the rest of the field.

[pgn] [Event "ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.29"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Abrahamyan, Tatev"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E46"] [WhiteElo "2273"] [BlackElo "2377"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2019.03.18"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nge2 c6 6. a3 Ba5 7. c5 d5 8. cxd6 Qxd6 9. b4 Bc7 10. g3 e5 11. Bg2 Re8 12. dxe5 (12. O-O e4) 12... Qxd1+ (12... Qxe5 13. Bb2 Qh5) 13. Nxd1 Bxe5 14. Bb2 a5 15. bxa5 Nbd7 16. O-O Rxa5 17. Bxe5 Nxe5 18. Ndc3 Nd3 19. Nd4 Nc5 20. a4 Be6 21. Rab1 Rea8 22. Rb4 g6 23. Rd1 R8a7 24. Ra1 Nd5 25. Bxd5 {"A GM move!" (Maurice Ashley). The point is now that White's control of the dark squares will not easily be disturbed.} Bxd5 26. Nxd5 cxd5 27. Nb3 $6 Nxb3 ({Yu counted on} 27... Rxa4 28. Raxa4 Rxa4 (28... Nxa4 29. Rb5) 29. Rb5 Nxb3 30. Rxb3 Ra7 31. Rb5 $11) 28. Rxb3 b5 $1 {Yu missed this when she played Nb3, but her response and her defense in a worse position are very impressive.} 29. Rd1 (29. Kf1 Kf8 30. Ke2 Ke7 $15) 29... bxa4 30. Ra3 Kf8 31. Rd4 {How does Black make progress?} Ke7 32. Kf1 Kd6 33. Ke2 Kc5 34. Kd3 Kb5 35. Kc3 Rc7+ 36. Kb2 Rc5 37. Rad3 (37. h4 $5) 37... Kc6 38. Ka3 Rc2 39. Rf4 $6 (39. Rd2 Rxd2 40. Rxd2 $11) 39... f5 40. Rdd4 Rac5 $6 {The dreaded move 40 error.} (40... Rc3+ 41. Kb4 {looks fine for White, but Stockfish thinks that Black retains an edge after} Rac5) (40... Kc5) 41. Rxa4 R5c3+ 42. Kb4 Rc4+ 43. Kb3 Kb5 44. Raxc4 Rxc4 45. Rf3 (45. Rxc4 dxc4+ 46. Kc3 Kc5 {also holds, but the path is narrow.}) 45... Kc5 46. Rf4 Rxf4 47. gxf4 d4 48. Kc2 Kc4 49. Kd2 h6 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Anna Zatonskih stayed within striking distance by downing Annie Wang in an instructive king and pawn endgame.

[pgn] [Event "ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.29"] [White "Wang, Annie"] [Black "Zatonskih, Anna"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E36"] [WhiteElo "2304"] [BlackElo "2430"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventDate "2019.03.18"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 O-O 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bxf6 Qxf6 9. Nf3 dxc4 10. Qxc4 Nc6 11. e3 e5 12. d5 Ne7 13. Be2 c6 14. dxc6 Nxc6 15. O-O Bf5 16. Rfd1 Rfd8 17. Qb5 e4 18. Nd2 Ne5 19. Nb3 Bg4 20. Bxg4 Nxg4 21. Qe2 Ne5 22. Nd4 Rac8 23. Rac1 a6 24. Rc2 Nd3 25. Rxc8 Rxc8 26. f3 Re8 27. fxe4 Nc5 28. Rf1 Qg6 29. Nf5 Nxe4 30. Qd3 Qe6 31. Qd4 Qe5 32. Qd7 Nc5 33. Qd2 Ne4 34. Qe2 Re6 35. Qd3 Rf6 36. Rf4 Nd6 37. Nxd6 Rxd6 38. Rd4 (38. Qb3 { tries to keep material on the board.}) 38... Rxd4 39. Qxd4 (39. exd4 $2 Qe1+ 40. Qf1 Qe3+) 39... Qxd4 40. exd4 {[#] White has a passed pawn, but Black's king will intercept and Black has a kingside majority. Outside passed pawns often decide king and pawn endings, so if Zatonskih can create one, she'll be in great shape.} Kf8 $6 (40... f5 $5 {is dual-threat, as it gets the king closer faster, and also begins to mobilize the kingside majority.}) 41. g4 $2 { To stop f5, but...} (41. Kf2 $1 Ke7 42. Kf3 $1 (42. Ke3 $2 Ke6 43. Ke4 f5+ $1 44. Ke3 g5) 42... f5 43. a4 $1 a5 44. b3 b6 45. Kf4 Kf6 46. Ke3 g5 47. g3 Ke6 48. h4 (48. h3) 48... Kf6 {and the reader can investigate this, but the position is drawn.}) (41. a4 $1) 41... f5 $1 (41... Ke7 {also wins:} 42. Kf2 f5 $1 (42... Kd6 $2 {and White wins!} 43. Ke3 Kd5 44. h4 g5 (44... g6 45. Kd3) 45. h5 $18) (42... Ke6 $1 43. Ke3 f5 {and the outside passed pawn decides.}) 43. gxf5 Kf6 $1 44. h4 Kxf5) 42. gxf5 Ke7 $1 (42... Kf7 $2 43. d5 Kf6 44. d6 Kf7 $11) 43. Kf2 Kf6 44. Ke3 Kxf5 45. Kf3 (45. Kd3 g5) 45... g6 46. b4 b5 47. Ke3 g5 48. Kf3 h5 49. Ke3 g4 50. Kf2 h4 51. Ke3 g3 52. hxg3 hxg3 53. Kf3 g2 54. Kxg2 Ke4 55. Kf2 Kxd4 56. Ke2 Kc3 57. Ke3 Kb3 0-1 [/pgn]
Round 10 sees Zatonskih take the White pieces against Yu. Can Zatonskih overtake her? Will Yu hold her nerve and see the tournament out with a win? Other results from Round 9: Feng defeated Eswaran, Yip took down Nguyen, and Foisor got a needed win against Gorti. Krush and Sharevich drew. STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 9 Open Women’s Find full pairings for the tournament and follow along on with commentary from GMs Maurice Ashley, Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade starting at 12:50 CT/1:50 ET. 

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