2018 USA Championship
Saint Louis, USA
April 18-30, 2018
1. Samuel Shankland 2671, 8.5/11
2. Fabiano Caruana 2804, 8.0/11
3. Wesley So 2786, 6.5/11
4-6. Hikaru Nakamura 2787, Aleksandr Lenderman 2599, Ray Robson 2660, 5.5/11
7-8. Zviad Izoria 2599, Jeffery Xiong 2665, 5.0/11
9-11. Awonder Liang 2552, Yaroslav Zherebukh 2640, Varuzhan Akobian 2647, 4.5/11
12. Alexander Onischuk 2672, 3.0/11
Average Rating 2674 category 17
Time Control: Players receive 90 minutes for the first 40 moves then 30 minutes play-to-finish with 30 seconds added to their clocks after every move starting move 1.
Hikaru Nakamura did not have a good tournament. He was supposed to be contending for the top prizes but instead only had an even score (1 win, 1 loss, 9 draws). The game he did win though was quite nice.
Shortly after crushing Varuzhan Akobian in the penultimate round of the US Championship Nakamura noted that in Saint Louis Akobian had Black three times against 1.e4, played the French in all three and lost them all. Why doesn’t he give it up?
The answer to that question, of course, is national pride.
The Armenians are known for their nationalistic fervor. You remember the famous “Gormallygate” incident back in 2006 during the Bermuda Party held in the eve of the free day of the Turin Chess Olympiad? The Australian-Filipina WIM Arianne Caoili (by the way, she played Board 1 for the Philippine women’s team in the 2000 Istanbul Olympiad) showed up in the party and at some time started to dance with Levon Aronian (Board 1 for the Armenian men’s team and at that time considered a strong potential for the world title). Completely green with envy, GM Daniel Gormally (Board 4 for England) attacked Aronian and sent him sprawling on the dance floor.
There is an unspoken and unwritten rule in these Olympiads — never attack an Armenian. Immediately Varuzhan Akobian (Board 4 for the US team and yes, the very same Akobian playing here in the 2018 US Championship) let out a roar and attacked Gormally with murder in his eyes. Fortunately several other players intervened, pushed Gormally out the emergency exit and contained the situation in the dance floor.
That was not the end of it though. The next day a group of Armenians waylaid Gormally and roughed him up. The Englishman then decided that he had enough and left Turin right away.
What has this got to do with the French Defense of Akobian? Everything. The French Defense has always been a specialty of the Armenian players ever since its adoption by Rafael Vaganian. They play it with a passion and even have a line known as the “Armenian Variation.” You want to know how it goes? Here it is.
Nakamura, Hikaru (2787) — Akobian, Varuzhan (2647) [C18]
US-ch Open 2018 Saint Louis (10), 28.04.2018
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5
The Armenian Variation.
White should not destroy his own center by 6.dxc5? after 6…Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 Ne7 8.Qg4 Ng6 9.Nf3 Nd7 10.Bd3 Qc7 White has no advantage whatsoever.
The move 6…cxb4? is known to be bad as it gives White time to put his knight on d6. I do not understand why it is still being played — here is an example: 7.Nb5 Nc6 8.axb4 Bxb4+ 9.c3 Be7 10.Ba3 a6 11.Bxe7 Ngxe7 12.Nd6+ Kf8 13.Bd3 Qc7 14.Qh5 Nd8 15.Ne2 Bd7 16.0–0 Nc8 17.Nxc8 Rxc8 18.f4 Qb6 19.Rab1 Qa7 20.Kh1 b5 21.f5 exf5 22.Bxf5 Rc6 23.Nf4 Rxc3 24.e6 Bc6 25.Rbe1 Qxd4 26.e7+ Ke8 27.exd8N+ Kxd8 28.Qxf7 Qf6 29.Ne6+ 1–0 (29) So,W (2526)-Nadera,B (2417) Tarakan 2008.
GM Negi in “1.e4 vs The French, Caro-Kann and Philidor” recommends the other main line 7.Qg4 Ne7 8.bxa5 dxc3 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7 Nbc6 11.Nf3 There is a lot of play in the position but Negi assesses overall that White has the better chances.
7…Bc7 8.f4 Bd7 9.Nf3
Some time ago GM Leonid Kritz wrote a theoretical in Chessbase where he gave 9.Nxc7+ an exclamation mark and said that Nakamura’s 9.Nf3 is a mistake “because Black swaps off his bad bishop.” Apparently Nakamura has his own ideas.
9…Bxb5 10.Bxb5+ Nc6 11.Bd3 Nge7 12.0–0 Bb6 13.Kh1 Qd7 14.Rb1 Nf5 <D>
POSITION AFTER 14…NF5
This position is worth deep examination. White’s Bxf5 will saddle Black with doubled pawns but on the other hand his c2–pawn becomes a weakness which Black will attack given the semi-open c-file. Study Nakamura’s next few moves to see how he handles it.
15.a4 a6 16.a5 Ba7 17.Bxf5! exf5 18.Ba3! Rc8
19.b5 axb5 20.Rxb5 Nd8 21.Qb1 Rc3 22.e6! fxe6
[22…Qxe6? 23.Re1 Re3 24.Rxe3 dxe3 25.Rxb7 Nxb7 26.Qxb7 e2 27.Qa8+ Kd7 28.Qxa7+ Kc8 29.Bb4 White is clearly winning]
23.Ne5 Qc7 24.Qb4 g5
Forced. 25…Nc6 26.Bb4 Re3 27.a6! Black’s position will collapse.
26.Qxa3 gxf4 27.Re1
With the idea of Rxd5.
27…Qc3! 28.Qc1 Rg8 29.Nd3 Kd7 30.Qxf4 Kc8
Black has no time for 30…Qxc2 as now White breaks through with 31.Rxd5+! exd5 (If the Black king goes to the c-file then Rc1 wins his queen, and going to the e-file will not work either 31…Ke7 32.Qh4+ Ke8 33.Rxd8+ ends in mate; 31…Ke8 32.Rxd8+ Kxd8 33.Qd6+ Kc8 34.Rc1) 32.Qxf5+ Kd6 33.Qe5+ Kd7 34.Qxd5+ Kc7 35.Rc1 the black queen is dead.
31.a6! bxa6 32.Rb3 Qc7
33.Qxc7+ Kxc7 34.Ra3 Bb6 35.Rxa6 Kb7 36.Ra3 Rg7?
After his heroic resistance Akobian makes a mistake. He had to unpin his king with 36…Kc6 immediately.
37.Rb3! Rc7? 38.Reb1 Rc6 39.Ne5 Rd6 40.Rh3 Nc6 41.Rxh7+
Finally White has a clear win. He can exchange pieces off the board and then push the h-pawn to the queening square.
41…Ka6 42.Rd7 Rxd7 43.Nxd7 Ba7 44.h4! e5 45.h5 e4 46.h6 d3 47.cxd3 Bd4 48.dxe4 fxe4 49.h7 Ne7 50.Nc5+! 1–0
The bishop cannot take the knight because it will leave h8 undefended. However, 50.Nc5+ Ka7 (50…Ka5 51.Nb3+) 51.Rb7+ Ka8 52.Rxe7 the knight is still immune.
Here is another one of those French disasters.
Caruana, Fabiano (2804) — Akobian, Varuzhan (2647) [C11]
USA-ch 2018 Saint Louis USA (7), 25.04.2018
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Be7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Qd2 b6
The moves 8…0–0 an 8…a6 are much, much more commonly played here.
9.Bb5 Qc7 10.0–0–0!?
Clearly Caruana was prepared for this line and immediately played a novelty. The pawn on b6 prevents Black’s queen from quickly attacking on White’s queenside so that is where Caruana tucks away his king.
After the game Akobian revealed that he had expected 10.Bxc6 Qxc6 11.f5 exf5 12.dxc5 Nxc5 13.Nxd5 Bd8. Black’s game looks suspicious but he has already removed White’s light-squared bishop and that is the point of the whole line.
10…a6 11.Bxc6 Qxc6 12.f5! c4
[12…exf5? 13.dxc5 Bxc5 14.Nxd5 0–0 15.Bxc5 Qxc5 (15…Nxc5?? 16.Ne7+) 16.Qg5 White’s position is very threatening]
13.f6!? gxf6 14.exf6 Bxf6
Black cannot take with the knight as it is keeping an eye on e5. For example: 14…Nxf6? 15.Ne5 Qc7 16.Rhf1 followed by Bg5.
15.Rhf1 b5?! 16.Qf2! b4 17.Ne2!? b3?! 18.Ne5! Bxe5 19.Qxf7+ Kd8 20.dxe5 bxa2 21.Kd2 Rf8 22.Qxh7 Rxf1 23.Rxf1 d4 24.Qg8+ Kc7 25.Nxd4 Qd5 26.Qxe6
Akobian had only 2 minutes left while Fabi had more than half an hour.
[26…Qxg2+ 27.Rf2 Qxf2+ 28.Bxf2 a1Q Black emerges with an extra rook but his king falls to a mating attack. 29.Qd6+ Kb7 (29…Kd8 30.Nc6+ Ke8 31.Qe7#) 30.Qd5+ Kb8 31.Nc6+ Kb7 32.Nd8+ Kc7 33.Qd6+ Kxd8 34.Bh4+ Ke8 35.Qe7#]
27.c3 Nxe5 28.Rf7+! Nxf7 29.Bf4+! Kb7 30.Qxf7+ 1–0
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant, he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.