Chess Move Order Mystery

by

In the ninth round of the 2022 U.S. Chess Championship, Grandmaster Awonder Liang played a surprising third move against Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana. Liang’s third move has long been considered bad, yet Liang drew the game. At the end of 13 rounds, Caruana became the 2022 U.S. Champion.

Fabiano Caruana vs Awonder Liang - Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Photo by Austin Fuller
Fabiano Caruana vs Awonder Liang
Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Photo by Austin Fuller

Opening Trap

In my book Science, Math, Checkmate: 32 Chess Activities for Inquiry and Problem Solving, one activity is “Move Order Mystery.” Within Move Order Mystery, I discussed the Petroff’s Defense. The opening is sometimes called the Petrov Defense or the Russian Defense.

Science, Math, Checkmate, by Alexey Root

Here is what has been considered a bad line for Black in the Petroff’s Defense: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nxe4? A better line is for Black to delay capturing on e4 for one move, like this: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4.

The classic trap, stemming from the first line above, is 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nxe4? 4. Qe2 Nf6 5. Nc6+ and Black resigns because this discovered check wins the black queen. However, Black has an alternative that loses a pawn rather than a queen, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 Nxe4? 4. Qe2 Qe7 5. Qxe4 d6 6. d4. This line is what Liang played. Black’s pawn sacrifice is known as the Damiano Variation, Kholmov Gambit.

Caruana versus Liang

Fabiano Caruana vs Awonder Liang - Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Photo by Austin Fuller
Fabiano Caruana vs Awonder Liang
Courtesy of the Saint Louis Chess Club, Photo by Austin Fuller

The lines discussed above have been added to Caruana versus Liang, though of course Liang would not have blundered his queen. Liang purposefully sacrificed a pawn and eventually reached a dead drawn position.

However, in the 2022 U.S. Championship, a “No Draw” rule was in effect. According to the official website

beenhere

The 2022 U.S. Championship Regulations

A “no draw” rule will be in effect throughout the Event, including any playoff games. Player[s] may not mutually agree to a draw. In the event of a claim for a draw under Article 9.2 of the FIDE Laws of Chess (three-fold repetition) or under Article 9.3 of the Laws (50 move rule), one of the Event Arbiters must be asked by the players to verify the claim.

Thus, in Caruana versus Liang, the players continued until stalemate even though the draw was clear several moves prior.

Results

As mentioned, Caruana is the 2022 U.S. Champion, scoring 8.5 points out of 13 rounds in the 14-player round robin. Liang also had a great finish, tying for third place with 7.5. Liang gained at least 20 FIDE rating points. Full results are at this link.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

About the players

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments are moderated. It may take up to 24 hours for your comment to be published.

Leave a Reply