As the famous Monty Python sketch would say, “No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!” But that’s just what happened in a dramatic round 7 of the 2017 U.S. Championship at Rex Sinquefield’s Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, as the defending champion, Fabiano Caruana was sensationally put to the rack in spectacular style by new young gun Yaroslav “Yaro” Zherebukh.
Zherebukh, 23, ruthlessly tortured World No.3 Caruana, and he did so with all the sadistic acumen of Tomás de Torquemada in an opening - more commonly referred to in America and British chess circles as the Ruy Lopez, but to the world as the Spanish Opening - that Savielly Tartakower, famed for his witty epigrams, wryly described in the 1930s to be the “Spanish Torture.”
And the Ukrainian-born recent convert to the American chess scene - who lives locally in St. Louis, and spent the last four years pursuing his academic career, but now has the time to devote to “rediscovering a passion for working on and playing chess again” - is now fast making a name for himself as the most unexpected of unexpected wildcards, who could prove to be the biggest surprise winner yet of one of the world’s most storied national championships.
Unbeaten on 4½/7, Zherebukh now finds himself thrown into the limelight by sharing the lead at the top going into the final four rounds with the No.1 seed, Wesley So, who in the previous round 6 almost saw his unbeaten streak come to an end following a close shave against seasoned championship campaigner, Varuzhan Akobian. But somehow So miraculously survived to preserve his streak, and another draw in round 7, against Ray Robson, means he’s now gone 63 elite games without losing.
1-2. W. So, Y. Zherebukh 4½/7; 3-4. V. Akobian, H. Nakamura 4; 5-9. S. Shankland, D. Naroditsky, F. Caruana, A. Onischuk, R. Robson 3½; 10. G. Kamsky 3; 11. J. Xiong 2½; 12. A. Shabalov 2.
1. N. Paikidze 5/7; 2-3. S. Foiser, M. Feng 4½; 4-6. I. Krush, A. Zatonskih, A. Sharevich 4; 7. T. Abrahamyan 3½; 8-11. J. Yu, K. Nemcova, C. Yip, A. Virkud 3; 12. E. Nguyen ½.
The championships run March 29 – April 10 and will be streamed live each round on http://www.uschesschamps.com, featuring play-by-play and analysis from the world-renowned commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.
GM Yaroslav Zherebukh - GM Fabiano Caruana
2017 U.S. Championship, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Breyer Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Nb8 Hungarian master Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) was one of the leading members of the hypermodern school of chess theory, but he is best remembered today for the variation of the Ruy Lopez named after him, identified by what at first looks like a seemingly bizarre knight retreat in the opening, the deep strategic idea being to redeploy it on d7 and put his bishop on b7 to hit White?s centre. This line became fashionable in the 1960s, and soon became a big favourite of ex-world champion Boris Spassky and candidate Lajos Portisch during this period. It then went out of fashion for over 20 years at the elite level, only to now come back in vogue in the last 3-4 years after being resurrected by World Champion Magnus Carlsen. 10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.Bc2 Re8 13.Nf1 Bf8 14.Ng3 g6 15.a4 The alternative of 15.Bg5 has a famous past, having featured in the Fischer-Spassky 1992 return match. 15...c5 16.d5 c4 17.Bg5 This was the path chosen in Anand-Carlsen Norway 2015 - a line that troubled the Norwegian superstar, as he omitted the standard reply of 17...h6, as played in the game, which helps to preserve Black's crucial dark-squared bishop and holds his defence together. 17...h6 18.Be3 Nc5 19.Qd2 h5 20.Bg5 Bg7 21.Rf1 To make any headway with his advantage, White has to open the game up, so that his bishops hit the Black king rather than granite. And for this reason, with the centre now blocked, Yaro rightly switches his rook back to f1 with his pro-active plan of going for f4 to bust the game open. 21...Qc7 22.Bh6 Bh8 Black daren't exchange the dark-squared bishops, as it's the key to helping to fend off White's attack. 23.Ng5 Nh7?! If anything, this only speeds up White’s attack. 24.Nxh7 During the excellent live commentary anchored by Yasser Seirawan, he ruminated here that Yaro should have 'gone for it' here with the immediate 24.f4 to bust open all the lines to Fabi’s king. But Yaz was working 'native' without the aid of the safety net of a playing engine, and after f4 is played, it is not so easy to bust through after all as 24...exf4 25.Rxf4 f6!? 26.Nxh7 Qxh7 27.Rh4 Qe7! and, although White has more space, Black's position is rock-solid, and any advantage for White here is only miniscule. So Yaro’s decision looks to be spot on. 24...Kxh7 25.Be3 This strategic retreat helps better to launch the all-out attack with the coming f4. 25...Qe7 26.f4! Yaro can't hold back now - he has the better position, the world No.3 on the ropes, and he needs to find a way through to launch his haymaker. 26...exf4 Similarly, Black can't simply allow White to push on with 27.f5!, so this is his only chance to stay competitive on the dark-squares, and hope his young opponent over-reaches with his attack. 27.Bxf4 Kg8 28.Rf3! The right square, the immediate threat being to double rooks on the dangerous half-open f-file - but the rook lift can also make way for a switch with Rg3 if needed. 28...Bg7 29.Raf1 Nd7 The defending champion has to ride out the storm, as he can't hunker down now with 29...f6 anymore, as after 30.Bh6! Rf8 31.e5! and White will soon crash through after a Bxg6. 30.Bh6 Bxh6 Black is in trouble, as after 30...Ne5 31.Bxg7 Kxg7 White crashes through with the brutal assault with 32.Nf5+! gxf5 33.Rg3+ Ng6 34.exf5 and a winning attack. 31.Qxh6 Qf8 32.Qd2 Ne5 33.Rf6 Rad8 34.Qg5 Fabi’s position is looking bad, and I don't mean the Michael Jackson kind of Bad, either. 34...Qg7 35.Bd1 Bc8 36.Qh4 Kf8 Trying to quickly remove his king from the crossfire, specifically for now the hit with Bxh5 and Nxh5. 37.Qf4 Qg8 38.Kh1! Quite honestly, the "!" is for having the chutzpah of playing such a quiet move right at the crucial moment of the game, and during a time scramble. Not that there’s a defence here anyway, but with the little safety nudge of his king to h1, Yaro avoids any unexpected snafus with a possible ...Bxh3. 38...Re7 39.Bxh5! This is a very brutal, one-sided demolition of one of the world's top players in the game today, never mind the fact that he's the defending US champion. 39...bxa4 Fabi can't accept the piece sacrifice, as after 39...gxh5 40.Nxh5 Rb7 41.Rh6 makes way for the major threat of Nf6 and Rh7 with an overwhelming attack on both the Black king and queen. 40.Bd1 Qg7 Fabi is reduced to biding his time and waiting for his opponent to put him out of his misery - and mercifully, the kill comes quickly now. 41.Bxa4 Qh7 42.Qg5 a5 43.Kg1! And now the double chutzpah of simply nudging the king to safety back to g1 to avoid any issues again with ...Bxh3. and if you hadn't heard the name of Yaroslav Zherebukh till now, this is one hell of an introduction to the new US young gun. 43...Qh8 44.R1f4! The winning plan is Rf4-h4-h6 followed by Rf6-f4-h4 (or perhaps Qf4) leaving Black totally helpless against the 'heavy furniture' coming down the h-file. 44...Qg7 45.Rh4 Nd3 46.Rh6 Ne5 47.Rf4 Bd7 48.Qh4 Kg8 49.Qxe7 Re8 50.Qg5 Bxa4 51.Rf6 1-0 A very forceful and torturous defeat of the World No.3. I have a funny feeling we are going to hear a lot more of young Mr. Yaroslav Zherebukh going into the future.