US Chess Champs 2: So strikes, Caruana escapes again

Defending US Champion Wesley So scored his first win of this year’s event by defeating Dariusz Swiercz in Round 2, while Leinier Dominguez came incredibly close to taking down Fabiano Caruana before the world no. 2 managed to scrape a draw in 108 moves. Daniel Naroditsky’s bounce-back win over Jeffery Xiong was the other win in the open section. Katerina Nemcova haș the only perfect score of either section after beating Sabina Foisor, with Irina Krush just missing out on joining her.

You can replay all the games from the 2021 US Championship using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Maurice Ashley. 

So, Robson and Burke lead

Wesley So commented after defeating Dariusz Swiercz:

The top players, Fabiano, myself and Leinier, I think we had a long season so we’re very tired at this point, we played a lot of tournaments, also travelling, I think we’re not in our best form. As you can see yesterday, we all played some bad games.

There was nothing too wrong with Wesley’s second game, however, unless you count some opening uncertainty after Swiercz blitzed out 6…Nc6.

Wesley commented:

I did a Chessable course on 1.e4, so I covered this, but I forgot whether I should castle first or play d4 right away. 

The problem was that after 7.d4 Darek went for the rare 7…Qg4!?, which sent Wesley into a long think. What he went for was modest, and as he explained, “this endgame is just equal, but at least I avoid his preparation”. 

Things fell apart for Swiercz remarkably quickly, however. Wesley identified 18…f5 as a mistake, though it seems not playing 17…f5 a move earlier may have been the real problem. Then in allowing 21.Rg3 Wesley felt his opponent had made a “semi-blunder”. 

Wesley assumed 21…Rg8 was Swiercz’s initial plan, but that he only now spotted that 22.Rh3 Rg2+ could be met by 23.Nf2! Nevertheless, that line would have been much better than 21…h4?! 22.Rg4 in the game, with 22…f5?! a panicky move that just made things worse. The rest was very easy for Wesley, who summed up, “Everything that could go wrong for Black went wrong”.

The most impressive win of the day once again featured Daniel Naroditsky, who after getting beaten by Ray Robson now bounced back to take down Jeffery Xiong. Daniel explained that the loss hadn’t hit his confidence at all.

Yesterday was a tough game, for sure, but I didn’t get the sense that I was blown off the board. My Alekhine experiment didn’t work, but realistically Ray just played a fantastic game. I didn’t feel like I was blundering a lot of stuff so, in a weird way, it actually gave me a little bit of confidence. Ok, I still remember how the pieces move, I can still make a good move here and there, and I felt like the big problem yesterday was the opening, so my strategy going into today was I wanted to make sure I got at the very least a solid, playable position, I felt like my calculation yesterday was good, and I managed to do that. 

Daniel pointed to some extremely sharp moments, such as after 21…Ne4!

Daniel said he was “terrified”, because it was only now he spotted the mating threat of Ng3+ and Rh6+. He found the only good reply 22.R5f4! (ready to block on the h-file with Rh4), and after 22…f5 the desire to get the e3-square for his knight enabled him to find 23.b4!

The counterattack soon became more powerful than the attack, with 27.Qf3! another fine move.

The threat of Bxe4 and then giving checkmate with Rf8+ all but forced Jeffery to go for a difficult ending with 27…Nc3 and Daniel went on to convert smoothly.

Ray Robson missed a great chance to beat Sam Sevian and move to 2/2, while the most dramatic game of the round was the heavyweight clash between Leinier Dominguez and Fabiano Caruana. Once again the opening went wrong for Fabi, and 27.e6! was a sharp spot by Leinier. 

27…fxe6?! 28.Qe5! would leave Black in real danger on the dark squares, with Bd4 and Ra7 to follow, so it was perhaps time to bite the bullet and play the somewhat unpleasant ending after 27…Qxd4. 

Instead Fabiano kept queens on the board with 27…f6!?, but after 28.Qa7! the e-pawn had become a monster. Deep thought over the next couple of moves only led to time trouble, and by move 35, with just over a minute on his clock, Fabi was completely busted. 

We saw 35…Bg6 36.Rc8 h6 37.Rxe8+ Bxe8 and now, very short on time himself, Leinier was perhaps overwhelmed by the abundance of enticing options.

Of course it’s quite disappointing, because I felt that I was completely winning, and in fact I guess I was, but my first intention in this position when I went for this was to play 38.Qf8+! Kh7 39.Qxe8 Qxe3 40.Qxb5, and it should be winning. I saw that there was no perpetual check, but then I saw 38.Bxh6+!? and I thought it’s just more simple, I win another pawn, but maybe it was the wrong practical decision.

After 38.Bxh6 Kh7, Leinier later pointed out 39.Bxg7!? and White ends up with four pawns for a piece, while the computer recommends 39.Bc1. Leinier’s 39.Be3!? allowed Fabiano to pick up the b2-pawn, which he probably should have done, but Fabi opted to try and keep things tight until the time control. 

From then on it was a long battle, and White could easily still have emerged victorious, with Leinier pointing to move 51.

It’s of course disappointing, but on the other hand, he defended quite well, I think. After I played this 51.h6?! move, I didn’t somehow realise that he can just wait with 51…Qc6! and keep the pawn on f6. I was thinking that 51…gxh6 is forced, and then the king is very weak. That’s why I went for h6, but I think in that position too, if I play 51.g4! it should be more or less winning.

The computer agrees, while in the game Fabi managed to hold on for a second day in a row, this time in 108 moves.

That left Fabi and Leinier on 50%, just half a point behind the leading trio of Wesley So, Ray Robson and 20-year-old debutant John Burke.

Nemcova remains perfect

There were three decisive games in the women’s section in Round 2.

Katerina Nemcova is now the only player remaining who could still win the $64,000 Bobby Fischer prize for an 11/11 score, after she beat a former champion for a 2nd day in a row. This time her victim was Sabina Foisor, who lost her way towards the end of a tricky game for both players. 

For a while it seemed as though Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova might pull off a great escape for a second day in a row, but in the end she was ground down by Megan Lee in 94 moves.

18-year-old Carissa Yip picked up the day’s other win by sacrificing a pawn in the opening against Tatev Abrahamyan and then finding a killer blow.

There was a twist, however, when after 20…Rg7 21.Ne4! Qc7 Carissa went for 22.Bb6?! instead of the immediate 22.Nxf6+!

22…dxe4! was an excellent queen sacrifice, and after 23.Bxc7 Rxh7 24.Bd6 Rg7 25.Rc1 the game might have been a real battle if Tatev had solidified with 25…f5! instead of 25…Nf5?, which allowed Carissa to pick up the e4-pawn and cruise to victory. 

Carissa admitted afterwards that the queen sacrifice surprised her, since she was just expecting the queen to move back to b8 and she would pick up the pawn on f6 a move later.

That win put Carissa on 1.5 points, level with her main rival Irina Krush, who missed a great chance to move to 2/2. Time trouble was a big factor in her game against Anna Sharevich, while in the end the players committed the faux pas of offering a draw in an event where draw offers are completely banned. Whether that strict ban is always a good thing is open to debate.

They had to go on and engineer a repetition of moves before it was all over in 89 moves, leaving the standings as follows. 

Don’t miss all the action live from 13:00 in Saint Louis, which is 14:00 ET and 20:00 CEST: Open | Women

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