The Shank is The CHAMPION!

Samuel L Shankland

v Awonder Liang

U.S. Championship 2018 round 11

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Bf4 Bg4 7. Qb3 e5 8. h3 exf4 9. hxg4 Qe7+ 10. Kf1 O-O-O 11. Nd2 g6 12. Re1 Qc7 13. g5 Nh5 14. Be2 Ng7 15. Ngf3 Ne6 16. Bb5 Bg7 17. Qa4 Rd6 18. Nb3 b6 19. Nc1 Nb8 20. Nd3 Kb7 21. Nb4 Qd8 22. Ne5 Qc7 23. Qb3 Rhd8 24. Rxh7 a6 25. Bd3 Ka7 26. Qa4 a5 27. Bb5 Kb7 28. Nbd3 Rg8 29. Nf3 Rh8 30. Rxh8 Bxh8 31. a3 Nc6 32. Bxc6+ Rxc6 33. Nde5 Bxe5 34. Nxe5 Rd6 35. Qe8 Rd8 36. Qxf7 Nxg5 37. Qxc7+ Kxc7 38. Nxg6 f3 39. Nf4 Kc6 40. gxf3 Nxf3 41. Re6+ Kb5 42. Ke2 Ng1+ 43. Kd3 1-0

While watching this game I tuned it out to concentrate on the position after Awonder played 27…Kb7.

My initial thoughts concerning Sam playing 28 Nbc6, but after black plays 28…Rh8 it seemed there must be more to the position than offered by the move 28 Nbc6. I wanted to move the knight attacked by the pawn, but digging deeper I saw another line. 28 Nbc6 need not be played because of the devastating move, after 28 Nec6 axb4, of 29 Qa7+! Kc8 30 Ne7+, winning the Queen…

28 Nec6 is the most FORCING MOVE. Black MUST take the Knight. After 28…Nxc6 29 Bxc6+ Rxc6 30 Qxc6 Qxc6 31 Nxc6 Kxc6 32 Rxe6 fxe6 33 Rxg7 it’s “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

The move Sam played was good enough to win, but it is a shame Sam did not play the Knight to c6 variation in lieu of backing down at the critical moment. One can do that with a completely won game I suppose, but other completely won games in this championship were not won. Sam had worked on that c6 square and though it looked as though Awonder had it covered, he did not have it covered sufficiently. I am not criticizing the new United States Chess Champion as this is only a slight blemish on his overall splendid, and strong, play in this tournament. What seemed to concern Sam most was making the Olympiad squad. Now Sam makes the US “big three” the US “BIG FOUR!”

What makes this so amazing is that in his previous tournament, China vs The World, Sam had lost FIVE games, while winning only one, for a performance rating of only 2597. Do you think Sam had something to prove after that debacle? Prove it he did!

A gambling man could have obtained great odds wagering on Sam Shankland, who would, no doubt, be stuck with the moniker, “The Shank” with the gamblers. All, or at least most, of the “smart money” would have gone to the Big Three. Considering the fact that tournaments like this with an even number of players are unfair, because have the field must play with the black pieces an extra time, which is obviously inherently unfair. How many “smart” gamblers would wager on any of the unfortunate players at a serious disadvantage? Sam was given lemons, which he turned into lemonade. He won four games with the black pieces while drawing two, for a performance rating with black of an astounding 2927! This was higher than his PR with white of “only” 2849. His combined PR was 2892.

I intentionally eschewed watching the coverage provided by the usual suspects this year in order to “watch” the old fashioned way, using a real board with pieces while watching the games provided at TWIC, without computer aided analysis. Copious notes were taken, along with comments, which were later checked over at the ChessBomb. Until the last round…when I brought up Yaz, Maurice, and Jennifer, just in time to watch Sam give his now famous fist pump. Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

I have been involved with the Royal game since 1970 and this is the most remarkable performance I can recall. David Spinks was famous for saying, “You gotta PULL for SOMEBODY, man!” As the tournament progressed I could not help but “pull” for The Shank. Congratulations to Sam Shankland for a brilliant tournament performance, which was a thing of beauty. I recall a time when The Shank was in some kind of crisis, talking of giving up the Royal game. Fortunately for we Chess fans, Sam did not quit. I can think of no more deserving Champion than Sam Shankland. This was his tenth appearance at the US Chess Championship. Sam has paid his dues, in full. If lack of confidence has held The Shank back until now, it is no longer a factor in the equation. Samuel L. Shankland has earned his place on the podium along with all of the great former US Chess Champions of history! Long live the Champion!


Backing Down at the US Chess Championship

Fabiano Caruana

v Hikaru Nakamura

Before the tournament began one could look forward to this game having a great deal in determining the 2018 US Chess Champion. In reality, Nakamura became an also-ran, while all Chess fans are wondering why Caruana decided to play in the Championship, especially after playing, and winning, the Grenke Chess Classic almost immediately after winning the Candidates tournament when the only thing that matters is the coming battle for the World Human Chess Championship. If Fabiano does not best Magnus Carlsen the pundits will have a field day questioning whether Caruana burned himself out playing so much Chess before the title match.

U.S. Championship 2018 round 09

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O Re8 7. Nbd2 a6 8. Bxc6 dxc6 9. Nc4 Bd6 10. Bg5 b5 11. Ne3 Qe7 12. Nh4 Qe6 13. Nhf5 Bf8 14. f4 Nd7

15. Ng3? This is a terrible move! Caruana backs down, refraining from playing the expected 15 fxe5. In the language of the clanking digital monsters the limpid retreat by Fabi gives his opponent an advantage of about a quarter of a pawn. Taking the pawn would leave Fabi with an advantage of about half a pawn. If Caruana plays weak moves like this against the World Champion he will lose the match.

15…f6 16. f5 Qf7 17. Bh4 Bb7 18. Qe2 Rad8

19. Nh1 (This move reminded me of the same move played by Aron Nimzowitsch, first seen in the book Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal

by GM Raymond Keene,

the plagiarist. ( It is ironic that a man who resorted to stealing the work of others for his books could have produced one of the best Chess books ever written. There are better moves, all being with the king rook. Stockfish shows 19 Rfd1 best)

19…Nc5 20. Rfd1 Rd6 21. Nf2 Red8 22. Rd2 a5 23. g4 g5 24. Bg3 Ba6 25. Rad1 b4 26. c4 b3 27. a3 R6d7

28. Qe1? (Another weak, dilly-dally move from Caruana. 28 h4 is the best move, and one does not need a program to know this. Caruana’s limpid move hands the advantage to his opponent. According to digital speak, in lieu of being up by half a pawn, the move played puts Fabi DOWN by a quarter of a pawn.)

28…Nb7 29. Nh1 Nimzowitsch would be proud, but this is not one of his better choices. The Fish has 29 Kg2 or Qe2 as better. When in doubt, play Qe2!) 29…Nc5 30. Qe2 (Now this is the best move according to SF)

30…Rd4 (In this position black has a choice between four moves, 29…h6; Nb7; and a4, in addition to the move played, each keeping the game even, Steven.)

31. Be1 R8d6 (Expecting the obvious 31…Qd7, tripling on the d-file, I was shocked to see this move. The Fish proclaims Qd7 best. IM Boris Kogan was fond of saying “Chess is a simple game.” My reply was, “Maybe to you, Hulk…” It seems the modern day players intentionally eschew playing the “obviously best” moves for some reason I cannot fathom…How often does one get the opportunity to triple the heavy pieces in any game? Look at the position after moving the Queen to d7. Every piece sans the dark squared bishop is putting pressure on the backward white d-pawn. How long would you be able to withstand that kind of pressure?)

32. Nf2 Qd7 (Naka plays the move, but now SF does not consider it best. The clanking digital monster would now play the rook BACK to d8! Like Capablanca, the program has no problem admitting a move a mistake, and correcting said mistake.)

33. Kg2 Qd8 34. h3 Rd7 35. Nf1 Na4 36. Nh2 Bc5 37. Nf3 R4d6

38 Rc1 (Now SF would play, you guessed it, Nh1!) Bxf2 39. Qxf2

39…c5 (The Fish shows the path to victory with 39… Rxd3 40. Rxd3 Rxd3. Naka does not pull the trigger.)

40. Qe2 Rxd3 41. Rxd3 Rxd3 42. Bxa5 Bb7 43. Kf2 Qd7 44. Re1 Rd6

45. Rc1? (Yet another weak, vacillating move. White is lost. The move previously rejected by Fabiano, h4, is best) 45…Qc6 46. Re1 (Fabi returns the rook to its former square)

46…Rd8? (I will admit to having trouble finding a move in this position. I finally decided to move my king to g7. WRONG! I kept looking at taking the pawn on e4 with the queen, but it looks like the bishop will be lost. There is a reason Stockfish is the best Chess playing thing on the planet, and that reason is this variation: 46… Qxe4 47. Qxe4 Bxe4 48. Bxc7 Rd7 49. Rxe4 Nxb2 50. Nxe5 Rxc7 51. Nf3 Nd3+ 52. Ke2 Ne5 53. Nd2 b2 54. Nb1 Rd7 55. a4 Ra7 56. Kd2 Rxa4 57. Kc3 Rb4 58. Re2 Rxc4+ 59. Kxb2 Rb4+ 60. Kc2. Looks like a game produced by Mikhail Tal, does it not? Like me, the top players cannot calculate as well as the clanking digital monsters. It often seems that the top players no longer believe in their intuition, as did the players of the last, and previous, centuries. Because of the rise of the computer programs human players are trying to be calculating machines when what they should be doing is relying on their judgement, and intuition. I will admit going into the unknown can be a scary prospect, but the best human players have done it previously. Maybe the top players would be better off chunking the programs in the garbage and thinking for themselves…)

47. h4 (Finally, the move is played. Still, 47 Kg3 first was better…)

47…h6? (Naka has a chance to again play the winning move, but backs down, again, with this move, content to settle for a draw. SF shows, (47… Qxe4 48. Qxe4 Bxe4 49. Bxc7 Rd7 50. Rxe4 Nxb2 51. Nxe5 Nd1+ 52. Ke1 fxe5 53. Bxe5 gxh4 54. Re2 Rd3 55. Rh2 Nc3 56. Bxc3 Rxc3 57. Rb2 Kg7 58. g5 h3 59. Kd1 Rg3 60. a4 Rg1+ 61. Ke2)

48. hxg5 hxg5 49. Kg3 Rd7 50. Qh2 Rh7 51. Qd2 Rd7 52. Qh2 Rh7 53. Qd2 ½-½

Is Nakamura the New Giri?

Hikaru Nakamura

v Jeffery Xiong

U.S. Championship 2018 round 06

C25 Vienna game

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. exd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bc5 7. Nf3 Nc6 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Qf6 10. d3 h6 11. Rb1 Bb6 12. Be3 Bg4 13. h3 Be6 14. c4 e4 15. Nd2 exd3 16. c5 Ba5 17. Rxb7 Nb4 18. cxd3 Bd5 19. Rxb4 Bxg2 20. Rf4 Qc6 21. Qa4 Bxd2 22. Bxd2 Rfe8 23. Rxe8+ Rxe8 24. Qxc6 Bxc6 25. Kf1 Rb8 26. Rb4 Rxb4 27. Bxb4 Bd7 28. h4 f6 29. d4 Be6 30. a3 g5 31. Ke1 ½-½

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 (The Vienna, a discredited opening I have often played which dates to the early days of Chess. Nothing like seeing Naka play an interesting opening to whet ones appetite for the coming round! Jacques Mieses

played 2 Nc3 122 times; Wilhelm Steinitz, 64.

Jana Krivec

played it on 70 occasions around the turn of this century)

2…Nf6 (After this move Steinitz drops out, replaced by Alexander Alekhine, who sat behind the white pieces 40 times)

3. g3 (Now we see Jana Krivec leading with 35 games, followed by Rauf Mamedov (27), and Peter Rahls with 26 games)

3…d5 (Now Alexander Finkel leads having faced 3…d5 18 times. Peter Rahls is second with 15; Jana shows 14)

4. exd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nxc3 6. bxc3 (The standard position. Finkel and Rahls hold first and second, but our girlfriend, Heather Richards, has had this position ten times, which means more Heather games to replay!)

6…Bc5 (6…Bd6 has been the most often played move, but the Stockfish at ChessBomb and the CBDB show the game move best, but there is a caveat…the Stockfish program that shows the game move best is Stockfish 8 at a depth of 36. The CBDB shows that when Stockfish 9 goes one depth further it switches to 6…Nc6, the move Houdini prefers)

7. Nf3 Nc6 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Qf6 (SF likes 9…Bb6) 10. d3 h6 (The Fish likes 10…Bb6) 11. Rb1 (There is total agreement that 11 Be3 is the best move)

11…Bb6 12. Be3 Bg4 13. h3 Be6 (Theoretical Novelty! The gloves are off and we are fighting in the street! See games below for 13…Bh5.
It appears someone has done his homework as all the clanking digital monsters proclaim Be6 the best move in the position)

The hoi polloi in the ‘chat’ room at ChessBomb thought little of Hikaru’s choice of opening:

patzerforlife: another Nakamura draw
congrandolor: what happens with this guy? his chess used to be thrilling
congrandolor: now almost as boring as So´s
faustus: Go Jeffery!
Wizboy: nakamura is the new giri
Jeh: Yeah, this position is totally innocuous….

14. c4 e4 15. Nd2 exd3 16. c5 Ba5 17. Rxb7 Nb4 (Stockfish at Da Bomb gives this line: 17… Nb4 18. cxd3 Nxd3 19. Ne4 Qg6 20. Qxd3 Bxe1 21. Rxc7 Rad8 22. Qe2 Bb4 23. Rxa7 Bxh3 24. Nd6 Bxg2 25. Kxg2 Bxc5 26. Bxc5 Rxd6 27. Bxd6 Qxd6 28. Qc4 Qd2 29. Rb7 Qa5 30. Rb2 Qf5)

18. cxd3

18…Bd5? (An awful, game losing type move, gifting white a large advantage. 18… Nxd3 19. Re2 looks normal)

19. Rxb4? (Nakamura returns the favor. What is causing the proliferation of back to back blunders in recent years? Stockfish gives this line: 19. Nb3 Bxb7 20. Bxb7 Nc6 21. Bxc6 Bxe1 22. Bxa8 Bxf2+ 23. Bxf2 Rxa8 24. g4 Qb2 25. Qd2 Qxd2 26. Nxd2 Rb8 27. Nb3 Rb4 28. Bg3 Ra4 29. Bxc7 Rxa2 30. d4 Ra3 31. Na5 Rxh3 32. Kf2 Rc3 33. Nc6 Rd3 34. Ne7+ Kf8 35. Bd6)

The nattering nabobs ‘chatting’ had a field day with Naka’s last move:

CheshireDad: Nb3 seems a very tough move to find otb
Wizboy: Nb3 protects the pawn, attacks 2 pieces – any 2000 player would see this
Wizboy: i mean, idea is, Nb3 attacks a B which is trapped and has nowhere to go, and after Bxb7 Bxb7 white is still attacking that B and the black R. If R runs to safety Nxa5 and white wins 2 pieces for R. Nc6 Bc6 Be1 Ba8 Bf2 Bf2
Wizboy: okay, maybe too long. 2100-2200. Still Naka should be able to see this
attm: any 2100-2200 here?
kramnikaze: Nb3 doesn’t attack 2 pieces. it defends the white bishop after: 19. Nb3 Bxb7 20. Bxb7 Rb8 21. Nxa5
congrandolor: BBBBLUNNDERR
kramnikaze: Iguess Naka isn’t 2100-2200 ….
congrandolor: hehe
congrandolor: maybe he is drunk
congrandolor: or high
kramnikaze: or both 😉
patzerforlife: In 10 years Naka will be walking the streets begging for spare change

ChessHulk: too much poker 🙂
Bonifratz: Nakamura is very underwhelming so far in this event
Wizboy: honestly that line was not so hard to see

Bxg2 20. Rf4 Qc6 21. Qa4 Bxd2 22. Bxd2 Rfe8 23. Rxe8+ Rxe8 24. Qxc6 Bxc6 25. Kf1 Rb8 26. Rb4 Rxb4 27. Bxb4 Bd7 28. h4 f6 29. d4 Be6 30. a3 g5 31. Ke1 ½-½

cycledan: white is a clear pawn up, I am sure eval doesn’t see through to end where it may be winning
gracz: Nakamura = Giri 🙂
kirxan: looks drawn to me
kirxan: and no, I don’t get the reason for not playing 19.Nb3


Vjekoslav Biliskov (2332) v Davorin Kuljasevic (2561)

19th Zadar Open A CRO 12/16/2012

C26 Vienna, Paulsen-Mieses variation

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. exd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Nc6 7. Nf3 Bc5 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Qf6 10. d3 h6 11. Rb1 Bb6 12. Be3 Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. g4 Bg6 15. Nd2 Rad8 16. Qe2 (16 Ne4 Qe7 17 c4 1/2-1/2, Gil Ravelo (2331) v A. Bezanilla (2300), Havana 1999)
Rfe8 17. Ne4 Qe7 18. a4 Rb8 19. Rb3 Bxe3 20. Qxe3 b6 21. Ng3 Qd7 22. Rbb1 Re6 23. f4 exf4 24. Qxf4 Rbe8 25. Ne4 Ne7 26. Qf2 Nd5 27. Qd2 Bxe4 28. Rxe4 Rxe4 29. dxe4 Nf6 30. Qxd7 Nxd7 31. a5 Ne5 32. axb6 cxb6 33. Kf2 Rc8 34. Rb3 f6 35. Bf1 Kf7 36. Ba6 Rc7 37. Ke3 Ke6 38. Ra3 g5 39. Bb5 Ng6 40. Kd4 Nf4 41. c4 Kd6 42. Rf3 Rc8 43. h4 Ke6 44. hxg5 hxg5 45. Ra3 a5 46. Ra1 Rd8+ 47. Ke3 Rh8 48. c5 bxc5 49. Rxa5 Rh3+ 50. Kd2 Ke5 51. Bd7 Kd4 52. Ra4+ c4 53. Bb5 Rh2+ 54. Kc1 Kxe4 55. Rxc4+ Kf3 56. Bd7 Ne2+ 57. Kb2 Rh7 58. Bc6+ Kg3 59. Be4 Re7 60. Bf5 Rb7+ 61. Ka3 Rb6 62. Re4 Kf3 63. Ra4 Ke3 64. Re4+ Kf3 1/2-1/2

Vjekoslav Biliskov (2353) v Nikola Nestorovic (2440)

20th Zadar Open A 2013

C26 Vienna, Paulsen-Mieses variation

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. exd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Nc6 7. Nf3 Bc5 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Qf6 10. d3 Bb6 11. Rb1 h6 12. Be3 Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. g4 Bg6 15. Nd2 Rad8 16. Nc4 e4 17. d4 Qe6 18. Qe2 f5 19. gxf5 Bxf5 20. Kh2 Ne7 21. Bd2 Nd5 22. a4 a5 23. Rb5 Qc8 24. Nxb6 Nxb6 25. Rxa5 c6 26. Re5 Nd7 27. Rxf5 Rxf5 28. Bxe4 Rf6 29. c4 Qc7+ 30. Kg2 Rdf8 31. f3 Nb6 32. Rb1 Nc8 33. Be1 Nd6 34. Bg3 Qf7 35. Bxd6 Rxd6 36. d5 Kh8 37. Qe3 Re8 38. Qd3 cxd5 39. cxd5 b6 40. Qd4 Qf4 41. Rxb6 Qg5+ 42. Kf2 Rxb6 43. Qxb6 Qd2+ 44. Kf1 Qd1+ 45. Kg2 Qd2+ 46. Kf1 Qd1+ 47. Kg2 Qd2+ 48. Kf1 Qd1+ 49. Kg2 1/2-1/2