- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The luck of the draw proved a bit unlucky for U.S. chess fans this year, as the most anticipated pairing of the U.S. Championship — top-rated GM Fabiano Caruana vs. defending champ GM Hikaru Nakamura — came in Sunday’s Round 4, with more than half of the event still to go.

Still, the game itself did not disappoint, as Caruana decisively defeated his top rival in a dominating 31 moves. Through Monday’s Round 5, the Florida-based Caruana is tied for first with GM Wesley So at 4-1. There are still seven rounds to go in the play at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center in St. Louis, so it’s still anyone’s tournament.

Give Nakamura credit — he came out fighting with the Black pieces, eschewing the drawish Berlin Ruy Lopez for a fighting Sicilian Scheveningen. His 7. Be3 h5!? novelty also unsettled Caruana, and a nice battle with complicated play was in sight after 14. Kh1 Nxe3 15. Qxe3 Qc5 16. Rad1 g6 17. Qe2 0-0-0, with the kings settling on opposite wings.

But Black’s exchange sacrifice on 20. Ng5 f4 21. Rd3! (sidestepping Black’s threat of 21…Bg4, while posting the rook on an extremely versatile square) Kb8?! just doesn’t work out, as he never gets real compensation or an attack for his investment. Safer was 21… Rdf8 22. Nxf7 Rh7 23. Ng5 Rg7 24. Ne6 Bxe6 25. Bxe6+ Kb8, and it’s still a game.

Black’s hopes for counterplay fade after 24. Qf2 Qb4? (GM Cristian Chirila on Chess.com noted that Nakamura wrongly rejected the stronger 24…d5!, with complex play in lines such as 25. Qxc5 Bxc5 26. Bxd5 Nh5! 27. Ne2 Ng3+ 28. Nxg3 hxg3 29. h3 Bxh3! 30. gxh3 Rxh3+ 31. Kh2 Rh2+ 32. Kf3 g2) 25. Nd5 Nxd5 26. Bxd5 Bxa4? (see diagram; 26…Qa5 27. Rb3 Bc8 was the last hope to hold) Ra3!, and White’s queenside pressure is decisive.

In the final position, the Black attack is spent and he has no real compensation for the lost rook; Nakamura resigned.

In the U.S. women’s title fight, it is University of Maryland-Baltimore County master Nazi Paikidze off to a surprisingly strong start at 4-1 through Monday’s play. Ashburn, Virginia’s own Jennifer Yu upset one of the rising stars of the women’s game with a final positional win over Massachusetts prodigy Carissa Yip in Round 4, Yip’s first loss after two wins and a draw.

In an English, Black is saddled with the classic hanging pawn formation and misses the one, best opportunity to ease her woes with a timely 19…c4!. After that, Black’s backward c-pawn remains a permanent weakness, and Yu nicely infiltrates the queenside as Black can only play passive defense

Black’s desperate attempt to get back in the game backfire predictable on 36. Qf4! (eyeing both h6 and c7, with unstoppable mate threats) Rxe2 (there’s nothing better) 37. Qb8+ Qg8 38. Qe6! Re1+ 39. Kh2, and there’s no defense against the twin threats of 40. Qf6+ and 40. Qxd4+; Yip resigned.

Caruana-Nakamura, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, April 2016

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. f3 e6 7. Be3 h5 8. a4 Nc6 9. Bc4 Qc7 10. Qe2 Be7 11. O-O Ne5 12. Bb3 Bd7 13. f4 Neg4 14. Kh1 Nxe3 15. Qxe3 Qc5 16. Rad1 g6 17. Qe2 O-O-O 18. f5 e5 19. Nf3 gxf5 20. Ng5 f4 21. Rd3 Kb8 22. Nxf7 h4 23. Nxh8 Rxh8 24. Qf2 Qb4 25. Nd5 Nxd5 26. Bxd5 Bxa4 27. Ra3 h3 28. c3 Qb5 29. b3 Bh4 30. bxa4 Qd3 31. g3 Black resigns.

Yu-Yip, U.S. Women’s Championship, St. Louis, April 2016

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Nb6 6. Nf3 Bg7 7. O-O Nc6 8. d3 O-O 9. Rb1 Bf5 10. h3 e5 11. b4 Nd4 12. Nxd4 exd4 13. Ne4 Nd5 14. Bd2 c6 15. b5 Qe7 16. bxc6 bxc6 17. Qc2 Rac8 18. Rb3 c5 19. Rfb1 Nb6 20. Rb5 Rfe8 21. Bg5 f6 22. Bf4 Bxe4 23. Bxe4 f5 24. Bf3 Be5 25. Bxe5 Qxe5 26. Rc1 Nd7 27. Qc4+ Kh8 28. Rb7 Qd6 29. Rxa7 Ne5 30. Qd5 Nxf3+ 31. Qxf3 Qb6 32. Rb7 Qe6 33. Rc2 c4 34. dxc4 Rxc4 35. Rxc4 Qxc4 36. Qf4 Rxe2 37. Qb8+ Qg8 38. Qd6 Re1+ 39. Kh2 Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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