The 2017 U.S. Championship at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis was in a somewhat sombre and reflective mood before the start of round 8 with the official announcement of the sad news that the last of the golden greats of U.S. Chess, Arthur Bisguier, the legendary former U.S. Champion, Hall of Famer and Grandmaster, had died on Wednesday of respiratory failure in Framingham, Mass. He was 87.
Loved and liked by all, Bisguier was proclaimed “Dean of American Chess” for his almost tireless promotion of the game, as he’s said to have played more people than any other U.S. grandmaster, giving exhibitions at hospitals, colleges, prisons, and other locations the length and breadth of the country. He was a three-time U.S. Open winner (1950, 1956, 1959), and the 1954 U.S. Champion, and represented his country in five chess Olympiads between 1952 and 1972, his highlight being team silver in 1960.
Born in the Bronx in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression era, Bisguier's talents were first spotted in the early 1940s when he cut his teeth as a promising teenager at the old Bronx Empire Chess Club. He then began a remarkable haul of major titles, stretching from the U.S. Junior Championship (1948 and 1949) to later in life the U.S. Senior Open titles (1989, 1997 and 1998), to be among one of the first to succeed in winning a U.S. chess championship at every level.
In recognition of all this and much, much more besides, in 1994 Bisguier proved to be a hugely popular inductee into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. And in many ways, round 8 of the 2017 US Championship proved to be more than a fitting tribute to Arthur Bernard Bisguier, with a round full of energetic play and fighting, decisive wins!
After his impressive win over defending champion Fabiano Caruana in round 7, Yaroslav Zherebukh had a reality check as it proved to be his turn to be comprehensively outplayed at the board, as the wily championship veteran, Varuzhan Akobian turned in a typical French Defence masterclass to join Welsey So - who drew with four-time champion Hikaru Nakamura, to now stretch his unbeaten streak to a chessic 64 games - in the lead at the top going into the final three rounds.
So and Akobian have the joint-lead on 5/8 - but with defending champion Caruana and Alexander Onischuk (the 2006 champion) both storming back into contention with domineering wins over Daniel Naroditsky and Ray Robson respectively, they now join Zherebukh and Nakamura just half a point behind the leaders in what’s now become a very formidable chasing pack going into the final Championship weekend.
1-2. W. So, V. Akobian 5/8; 3-6. F. Caruana, Y. Zherebukh, H. Nakamura, A. Onischuk 4½; 7-11. D. Naroditsky, S. Shankland, J. Xiong, G. Kamsky, R. Robson 3½; 12. A. Shabalov 2½.
1-2. N. Paikidze, S. Foiser 5½/8; 3-4. M. Feng, I. Krush 5; 5-6. A. Zatonskih, A. Sharevich 4½; 7-8. T. Abrahamyan, K. Nemcova 4; 9. J. Yu 3½; 10-11. C. Yip, A. Virkud 3; 12. E. Nguyen ½.
The Championship(s) final weekend will be streamed live 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 Varuzhan Akobian
2017 US Championship, (8)
French Defence, Tarrasch
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 As Nigel Short observed in his book New Ideas in the French Defence, "When else will you get the chance to play a Scandinavian as good at this!" And the former world championship challenger is right, as this line has become one of the main reason for the 3...c5 in the Tarrasch once again become popular, as it avoids the main drawback - as fought-out in those many Karpov-Korchnoi world title fights through the mid-1970s - of having to contend long-term with the isolated d-pawn. 5.dxc5 The mainline generally runs 5.Ngf3 cxd4 6.Bc4 Qd6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Nb3 and White will recapture the pawn with a little lead in development - but the main reason for the upsurge in popular for Black in this line is the outrageous plan of castling queenside and some dynamic piece-play offering equal chances for both sides. 5...Nf6 6.Ngf3 Qxc5 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.0-0 Qc7 In the Tarrasch, the knight goes to d2 and not c3, and this means that a hit with Nb5 is not possible - and this is the reason for ...Qc7 being a theme in this line, with Black following up with ...Bd6 and threats on h2 and possibly ...Bf4 swapping off the dark-squared bishops that will lessen White's attacking potent. 9.Qe2 Nc5 10.Bc4 Bd6 11.b3 a6 12.a4 b6 13.Bb2 Bb7 14.Rfd1 0-0!? Akobian is one of America's leading authorities on the French Defence, and he throws the gauntlet down to yesterday's hero with this provocative challenge. 15.Bxf6? This is too over-ambitious, as Black ends up with a very active bishop-pair and total control over the dark squares. Akobian's deep knowledge of French strategy is now paying off for him. Instead, Zherebukh should have accepted here that he's no more than equal, and play 15.Qe3 Bf4 16.Be5 Bxe5 17.Qxe5 Qe7 with equality. 15...gxf6 16.Qe3 Bf4 17.Qc3 f5! This is only possible as Zherebukh has exchanged off his dark-squared bishop. But now, with no dangerous way through to his king, and two wonderful bishops controlling the game, Akobian sets his opponent up for a doomed defence of what becomes a very compromised queenside, as he has to weaken his position just to defend c2. 18.Bf1 Rac8! 19.b4 It's either this or 19.Qf6 Qd8! 20.Qb2 (Alternatively, if 20.Qxd8 Rfxd8 21.Nc4 Bc7 22.Nce5 Kg7 threatens ...Kf6 with Black having a big endgame advantage.) 20...Qe7 and risk that Black's queen staying on the board will hasten a coming kingside attack by joining forces with those two wonderful bishops. 19...Ne4 20.Qxc7 Rxc7 21.Nc4 Rb8 22.Nxb6 With ...Bd5 threatened Zherebukh opts to risk everything with this, at least keeping some integrity to his queenside pawns on a4 and b4. 22...Rxc2 23.Nd7 If somehow Zherebukh can exchange off some pieces, he could well have saving chances with his queenside pawns menacingly pushed up the board - but Akobian is shrewd enough to his pieces active and on the board. 23...Rbc8 24.Bd3 Rb2 25.Bxe4 fxe4! Much stronger than the alternative of 25...Bxe4 26.Nf6+ Kf8 27.Ng5!? Rxb4 28.g3 Bxg5 29.Nxh7+ Kg8 30.Nxg5 Bd5 where Black holds the advantage but, with fewer pieces on the board, converting the win is not guaranteed. 26.Rd4 Zherebukh opts to hang for a sheep rather than a lamb, obviously not going for 26.Nfe5 Rxb4 27.Nf6+ Kf8 28.Neg4 h6 29.g3 Bg5 30.h4 Bxf6 31.Nxf6 Ke7 32.Ng4 f5! 33.Ne3 (33.Nxh6?? Rh8!) 33...Bc6 34.a5 Bd7 and Black will play ...Rc5 and ...Rbb5 picking off the a5-pawn for an easy endgame win. 26...f5 27.Rad1 A bit of a blunder, but White is doomed anyway, as the alternative was 27.g3 Bh6 28.Nb6 e3! 29.Ne5 (29.Nxc8 Bxf3 easily winning.) 29...exf2+ 30.Kf1 Be3! winning. 27...exf3 28.Rxf4 Rd2! 0-1 And White resigns, faced with the back-rank mating threat winning an easy piece.