US Chess Champs 1: Caruana and Dominguez fight
Ray Robson and 20-year-old debutant John Burke are the first leaders of the US Chess Championship after beating Daniel Naroditsky and Dariusz Swiercz. The names of the stars struggled with the world number. 2 Fabiano Caruana admitting he had a “lucky” to avoid losing with the white pieces against Lazaro Bruzon, while Leinier Dominguez was on the brink against Alex Lenderman. Eight-time and defending United States champion Irina Krush was among the four winners in the women’s event.
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And here is the live commentary of the day from Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Maurice Ashley.
Fight in the top 3 of the United States Championship
Of the top three seeds in the 2021 U.S. Championship, it was defending champion Wesley So who had the toughest job on paper, playing with the black pieces against Jeffery Xiong, 20, ranked 2700. L he opening was spectacular.
This is a heavily debated theoretical line, however, and after 12… g5 most of the things were settled by lot. Jeffery showed he knew exactly what he was doing and put some pressure on Wesley, but ultimately the match ended peacefully.
Wesley’s biggest rivals for the U.S. title wouldn’t have it so easy. Fabiano Caruana lost his 2800 odds on the live odds list after a draw against Cuban-born debutant Lazaro Bruzon, but he admitted it could have been a lot worse.
He summed up:
It was a bad game! It’s clear. There were a bunch of times when I wasn’t even under pressure, I had plenty of time, those were straightforward mistakes. Once I had equalized again I played this g3 and it was a big mistake, and of course the opening of a number of shots was very questionable. And generally, keeping my king in the center feels like a bad feeling. It was not a good game overall …
Sometimes you have bad games and it’s good when you don’t lose them! The result, a draw, can happen in any game. A loss to the Whites is truly overwhelming, but a draw… the result in itself is not a disaster. Obviously I can’t keep playing like this, but I had a stroke of luck.
that of Fabiano 11.Nb3 ?! in an Anti-Berlin was already doubtful and when 13… b5! appeared on the board the world no. 2 regretted not having kicked a shot earlier when he still had the chance. He said he was “still playing with ambition” at the time.
Fabi didn’t like 14.a3 because of 14.a5, but admitted it could have been better than his 14.f3, which he said was based on blundering something four times. He originally planned to play 19.dxc6 Bxb2 20.0-0.
But he had missed 20… Bxc1! for Lazaro. He explained:
It sounds a bit silly now, but it was kind of a blind spot when I was playing f3. I thought I would get two coins for the rook and that should be decent enough for White, but after Bxc1 he gets the coin with a big advantage.
Fabiano had to opt for 19.0-0 and was in trouble, but he fought tenaciously, and despite another mistake later (27.g3?!), this time overlooking 30… f6!, he managed to hang on to a hotly contested draw.
Leinier Dominguez, meanwhile, was in even more danger against Alex Lenderman, with the critical moment coming after 18… Bf8.
Having played the opening perfectly, Lenderman now had to come up with a great idea to win the match. 19.Fh4 !, offering the pawn on d6, should have been devastating, White then destroying the pawn shield around the black king by taking f6. The c3-knight can arrive in e4 or d5 and the combined power of the knights and the queen against the black king is just too much.
Instead, Alex quickly played 19.Qc4 !?, which retained an advantage, but allowed Leinier to solve one of his problems – the rider on the ledge at a6 – with 19… Nb4! Gradually, Leinier was able to work his way into the match and hold a draw.
Robson and Burke take victory
There were only two wins in the open section, with Ray Robson being the only player to score a full point with convincing style. After beating Daniel Naroditsky, the 26-year-old has already commented that he has played in the US Championship a dozen times:
It’s hard. I think having so many opportunities to play that I would have one. The problem is that the peloton gets stronger and stronger every year, so it gets harder and harder as the years go by… I think someday I can win one!
Daniel surprised when he met 1.e4 with 1… Nf6, Alekhine’s defense, but the game did nothing to boost the reputation of that opening, with Ray racking up a comfortable space advantage. The writing was on the wall when Ray was able to play the d5 pawn break, but a tactical operation from Naroditsky almost worked. The logical sequence would have been 27… Qd3:
Ray said he was “very lucky” to have the only move 28.Qb1! here, when the threat of mate on h7 leaves no options but 28 … Qxb1 29.Nxb1 and white is just one piece. Daniel rather played 27… Kxd2 but Ray methodically won the post and an exchange.
John Burke, 20, whose claim to fame is being the youngest player to cross 2,600, is playing his first United States Championship after winning the United States Junior Championship last year (in time when of an Armageddon match against Jeffery Xiong). He had an eventful first game when he played 23… f6? against former junior world champion Dariusz Swiercz.
“I realized after f6, after a few seconds, that if he just reversed the move order, then I’m basically broken, because I don’t have Qd6,” John said afterwards. 24.axb5! cxb5 (24… axb5 loses against 25.Rxa7 +! and a nice geometry with the queen of a3 and the tower of e1 hitting the e7-knight) 25.Qa3! simply wins, since the e5 pawn means 25… Qd6 is not a possible defense.
Instead, after 19 minutes, Dariusz played 24.exf6? Rxf6 25.axb5 cxb5 26.Qa3 and now 26… Qd6! not only defended, but gave Black a slight advantage. The time difference was the other major factor and John continued to exploit some inaccuracies to secure a first victory. He commented:
I’m glad I won at least one match in this tournament! It’s a goal achieved, but in general I tried to stay calm and play well. Normally in the first few laps I shake anyway, it takes a few laps to get in shape, and especially the first time I was playing here I was really a little nervous, so after f6 I was bumping, like how could I blow the game so stupidly in the very first round, but I’m very relieved.
Four leaders in the women’s section
Time would also be a major factor in the women’s section, where there were wins for Irina Krush, Katerina Nemcova, Ashritha Eswaran and Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova.
The 8-time defending champion Irina Krush crashed in a match where she had a 40-minute advantage over Megan Lee, later pointing out that she had not been excessive gambling since the 2020 Cairns Cup.
Two-time United States champion Nazi Paikidze has the most remarkable story, as her draw against another former champion, Sabina Foisor, was her first FIDE-classified match since winning the United States Championship. United in May 2018.
The most dramatic match of the round, however, saw Tatev Abrahamyan, one of the most experienced players in the United States Championship, play a powerful match against newcomer and former Uzbek Women’s champion Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova.
There were timing issues but Tatev was back in full control when his idea of doubling the laps on lane b was about to be crowned with success on the 57th move.
Brute force 57.Rxb7 +! Nxb7 58.Txb7 + Ka6 59.Txe7 leaves White with a bishop and a pawn… in addition to having a mating attack.
Instead, Tatev opted for 57.Dd2 !?, which drew praise from commentators as an elegant gesture, but actually left things a lot less clear after 57… Nec6 58.Txa5 + Kb8 59.Rab5 Qf7 and already there 60.a3?, a completely understandable move also suggested by Yasser, suddenly gave up all the advantage (60.Qd1! or any other queen move covering the f1 square is always a winner).
What had been missed was 60… Kf2! and suddenly it’s White who’s in real trouble. There was almost no time to spot what was already the only way to shoot: 61.Rxb7 +! Nxb7 62.Rxb7 +! Kxb7 (62… Qxb7 63.Qxf2) 63.Db4 + !, exploiting the knight’s pine c6, 63… Kc8 64.Bxc6 and White is comfortable. It would have been a heroic effort to get this whole streak back after going through such a shock.
Instead after 61.Qxg5 Rxg2 Begim continued to win, though even the decision to quit in the end was questionable.
After 67.Dd6 +! and by capturing on d2 it turns out that Black is lost, but there are still some practical chances. At this point, however, Tatev may have felt that she had suffered enough!
“We were both so tired! Gulrukhbegim said in a pleasant interview afterwards.
This is just the start, with 10 more rounds to go in both tournaments. Don’t miss all the live action from 1:00 p.m. in Saint Louis, 2:00 p.m. ET and 8:00 p.m. CEST: Open | Women