US Champs: Underdogs Rise

Annie Wang, who entered the championship ranked 9th out of 12 players, now leads by a full point. Photo: Lennart Ootes
In both the overall and women’s championships, two huge underdogs are leading. Sam Shankland is tied for 1st along with Fabiano Caruana, and Annie Wang is the sole leader of the women’s section by a full point! How are they pulling it off? In Annie Wang's case, so far, two key qualities have been the source of her victories: endgame skills (with even her shortest victory lasting 55 moves and her longest one ranging all the way to 107 moves) and the ability to fight back. Her 7th round victory over Anna Sharevich with the black pieces is a strong demonstration of both skills.
[pgn][Event "US Championship (Women)"]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2018.04.25"]
[Round "7.1"]
[White "Anna Sharevich"]
[Black "Annie Wang"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D58"]
[WhiteElo "2281"]
[BlackElo "2321"]
[PlyCount "166"]
[EventDate "2018.04.18"]1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bh4 O-O 7. e3 b6 8. g4 Ne4
9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Rg1 Bb7 11. g5 hxg5 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Nxg5 f6 14. Nh3 e5 15.
c5 Bd5 16. dxe5 Qxe5 17. Nf4 Bf7 18. Ng6 Qxb2 19. Ne7+ Kh8 20. Be2 Qc3+ 21. Kf1
Qxc5 22. Ng6+ Bxg6 23. Rxg6 Qf5 24. Rg4 g6 25. Rc1 c5 26. Qd6 Kg7 27. Rd1 Rf7
28. Rf4 Qh3+ 29. Kg1 Na6 30. Bxa6 Rh8 31. Rxe4 Rh5 32. Rd5 f5 33. Qe5+ Kh7 34.
Be2 Rg5+ 35. Rg4 Rxg4+ 36. Bxg4 Qxg4+ 37. Kf1 Qh4 38. Qe6 Qe7 39. Qxe7 Rxe7 40.
Ke2 Kh6 41. f3 Kg5 42. Rd6 f4 43. e4 Rh7 44. Rd5+ Kf6 45. Rd6+ Ke5 46. Rxg6
Rxh2+ 47. Kd3 Rf2 48. Rg5+ Ke6 49. Rg6+ Kf7 50. Rh6 Rxf3+ 51. Kc4 Ra3 52. Kd5
Rxa2 53. e5 f3 54. Rf6+ Ke7 55. Rxf3 Rd2+ 56. Ke4 b5 57. Rh3 a5 58. Rh7+ Ke6
59. Rh6+ Kf7 60. Rh7+ Kg6 61. Rb7 Rd4+ 62. Ke3 Rb4 63. e6 Kf6 64. e7 Kf7 65.
Rc7 Rc4 66. Rb7 b4 67. Kd3 Rd4+ 68. Kc2 a4 69. Ra7 Ke8 70. Rxa4 Kxe7 71. Kb3
Kd6 72. Ra8 Rd3+ 73. Kc2 Rc3+ 74. Kb2 Kd5 75. Rh8 Re3 76. Kc2 Kc4 77. Rh4+ Kb5
78. Rh5 b3+ 79. Kb2 Kb4 80. Rh4+ c4 81. Rg4 Re2+ 82. Kc1 Rh2 83. Rf4 Ka3 0-1[/pgn]
Wang is currently undefeated with 6 points out of 7 rounds with a 2600+ performance rating so far. While her score with only 4 rounds to go is very impressive, Wang has very difficult pairings in the remaining rounds: Irina Krush, Nazi Paikidze, Anna Zatonskih, and Sabina Foisor---the last four U.S. Women's Champions. Will Wang be able to hang on to her lead in the face of such dangerous competition?
Photo: Lennart Ootes
Sam Shankland has been a key figure in American chess for a long time. However, with three American players in the world top 10, including the the World Championship Challenger, it's easy for other American grandmasters' achievements to be overlooked. Shankland's performance so far is a wake up call: There is more to American chess than Caruana, So, and Nakamura. Shankland's victories have been due to outplaying opponents in dynamic positions that emphasize active piece play. Check out his victory against Ray Robson in round 4 where you can feel the intensity of the struggle for the initiative with each move.
[pgn][Event "US Championship"]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2018.04.21"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Ray Robson"]
[Black "Samuel Shankland"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2660"]
[BlackElo "2671"]
[ECO "C83"]
[EventDate "2018.04.18"]
[PlyCount "88"]1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3 Be7 10.Bf4 O-O 11.Nd4 Nxd4 12.cxd4 f6 13.Nd2 fxe5 14.Bxe5 Nd6 15.Bc2 Qd7 16.Re1 Nc4 17.Nf3 Bg4 18.Qd3 g6 19.b3 Bxf3 20.bxc4 dxc4 21.Qe3 Bd5 22.Qg3 Bf6 23.h4 Qg7 24.Re3 c6 25.Rae1 Qh6 26.Bxf6 Rxf6 27.Re8+ Rxe8 28.Rxe8+ Kf7 29.Qe5 Qc1+ 30.Bd1 Kg7 31.Qe7+ Rf7 32.Qe5+ Kh6 33.Qe1 Qf4 34.g4 Kg7 35.g5 c3 36.Qe5+ Qxe5 37.dxe5 Rd7 38.h5 gxh5 39.Bc2 Bf7 40.Rc8 Rd2 41.Rc7 Rxc2 42.e6 Re2 43.Rxf7+ Kg6 44.Kf1 Rxe6 0-1[/pgn]
Also, it's interesting to note that all three of Shankland's victories are with the black pieces. Rounds 8 and 9 will say a lot about who's in contention for the championship. Shankland is paired against Nakamura in round 8. It's his last game against the "Big Three" since he's already faced both Caruana and So (drawing against both). Caruana, on the other hand, still has yet to face both So and Nakamura. He will face them back-to-back in rounds 8 and 9. Look forward to some exciting chess the next couple rounds!
  The US Championships take place from April 18-30. Watch live commentary with GMs Maurice Ashley, Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade starting at 2 PM EDT.  For more information, visit  
Vanessa West is a regular writer and digital assistant for US Chess News. She won the 2017 Chess Journalist of the Year award. You can follow her on Twitter: @Vanessa__West