Robson Gets Last Shot at Streaking So for American Chess Crown

GM Wesley So is two games away from his second American chess title.  

The 2020 US Chess Championship quickly went from a fight between 12 of America’s best chess players, to a sprint between three super Grandmasters, and now to a desperate search for anyone who might stand in the way of So’s bulldozer.   

With two rounds remaining, the Minnesota GM has increased an already stunning lead over the field, totaling seven victories and an 8/9 score, now with a full-point advantage over GMs Ray Robson and Jeffery Xiong – the only players who could even think about catching So at the tournament’s halfway point. The three GMs had raced away from the rest of the American pack in the first half of the event, fueled by a kickoff five straight wins from So, and set up a second half of the title event that featured all three still with matchups with each other.  

Xiong was first up to the plate on Wednesday. The Dallas 19-year-old was solid through his toughest day of the online championship, organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club this year to feature multiple games per day with a Rapid G/25+5 time control. Xiong first topped reigning US Champion GM Hikaru Nakamura in round 7, then bested Robson in a Scotch in round 8 on Wednesday, and then came hard at So with a Sicilian in round 9 – though came up just short.  

And on Thursday, it will be Robson’s turn. The 25-year-old will begin the day with his shot at So in the tournament’s penultimate 10th round, likely facing a must-win situation else So walks with the American crown.  

 

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2020 US Chess Championship Standings after Day 3
Image Caption
courtesy SLCC / uschesschamps.com

  

Xiong looked intent on his mission on Wednesday, ironically with a first game against Nakamura perhaps viewed as a warmup to the juggernaut games that followed. The reigning U.S. champion Nakamura, once an early favorite to win back the 2020 crown due to his reputation as a speed player, has visibly struggled in the event and has just two wins to hold sixth place.  

In round 7, Xiong found solid positional footing against Nakamura’s Pirc defense, then offered an early queen trade with 19. Qd6. Nakamura accepted, though allowed Xiong’s rooks to invade and trash his queenside. Down material, Nakamura declined several attempts of liquidation but only clogged his forces in the process, and Xiong’s superior piece activity brought some nice tactical shots to end the game.  

 

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2020 US Chess Championship Xiong vs. Nakamura
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courtesy SLCC / uschesschamps.com

[pgn][Event "2020 U.S. Championship"] [Site "https://lichess.org/T16UrF43"] [Date "2020.10.28"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Jeffery Xiong"] [Black "Hikaru Nakamura"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B08"] [WhiteElo "2750"] [BlackElo "2788"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/broadcaster"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "1500+5"] [WhiteClock "0:03:56"] [BlackClock "0:02:48"] 1. e4 {[%emt 0:00:05]} g6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. d4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} d6 {[%emt 0: 00:03]} 3. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:16]} 4. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Bg7 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 5. Be3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} c6 {[%emt 0:00:23]} 6. Qd2 { [%emt 0:00:04]} b5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 7. Bd3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nbd7 {[%emt 0:02: 37]} 8. h3 {[%emt 0:00:32]} e5 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 9. dxe5 {[%emt 0:00:03]} dxe5 { [%emt 0:00:06]} 10. a4 {[%emt 0:01:15]} b4 {[%emt 0:00:10]} 11. Ne2 {[%emt 0: 00:01]} a5 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 12. c3 {[%emt 0:00:57]} c5 {[%emt 0:01:39]} 13. O-O {[%emt 0:00:03]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:07]} 14. Ng3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Bb7 {[%emt 0:00: 14]} 15. Rfd1 {[%emt 0:00:27]} Qe7 {[%emt 0:00:22]} 16. Rac1 {[%emt 0:02:49]} Rfc8 {[%emt 0:01:51]} 17. cxb4 {[%emt 0:01:51]} cxb4 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 18. Bc4 { [%emt 0:00:04]} Nf8 {[%emt 0:05:49]} 19. Qd6 {[%emt 0:01:52]} Qxd6 {[%emt 0:02: 35]} 20. Rxd6 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Rc7 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 21. Rb6 {[%emt 0:08:06]} Re8 {[%emt 0:00:50]} 22. Ng5 {[%emt 0:02:33]} Ba8 {[%emt 0:02:48]} 23. Ra6 { [%emt 0:00:08]} Bb7 {[%emt 0:01:25]} 24. Rxa5 {[%emt 0:00:27]} Ba8 {[%emt 0:01: 53]} 25. Bb3 {[%emt 0:00:31]} Rd7 {[%emt 0:00:11]} 26. Ra6 {[%emt 0:00:52]} h6 {[%emt 0:00:11]} 27. Nxf7 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Rxf7 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 28. Bxf7+ { [%emt 0:00:33]} Kxf7 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 29. Rc7+ {[%emt 0:00:02]} Kg8 {[%emt 0: 00:00]} 30. Rca7 {[%emt 0:00:09]} Bxe4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 31. Rxf6 {[%emt 0:00: 02]} Bxf6 {[%emt 0:01:00]} 32. Nxe4 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Bd8 {[%emt 0:00:00]} 33. Ra8 {[%emt 0:00:11]} Ne6 {[%emt 0:00:01] Normal} 1-0 [/pgn]

Also in Wednesday’s opening round 7, Robson beat GM Elshan Moradiabadi while So raced to only his second draw of the tournament, against GM Sam Sevian. These results made for a temporary three-way tie for first in the standings, with all three players left with games against each other.  

The first marquee matchup between the frontrunners was Xiong and Robson in round 8, and it was clear Xiong came prepared. Perhaps in a mostly psychological game, Xiong blitzed quickly through a Scotch and looked to be playing for a small edge on the board with a big edge on the clock, banking on Robson’s notorious time troubles.  

And it worked: Xiong offered an early prep surprise with 7. Qe2 to first send Robson into the tank, and was still moving instantly with 13. g3 and more time on his clock than with he started. The dry position absolutely sucked Robson in, falling below 5 minutes when Xiong had 20, then playing off increment at 26. … Re8 while Xiong had nearly 10 minutes to think. The position was nearly lost for Robson that point, and was soon down two pawns with an ill-protected king, and no time to think as Xiong continued to threaten liquidation.  

 

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2020 US Chess Championship Xiong vs. Robson
Image Caption
courtesy SLCC / uschesschamps.com

[pgn][Event "2020 U.S. Championship"] [Site "https://lichess.org/2JxHxnci"] [Date "2020.10.28"] [Round "8.6"] [White "Jeffery Xiong"] [Black "Ray Robson"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C45"] [WhiteElo "2750"] [BlackElo "2711"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/broadcaster"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "1500+5"] [WhiteClock "0:07:19"] [BlackClock "0:00:09"] 1. e4 {[%emt 0:00:05]} e5 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Nc6 { [%emt 0:00:04]} 3. d4 {[%emt 0:00:01]} exd4 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 4. Nxd4 {[%emt 0: 00:00]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:10]} 5. Nxc6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} bxc6 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 6. Bd3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} d5 {[%emt 0:00:30]} 7. Qe2 {[%emt 0:00:03]} dxe4 {[%emt 0: 02:40]} 8. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Bb4 {[%emt 0:00:41]} 9. Bxe4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:21]} 10. Bxc6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Rb8 {[%emt 0:01:55]} 11. O-O { [%emt 0:00:03]} Qd6 {[%emt 0:00:29]} 12. Bb5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Ng4 {[%emt 0:00: 33]} 13. g3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Qc5 {[%emt 0:00:37]} 14. Bd3 {[%emt 0:01:05]} Bxc3 {[%emt 0:04:39]} 15. bxc3 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Ne5 {[%emt 0:00:18]} 16. Ba3 { [%emt 0:01:45]} Qxa3 {[%emt 0:00:38]} 17. Qxe5 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Be6 {[%emt 0: 00:23]} 18. Rfe1 {[%emt 0:01:56]} Qd6 {[%emt 0:03:12]} 19. a4 {[%emt 0:00:59]} Rfd8 {[%emt 0:00:52]} 20. Rad1 {[%emt 0:00:43]} Qc6 {[%emt 0:04:18]} 21. Bb5 { [%emt 0:03:42]} Qb7 {[%emt 0:01:03]} 22. Rd4 {[%emt 0:00:13]} g6 {[%emt 0:00: 50]} 23. Rh4 {[%emt 0:02:15]} Qf3 {[%emt 0:00:33]} 24. Rf4 {[%emt 0:00:46]} Qb7 {[%emt 0:00:11]} 25. Qf6 {[%emt 0:03:20]} c6 {[%emt 0:00:56]} 26. Bd3 {[%emt 0: 00:23]} Re8 {[%emt 0:00:47]} 27. Bxg6 {[%emt 0:00:19]} fxg6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 28. Rxe6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} c5 {[%emt 0:00:12]} 29. Qe5 {[%emt 0:01:35]} Qd7 { [%emt 0:00:07]} 30. Rxe8+ {[%emt 0:00:04]} Rxe8 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 31. Qxc5 { [%emt 0:00:07]} Qd1+ {[%emt 0:00:08]} 32. Kg2 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Qxc2 {[%emt 0: 00:03]} 33. Qxa7 {[%emt 0:00:07]} Qb3 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 34. Qd7 {[%emt 0:00:16]} Ra8 {[%emt 0:00:09]} 35. c4 {[%emt 0:00:10]} Qxa4 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 36. Qe6+ { [%emt 0:00:05]} Kh8 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 37. Rf7 {[%emt 0:00:21]} Qa1 {[%emt 0:00: 06]} 38. Qe7 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kg8 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 39. Rxh7 {[%emt 0:00:32]} Rf8 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 40. Rh4 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Qa8+ {[%emt 0:00:05]} 41. Qe4 { [%emt 0:00:02]} Qa6 {[%emt 0:00:08]} 42. Qd5+ {[%emt 0:00:01]} Kg7 {[%emt 0:00: 06]} 43. Qe5+ {[%emt 0:00:01]} Rf6 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 44. Rf4 {[%emt 0:00:09]} Qa8+ {[%emt 0:00:05]} 45. Kg1 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Qf8 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 46. Qxf6+ { [%emt 0:00:02]} Qxf6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 47. Rxf6 {[%emt 0:00:00] Normal} 1-0 [/pgn]

No one will knock Xiong for not taking his shot. Tied for the U.S. Championship lead with one of the world's top-10, Xiong came straight at So in a Sicilian with a Sveshnikov variation, kicking off fireworks with 19. ... B4 and 20. ... Nxb4 in a sacrifice to open up white’s queenside castle. Though the game was balanced at 43. Rb4+, Xiong was playing off increment while So had two minutes. White’s d-pawn passer was the decider, and So squeezed more blood from endgame stone.  

[pgn][Event "2020 U.S. Championship"] [Site "https://lichess.org/cFqFCqbU"] [Date "2020.10.28"] [Round "9.2"] [White "Wesley So"] [Black "Jeffery Xiong"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B33"] [WhiteElo "2801"] [BlackElo "2750"] [Annotator "https://lichess.org/@/broadcaster"] [PlyCount "103"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [TimeControl "1500+5"] [WhiteClock "0:01:32"] [BlackClock "0:00:07"] 1. e4 {[%emt 0:00:05]} c5 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. Nf3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Nc6 { [%emt 0:00:01]} 3. d4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} cxd4 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 4. Nxd4 {[%emt 0: 00:00]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 5. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} e5 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 6. Ndb5 {[%emt 0:00:00]} d6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 7. Bg5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} a6 {[%emt 0: 00:01]} 8. Na3 {[%emt 0:00:00]} b5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 9. Nd5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Be7 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 10. Bxf6 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Bxf6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 11. c3 { [%emt 0:00:01]} Bg5 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 12. Nc2 {[%emt 0:00:01]} Rb8 {[%emt 0:00: 01]} 13. a3 {[%emt 0:00:18]} O-O {[%emt 0:00:41]} 14. h4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} Bh6 { [%emt 0:00:04]} 15. g4 {[%emt 0:00:25]} Bf4 {[%emt 0:00:40]} 16. Qf3 {[%emt 0: 00:22]} Bb7 {[%emt 0:06:17]} 17. g5 {[%emt 0:01:40]} Re8 {[%emt 0:00:20]} 18. Nxf4 {[%emt 0:02:39]} exf4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 19. O-O-O {[%emt 0:00:12]} b4 { [%emt 0:06:05]} 20. axb4 {[%emt 0:04:11]} Nxb4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 21. Nxb4 { [%emt 0:00:41]} Bxe4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 22. Qxf4 {[%emt 0:00:02]} Rxb4 {[%emt 0: 02:39]} 23. Bd3 {[%emt 0:00:21]} Bxh1 {[%emt 0:07:10]} 24. Qxb4 {[%emt 0:01:17] } Bf3 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 25. Rd2 {[%emt 0:00:03]} d5 {[%emt 0:00:14]} 26. Bxa6 { [%emt 0:01:53]} h6 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 27. gxh6 {[%emt 0:01:08]} Re4 {[%emt 0:00: 02]} 28. Qc5 {[%emt 0:00:56]} Rxh4 {[%emt 0:00:26]} 29. Qc8 {[%emt 0:00:43]} Qxc8 {[%emt 0:00:04]} 30. Bxc8 {[%emt 0:00:00]} Rxh6 {[%emt 0:00:10]} 31. Bb7 { [%emt 0:00:10]} Rh5 {[%emt 0:00:32]} 32. b4 {[%emt 0:00:38]} Kf8 {[%emt 0:00: 02]} 33. Kb2 {[%emt 0:03:07]} Rf5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 34. Kb3 {[%emt 0:00:59]} Ke7 {[%emt 0:00:03]} 35. Ka4 {[%emt 0:00:01]} g5 {[%emt 0:00:32]} 36. b5 {[%emt 0: 00:15]} Rf4+ {[%emt 0:00:48]} 37. Ka5 {[%emt 0:00:36]} Kd6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 38. b6 {[%emt 0:00:13]} Rc4 {[%emt 0:00:13]} 39. Rd3 {[%emt 0:01:02]} Rc5+ { [%emt 0:00:03]} 40. Kb4 {[%emt 0:00:10]} Rc4+ {[%emt 0:00:01]} 41. Kb3 { [%emt 0:00:20]} Rf4 {[%emt 0:00:31]} 42. c4 {[%emt 0:00:54]} Kc5 {[%emt 0:00: 08]} 43. cxd5 {[%emt 0:00:41]} Rb4+ {[%emt 0:00:09]} 44. Kc3 {[%emt 0:00:20]} Rxb6 {[%emt 0:00:01]} 45. d6 {[%emt 0:00:06]} Rxb7 {[%emt 0:00:08]} 46. d7 { [%emt 0:00:02]} Rxd7 {[%emt 0:00:07]} 47. Rxd7 {[%emt 0:00:00]} f5 {[%emt 0:00: 01]} 48. Kd3 {[%emt 0:00:29]} Be4+ {[%emt 0:00:02]} 49. Ke3 {[%emt 0:00:08]} g4 {[%emt 0:00:06]} 50. Kf4 {[%emt 0:00:10]} Kc6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 51. Rf7 { [%emt 0:00:11]} Kd6 {[%emt 0:00:10]} 52. Rxf5 {[%emt 0:00:08] Normal} 1-0 [/pgn]

The 2020 US Chess Championship will conclude with rounds 10 and 11 on Thursday. Robson begins the day facing a must-win situation with his penultimate matchup against So, who looks to win the American crown running away. If that does not happen, Nakamura – in what will be his last game as the reigning U.S. Champion -- is set up as a potential spoiler and So’s final opponent. Though all eyes will be on the three front runners, interestingly the bottom nine players are all knotted within two points of each other and still jockeying for nearly $70,000 remaining in the prize fund.  

First moves begin at 1:00 p.m. central, and spectators may watch the games along with expert commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley, along with WGM Jennifer Shahade on uschesschamps.com or the SLCC YouTube and TwitchTV channels. 


Quick Links:

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