06 Apr

Breaking Into Fort Knox

Last year, Wesley So made two monumental moves. After a protracted dispute with the Philippine Chess Federation, which So, 21, felt wasn’t giving him sufficient support, he won - at his own personal expense - the right to switch federations to play for the U.S. And after winning the $100,000 first prize at the inaugural Millionaire Chess Open last October in Las Vegas, he opted to leave college to turn professional.

He admitted that his immediate goal in life was to win the U.S. Chess Championship, now taking place at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. Standing in his way is the U.S. No.1, Hikaru Nakamura. Aside from So and Nakamura, 12 American grandmasters with a combined 2732 rating average are doing battle, making this one of the strongest fields ever to compete for the national title.

Currently, So is ranked No.8 in the world with a live rating of 2788.9 while Nakamura, whose own game has notably risen a notch with the arrival on the scene of a new rival, recently leapfrogged Fabiano Caruana to be rated No.2, behind Magnus Carlsen, on 2803.6. But in the race to be top dog in U.S. chess, So suffered a setback in round three by losing a won position to new rising star Sam Sevian - a sore defeat made all the more painful for So, as Nakamura also lost ground after being held to a draw by two-time defending champion Gata Kamsky.

Nakamura and So then met in the big clash of round four, which ended in a draw - but they were both back to winning ways in round five, with wins over Daniel Naroditsky and Timur Gareev respectively. Nakamura, undefeated on 4/5, holds a half point lead at the top over So on 3.5-points. Kamsky, Ray Robson and Kayden Troff are not far behind the leaders on 3-points.

The 2015 U.S. Championships is being streamed live daily at www.uschesschamps.com, again featuring play-by-play and analysis from the top commentary combo of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

W So - T Gareev
U.S. Championship, (5)
French Defence, Fort Knox variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 The Fort Knox variation - an extremely solid sideline that was under-appreciated until the last two decades or so, when the English IM Andrew Martin championed its cause for Black, rather than facing the theory-onslaught of the Winawer and Tarrasch - and with a reputation of being solid and hard to crack, he dubbed it the "Fort Knox" (after the legendary gold repository in Kentucky), and the name stuck. 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0–0 Ngf6 8.Ng3 Be7 9.b3 h5 10.Qe2 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 c6 12.h4 Qa5 13.Bb2 Ba3 14.Bxa3 Qxa3 15.c3 Kf8 A typical theme in such lines of the French - Black can't castle, but he also can't leave his king in the middle of the board. The only snafu is that, generally, this leaves the black rook on h8 difficult to develop. 16.Rfe1 Rh6 17.Ne2 Qd6 18.Nf4 Kg8 19.Bc2 Re8 20.Rad1 Qb8 21.g3 e5 22.Nh3 Ng4 Black tries to do something about bringing the awkwardly placed rook on h6 into play, even at the cost of a pawn. If 22...exd4 23.Rxe8+ Qxe8 24.Rxd4 Qe7 25.Ng5 and White has a big plus, as there's no easy way for Black to untangle his pieces. 23.Bf5 Rd6 24.Bxg4 hxg4 25.Qxg4 Nf6 26.Qf5 exd4 27.Rxe8+ Qxe8 28.Rxd4 Rxd4 29.cxd4 Nd5 30.Ng5 g6 31.Qf3 f5 32.Kg2 a5 33.g4! Opening up lines towards the Black king, and also having the option of a possibility of a queen exchange, should the endgame situation be right. 33...Ne7 34.Qe2 fxg4 35.Qxg4 Nf5 36.Nf3 Qe6 37.Qf4 Qd5 38.Kh3 Nd6 (See Diagram) Preventing the thought of Black exchanging queens, and even going into the bad knight ending. 39.Kh2! a4 As noted previously, the knight endgame is also bad 39...Nf5 40.Qb8+ Kg7 41.Qe5+! Qxe5+ 42.dxe5 b5 43.Kh3 c5 44.Nd2 and after Kg4, White will win the ending with an eventual h5, with two passed pawns. 40.Qf6 axb3 41.Qxg6+ Kf8 42.axb3 Nf7 1–0

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