The Short Story - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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It was a short shocker, but these things can and do happen – and more often than you might think in a closed invitational tournament. I’m talking about Leinier Dominguez’s stunning 10-move win over Elshan Moradiabadi in the $262,000 U.S. Chess Championship, being held at Saint Louis Chess Club, that immediately led to tournament leader Fabiano Caruana describing round seven to have been a “very bloody day”.

Tail-ender Moradiabadi foolhardily lost a piece – and he wasn’t the only titled player to have fallen into this trap – after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Be7 7.O-O Bf5 8.c4 O-O? 9.cxd5 Qxd5?? 10.Bxe4 1-0 that led to him throwing the towel in early – a shock result that had many pundits, fans and commentators speculating that this had to be the shortest decisive game ever in the long and storied history of the U.S. Chess Championship.

But alas, no! That dubious distinction befalls the hapless IM Kamran Shirazi, who resigned (and as White!) after only five moves against Jack Peters at the 1984 U.S. Chess Championship held in Berkley, CA, bizarrely losing his rook after the even more foolhardy 1.e4 c5 2.b4 cxb4 3.a3 d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.axb4?? Qe5+ 0-1 and resigned.

The standout win of the blood-thirsty round – which had four decisive games – though came from a resurgent Ray Robson, who crossed the rating Rubicon of 2700 for the first time with a sparkling victory over the crestfallen defending champion, Wesley So, whose dreams of joining U.S. Championship legends Bobby Fischer and Walter Browne, with a hat-trick of successive outright title wins, now looks all but dead.

After eight rounds, the race for the 2022 U.S. Chess Championship is turning into a two-horse race with Caruana leading by just a half point ahead of Robson, with the chasing pack a full point or more adrift of the runaway leaders.

In the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship, Megan Lee beat and caught Jennifer Yu in round seven to move into the lead, which she extended with a follow-up win in round eight against Rochelle Wu.

The race for the titles continues through Friday and Saturday (rest day Sunday) with a 2pm CT start and is free and live to watch at uschesschamps.com.

Standings

U.S. Championship: 1. F. Caruana, 6/8; 2. R. Robson, 5.5; 3-7. L. Dominguez, J. Xiong, D. Swiercz, S. Sevian, A. Liang, 4.5; 8. S. Shankland, 4; 9-11. W. So, A. Lenderman, C. Yoo, 3.5; 12-13. L. Aronian, H. Niemann, 3; 14. E. Moradiabadi, 1.5.

U.S. Women’s Championship: 1. WIM M. Lee, 6/8; 2-3. GM I. Krush, WGM J. Yu, 5.5; 4. FM A. Lee, 5; 5-7. WGM G. Tokhirjonova, FM R. Yan, WGM T. Cervantes, 4; 8-11. IM A. Zatonskih, FM A. Eswaran, WGM T. Abrahamyan, FM R. Wu, 3.5; 12. IM N. Pakidze, 3; 13-14. WGM S. Foiser, WFM S. Morris-Suzuki, 2.5.

GM Ray Robson – GM Wesley So
U.S. ChessChampionship, (7)
Nimzo-Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Nf3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 d6 7.Bd3 e5 8.e4 Re8 9.0-0 exd4 So could instead have declined the pawn sacrifice and opted for 9…Bg4 10.h3 Bh5 and a complex struggle ahead for both sides. But once again, it’s a case of being the far stronger player, he grabs the pawn and expects to ride out any storm. Most cases this works fine for the stronger player – but this can easily backfire as you can’t afford to make one single slip-up. 10.cxd4 Nxe4 11.Re1 Nf6 12.Rxe8+ Qxe8 13.h3 There was a strong case for just “getting on with it” and 13.Bg5 Nbd7 14.Qc2 followed by Re1. White has lots of space and easy play for the pawn, and, crucially, not wasted a move with h3. 13…Nbd7 14.Qc2 b6 Wasting a move with h3 has allowed So to find better prospects of developing his bishop on b7. 15.Bb2 Bb7 16.d5! Robson has excellent compensation for the pawn – lots of space, the bishop-pair and a ready-made kingside attack. Black will have to play with extreme caution. 16…Qf8 17.g4 Grabbing even more real estate on the kingside. 17…h6 18.Kh2?! Understandably, Robson wants to rip open the g-file to bring his rook into the attack – but it is yet another waste of a move that gives So the chance to hit-back by opening lines to White’s king. The more thematic move here was 18.Bf5 that creates many problems for Black, such as 18…Re8 19.h4!? (The alternative 19.g5 hxg5 20.Nxg5 g6 more-or-less forces White’s hand with 21.Bxg6!? fxg6 22.Qxg6+ Qg7 23.Qxe8+ Nxe8 24.Bxg7 Nxg7 25.Re1 Ne5 26.Re4 c6! and the ending isn’t so easy for White as Black brings his pieces to life.) 19…Nc5 20.Bxf6! gxf6 21.Qc3 and Black will have to to continue with great caution. 18…c6! Dramatically opening the long a8-h1 diagonal – the game could be on a knife-edge for both players! 19.g5 Robson is now, as they would say in poker, “pot committed” to the all-out attack. 19…hxg5 20.Nxg5 cxd5? I can understand So wanting to open the long diagonal, but the correct way was first slipping in the timely 20…Qe7! that brings the queen into the game by taking the e-file – but more crucially, it vacates the f8 square for the king to run to or, even better, for the knight to come to f8, where Bent Larsen was wont to remind us “with a knight on f8 there can be no mate!”. 21.Bh7+! Oopsie! The king being stuck in the corner presents So with a lot of problems defending it. 21…Kh8 22.Bf5 Ne5 23.f4 Ng6 24.Bxf6 Admittedly the obvious human reaction – but the engine realises just how terminal Black’s position has become, wanting to play the more subtle 24.Rg1! and the White attack is just crashing through in all lines, such as 24…d4 (If 24…Nxf4?? 25.Qf2! and the White attack is killing.) 25.Bxd4 Nh4 26.Bd7 Ne4 27.Rg4! and Black can resign as he’s losing not only a piece but also his king. 24…gxf6 25.Nxf7+ Qxf7 26.Bxg6 Qe7 27.Qf2! [see diagram] A quiet killer, as there’s no real answer to the threats of Qh4+ and Rg1. 27…f5 Stopping the immediate threat of Qh4+ – but Robson isn’t interested in a mere pawn when he has So’s king marooned on the h-file. 28.Rg1 Rg8 29.Rg5! There’s no stopping Qh4+ – So had to rue the fact that he’d missed 20…Qe7! that would have more than kept him in the game and the chance of a third straight title. 29…Rg7 30.Qh4+ Kg8 31.Qh5 Nicely covering the e2 square from any tricky queen check while at the same time keeping the mating threats on the Black king. 31…Bc8 Forced, as 31…dxc4?? 32.Bh7+ Kf8 33.Rxf5+ quickly wins. 32.cxd5 a5 33.Qh6! The series of “little” queen moves on the h-file from Robson have been further tightening the noose around So’s king. 33…b5 34.Bh7+ Kf8 35.Rg2! 1-0 So has seen enough with this clever strategic retreat from Robson that forces his resignation. It firstly covers against any queen checks, leaving Black with no possible moves, the major threat being Bxf5 followed by Qh8+ winning on the spot. And if 35…Qf7 36.Re2! further boxes the king in with the threat of Qxd6+, as 36…Qd7 loses to 37.Qf6+ Qf7 [If 37…Rf7 38.Qh8#] 38.Qxd6+ etc.

 

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