Nakamura Steps Forward; Yu Continues her Run

After a rest day, the eyes and ears of American chess fans return to the Saint Louis Chess Club, where the seventh round of the U.S. Championships is underway. Hikaru Nakamura is in clear first place in the Open Championship with +2 (4/6) after six rounds, defeating Timur Gareyev in what Nakamura called a “strange game” in the post-match interview. Four players – Fabiano Caruana, Lenier Dominguez, Sam Sevian, and Wesley So – are tied for second place, a half point behind Nakamura. With only two points separating the first and last-placed players, the field remains tight and every game matters. Jennifer Yu survived a scare against Maggie Feng and keeps her place at the top of the Women’s Championship with a round six win. Yu is at an incredible +5 score (5.5/6) after six rounds, but she has competition. Both Anna Zatonskih (5/6) and Tatev Abrahamyan (4.5/6) won on Monday to stay in the hunt.


The Nakamura-Gareyev game left theory early, perhaps around move three, and both players seemed to be consciously trying to drag their opponents into the weeds. Nakamura handled the complications better, and after a positional oversight by Gareyev, Nakamura took the point and the top spot on the leader board.

[pgn] [Event "63rd ch-USA 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.25"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Gareyev, Timur"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A04"] [WhiteElo "2746"] [BlackElo "2557"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] {"A strange game, to say the least!" (Nakamura)} 1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 g6 3. c3 { Not a common position in high-level practice!} d5 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. d4 Nbd7 6. Ne5 Qb6 ({Nakamura compared} 6... cxd4 7. cxd4 {to something from a Carlsen-Caruana game.}) 7. dxc5 Qxc5 8. Nd3 Qc7 9. Qa4 Bg7 10. Bf4 Qd8 11. O-O O-O 12. Nd2 Nb6 13. Qb3 Bg4 14. Rfe1 Qc8 15. Qb4 Re8 16. a4 Nbd7 17. Ne5 a5 18. Qb5 Nxe5 $6 {Careless, per Nakamura in the interview.} 19. Bxe5 {Nakamura thought that Gareyev had to try and trade the dark square bishops with ...Bh6 or ...Nh5.} Bd7 20. Qd3 Bc6 21. Qd4 Qf5 22. Nf1 Rad8 23. b4 Qc8 24. Ne3 b6 25. Red1 Ba8 26. b5 h5 27. Rac1 Bf8 28. Bxf6 exf6 29. Qxb6 Re6 30. Qxa5 Bc5 31. Nxd5 Rde8 32. e3 Kg7 33. Qc7 1-0 [/pgn]
Fabiano Caruana notched his first win of the event, and his first classical victory in more than five months, by defeating Jeffery Xiong in a dynamic attacking game. IM Kostya Kavutskiy annotated the game exclusively for CLO.

[pgn] [Event "U.S. Championship"] [Date "2019.03.25"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C65"] [WhiteElo "2828"] [BlackElo "2663"] [Annotator "Kostya"] [PlyCount "89"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. O-O Qe7 7. Nbd2 { This move is currently the main way top players are looking for an edge in this line.} (7. h3 Rg8 $1 {was the well known game Aronian - Kramnik from the Berlin Candidates, 2018.}) 7... Bg4 8. h3 Bh5 9. a3 a5 10. Nc4 Nd7 11. g4 Bg6 12. b4 $1 {Apart from correspondence games, Anand was the first to play this move in a serious game, against Nakamura in Saint Louis two years ago.} Bb6 $146 {Jeffery spent 15 minutes on this move, indicating that he was out of book. However, his move is quite playable (and engine approved), so I'm not sure--he could have been recalling his analysis just as well.} (12... axb4 13. Bg5 f6 14. axb4 Rxa1 $6 {(castling is better, according to the correspondence players!)} 15. Qxa1 Bd6 16. Qa8+ Qd8 17. Qxd8+ Kxd8 18. Ra1 Ke7 19. Bd2 $14 { 1/2-1/2 (30) Anand,V (2783)-Nakamura,H (2792) Saint Louis 2017}) 13. bxa5 $5 { This is not the computer's top choice, but Fabiano is able to find a middlegame where his play is much easier.} Bxa5 14. Bb2 f6 15. Nxa5 Rxa5 16. Nh4 O-O 17. Nf5 {This position is quite fascinating. As explained by Fabi in the post-mortem, it seems like Black has achieved a lot on the queenside, but it's still very hard for him to do anything there. The a3-pawn is rock solid and there's no way to get the knight to go anywhere meaningful. White on the other than has a clear plan of running the h-pawn forward, followed by transferring the heavy pieces to the g-file and looking for a breakthrough. Caruana's handling of this middlegame is really top class.} Qe6 (17... Bxf5 18. gxf5 $14 {would give White an open file against the enemy king, and with such a closed center Fabiano could directly build the attack with Kh2, Rg1-g3, Qh5, Rag1 etc., as given by Fabi after the game.}) 18. Kh2 c5 {Jeffery decides to play for the c5-c4 break, trying to create a weakness on d3. Quite logical, but as we'll see in the game, this won't be enough to generate sufficient counterplay.} 19. h4 c4 20. h5 Bf7 21. Rg1 {Correctly not committing with h5-h6 just yet, rather keeping the option in reserve and giving Black the chance to play h7-h6 if he would like.} cxd3 22. cxd3 Rb5 (22... h6 $2 { allows White to setup sacrifices with} 23. Bc1 $1 $36 {threatening Bxh6 and Qd2.}) 23. Bc1 {A natural regrouping, the bishop isn't going to get anything done against Black's g7-f6-e5 pawn chain but can support the kingside play on this diagonal.} Kh8 ({Once again} 23... h6 $2 {would be bad for Black:} 24. Qd2 $1 $18 {followed by Nxg7, Qxh6, and g4-g5 with a decisive attack.}) 24. Be3 Rb3 25. Rg3 c5 (25... Qa6 26. Rc1 Rxd3 27. Qe2 $16 {would be similar to the game.}) 26. Qe2 g5 $2 {This makes things somewhat easier for White to break through, though it's understandable that Black couldn't deal with the kingside pressure forever.} (26... c4 $6 {lands Black into a surprisingly difficult endgame after } 27. dxc4 Qxc4 28. Qxc4 Bxc4 29. Rc1 $1 {with the point} b5 30. a4 $1 { where White's rook is getting into c7, causing huge problems for Black.}) ( 26... Qa6 {was given by Caruana as the best chance, where White can still keep a large advantage with best play:} 27. Rag1 Rxd3 (27... Be6 $1 {is pointed out by Stockfish, but White is still better after the forced line} 28. g5 Bxf5 29. exf5 fxg5 30. Rxg5 Rf7 31. Qg4 Qf6 32. Rg6 $1 Qxf5 33. Rxg7 Qxg4 34. R7xg4 Nf6 35. Ra4 $1 $16 {where White keeps some initiative against the Black king, threatening Ra8+.}) 28. Bh6 (28. g5 $1 {may be even better.}) 28... Rxg3 29. Bxg7+ Kg8 30. Qxa6 bxa6 31. Rxg3 Rb8 32. g5 Be6 33. Bh6 Bxf5 34. exf5 $16 { and White is on the verge of winning.}) 27. hxg6 Bxg6 28. a4 Qa6 29. Bh6 Rg8 30. Rag1 $1 {Happily giving up the a4-pawn, leaving White with an incredibly compact attacking formation on the kingside.} Qxa4 31. Ne7 Qd4 {Threatening Rb2.} (31... Re8 32. Nxg6+ hxg6 33. g5 $1 {and White will soon break through to Black's king.} f5 34. exf5 Qh4+ 35. Kg2 $1 $18 {not allowing Rh3 Qf4+ (Caruana).}) 32. Qd1 c4 ({According to Caruana} 32... Rb2 {was the best way to keep the game going but White has a decisive advantage after} 33. Be3 Qd6 34. Nxg8 Kxg8 35. Qa1 $18 {with an extra exchange and further prospects of attacking Black's king.}) 33. Nxg8 Kxg8 34. dxc4 {Having won the exchange, Fabiano switches to 'technical mode', where he exchanges off the heavy pieces and simplifies the position.} Rxg3 35. Qxd4 exd4 36. Kxg3 Bxe4 37. Rd1 d3 38. f3 Bg6 39. Ra1 $1 {Going after the b7-pawn.} Kf7 40. Ra7 Nc5 41. Be3 Ke8 (41... Ke6 {would lose nicely to} 42. Bxc5 $1 d2 43. Rxb7 d1=Q 44. Re7#) 42. Bxc5 $1 { Grabbing the knight looks obvious, but actually White needed to see an important trick here to stop the d-pawn:} d2 43. Ra8+ Kd7 44. Bb6 $1 Kc6 45. Ba5 $1 {Even after reviewing the game with a strong computer, it's hard to say exactly where Jeffery went wrong in the middlegame. Most of his moves were engine approved, and yet the evaluation of the position kept going up with every one of White's moves. Of course, there were moments where Black could have defended better, but by that point the position had already become clearly problematic. A very nice win to break Caruana's winless streak!} (45. Ba5 {and Black resigned in view of} d1=Q 46. Rc8+ Kd7 47. Rd8+ $18) 1-0 [/pgn]
After the game, Caruana stood for a quick chat with CLO.
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The third decisive result in the Open went Awonder Liang’s way, as he defeated Var Akobian in a important theoretical line of the Winawer.

[pgn] [Event "63rd ch-USA 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.25"] [White "Liang, Awonder"] [Black "Akobian, Varuzhan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C19"] [WhiteElo "2590"] [BlackElo "2625"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 cxd4 8. Bd3 Qc7 9. Ne2 dxc3 10. Qxg7 Rg8 11. Qxh7 Nbc6 12. Bf4 Bd7 13. Bg3 Nxe5 14. O-O O-O-O 15. Qh4 N5g6 16. Bxc7 Nxh4 17. Bxd8 Rxg2+ 18. Kh1 Kxd8 19. Rab1 e5 20. Rxb7 Bc6 21. Rb8+ Kc7 22. Rh8 d4 23. f3 Neg6 24. Bxg6 Nxg6 25. Kxg2 Nxh8 26. h4 f6 27. Kf2 Kd6 28. h5 Ba4 29. Rg1 Nf7 30. Rb1 Bxc2 31. Rb7 Nh6 32. Rxa7 Bb3 33. a4 Bc4 34. a5 c2 35. Nc1 f5 36. Rh7 Ng8 37. h6 e4 38. fxe4 fxe4 39. Rd7+ Kxd7 40. h7 e3+ 41. Kf3 e2 42. Kf2 Nf6 43. h8=Q Ke7 44. Qh4 d3 45. Qxc4 d2 46. Qxe2+ Kf8 47. Qxd2 Ne4+ 48. Ke2 Nxd2 49. Kxd2 Ke7 50. a6 1-0 [/pgn]
The three remaining Open games were drawn. So split the point with Dominguez, when after a faulty pawn sac by So, Dominguez’s advantage fizzled as he gave back the material. Here's what So had to say after the game.
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Lenderman drew with Robson.

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Sevian and Shankland, unable to spice up the Berlin, also shook hands after the required thirty moves.


Maggie Feng had Jennifer Yu on the ropes, but one mistake was all it took for Yu to pounce and win the game.

[pgn] [Event "59th ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.25"] [White "Feng, Maggie"] [Black "Yu, Jennifer"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D73"] [WhiteElo "2199"] [BlackElo "2273"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. d4 d5 5. c4 c6 6. cxd5 cxd5 7. Nc3 O-O 8. Ne5 Nc6 9. O-O Bf5 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. Na4 Nd7 12. Bf4 Qa5 13. b3 Rac8 14. Rc1 Rfe8 15. Bd2 Qb5 16. Bc3 e5 17. dxe5 Nxe5 18. h3 Rcd8 19. Bb2 $6 h5 $1 20. Re1 a6 21. Rc5 Qb7 22. Qa1 {"Brilliant." (Yu)} Qe7 23. Rd1 Kh7 24. e3 Bh8 25. Bxe5 Bxe5 26. Qc1 Bd7 27. Nb6 Bb2 28. Qc2 Bf5 29. e4 dxe4 {An evaluative mistake by Yu. She said afterwards that she wanted to play the imbalanced (rook vs two pieces) position because she thought it gave her better attacking chances.} ( 29... Bxe4 30. Bxe4 dxe4 31. Rxd8 Rxd8 {and even though Black has weaknesses, her initiative is tremendous. ...e4-e3 and ...Bd4 are big threats.} 32. Rxc6 ( 32. Qxb2 Qxc5) 32... e3) 30. Rxd8 Rxd8 31. Rxf5 gxf5 32. Qxb2 h4 33. Nc4 Rd1+ 34. Kh2 Qg5 $6 (34... hxg3+) 35. Qe5 $1 Rd5 36. Qc7 Kg7 37. Qxc6 $2 (37. gxh4 $1 {followed by Ne3 next move are tough to meet.}) 37... hxg3+ 38. fxg3 f4 $1 39. Qc7 (39. g4 f3 40. Bf1 Qf4+ {and White can't stop mate}) 39... Qxg3+ 40. Kg1 Rd1# 0-1 [/pgn]
Although it looks like Yu is beginning to run away with the Women’s Championship, two players are holding serve and keeping pace. Anna Zatonskih defeated Ashritha Eswaran to move to 5/6 and remain in clear second place.

[pgn] [Event "59th ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.25"] [White "Zatonskih, Anna"] [Black "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D61"] [WhiteElo "2430"] [BlackElo "2234"] [PlyCount "95"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 d5 4. e3 Be7 5. c4 O-O 6. Nc3 Nbd7 7. Qc2 c6 8. Rd1 h6 9. Bh4 Qc7 10. Bd3 a6 11. cxd5 exd5 12. O-O Re8 13. Rb1 Bd6 14. Rfc1 Qd8 15. b4 Nf8 16. a4 Bg4 17. Nd2 Bd7 18. Nf1 Ne6 19. b5 Ng5 20. bxa6 bxa6 21. Bg3 Ba3 22. Rd1 Nh5 23. Be5 Bg4 24. Ne2 Qd7 25. Nfg3 Nxg3 26. Bxg3 Bxe2 27. Qxe2 a5 28. Rb6 Ne4 29. Qc2 Nxg3 30. hxg3 Re6 31. Bf5 Qc7 32. Rb3 Bb4 33. Bxe6 fxe6 34. e4 Qd7 35. Rc1 Rc8 36. Re3 Qa7 37. exd5 exd5 38. Qd3 Qd7 39. Re2 Qg4 40. Rcc2 Qd7 41. Qg6 Kh8 42. Re6 c5 43. Rce2 Rg8 44. Re7 Qxa4 45. Re8 cxd4 46. Rxg8+ Kxg8 47. Re8+ Bf8 48. Qe6+ 1-0 [/pgn]
Irina Krush surprised everyone by playing the Dragon against Tatev Abrahamyan, and the chessboard was quickly enveloped in flames. It was a true back-and-forth encounter, with Abrahamyan coming out on top to win her fourth consecutive game and maintain her spot in third place.

[pgn] [Event "59th ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.25"] [White "Abrahamyan, Tatev"] [Black "Krush, Irina"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B35"] [WhiteElo "2377"] [BlackElo "2451"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 d6 9. f3 Bd7 10. h4 h5 11. Qd2 Na5 12. O-O-O Nxb3+ 13. cxb3 a5 14. Bh6 a4 15. bxa4 Bxa4 16. Rdg1 Qa5 17. Bxg7 Kxg7 18. g4 Rh8 19. gxh5 Rxh5 20. Rg5 Rxg5 21. hxg5 Nh5 22. f4 Bd7 23. f5 Qe5 24. Re1 Rc8 25. Kb1 Rc4 26. Nf3 Qg3 27. Qd3 Rc5 28. b4 Rc8 29. Nd5 Ba4 30. Nc3 Bc6 31. b5 Bd7 32. Nd5 Bxb5 33. Qxb5 Qxf3 34. Nxe7 Rc5 35. Qb2+ Kh7 36. fxg6+ fxg6 37. Nd5 Qd3+ 38. Ka1 Rb5 39. Qf2 Rc5 40. Qf7+ Kh8 41. Qf8+ Kh7 42. Qh6+ Kg8 43. Qxg6+ Ng7 44. Qf6 1-0 [/pgn]
In other results: Annie Wang played some sweet tactics to overcome Sabina Foisor. Akshita Gorti won her game with Emily Nguyen. Carissa Yip and Anna Sharevich made the only draw of the round, only making peace after a hard-fought 76 move ending. PERSONAL TOUCH There is very little barrier between players and fans in Saint Louis. Players play games on the second floor, where spectators can watch games mere feet from the players after passing through a thorough security check. After the games, the players have to come down stairs for interviews or to collect their belongings and return to the hotel. This gives their fans, both young and old, opportunity to see their heroes in the flesh, and to ask for autographs. Here are some Championship participants obliging their supporters.



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.