US Chess Champs 7: So strikes as Fabi makes comeback

Wesley So and Sam Sevian both won in Round 7 of the US Championship to join Alex Lenderman in the lead with four rounds to go. Fabiano Caruana is back at 50% and just a point off the pace after taking down co-leader Ray Robson in a 90-move game featuring an endgame sacrifice and an under-promotion to a bishop at the finish. Carissa Yip is now sole leader of the Women’s Championship after a 3rd win in four games, with Irina Krush and Katerina Nemcova just half a point behind. 

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

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

There’s a free US Championships Legends course at Chessable that’s being updated regularly during the event — check it out here!

Wesley So hits the front

“I was 27 when I last won a game!” quipped Wesley So after his first win since Round 2 of the 2021 US Chess Championship took him into a share of the lead. Wesley was taking on a 2554-rated opponent, but wasn’t taking anything for granted.

I’d first of all like to thank the Lord Jesus for letting me win. It’s super-hard to win even one game. 

Wesley played the Berlin, which could have backfired in a game he clearly wanted to win, but he rightly judged that his opponent would avoid the endgame or any attempt to make an instant draw. 

I want to say a shout-out to my young opponent, John Burke. He’s only 20, he’s got a lot of promise, he’s a very aggressive player, and last night I checked his openings. I was looking for a way to try to play for a win with the black pieces, but he knows his theory very well, and I considered playing other openings, like the Sicilian, or the Caro-Kann, but most likely I’d get a worse position out of the opening, so I didn’t feel like playing it, and then I thought the Ruy Lopez, but it’s so hard to play for a win there, but big shout-out to him for not just forcing the draw with the white pieces.

The words of praise were all that John got out of the game, after he went for a misguided plan on move 13. 

13.Qc2?! Bf5 14.Qxc6?! was a pawn grab that gave Black huge activity with 14…Re6 15.Qa4 c5!, and Wesley was soon out for blood. 

Taking the exchange on f1 immediately is playable, but 21…e3! was even better, and although John had some chances to fight back the win for Wesley was the logical outcome of the game. The defending champion also got to test the commentators! What’s the only winning move here for Black? 

1…Qd1+! 2.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 3.Kf2 Rf6! and Black wins. 

The other headline result of the day was Fabiano Caruana finally bouncing back after suffering two losses in a row. He commented of his win over co-leader Ray Robson:

Those were really bad games. Most of my games in the tournament were bad, so I thought maybe to just play one normal game would be nice, and I’m not sure if it was a good game, but at least it was a very big step-up from previous rounds. 

The opening went relatively well for Fabiano, but all the action came much later, in an endgame which was objectively close to equal but where Ray had to suffer with Black. Wesley So, for instance, predicted a win for Fabi long before it happened.

The climax came on move 70, with Fabi noting that he’d waited until his opponent was in time trouble, and also that his sacrifice would have had little chance of success if the black king was on e8 instead of being so far away from the queenside on g8.

71.Bxg5! Nxg5+ 72.Kc5 Bd5 73.Bc8

Fabi felt that even if there was no win he was running absolutely no risk, and added:

I have one pawn for the piece, it’s surprising that it’s as difficult for him as it is, but I didn’t see a clear way to draw. I figured that was already a good sign, that at least he has to find some tough moves. His king is very bad, his pawns are all falling, I assume there’s a draw, but I don’t know exactly where.

It turns out 73…Ne4+! 74.Kb6 c5! 75.bxc5 Kf7! (Fabi had only considered 75…Nc3 or 75…Nd2, which lose) is a way to draw, but it would have needed study-like precision… in time trouble, after a 70-move game.

Instead after 73…Ne6+ 74.Kd6 Kf7 75.Bxb7 Fabi soon had three pawns for the black knight and they couldn’t all be stopped. All that was left was to put the finishing touches to the game, which Fabi did by promoting a pawn not to a queen but to a bishop!

“I’ve just never done that before, so might as well!” was his reasoning, and of course it made no difference to the outcome, since Black’s choice is the same — take the piece and the a-pawn queens with check, or don’t take the piece and the d5-knight is lost. Ray resigned.

Fabi is only a point behind the leaders, but wasn’t getting carried away.

I stopped looking at the scores even! When you’re -1 and you’re playing really horribly you shouldn’t be thinking about winning the tournament. Maybe if I get some momentum and things start to go my way then I can start to think about it again, but it’s still tough, and at least I’m happy that I got on the scoreboard.    

The problem for Fabi is less the gap to the lead, but that there are three players now on 4.5/7, with Aleksandr Lenderman getting there with a draw against Jeffery Xiong despite tripled isolated f-pawns that Yasser called “the Irish pawn formation”. 

Sam Sevian is the other co-leader after picking up a second win in a row. His game against Lazaro Bruzon was very sharp and had a surprise denouement.

Bruzon had drawn his first six games and made one of the safest looking moves imaginable, but it turns out this was a critical position and 19.Kg2? was a huge mistake. After 19…Nd7!, hitting c5 and also, as Sam realised a little late, threatening Ne5, White is already in big trouble, and after 20.Be3 Ne5! 21.Rb3 Nxa2 22.Kh2 a4! Bruzon resigned. As Sam put it:

The position was pretty much equal and then maybe he had a slight advantage, but I was trying to find a way to equalise, and then he played this really bad move Kg2. I’m not only equalising, I’m just close to winning right after. 

Leinier Dominguez is half a point back after missing some chances in a draw against Daniel Naroditsky, but Leinier had to deal with an early surprise when Daniel began, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5!?, the Jaenisch, or Schliemann Gambit.

Leinier said afterwards:

I was surprised, but more or less I knew that he would play something that would be a surprise to me, so in that sense I was kind of expecting that situation!

Daniel had come prepared, with play initially following one of the main lines, as covered in Roeland Pruijssers’ 4.5-hour Jaenisch Gambit video series and eBook on chess24.

9…Bb7!?, preparing to castle long, appears to have been a novelty, and Leinier spent an hour on his next three moves. That time was a factor later when he had no time to calculate a rook endgame where he might still have had some winning chances.

The net result of Round 7 is that with four rounds to go half of the field has the right to dream of becoming the 2021 US Chess Champion. Things can change fast, with some big match-ups in Round 8, including Xiong-Caruana, Sevian-Dominguez and Shankland-So.

Carissa Yip takes the sole lead

18-year-old Carissa Yip has now won three of her last four games to reach 5/7 and put herself in pole position to win the US Women’s Championship. Her win over 4-time Champion Anna Zatonskih in Round 7 was surprisingly easy. Carissa described it as “a very clean game” and noted she had “a huge time advantage and I felt like my position was much easier to play”.

Almost anything won by the end, but 28.b4! Bxb4 (nothing else helps) 29.Rxd4! was a sadistic touch.

It felt like a day when the favourites flexed their muscles, with Irina Krush staying half a point behind Carissa with a dominant win over Ashritha Eswaran, while Anna Sharevich gave Thalia Cervantes no chance. Katerina Nemcova lost the lead but worked hard to survive against Tatev Abrahamyan and stay just half a point back. 

The most dramatic game of the day, however, saw 2-time Champion Nazi Paikidze’s second attempt to play for a win with Black against a lower-rated opponent fare less well than it had with the Dutch Defence two rounds earlier. Her Modern Defence with d6 and g6 actually gave her a decent position, but trying to complicate matters later only led her to drop pawns until her position was hopeless. 

Megan Lee looked to be cruising to victory, but move 56 could have changed everything! 56.Rxe5?? was a huge mistake.

56…Rxb2! and the black rook and queen combine in desperado fashion — e.g. 57.Kxb2 Qa2+ 58.Kxa2 and it’s a draw, as the black king has no moves but isn’t in check: stalemate.

56…Qa4+ missed the moment, and Megan went on to win.

That left Paikidze 1.5 points off first, with Carissa Yip and Irina Krush looking favourites for the title. Katerina Nemcova has everything in her own power, however, since she plays both her rivals in the final four rounds.

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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