US Chess Champs 5: Naroditsky beats Caruana

“It’s an amazing, euphoric feeling” said Daniel Naroditsky after defeating world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, who lost 7.3 rating points after his luck at this year’s US Championship finally ran out in Round 5. Big guns Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez got nothing, allowing Alex Lenderman to join Ray Robson in the lead with a 140-move win over Sam Sevian. Jeffery Xiong rebounded from three losses in a row to take down Sam Shankland, while the women’s section remains too close to call after Carissa Yip lost and Irina Krush won to negate the impact of their previous game.

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

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

4th time unlucky for Fabiano Caruana

World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana had been leading a charmed life at this year’s US Chess Championships, surviving lost positions against Lazaro Bruzon, Leinier Dominguez and Wesley So, but in Round 5 he was finally put to the sword by Daniel Naroditsky. The 25-year-old has now played only decisive games in this year’s US Championship, quipping, “I’m going for the Fighting Index award — all according to plan!” 

Daniel had lost three games, including the last two against Dariusz Swiercz and Ray Robson, but commented:

The last couple of days were really rough, but my resolution in this tournament was to keep grinding, to play every game with passion and with heart, and it paid off this time.

The Ruy Lopez opening had to be considered a success for Daniel, seeing as he was still “in book” until move 15, while Caruana had been doing some serious thinking, but as late as move 29 Fabi could still have emerged on top. 

Daniel pointed out the line 29.Nxd6! Qxd6 30.Nxc6!, and, by the time the dust settled, he was likely to end up a pawn down:

I thought I should be able to draw this queen endgame, but this is not my definition of paradise, to have this against Fabi a pawn down. I was going to go for this and suffer!

Instead 29.Nc3?! was the first sign of serious trouble for the world no. 2, with 29…Rac8 30.Re2 Qb3! following. Daniel commented, “I think he underestimated the idea of putting my queen on b3, and that’s when I realised that I might be taking over the initiative”.

It was suddenly becoming critical, with 31.Qxb3 axb3 32.Kg2 c5! 33.dxc5 following.

After 33…Nc4! 34.Nxc4 Rxe2 the decisive moments of the game were coinciding with deep time trouble, and Fabi was unable to find the saving thread.

35.Nd6! (or 35.Nb6) was necessary, while after 35.Nxe2?! bxc4 it seems 36.Nc3 was a last try to hold, while after 36.Rc1? Bxb2 White was objectively losing. Daniel hadn’t seen that himself at first, assuming that 37.Rxc4 Bxa3 38.c6 b2 39.Nc3 would only be a drawn endgame, but then he noticed he could play 39…Bf8! 40.Nb1 Bg7!

He explained:

I thought it was a draw, then all of a sudden I spotted the idea of getting my bishop to the long diagonal and I realised, wait a second, his knight’s tied down to the pawn, and I have this plan of bringing my king to his pawn, and if I take his pawn the game is over.

41.Kf3 Kf8! made it clear what the plans were for both sides, with Daniel in the post-game interview pointing out a number of beautiful winning lines for White. Fabi also spent his time calculating and instead went for a plan of exchanging kingside pawns with 42.h4. Daniel felt that was the most tenacious defence, but also an admission of defeat. 

When he played h4 I knew he had lost control of the game, and we both knew White was losing, and I think I played very accurately.

Naroditsky was well-aware of Fabi’s previous escapes and took things slowly, before he was sure he’d win when he found a rook exchange at the end.

49…Rc3+! 50.Rxc3+ Bxc3 51.Nb1 Bb4 and Black had complete dominance, with resignation coming six moves later. 

Daniel commented afterwards:

It hasn’t settled in. I can’t believe it! Until the very end I thought that this has to be a draw. There’s no way that I’m actually going to win, but when I found that key line of my king coming to d6 I started to get butterflies in my stomach. I realised when he spent 15 minutes [on move 42] that my calculations were correct. Obviously it’s an amazing, euphoric feeling.

The good news for Fabiano is that in terms of his tournament situation things aren’t so bad. His biggest rivals, Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez, got nothing as they made draws against Lazaro Bruzon and John Burke, so that they’re only half a point ahead. Sole leader Ray Robson was held to a draw, so that the only difference at the top was Aleksandr Lenderman joining Ray in the lead after defeating Sam Sevian.

The pattern for that game was set by move 29, when the following endgame was reached. 

White has an extra pawn and the bishop pair, but still a lot of work to do, and the game would ultimately last 140 moves! Alex commented, “About such positions they say “suffering for 100 moves”, so this time it was not actually an exaggeration, it was 100 moves!” At times Sam seemed to get close to a draw, but Alex explained his approach:

The key is not to make a mistake and put him under pressure. Sometimes in a position like that, when an opponent has no counterplay, the Russian school method is just to shuffle pieces around, make slight improvements, and also make your opponent feel like nothing is threatened, but then at some point they make an inaccuracy and then you pounce.

Finally it came down to an opposite-coloured bishop endgame where the g-pawn was going to cost Black’s bishop, before Sevian resigned. 

The other decisive game of the day saw Jeffery Xiong bounce back from three losses in a row to inflict a second loss in a row on Sam Shankland. Jeffery commented on the previous games:

It was a very tough start, obviously. I think the most annoying part was I just felt like I wasn’t fighting well. Playing bad moves, making mistakes, is one thing, but I just felt like any time I felt some kind of slight pressure I would just immediately crumble, so the rest day was very timely for me. I watched some football and regrouped a little bit. 

Jeffery went for what proved to be an inspired opening choice with 1.Nf3 c5 2.c3!?, a move he noted Magnus Carlsen had surprised him with in the 2017 Isle of Man Open. Magnus won that game, though it’s notable he then played the same move against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the London Chess Classic later that year and suffered one of his four classical defeats against his future challenger. 

Sam seemed to react badly with 9…Ng6?! and the follow-up 10…f5?!, while Jeffery was confident of victory when he found the idea of pushing his b-pawn to b5.

He commented:

After I found this idea with b5 I was extremely happy. He needs to find some kind of counterplay, but I’m just too safe on the kingside. 

The rest of the game bore out that assessment, with Sam’s position only getting worse until he resigned after 38.Bg2!

2018 Champion Sam Shankland is now left winless on 1.5/5 with Jeffery, while Alex Lenderman and Ray Robson lead, but only two points separate top and bottom with six rounds still to play.

Krush and Yip are back level

The US Women’s Championship is even more closely balanced at the top. Katerina Nemcova is now again the sole leader, but against Anna Sharevich she missed some chances to win and open up a 1-point gap. Five players are locked together half a point back, including Irina Krush and Carissa Yip, just after it had seemed Irina’s Round 4 blunder had given Carissa a big advantage against her co-favourite. 

In Round 5 Irina beat her greatest historical rival Anna Zatonskih after her opponent grabbed a pawn on b2.

After 15.Bxf6! the only reply was the ugly 15…gxf6.15…Bxf6? sees the queen trapped after 16.Rfb1, since without the bishop on e7 it’s no longer possible to play 16…Qa3. Irina commented on that pawn grab:

Yes, I was surprised, Maurice, I would not have taken that pawn! I would have been so scared with those doubled pawns in front of my king, so I really wasn’t expecting her to do that. I don’t know if it’s losing, but it’s just a very uncomfortable position to play.

Irina missed some chances to win quicker, but got the job done in 36 moves, while Carissa Yip misplayed the opening against Gurukhbegim Tokhirjonova and then surprised everyone on move 24.

Here 24…Nc4!? would have given some chances in an already tough position, but 24…Nc8? was asking for trouble, with Black never getting a chance after 25.Bb2. Begim commented, “She needs to try something — after Nc8 it’s just my play!” 

Sabina Foisor got back to 50% after Megan Lee rejected a somewhat dubious piece sacrifice and lost, Tatev Abrahamyan missed an endgame win against Ashritha Eswaran, while Nazi Paikidze joined the chasing pack by following four draws with a win over Thalia Cervantes. 

Paikidze played the Dutch Defence for the first time in her career, hoping to get a double-edged position against Thalia Cervantes. It worked, with some chances for Thalia to seize a big advantage before she finally blundered with 34.cxd5?, allowing 34…Re2!

White is suddenly dead lost, with the game ending 35.Rxe2 Rxe2 36.Qd1 Qh5! 37.g4 Qxd5+ and White resigned, with mate on g2 coming next move. Paikidze talked about her return to chess after last playing classical chess when she won the US Women’s Championship for a second time back in 2018.

Surprisingly I don’t feel that rusty, even though I didn’t play even online. Just before this tournament I played the online Olympiad and that was it. I was hoping it was like riding a bicycle, and it feels that way!

The women’s standings look as follows before we cross the halfway mark of the tournament in Round 6. 

In the open section Tuesday’s Round 6 will see Robson-Lenderman, a clash of the leaders, while So-Dominguez is the day’s most heavyweight struggle.  

Follow all the action from 13:00 in Saint Louis, which is 14:00 ET and 20:00 CEST: Open | Women

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