The “big three,” as they are commonly known in American chess, are seen collectively as prohibitive favorites to win the 2017 U.S. Championship, which began yesterday.
It’s early in St. Louis, but two of them validated that sentiment, while the defending champion struggled to make a draw. There were some matchups of familiar faces — all five U.S. Olympiad gold medalists from Baku played on three boards.
The only two wins from the 12-player field came from GMs Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura. For top-seeded So, who doesn’t even know where his unbeaten streak stands (it’s nearing 60 classical games), it was a rout of the bottom seed. Third-seeded Nakamura needed to grind out an ending, and by his own admission used some luck to win against Olympiad teammate GM Ray Robson.
Defending champion GM Fabiano Caruana, sandwiched in between the two in the rankings, was worse much of the game but held against fellow Olympiad teammate GM Sam Shankland.
In the U.S. Women’s Championship, none of their own “big three” began with a win, although there’s a strong argument for claiming a fourth player deserves to change that moniker. While seven-time winner GM Irina Krush and defending champion IM Nazi Paikidze both drew, IM Anna Zatonskih even lost due to an egregious error deep into her rook-and-lone pawn ending.
The fourth would-be Musketeer, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (who was within a whisker of winning last year) is one of the early leaders. She is joined in the 1-0 column by WGM Sabina Foisor and WIM Jennifer Yu.