Skaak: Fabiano Caruana trails at US championship and loses world No 2 spot

After seven of the 11 rounds at the $194,000 (£141,522) US championship in St Louis, which finishes on Monday, Aleksandr Lenderman, Samuel Sevian and the defending champion Wesley So shared the lead on 4.5/7. This close race will probably only be decided in the final rounds. Games are free to watch live daily from 7pm.

The big shock has been the poor showing of top-seeded Fabiano Caruana, wie se stellar result at St Louis 2014 is widely regarded as the best tournament performance of all time, and who narrowly failed to capture Magnus Carlsen’s world crown at London in 2018.

Caruana began St Louis as the world No 2 but his first four rounds brought him just a single win plus three shaky draws, while rounds five and six were disastrous losses to lower rated opponents. In round six he was worse against the rising talent Sevian, 20, who also features in this week’s puzzle, then preferred a risky attack to solid defence and was caught by Sevian’s tactic 28 Re1! when Bxg2? fails to 29 Rxf7!

In round seven, Caruana won after Ray Robson missed a chance to establish a drawing fortress, but the two defeats have caused his rating to nosedive to well behind the new No 2, China’s Ding Liren. Interviewed after defeating Robson, Caruana admitted: “Most of my games in this tournament were bad. Ten minste, today was a very big step-up from previous rounds.”

The 29-year-old St Louis resident cannot yet be counted out, since despite his struggles so far he is still just a single point behind the leaders, while three of his remaining four opponents are in the bottom half of the table.

Even if he finishes an also-ran in the US Championship, Caruana has an immediate chance for redemption in the Fide Grand Swiss which starts in Riga on 25 Oktober. Some Caruana fans believe he is using the US contest as a training ground for the more important task of qualifying for the 2022 Candidates or Grand Prix, for which places are at stake in Riga. Hikaru Nakamura, the five-times US champion with 1.3 million followers on his Twitch streaming channel, has adopted a different approach, missing St Louis to concentrate on the Grand Swiss.

Caruana’s setback follows the announcement a few weeks ago that he had parted company with his longstanding coach and second, Rustam Kasimdzhanov. The Uzbek, 41, whose playing peak was the 2004 Fide knockout world championship where he defeated England’s Michael Adams in the final, had previously aided Vishy Anand during the Indian’s successful world title defences of 2008, 2010 en 2012.

Kasimdzhanov was Caruana’s trainer for six years, including his successful early 2018 campaign when the American won the Candidates, Stavanger and Grenke and got within a few points of Carlsen in the ratings. Winning just a single classical game out of 12 against Carlsen in London would have made Caruana No 1 in the rankings, but it never happened. Kasimdzhanov was disappointed, and it affected their relationship.

After the pandemic arrived Caruana and his coach rarely met due to travel problems, so that when the Candidates started, then stopped at halfway for a year, the tension showed in Caruana’s game. Kasimdzhanov would have continued had his employer qualified for a second match with Carlsen, but as it was he decided to see more of his family and explore other coaching options.

Parting was strange, he told Chessbase. “When you work together intensively for six years, a special relationship develops. It’s like a divorce.” Kasimdzhanov may now switch to helping Uzbekistan’s rising talents Javokhir Sindarov, 15, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov, 16.

Last week’s British championship at the University of Hull felt nostalgic, a final hurrah for some of the GMs and IMs who learnt their skills 30-40 years ago on the competitive weekend circuit during the talent explosion which briefly made England the world’s No 2 chess country. Despite a generous near-£5,000 prize fund, it was a low-key tournament with the smallest entry since 1948 and a third of the players withdrawing before the finish.

Top-seeded Nick Pert took the title and £2,000 first prize with a gritty undefeated 6.5/9. There were five co-leaders with two rounds left, but Pert’s quick round eight win against Joseph McPhillips, who went pawn-hunting with his queen at the cost of development, sealed it when his rival Andrew Ledger seemed to succumb to final-round nerves. Mark Hebden, the oldest at 63, who has been close to the title a few times in his long career, played 268 moves in his last three games but missed a chance to force a play-off with Pert at move 75 in his final round against Keith Arkell, 60.

None of England’s six 2600-plus rated GMs took part, nor did the rising star Ravi Haria, 22, who had just started a new job. Four of the elite plus Haria will comprise the national squad in next month’s European team championship at Catez, Slovenia where England are the fifth seeds behind Russia, Azerbaijan, France and Poland.

This weekend Hull University hosts the British Women’s Championship. There are only 11 entrants, but it will feature a rare encounter between Harriet Hunt and Keti Arakhamia-Grant, the UK’s best two women players since the legendary Vera Menchik. The championship is a seven-round Swiss where the most likely meeting rounds between the favourites are the third on Friday afternoon (4pm) or the fourth on Saturday morning (10 is).

At their peaks, Hunt was in the world top 20 while Arakhamia-Grant, a Georgian turned Scot, was in the top 10. Hunt could have achieved more, but preferred her academic work as a plant geneticist. In possibly their only previous game, played in 2002, a sharp Najdorf Sicilian ended in a draw by repetition.

The Russian championship at Ufa in the Southern Urals has reached its midpoint, with Nikita Vitiugov half a point ahead of the pack on 3.5/5. Aleksandra Goryachkina, the world No 2-ranked woman, is on 2.5/5 after impressing with an early victory.

3785: 1…Qb4+ 2 Kd5 Be4+! 3 Qxe4 Qc5 mate.

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