It's a S(l)am Dunk!
With a whopping +6 (+6=5-0) Sam Shankland is the 2018 US Chess Champion.
In the last round, both Sam and Fabiano won. It's quite remarkable that Caruana, with a massive +5, got second place.
Shankland played a convincing game against the youngest GM of the tournament, Awonder Liang, to secure the title,m no matter Caruana's result.
Sam showed to be totally focused on the game, and with a somewhat killer-like attitude, he went on to destroy Liang.
These are a couple of stills from the broadcast at the official website, which show Sam's determination.
The game: according to the engines, Liang was already lost at move 23. But the players don't have Komodo or Stockfish at hand, and maybe the young GM thought he may still save half a point. Unfortunately for Awonder, Sam didn't leave him off the hook and resignation came, to give Shankland the 2018 title.
Fabiano Caruana and Sam Shankland keep winning, going into the last round separated by half a point.
Shankland leads, and tomorrow Sam plays Awonder Liang, while Fabiano plays Alexander Onischuk.
Seeing how the tournament has gone so far, it'd seem that Fabiano got an easier task, but Onischuk is an old fox, capable of putting all himself in, making any game very difficult for his opponent.
For sure, it will be an exciting finale!
GM Sam Shankland, leader of the US Championship with 7.5/10
In this game, Shankland missed a golden opportunity to finish it up in beautiful style, with a nice tactic:
After 28.f4 black to move and win!
28... Nxf4! 29.Bxf4, Qxd4+ 30. Kh1, Qxf4!
Despite missing this shot, Sam went on to win the game.
Akobian, after a great start, is unfortunately on a bad streak. Today Nakamura "the revenant", blew Var off the board, playing a very convincing game.
Body language tells the tale here: Nakamura is in the hunt, and Akobian is in trouble.
Warm-up show with GM Alex Yermolinsky! Aired an hour before round 9.
What a game! And what a miss by Hikaru Nakamura. Today the top game was Caruana vs. Nakamura. Hikaru outplayed the Candidate in the opening, getting into a position that Fabiano could barely manage. It wasn't easy to break through, but the only one playing for a win was Nakamura. Then Hikaru missed a tactic that would have put him in a quite comfortable position, with a probable decisive advantage. Fabiano was able to force a repetition, to take home a precious half point.
GM Hikaru Nakamura during the game
The Game Of the Day was undoubtedly Nakamura vs. Shankland.
Sam went all-out, unleashing an apparently irresistible attack on Hikaru's long castle. Engines thought Sam was winning by move 23, but we all know how resilient Nakamura is, and Hikaru found the best moves, to hold the co-leader to a draw. A very exciting game.
Nakamura and Shankland analyzing in post-mortem
After the disastrous loss with Caruana in round one, Aleksandr Lenderman had the strength to consider that game as a "humbling incident", and to move on. He has played good chess since and now sports an excellent +1, after today's win against the young American sensation Awonder Liang.
Sign mine, please! Awonder Liang just lost to Aleksandr Lenderman
The dragon slayer hits again!
Izoria shockingly beat Nakamura in Round 7, denying him a shot at first place in this 2018 US Championship.
Izoria and Nakamura at the board
The most incredible thing happened: Nakamura was totally lost on the board, but kept playing hoping in a mistake of his fierce opponent, when Hikaru, one of the best bullet players ever, ran out of time!
The position is lost for Nakamura, but look at the clock
Fabiano Caruana wiped Varuzhan Akobian off the board setting Var back to 50%, which isn't bad given the strong field in this event. He had a great start, yet after losing two games in a row, it's not going to help him for the rest of the tournament.
Fabiano played a fantastic game:
Check out GM Yermolinsky's Warm-up show, aired an hour before Round 6!
Sam Shankland is the sole leader going into the only rest day of the US Championship.
GM Sam Shankland leads the Championship with 4.5/6
Sam was quite hilarious during the post-game interview. Maurice told him: you're in the sole lead now, and Sam replied: "if I keep playing like I did today, it won't last long. I mean, I am happy with the result, but boy if that game was bad!". Of course, he's not giving himself credit, as the game wasn't THAT bad, after all. Akobian had a sizable advantage, but then Var missed his opportunity to consolidate, and slowly but steadily went down, with Sam pressing more and more. Maybe not a perfect game, but how they say, a win is a win, especially if it shoots you on top of the standings.
The other decisive game was Robson-Caruana.
Fabiano seems to have recovered after the shocking loss with Izoria in round 4. Today he looked confident, calm and frankly too strong for his younger opponent.
Fabiano catches Wesley So in second place now, half a point behind Shankland.
Ray Robson resigns
For the first time in this tournament, all the games ended in a draw.
Xiang, So, Liang and Zherebukh took an early day off, by drawing their game in very few moves.
Most of the eyes tonight were pointed at Caruana's board. After the almost incredible loss yesterday, the Candidate today had to deal with Sam Shankland, who's having a very good tournament so far.
Fabiano chose the Queen's Gambit Accepted playing Black. Now, everybody knows that White can draw whenever he wants against the QGA, at this level.
Sam tried to push a bit, though he confessed he was a bit confused about Fabiano's "odd" choice of opening.
The game went down - again - to a rook and knight ending, and Shankland had a moment in which it looked like he was going to give Fabiano another bad day in St. Louis. But Sam wasn't able to convert his advantage and had to settle for a draw.
Sam Shankland and Fabiano Caruana right after they agreed to a draw
Varuzhan Akobian, the other co-leader, was held to a draw by yesterday's hero, Izoria.
Signing score-sheets after the game. GM Izoria and GM Akobian
Hikaru Nakamura drew his fifth game in a row, but he didn't look worried nor unhappy during the post-game interview with Maurice Ashley.
A relaxed and smiling Hikaru Nakamura, after his 5th draw
Alexander Onischuk and Ray Robson were the last to finish today.
A very dapper Alexander Onishuck in post-mortem analysis with Ray Robson
The round was characterized by a big upset: Izoria beat Caruana, after a long battle. Fabiano pressed too much, trying to squeeze out a win from a drawn position. Zviad remained calm and took advantage of the mistakes made (in time trouble) by the super-strong Challenger.
Different facial expressions. Caruana is almost incredulous that he did lose,
whereas Izoria shows a happy grin.
Nakamura drew for the fourth time, this time against Liang.
Awonder drew all the top guns in the first four rounds, showing a maturity and a chess talent that normally aren't "features" of a 15 years old kid.
Awonder Liang, showing he's happy about his US Champ. so far.
Lenderman held Wesley So to a draw, and he had the upper hand at a point in the game but wasn't able to find the right way to increase his advantage.
Sam Shankland today won a great game against Ray Robson, pulling himself up at the top of the standings.
Sam Shankland in super-focus mode
Check out the WARM-UP show with GM Alex Yermolinsky! An hour before Round 3, GM Yermo goes LIVE on ICCTV to discuss the tournament so far.
Fabiano won again in round 3, this time taking it on the younger talent Jeffery Xiong.
Fabiano Caruana, sporting an enviable afro, after his win.
Alexander Onischuk was able to hold Nakamura to a draw, quite comfortably. At a point in the game, it looked like Onischuk had the upper hand, but Nakamura is not only extremely strong a player, he is also gifted with an incredible resilience, which allowed him to stay in the game and draw in a problematic position.
Onischuk and Nakamura in full concentration mode
Ray Robson lost an exciting endgame with Zherebukh, who allowed his opponent to queen a pawn, but at that point, the isolated and cut-off Majesty wasn't able to help the cause, with Ray's King in muddy waters, unable to save itself.
Shankland won his first game against Izoria.
Akobian, after an up-and-down game against Lenderman, had to settle for a draw, when Lenderman stalemated Var's King.
Lenderman looks worried in this pic, but he was able to keep the co-leader at bay
Wesley So, the co-leader after round 2, drew the 15-year-old GM Awonder Liang, who showed an incredible confidence for such a young player.
A smiling and confident-looking Awonder Liang, interviewed by Ashely
Not a good day for our friend Aleksandr Lenderman, who didn't seem the usual strong and solid player today at the board, losing to Fabiano Caruana in 23 moves, after a couple of big mistakes that the Candidate didn't let go unpunished.
Lenderman gave up at move 23, in a desperate position
The clash between Varuzhan Akobian and Alexander Onischuk, two players who have known each other for years, finished in favor of the former, with a brilliant tactic.
A still from the official website broadcast (GM Akobian)
GM Nakamura is a 4-time winner at the
US Championship (2004-2009-2012-2015)
The three top guys are in, along with young guns and old glories.
Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So give the tournament importance and relevance, but players like Awonder Liang and Jeffrey Xiong, who represent the next generation of strong Americans, contribute to make this year Championship a must-follow tournament.
Awonder Liang (14) is the youngest in the field
Not to talk about solid players, who have played tons of Championships, such as Onischuk and Var Akobian, and then Alex Lenderman, Sam Shankland, Ray Robson, Yaroslav Zherebukh, Zviad Izoria.
GM Wesley So is the defending Champion
Everything is ready for a great U.S. championship, which is going to start April the 18th, at the splendid St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.
Here is the schedule, from the official website:
Prize wise, the U.S: Championship is like a Master 1000 in tennis: $50,000 to the first and $35,000 to the second, for a total of $194,000 in prize fund is quite impressive for a National Championship.
The Women's Championship sports a $100,000 prize fund, and lists among the possible protagonists IM Anna Zatonskih, GM Irina Krush, IM Nazi Paikidze, and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan.
ICC will broadcast the games LIVE, and GM Alex Yermolinsky will provide a warm-up show - an hour before start time - at rounds 4 and 9, with a final recap after the last round.