At the Circus - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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He wasn’t quite back to the dominant force he’d been in the past, but a reassured performance from a more relaxed Fabiano Caruana proved more than enough to carry him to only his second U.S. Championship title in Saint Louis on Thursday, where, at the post, with an undefeated score of 8½/13, he managed to stay a half point clear of his nearest rival, Ray Robson.

Former world title-challenger Caruana was a more than worthy winner of the venerable national title to scoop the $60,000 first prize in what proved to be a “lively” and entertaining event held in its spiritual home of the fabled Saint Louis Chess Club where, according to founder Rex Sinquefield, a couple of bizarre moments involving none other than controversy-king Hans Niemann, turned the big event into a circus.

First, the eventual winner, Caruana, dubbed it the “Disrespect Championship” on social media after a couple of typically outspoken Niemann’s harsh comments following his first round win over 15-year-old Christopher Yoo, which was then followed by the even stranger moment of Sam Sevian – who was clearly lost in a moment of thought during a tough struggle – ‘decapitating’ Niemann’s king in round 12.

In the U.S. Women’s Championship, eight-time champion Irina Krush, after catching up with leader Jennifer Yu to force a playoff for the title, almost had another title within her grasp. With the two top finishers tied after booth the rapid and blitz, Krush looked set for victory after her opponent blundered a piece in the opening in the deciding Armageddon game.

But it wasn’t to be a ninth title for the 38-year-old now veteran, as Yu, 20, renowned for her fighting spirit, just wouldn’t give up – even despite the engine’s +8 assessment for her opponent’s position – as she created “a mess” that posed Krush many problems, as she ended up flagging her opponent in a frantic time scramble to claim a second title.

Final standings
U.S. Championship: 1. F. Caruana, 8½/13; 2. R. Robson, 8; 3-4. A. Liang, L. Dominguez, 7½; 5-9. J. Xiong, W. So, S. Shankland, S. Sevian, H. Niemann, 7; 10. L. Aronian, 6; 11-13. D. Swiercz, C. Yoo, A. Lenderman, 5½; 14. E. Moradiabadi, 2.

U.S. Women’s Championship: 1-2. GM I. Krush, FM J. Yu*, 9/13; 3. FM T. Cervantes, 8; 4. FM R. Yan, 7½; 5-7. WGM T. Abrahamyan, FM A. Lee, WIM M. Lee, 7; 8. WGM G. Tokhirjonova, 6½; 9-10. IM A. Zatonskih, FM R. Wu, 6; 11. WFM S. Suzuki-Morris, 5½; 12-13. WGM S. Foiser, IM N. Paikidze, 4½; 14. FM A. Eswaran, 3½.

 

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Alex Lenderman
U.S. Chess Championship, (7)
Slav Gambit
1.c4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qc2 Caruana is keeping his options open with this move, as he steers clear of any mainline theory, perhaps looking to outwit his opponent. 4…dxc4 5.e4 b5 6.b3 The game has steered into a Slav Gambit: Caruana has the central pawns and semi-open lines for his rooks, while Lenderman has to accept a little awkward development for his cramped pieces. 6…cxb3 7.axb3 e6 8.Bd3 a6 9.0-0 Be7 10.Nc3 The White position is much-easier to play, but at some point Caruana will either have to grab back his pawn or have some meaningful compensation for his pawn. 10…Bb7 11.Rd1 h6 12.Qe2 A better square for Caruana’s queen, as from here it is ideally placed for a kingside strike. 12…Nbd7 13.e5 Nd5 14.Nxd5 cxd5 15.Ne1 Qb6 16.Qg4! With Lenderman’s light-squared bishop blocked in behind his pawns, Caruana has more than enough compensation for his pawn, as it is not easy for the Black king to find a safe haven. 16…g6 17.Bd2 b4 18.Be3 a5 19.Qe2 Also just as good was 19.Rdc1. 19…Kf8 With the h-pawn vulnerable for now, Lenderman is going to castle “by hand” with …Kf8-g7 to connect his rooks. Many following the game wanted to go for 19…Ba6, which is not bad per se, but after 20.Bxa6 Qxa6 21.Qd2! suddenly Black has a problem holding his kingside together, as 21…h5 (More weakening was 21…g5 22.Rdc1 Qb6 23.Nd3! where White will play Kh1 and follow up with f4 to crash through on the kingside.) 22.Bg5! and Black is doomed to a serious weakening of the black-squares that White will quickly exploit. 20.g3 Ba6 This was inevitable now from Lenderman – he has to try to trade both bishops to have a chance to avoid his kingside from coming under a fierce attack. 21.h4 h5 Again, not a bad move in itself, but I think I’d have more preferred 21…Bxd3 22.Qxd3 Kg7 23.Nf3 Qa6! as here Black looks to have made some progress in unravelling his position while mitigating any looming kingside attack. 22.Nf3 Kg7 23.Bg5 Caruana now wants to probe the dark-square weakness around Lenderman’s king. 23…Rhe8 There’s just no easy answers for Lenderman with the dark-square weakness around his king. If 23…Bxg5 24.Nxg5 Bxd3 25.Qxd3 Rhc8 26.Qf3! and pressure much-like in the game. 24.Rdc1 Bxd3 25.Qxd3 Bxg5 26.Nxg5 Rac8 27.Kg2 A subtle little move, the idea being to play Qf3! without allowing his opponent to reply …Rxc1+! 27…f6?! The creeping pressure from Caruana was clearly worrying Lenderman, and he makes a panic move that only makes matters worse. Instead, a better try was 27…Rxc1 28.Rxc1 Qb7 looking to challenge the c-file with …Rc8, but now 29.Qc2! and the threat of the Qc7 invasion is very strong, as trading queens will only leave White with a very powerful rook that will win back the pawn and then some. 28.exf6+ Nxf6 29.Qe2! The big threat is Qe5 that will paralyse Black’s position with the ‘forever’ pin on the knight and a possible knight hit on e6. 29…Kg8? Lenderman cracks under the relentless pressure by falling for a big tactic – he simply had to hold his nose and go for 29…Ne4!? 30.Nxe4 dxe4 31.Rxc8 Rxc8 32.Qxe4 Kh7 and hope he can hold his position together despite all those loose pawns and his king exposed. 30.Rxc8 Rxc8 31.Rxa5! [see diagram] KA-BOOM! And with that, Black’s position collapses like a wonky deck chair with multiple threats after Qxe6+ should the rook be taken. 31…Re8 32.Ra6 When e6 falls, Black’s king will not be far behind it. 32…Qxd4 33.Rxe6 Rf8 34.Qc2! There’s no way for Lenderman to protect g6 due to Qc7+, Rxf6! and Qh7 mate – so his hand is forced now. 34…Ne4 35.Rxg6+ Kh8 36.Rh6+ Kg8 37.Nxe4 dxe4 Trading queens with 37…Qxe4+ 38.Qxe4 dxe4 39.Rxh5 offers no comfort for Black, as White will pick-off two of the three loose pawns for the easiest of R+P endgame win. At least by keeping the queens on, there’s always the slim chance you might find a game-saving cheapo. 38.Rxh5 Qf6 39.Rg5+ With a little flurry needed to make the time-control, Caruana goes for the easy-to-see win – but not Mr Engine, who indulges us in a nice bit of showboating with the radical 39.Qc4+ Kg7 40.f4!! exf3+ 41.Kh2 f2 (Or even 41…Qb2+ 42.Kh3 Qg2+ 43.Kg4 and the White king is perfectly safe from the checks, while Black’s king is set to be mated.) 42.Qg4+ Qg6 43.Rg5 Qxg5 44.Qxg5+ Kh7 45.Qe7+ Kg8 46.Qxf8+! Kxf8 47.Kg2 and a trivial K+P endgame win. 39…Kh8 40.Qe2 Forcing Black’s hand now. 40…Qf3+ 41.Qxf3 exf3+ 42.Kh3 Rc8 43.Rg4 Rc2 44.Rxb4 Rxf2 45.Kg4 Rf1 46.Rb7 Kg8 47.b4 Kh8 48.b5 Kg8 49.b6 Kh8 50.Rb8+ Kg7 51.b7 1-0

 

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