The United States Chess Championship is regarded as one of history’s most storied national championship – with the venerable title officially first won by Jackson Showalter back in 1891 – and the latest edition, the 2021 U.S. Championship, is now in full swing in its its ‘spiritual home’, built by billionaire patron and U.S. Chess Hall of Fame inductee Rex Sinquefield, at the world-famous Saint Louis Chess Club in the Midwest.
There have been many famous winners over the years, but Bobby Fischer is the player most synonymous with the history of the national championship, most notably his 1963/64 title-win, when he swept the opposition with no draws for a perfect 11/11 score. While Fischer’s feat can’t be replicated this year, Daniel Naroditsky is having his own take on only playing ‘decisive games’.
The former three-time U.S. Scholastic champion, on 2-3 with no draws, is going for what he jokingly described to commentator Maurice Ashley as “the fighting index award”, after he completely blew the race for the venerable title and the $50,000 first prize wide open in round five by sensationally downing top-seed Fabiano Caruana.
After already dodging a couple of bullets in the opening rounds, Caruana’s luck finally ran out as Naroditsky easily converted for an “amazing euphoric feeling” victory over the US #1, who not only slips off the title pace, but also now drops down to third place behind China’s Ding Liren on the unofficial live rating list.
Meanwhile at the top, early frontrunners Ray Robson and Alex Lenderman hold what could well prove to be a precious half point lead over Leinier Dominguez and defending champion Wesley So, as the tournament reaches its midway point.
1-2. R. Robson, A. Lenderman, 3½/5; 3-4. L. Dominguez, W. So, 3; 5-8. F. Caruana, L. Bruzon, J. Burke, S. Sevian, 2½; 9-10. D. Swiercz, D. Naroditsky, 2; 11-12. J. Xiong, S. Shankland, 1½.
There’s live coverage (daily from 12:50 PM CT daily) of all the action from the resident top grandmaster commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley and Cristian Chirila on uschesschamps.com and on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and twitch.tv channels.
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Daniel Naroditsky
2021 US Championship, (5)
Ruy Lopez, Modern Steinitz Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.0-0 Bd7 The Modern Steinitz is one of Black’s more solid options against the Ruy Lopez – and ‘m surprised that, unlike the Berlin Defence, this isn’t played more at grandmaster-level. 6.c3 Nf6 7.Re1 g6 8.d4 Bg7 9.Nbd2 exd4 10.cxd4 0-0 11.h3 Nb4 12.Bxd7 Qxd7 13.Qb3 a5 14.a3 Nc6 15.Nf1 a4 16.Qd3 Na5 17.Bg5 Nb3 18.Rad1 Caruana had to have felt confident here, as he controls the center and has the more harmonious development of his pieces. It’s the sort of position he thrives on, and it will be a worry to the world No.2 that at the critical moment he balked from playing the most testing move. 18…h6 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.N1d2 Na5 21.Nb1 b5 22.Qc2 Bg7 23.Nc3 c6 Black is solid and has the knight swinging into c4, but nevertheless White is on top with more space and his control of the center. 24.e5 Rfe8 25.Ne4 Nc4 26.exd6 Tempting was 26.Nfd2 but after 26…Nxd2 27.Rxd2 dxe5 28.dxe5 Qa7 29.Qxc6 Rxe5 Black has more or less neutralised White’s advantage, as 30.Rd7 is easily answered by 30…Qa5 31.Re2 Rf8 32.Red2 Re6! 33.Qb7 Qb6 34.Qxb6 Rxb6 with equality. 26…Nxd6 27.Ne5 Qf5 28.g4 Qe6 29.Nc3?! The critical moment, and Caruana stumbles. The only chance to win was with 29.Nxd6! Qxd6 30.Nxc6 Rxe1+ 31.Rxe1 Bxd4 32.Nxd4 Qxd4 33.Qc6! And it has suddenly gone #Awk, as the kids would be tweeting, forcing 33…Rb8 (You have to be very brave to try and hang on to the b-pawn with 33…Ra5 34.Re7! Kg7 35.Rb7 Qe5 (This isn’t the time to go pawn-snatching. After 35…Qxb2? 36.Qe8! Qc1+ 37.Kg2 Qf4 38.Rb8 will snare the king.) 36.Qf3! Qf6 37.Qd5 and White totally dominates.) 34.Re8+ Rxe8 35.Qxe8+ Kg7 36.Qxb5 and grinding out the endgame win. 29…Rac8 The easiest of moves to defend c6, and now White is on the back-foot with …Nc4 being a threat. 30.Re2 Qb3! [see diagram] All but forcing the queens off, and with it the pendulum swinging to Naroditsky with …c5 and …Nc4 coming in quick order. 31.Qxb3 axb3 32.Kg2 c5 33.dxc5 Nc4 34.Nxc4? The second stumble from Caruana, and suddenly he’s in big trouble. White had to play 34.Nd3 Rxe2 35.Nxe2 Nxb2 36.Nxb2 Bxb2 37.Nc1! I wonder if it is as simple of Caruana missing this resource? If so, he’ll be kicking himself as it looks to easily eke out to a draw now after 37…Rxc5 (Even easier is 37…Bxc1 38.Rxc1 b2 39.Rb1 Rxc5 40.Rxb2 Kg7 41.Rb4 f5 42.f4 fxg4 43.hxg4 Rc4! and a simple enough draw coming.) 38.Nd3 Rc2 39.Rb1! Bxa3 40.Rxb3 Be7 41.Rxb5 and an equal ending. 34…Rxe2 35.Nxe2 bxc4 36.Rc1 Bxb2 37.Rxc4 Bxa3 38.c6 b2 The b-pawn will prove to be the eventual game-winner, as it ties White down. The problem is that the bishop defends the b-pawn from g7, and Naroditsky will just shuffles his king over to pick off the c-pawn for a winning endgame. 39.Nc3 Bf8! 40.Nb1 Bg7 41.Kf3 Kf8 42.h4 Ke7 43.h5 Kd6 44.hxg6 fxg6 45.Rb4 Rxc6 46.Rb7 Be5 The bishop dominates the weak knight here, leaving Caruana in dire straits. 47.Nd2 Rc2 48.Ke3 Kc6 49.Rb3 Rc3+ Trading the rooks is the simplest way to win, as Black will also now have the h-pawn running. 50.Rxc3+ Bxc3 51.Nb1 Bb4 Now the Nb1 is dominated. 52.f4 Kd5 53.Kd3 h5! With the Nb1 dominated and the h-pawn now running, Caruana has no time to track back to c2 to try to pick off the b2-pawn. 54.f5 hxg4 55.fxg6 Ke6 56.Ke4 g3 57.Kf3 Bd6 0-1 And Caruana resigns with the Black king easily picking off the White g-pawn.