Nakamura is 2019 US champion

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

63rd USA Chess Championship
Saint Louis Chess Club, USA
March 18-April 2, 2019

Final Standings (GMs all)

1. Hikaru Nakamura 2746, 8.0/11

2-3. Leinier Dominguez Perez 2739, Fabiano Caruana 2828, 7.5/11

4-5. Wesley So 2762, Samuel Sevian 2642, 6.0/11

6. Samuel Shankland 2731, 5.5/11

7-8. Awonder Liang 2590, Jeffery Xiong 2663, 5.0/11

9-11. Aleksandr Lenderman 2637, Varuzhan Akobian 2625, Timur Gareyev 2557, 4.0/11

12. Ray Robson 2667, 3.5/11

Average Rating: 2682 Category 18

Time Control: 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1

The Big 3 of US chess Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura were fighting for the lead for most of the tournament and then towards the end the “rookie,” Cuban-turned-American GM Leinier Dominguez, made a late surge that almost took him to first place. Just before the last round Nakamura, Caruana and Dominguez were tied for the top spot but at the end it was only Nakamura who managed to win (vs Xiong) on demand and claim his fifth national title.

Hikaru Nakamura (born Dec. 9, 1987) needs no introduction to our BW readers. An internet blitz sensation during his young days he has grown up to dominate US chess. At his peak in 2015 he was rated 2816, which made him No. 2 in the world. At the same time he was world No. 1 in the rapid AND blitz rating lists.

He got the nickname “H-Bomb” in the online servers because of his explosive style of playing, but in recent years he has considerably toned down his style. Give him an opening though and he will most definitely come out with guns blazing and bombs blasting.

Robson, Ray (2667) — Nakamura, Hikaru (2746) [B77]
USA-ch 2019 Saint Louis (9.1), 29.03.2019

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6

Nakamura had been using the Sicilian Dragon on and off for a number of years, but ever since his successful adoption of it in the 2017 London Chess Classic this has become a major weapon. In fact, he had only lost once with it in his career, to Grischuk in the 2012 Moscow Tal Memorial.

6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0 — 0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4

White can play 9.0 — 0 — 0 or 9.Bc4 first. An important detail to remember is that if White castles queenside Black’s correct reply is 9…d5. Why? Well, after 9.0-0-0 if Black continues “normally” with 9…Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 then White has 11.Kb1! preventing 11…Qa5 because of 12.Nd5 Qxd2 13.Nxe7+ and White has won an important pawn.

I had a very good teacher here. Back in 2000 the sensation in women’s chess was UST’s Sherry Pearl dela Cruz, UAAP’s Most Valuable Player then. I invited her to the chess center in Timog Avenue (yes, we used to have one, complete with tennis court) for some training and suddenly GM Eugene Torre walked in. I invited Asia’s first GM to give her a few pointers and, the Sicilian Dragon being Sherry Pearl’s favorite weapon, this was one of the tips he imparted on that very fruitful afternoon.

9…Bd7 10.0 — 0 — 0 Rb8

This is the so-called “Chinese Dragon,” which supposedly is good for White. Robson goes directly for the critical line.

11.Bb3 Na5 12.Bh6 Bxh6 13.Qxh6 b5 14.Nd5

There are other schemes involving the advance of the kingside pawns, but 14.Nd5 is perfectly logical — without Black’s fianchettoed bishop the f6 — knight is the major defensive weapon, so White sets about exchanging it off immediately.

14…Nxb3+ 15.Nxb3?!

The soon-to-be-defunct website “Chess Openings 24/7” opines that 15.axb3! is best here. The knight on d4 is well positioned. Now, after

15…e5?! 16.Nf5! gives White a strong attack: 16…Bxf5 (Of course not 16…gxf5 17.Nxf6+) 17.exf5 Nxd5 18.Rxd5 Rb6 19.g4 Qf6 20.Rhd1 Rc8 21.Kb1 b4 22.h4 Rcc6 23.h5 Black’s position is dangerous. Houdini 2.0c Pro — Houdini 1.5a, Internet (blitz) 2012;

Therefore, 15…Nxd5 is almost forced. 16.exd5 e5 17.dxe6 fxe6 18.h4 Qf6 19.Ne2 Rb6 20.Nc3 with the idea of Ne4. Serbia’s GM Aleksandar Kovacevic from “Chess Openings 24/7” comments that “If you are an over-the-board player like yours truly, take my advice and don’t try this at all as Black — it’s quite depressing, really, and White has a very simple task most of the time.”


See? Now the white knight cannot get to f5.

16.Nxf6+ Qxf6 17.h4 Rb6 18.h5 Qe7 19.hxg6 fxg6

White’s attack has been contained. Says Black “my turn.”

20.Qe3 Be6 21.Rhf1 Rc6 22.f4 Qc7 23.Rd2 a5 24.Kb1 a4 25.Nc1 b4 26.Rdf2 exf4 27.Rxf4 Rc8 <D>



[28.Qf2 Qe7 in the post-game conference Nakamura said that he would follow by exchanging his two rooks for the white queen on c2]

28…Rxc2! 29.Rxe6 Qc4 30.Ref6 a3 31.bxa3

Looks suicidal, but there doesn’t seem to be anything else:

31.R6f2 Rxb2+ 32.Rxb2 (32.Ka1 Rxf2 33.Rd1 (33.Qxf2 Qxc1+ 34.Rxc1 Rxc1#) 33…Rb2 threatening …Rb1+) 32…axb2 33.Kxb2 Qxf1;

31.b3 Rb2+ 32.Ka1 Rb1+! 33.Kxb1 Qc2+ 34.Ka1 Qb2#.


Once again the threat is 32…Rb2+ 33.Ka1 Rb1+ 34.Kxb1 Qc2+ 35.Ka1 Qb2 mate.


[32.R6f2 Rc3 33.Qf4 Rxc1+ 34.Qxc1 Rb8+ 35.Ka1 Qd4+ does not work either]

32…Rxc1+ 33.Rxc1 Qxe4+ 34.Kb2 Qe5+ 35.Rc3 Rb8+ 36.Kc2 Qxf6 37.Rf3 Qd4 38.Rb3 Qe4+ 39.Kc1 Qe1+ 40.Kc2 Qe2+ 41.Kb1 Qd1+ 42.Qc1 Rxb3+ 43.axb3 Qxb3+

[43…Qxc1+ also wins 44.Kxc1 h5]

44.Ka1 Qa4+ 45.Kb2 Qb5+ 46.Ka1 Qc5 47.Qd2 h5 48.Kb1 Kg7 49.Qb2+ Qe5 50.Qb7+ Kh6 51.Kc1 d5 52.Kd1 Qe4 53.Qb2 Kg5 54.Qd2+ Kg4 55.Qh6 g5 0 — 1

Fabiano Caruana was born July 30, 1992 grew up in Brooklyn, transferred to Italy in 2005 and returned to the USA in 2015. He had his monster year in 2014 when he won his first seven games and finished the 6-player round robin tournament three points ahead of the world champion Magnus Carlsen. Caruana scored 8.5/10 with seven wins, three draws and an unheard-of performance rating of 3103. By the end of that year his ELO rating had climbed to 2844, making him the third highest-rated player in chess history (in case you are wondering who the top 5 highest rated people are in history, they are: 1. Magnus Carlsen 2882, 2. Garry Kasparov 2851, 3. Fabiano Caruana 2844, 4. Levon Aronian 2830, 5. Wesley So 2822).

Caruana last November 2018 faced Magnus Carlsen in the World Chess Championship where all 12 games were drawn. Magnus then won the rapid tie-break games 3-0.

So, had GM Caruana achieved all he ever wanted in chess and will fade into the sunset? Not a chance. Vice-Champion of the world is not enough. He has to become Champion. Period.

Caruana, Fabiano (2828) — Xiong, Jeffery (2663) [C65]
USA-ch 2019 Saint Louis (6.2), 25.03.2019

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0 — 0 Qe7 7.Nbd2 Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.a3 a5 10.Nc4 Nd7 11.g4 Bg6 12.b4!?

This was played by Anand against Nakamura here in saint Louis two years ago.


Black can take the pawn, but he winds up with nothing: 12…axb4 13.Bg5 f6 14.axb4 Rxa1 15.Qxa1 Bd6 (15…Bxb4? does not win a pawn. After 16.Qa8+ Qd8 17.Qxb7 Be7 18.Be3 c5 19.Nh4 White has restored material parity and his pieces will start swarming all over Black’s position.) 16.Qa8+ Qd8 17.Qxd8+ Kxd8 Everything equalizes out. Anand, V (2783)-Nakamura, H (2792) Saint Louis 2017 1.2 39,

13.bxa5 Bxa5 14.Bb2 f6 15.Nxa5 Rxa5 16.Nh4 0 — 0 17.Nf5 Qe6?!

The bishop on g6 has limited score and should have been exchanged for White’s f5 — knight.

18.Kh2 c5 19.h4 c4 20.h5 Bf7 21.Rg1 cxd3 22.cxd3 Rb5 23.Bc1 Kh8 24.Be3 Rb3 25.Rg3 c5 26.Qe2 g5

The great Vassily Ivanchuk once described a move as “too ugly to be good.” We can say the same for the text. I would suggest 26…b5 followed by …b5 — b4 to try to get some action going on the queenside.

27.hxg6 Bxg6 28.a4 Qa6 29.Bh6 Rg8 30.Rag1 Qxa4 31.Ne7

After the game Caruana pointed to this position as when he thought that he was close to winning.


[31…Re8 32.Nxg6+ hxg6 33.g5 f5 34.exf5 gxf5 35.Qh5 Black is about to get mated]

32.Qd1! c4 33.Nxg8 Kxg8 34.dxc4 Rxg3 35.Qxd4 exd4 36.Kxg3 Bxe4 37.Rd1 d3 38.f3 Bg6 39.Ra1 Kf7 40.Ra7 Nc5 41.Be3 Ke8

If Black gives up the b7 — pawn then 41…Nd7 42.Rxb7 Ke8 43.c5 Nxc5 44.Bxc5 d2 45.Rb8+ Kd7 46.Bb6! Kc6 47.Rd8 the rest is easy.


Now look at the finish.


White has to give up his rook to stop the pawn? No.

43.Ra8+ Kd7 44.Bb6! Kc6 45.Ba5! 1 — 0

[45.Ba5 d1Q 46.Rc8+ Black has no chice but to go to the d-file. 46…Kd7 47.Rd8+ winning the queen]


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.