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On Chess: Shankland and Paikidze are the New U.S. Chess Champions

2018 U.S. Chess Champion, Sam Shankland, and the U.S. Women's Chess Champion, Nazi Paikidze.
Austin Fuller | Saint Louis Chess Club

The 2018 U.S. and U.S. Women’s Chess Championships ended on April 30 in St. Louis. Outside of its obvious bearing, the tournament also signaled the 10-year anniversary of the Saint Louis Chess Club, which has attracted the best chess players in the United States and the world.

Throughout the years, the U.S. Championships have been the playground to some of the most famous personalities in the chess world. From Frank Marshall to Samuel Reshevsky to the global phenomenon Bobby Fischer, the U.S. and U.S. Women’s Championship have been dubbed as some of the strongest national championships on the planet. With time, the player’s guard has changed, but the strength of the tournament has yet to lose its sting.

This year’s championships were marked by extreme tension, competitiveness and surprises. The open section was decided in the last day, while the women’s section required an extra playoff day, after an incredible comeback was mounted in the last days of the regular competition by the 2016 champion, Nazi Paikidze.

After the long and highly contested 10 rounds, the final match was as explosive and exciting as one could have imagined. There were four players battling for glory: Sam Shankland, Fabiano Caruana, Annie Wang and Nazi Paikidze. The outcome couldn’t have been more dramatic. The underdog Shankland (not part of the big three – Caruana, So, Nakamura) went into the last round as the leader, half a point ahead of Caruana.

Most scenarios were surely favoring the Californian, but he could not fall asleep at the wheel. Caruana played white against Onischuk, and it was clear that the new challenger for the world crown would do everything in his power to break through the experienced grandmaster and try to catch up with the leader. Caruana won his game but it was not enough, as Shankland destroyed his opponent with a swift king attack. With his last round victory, Shankland claimed his first career title and produced one of the biggest surprises in the Championship’s history.

Two women managed to fight it off until the very end. Wang, the 15-year-old Californian, was leading the whole event. She was caught in the last round by Paikidze due to an unexpected slip against Foisor. Paikidze’s comeback sent the tournament into overtime, as the two met during the playoff on Monday. After a battle that lasted more than two and a half hours, and required the Armageddon blitz decider, Paikidze completed her comeback and claimed yet another titled after her 2016 victory.

The final game could not go smoother for Paikidze, who simply outclassed Wang in the clutch moments of the tiebreaks. The game was over, the players shook hands, and the thunderous hall erupted into a concert of applause.Paikidze was the new 2018 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion!

At the closing ceremony, the U.S. Chess Federation announced that the 2019 U.S. Championships would once again return to St. Louis.

Cristian Chirila is a Romanian-born grandmaster. Chirila provided expert commentary and journalism for the 2018 U.S. Championships.