Reports | May 14, 2012 9:33

Nakamura leads U.S. Championship after six rounds

Hikarua Nakamura, the leader after six rounds at the U.S. Championship

Hikaru Nakamura is in sole lead at the U.S. Championships in Saint Louis, USA after six rounds. The highest rated American grandmaster, currently #7 in the world, won three games and drew three. Reigning champion Gata Kamsky is half a point behind, followed by Alexander Onischuk, Aleksandr Lenderman and Yuri Shulman who are on "+1".

Hikarua Nakamura, the leader after six rounds at the U.S. Championship

Event U.S. ChampionshipsPGN via TWIC
Dates May 8th-20th, 2012
Location Saint Louis, USA
System 12-player round robin

Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Alexander Onischuk, Yasser Seirawan, Robert Hess, Varuzhan Akobian, Ray Robson, Gregory Kaidanov, Alejandro Ramirez, Aleksandr Lenderman, Yury Shulman, Alexander Stripunsky

Rate of play 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by 30 minutes to finish the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1

Videos by Macauley Peterson

By FM Mike Klein

Round 4

After four rounds of the 2012 U.S. Championship, an upset victory by GM Gregory Kaidanov has catapulted him into a first-place tie with GM Hikaru Nakamura.

Kaidanov scored the upset of the event by beating the seemingly heretofore unbeatable GM Gata Kamsky.

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Kamsky, with the black pieces, misplayed the move order after his pawn sacrifice with 14…b5!? Kamsky said he thought he would be about equal after the correct 15...cxd4 instead of 15…Bb7?  Kaidanov took control of things with the excellent 17.dxc5! and never looked back, winning an excellent game.

"Well, I blundered," Kamsky said. "After dxc5 I was much worse."

Kamsky had lost only once with black in eight previous U.S. Championship appearances. That game took place in 1993 against none other than Kaidanov.

Kaidanov, who only received an invitation to the event because 2011 U.S. Junior Champion Gregory Young declined, is making the most of his chances.

"Over the years, Gata's saved so many lost positions, some of which were dead lost," he said. "So until the very end, I didn't believe I could win."

This marks Kaidanov’s 18th U.S. Championship appearance. He’s managed to secure two second-place finishes in past events, but the title of U.S. Champion as of yet has proved too elusive. He has a crucial matchup tomorrow against Nakamura.

Just before reluctantly acquiescing to a peaceable draw with GM Alexander Onischuk, Nakamura was visibly frustrated at the board.

"Somehow it just felt like there should be something, like it should be winning, but maybe there's just not enough to win; it's just a symbolic advantage, perhaps," Nakamura said. "I just thought that somewhere in the middlegame Alex went wrong.”

Nakamura said he was inspired by GM Jesse Kraai, who played b6 against Onischuk two times prior.

"I just felt like trying something different,” he said.

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Onischuk probably should have tried to castle kingside with 16.Bf2 and 17.0-0, but instead castled queenside. Both players thought they had a good position, but Onischuk said he simply blundered with 17.Nf5? However, this move was probably not so bad after all, as white kept the balance, and a draw was agreed soon after time control.

In the post-game interview, Nakamura attributed his newfound affinity for the bishop pair to his brief training partnership with former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov. Onischuk dismissed the notion.

"Frankly, I think everyone prefers two bishops," Onischuk said.

After the post-game analysis, Nakamura discussed the game between Kaidanov and Kamsky, which was still being played at the time.

"Gregory's playing a very good game, and he's a strong player, and Gata isn't having one of his better days, but that happens,” Nakamura said.

"It's early on in the tournament," Namakura said. "And even though Gata's probably going to lose this game, I have a feeling both he and [Onischuk] are going to be my main competition towards the end.”

The game between GM Varuzhan Akobian and GM Alex Lenderman was a well-played draw.

"The opening was preparation,” Lenderman explained. “It's a new idea, but it's been played before by a Russian grandmaster, Popov, but no one else has played this idea."

Indeed, Popov has played this line with 8...g5 and 9…Ne4 before with a +1 score.

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14...Qe7 was a novelty, as Popov had played 14...Qd6 in an earlier game and drew, although 14...Qf6 may be best of all.

"Alex found a very good move, Bc7," Akobian said. This allowed Lenderman to escape with his king, castling safely, and a draw was the fair result.

Round four also featured a battle of the tournament's two youngest players, GMs Ray Robson and Robert Hess. Robson played the very unusual 7.Nbd2, and Hess was on his own early. In fact, IM Marc Arnold, Hess' second, said they were up till about 4 a.m. that morning preparing a line against 3.Bb5. Robson, however, threw a wrench in the prep, unleashing Bc4 on move three.

"I wanted to surprise someone in the opening instead of being surprised all of the time," Robson said. 

Robson didn't get any advantage from his unusual opening, but Hess played quite passively and couldn't find a good plan.  Robson increased his advantage methodically, and won a strategically beautiful game.

"I didn't make any good moves, that's the problem," Hess joked. "But no, Ray played well today."

The next game to finish was the long battle between GMs Yury Shulman and Alex Stripunsky. Both players had the edge at different points, but neither could gain a significant advantage, and a draw was a fair result. 

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The best chance was for Stripunksy to play 32...f5! with the edge. A win for Shulman would have launched him into a first-place tie with Kaidanov and Nakamura.

Although he wasn’t able to convert the full point, this result represented a nice comeback for Stripunsky, who started with 0-2, and now has 1.5 out of his last two games.

GM Yasser Seirawan won the longest game of the tournament against GM Alejandro Ramirez, as it looked like an easy ending win for white. But Seirawan’s technique let him down, and he had to win the game all over again. Black was in severe time trouble the last 20 moves, getting down to less than 5 seconds on the clock several times.

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The last drawing chance would have been 86...Rc5!

Games round 4

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Round 5

For the first time in the 2012 U.S. Championship, one player rests atop the leaderboard. With his win today in round five over co-leader GM Gregory Kaidanov, local GM Hikaru Nakamura took control of the tournament. With three wins and two draws, his four points are one-half point ahead of defending champion GM Gata Kamsky, who bounced back by also winning today. However, since the two top seeds have yet to play, both still control their own destiny.

Nakamura reverted to his more usual 1. d4 today, reversing his trend of advancing his king's pawn, which he had done to surprise opponents in rounds one and three. Kaidanov played a Catalan system, but Nakamura offered a temporary pawn deficit to activate his pieces. After Nakamura regained the material, Kaidanov's pieces could only entrench themselves and wait for the breakthrough.

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That came in the form of the improbable 61. f5 and subsequent king invasion. Kaidanov's rook and bishop moved listlessly back and forth while his opponent's monarch played checkers on the dark squares, taking the scenic route from g5 to h6 to g7 to f8 to e7. Kaidanov conceded defeat and now sits in a four-way tie for third, and will need some help to win his first-ever U.S. Championship.

Kamsky, whose 51-game U.S. Championship unbeaten streak ended yesterday, began a new one today by winning in a fashion that echoed Nakamura's victory. GM Varuzhan Akobian eschewed his nearly-automatic French Defense and played the cramped-but-solid Berlin Defense, known for forming a nearly impenetrable wall. But it was only a matter of time before Akobian's defenses collapsed, as Kamsky's knights finally penetrated his position,

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capping off the offensive with the devastating 31. Nf6+. Getting low on time (Akobian was down to two seconds several times), Akobian could not hold off the attack.

Third-seeded GM Alex Onischuk got back into the mix by winning a topsy-turvy game against GM Robert Hess. The Yale freshman did not control his knights as well as Kamsky. Hess's initiative began to subside after 22. Nfd4, which he called the wrong knight. Onischuk rallied for an attack on the castled king, and offered two minor pieces for a rook to prise open Hess's position.

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Still, it would not have been enough if Hess had played 29. Kf1, since after 29...Rxe4 30. Ne7+ Kh8 31. Ng6+ seals the win for white. “With knights, you always have to be careful,” Onischuk said. Instead, Hess made the practical decision to bring his queen backward into the defense, but Onischuk's rook eventually found daylight and a route to pay dirt – the second-rank. Onischuk played Pac-Man with Hess's queenside pawns, forcing him to resign.

Joining Kaidanov and Onischuk on 3/5 and a tie for third place are GMs Alex Lenderman and Yury Shulman, who played an uneventful draw versus each other. Both have won once and drawn four times at the event.

A pair of slow starters won in round five to get back to even scores. GM Alex Stripunsky reverse-engineered his rook back to the first rank to win GM Yasser Seirawan's bishop. After losing his first two games, Stripunsky has 2.5 out of the last three.

Joining Stripunsky was GM Ray Robson, who had a very promising middlegame according to Onischuk. With a light-squared attack on GM Alejandro Ramirez's king, he allowed the pressure to dissolve, only to later win a tricky rook-and-pawn endgame.


Games round 5

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Round 6

Round six of the U.S. Championships maintained the stasis – the top three rated players still sit one, two, three with a couple of other solid players lurking.

GM Hikaru Nakamura traded his light-squared bishop early, but compensated by forming a wedge of center pawns to blunt GM Varuzhan Akobian's king's bishop. Opening the position for the bishop pair meant Akobian had to give back the bishop, and the resulting endgame had too symmetrical of a pawn structure to produce any winning chances. The draw continued Nakamura's pattern so far, as he has alternated winning and drawing through the first six games (he has won all three times as white and drawn all three as black).

Nakamura said he was satisfied with the result. He called the ailment that began last round “just a temporary thing ... I feel fine today. I'm still a little bit sick.” He felt well enough to joke, “I'm on drugs, so everything is OK.” Nakamura has tried to win all of his games, even as black, and said he should have one more point than he does now, as he was better in rounds two and four. Though his live rating is at an all-time high and cresting 2780, Nakamura dismissed the idea that those thoughts entered into his decision making. “I had to trade queens,” he said. “If I don't, it is really dangerous. The rating will come. If I was focusing on rating, I probably would've done something suicidal.”

GM Gata Kamsky began the day one-half point back, but never entertained any winning prospects against longtime U.S. Championship nemesis GM Yury Shulman. The two have played in the finals in each of the past two events. Shulman won a pawn, but as the game gradually lost its life, he did not obtain a winning rook-and-pawn endgame. “The position I reached in the game, I don't have any chances,” Shulman said. 

Kamsky agreed with Nakamura's estimation that the winner of the tournament would need eight points. Nakamura currently has 4.5/6 and Kamsky 4/6.

Besides Nakamura, the only other competitors that have yet to lose a game remain Shulman and GM Alex Lenderman. Along with GM Alex Onischuk, the trio sit in a tie for third with 3.5/6. Lenderman nearly equaled Kamsky's score as his Caro-Kann netted him an advantageous knight against a mostly impotent bishop, but the resurgent GM Alex Stripunsky held the balance.

Crowd-favorite GM Gregory Kaidanov fell back to an even score with his second loss in a row. “After two long games against Gata and Hikaru, I felt very tired today,” he said about his loss against GM Robert Hess. Kaidanov was surprised by Hess's opening choice, and forced into a deviation due to a curious incident. After nine moves, his game was exactly like Onischuk's battle with GM Alejandro Ramirez.

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Onischuk played 10. e4, and Kaidanov felt forced to play a different line. “It would look like we are just copying each other's games,” he explained. “We try to prevent cheating in many different kinds of ways, but we can't prevent that.” He said copying another player's moves willfully is “kind of like cheating” and while not expressly prohibited, the veteran decided he needed to play a new variation. Hess found a way to trade his queen for three of Kaidanov's active minor pieces, then unearthed a nifty queen trap based on various forks and discovered attacks.


Games round 6

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U.S. Championships 2012 | Round 6 Standings


Editors's picture
Author: Editors


Chris Girardo's picture

This line 5.e3 a6 I've been playing for the last few months and now it's played three times in two days in top level chess, gives me some good ideas! (in the Slav...Ramirez played 4...a6 but Anand and and Hess played it on move 5) I think Hess had a much easier win with 20...g6 though.

john1976's picture

Why on earth is the US championship being played at same time as the World Championship?

choufleur's picture

Nobody cares this is a minor tournament.

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