Brutal start at the 2019 US Chess Championships

by GM Cristian Chirila

While the open section saw some tense battles without producing many decisive results, the women’s championship was a full-fledged bloodbath that ended with a full board of decisive results!

2019 U.S. Chess Championship  

Sevian vs Caruana

In the open section, the round started with some very intriguing narratives. In his match against Sevian, Caruana decided to borrow some ideas from his World Championship match, employing the Sveshnikov Sicilian as his opening of choice.

This must have come as a shock to his young opponent, as Fabiano rarely strays away from his pet Petroff Defense.  Sevian chose a solid approach and wittily avoided the sharp lines available. Both players kept their kings safe and played a precise game that never really experienced any imbalances.

Akobian vs Dominguez

Dominguez, the newly minted American super GM, contained every ounce of initiative from Akobian who had to accept a rather dry draw after a sequence of massive exchanges early in the game. The players shook hands at move 33 in a symmetrical rook endgame.

Shankland vs Robson

The reigning champion, Sam Shankland, came very well prepared to the game and obtained a risk-free endgame advantage.

Despite being under pressure, Robson kept a calm profile and slowly but surely defused his opponent’s pressure. The final test came when Robson had to calculate and make sure that his tactical transition into a pawn endgame was going to be soundproof. The endgame was a draw and the players shook hands at move 49.

Nakamura vs So

Nakamura was another player that came very well prepared, but unfortunately for him he faced one of the leading experts of the opening in Wesley So. Black took his time in understanding the nuances of the position, and quickly simplified the position into an equal bishops of opposite colors endgame. The players called it a day at move 32.

Liang vs Lenderman

An eventful clash was the one between Awonder Liang and Alex Lenderman. Lenderman got the upper hand first after Liang allowed Black’s knight to get to f4. Nevertheless, after a series of imprecise moves, Black’s piece confluence on the kingside proved to be rather an overextended construction as White’s pieces started picking at them tirelessly. White got the decisive advantage but blew it all away with the careless 36.Nd7? This allowed Black back into the game, and even more than that, after another blunder by White with 38.Kxe3? Despite the decisive advantage, Lenderman did not manage to convert the technical endgame and the game ended in a draw at move 120.

Gareev vs Xiong

The only decisive game of the day in the open section was the clash between Gareev and Xiong. The colorful Gareyev opened the game with an early pawn storm on both sides of the board. While this seemed overly enthusiastic, his position was not all that bad due to his bishop pair and space advantage. On the other side of the coin, Xiong persuaded his aggressive opponent to continue pushing his pawns and create positional weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Gareyev, his time management was not optimal and he found himself needing to handle an overly complex position where every move could blunder the game. Let’s take a closer look at this exciting game!


[Event "US Chess Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.03.20"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Gareyev, Timur"]
[Black "Xiong, Jeffery"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A09"]
[WhiteElo "2557"]
[BlackElo "2663"]
[Annotator "Cristian Chirila"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[SourceVersionDate "2019.03.20"]

1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 d4 3. b4 {A very sharp opening, one that Xiong surely must
have anticipated.} Bg4 4. Ne5 Bf5 5. e3 Nf6 6. g4 $6 {Now this move is bonkers,
but is precisely Timur's style!} (6. Qf3 Be4 7. Qf4 {it seems quite odd to
bring your queen out like this, but in this particular case it was probably
the best option} e6 8. a3 a5 9. b5 $13) 6... Be4 (6... dxe3 $1 {would have
meant trouble for White} 7. fxe3 (7. dxe3 Qxd1+ 8. Kxd1 Nxg4 9. Nxg4 Bxg4+ $17)
7... Be4 8. Rg1 Nbd7 9. Nf3 h6 10. Nc3 Bh7 $40 {White's lack of development
and structural overextension will spell trouble in the upcoming middlegame}) 7.
f3 Bg6 8. Bb2 dxe3 9. dxe3 Nbd7 10. Nxg6 hxg6 11. Nc3 e6 12. c5 c6 13. g5 Nd5 (
13... Nh7 $1 {would have been a strong option recommended by the engines, but
not an easy idea to execute from a human's perspective} 14. f4 Nxg5 15. fxg5
Qxg5 {With strong compensation for the sacrificed material}) 14. Nxd5 exd5 15.
f4 $6 (15. h4 $5 b6 16. e4 $1 bxc5 17. exd5 Bd6 18. dxc6 $14 {The power of
White's B bishop will soon be felt / +/-}) 15... Qe7 16. Qd2 Rh4 17. Qf2 Qe4
18. a3 Qxh1 19. Qxh4 a5 20. Qf2 axb4 21. axb4 Rxa1+ 22. Bxa1 Qe4 {Despite the
limited material, the king's safety is still an important factor of assessment.
Black is dominating in that department, and will slowly bring his pieces
closer to White's K to prove that point.} 23. Bc3 b6 24. Kd2 bxc5 25. b5 cxb5
26. Bxb5 c4 27. Qe2 Qb1 28. Bxd7+ Kxd7 29. Qg4+ Qf5 $18 {Now its just over} 30.
h3 Kc6 31. Ke2 Kb5 32. Bd4 Qxg4+ 33. hxg4 Kb4 34. e4 dxe4 35. Kd2 Bc5 36. Bxg7
Kb3 37. f5 e3+ 38. Ke2 c3 0-1

2019 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship

The ladies came to play! While there was only one decisive game in the open section, all games in the women’s section finished in decisive results. It was a tense battle between the exuberance of the youth, and the calculated pace of the experienced, let’s take a closer look at each individual encounter.

Krush vs Nguyen

The seven-time national champion, Irina Krush, started off in quite a rocky fashion. Her young opponent, Emily Nguyen, played the Black side of a solid Cebanenko Slav. Irina decided to force things in the center, but failed to correctly assess her opponent’s strong pawn break that left her structure I shambles. With heavily weakened dark squares, Irina struggled to find counter play, but just as the situation was starting to look very grim for White, Emily allowed a powerful central expansion with the careless 32…Nf6?

This allowed Krush to begin her offensive and put her young opponent under extreme pressure, which ultimately paid off when Nguyen blundered with 35…Rf8? This led to a smooth victory for White.

Abrahamyan vs Feng

Abrahamyan had to face against another talented youngster, Maggie Feng. The game started off as a French, and Abrahamyan looked to be the better prepared player. Unfortunately for her, Maggie Feng kept a composed profile under pressure and slowly subsided White’s initiative.

The players entered an endgame which proved to be very good for Black due to the presence of the outside passed pawn on the “a” file. Feng showed pristine technique as she slowly pushed Abrahamyan’s pieces back and decisively converted her advantage into a full point.

Eswaran vs Wang

Annie Wang showed why she is one of the most exciting prospects in American chess last year, when she almost succeeded in breaking all the rules and winning the title. And while the first time she failed to complete the task, she is undoubtedly entering this year’s edition as one of the favorites to win it all.

This game surely proved that she is a force to be reckoned with, as she skillfully outplayed her opponent in a complex middlegame.

Sharevich vs Yu

Another explosive encounter was the game between Anna Sharevich and Jennifer Yu. GM Boros Denes skillfully presents his analysis of the game below.


[Event "U.S Womens Championship"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.03.21"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Sharevich, A."]
[Black "Yu, Jennifer"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E06"]
[Annotator "GM Denes Boros"]
[PlyCount "94"]
[SourceDate "2019.03.21"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nbd2 {A rare, but interesting idea by Anna
Sharevich!} Be7 (4... c5 $1 {is definitely the most critical, as the Knight on
d2 exerts little pressure on Black's centre.}) 5. g3 $1 {transposing back into
a Classical-Catalan position.} O-O 6. Bg2 b6 7. cxd5 exd5 8. O-O Bb7 9. Ne5
Nbd7 10. b3 Ne4 $5 {a risky decision by Jennifer Yu, as she is aiming to
occupy the centre squares, but the knight might get a little loose on e4. She
could have tried the more timid} (10... Re8 11. Bb2 c5 {with a roughly
balanced position.}) 11. Nxe4 dxe4 12. Qc2 $1 {Anna immediately puts pressure
on the e4 pawn.} Nf6 13. Bb2 Bd6 14. Nc4 Re8 $1 {Jennifer realizes that she is
behind in development, so she decides to part with her bishop pair, in
exchange for active piece play!} 15. Rac1 Qe7 16. Nxd6 cxd6 17. Qc7 Nd5 $1 {
Not afraid of exchanges.} 18. Qxe7 Rxe7 {After the game Jennifer Yu thought
the position is around even here, and guess what, the computer agrees. Great
positional judgement by Jennifer!} 19. Ba3 Rd8 20. e3 b5 $1 {Black is trying
to bury White's bishops, and if she succeeds than Black will be clearly better.
} 21. Rfe1 (21. h4 $1 {would have been better, trying to activate the bishop
via h3.}) 21... f5 22. f3 b4 23. Bb2 Ba6 $1 {Thematic play. Black only needs
to exchange the White-squared bishops and she will have a strategically
winning position!} 24. fxe4 fxe4 25. a3 $1 Bd3 26. axb4 Nxb4 27. Red1 {a
mistake, but Anna's position was already quite difficult.} Nc2 $1 {Winning the
e3 pawn.} 28. Rd2 Nxe3 29. Bh3 g5 $1 {Good technical play. Jennifer continues
with her plan; burying those bishops!} 30. Re1 g4 31. Bg2 Nxg2 32. Kxg2 Rb7 $1
{winning the b3-pawn and the game.} 33. d5 Rxb3 34. Bd4 a6 35. Rf2 Rf8 36.
Rxf8+ Kxf8 37. Rc1 Be2 38. Rc8+ Ke7 39. Rc7+ Kd8 40. Rxh7 e3 41. Rf7 Rd3 42.
Bxe3 Rxe3 43. h4 Bf3+ 44. Kf2 Re2+ 45. Kf1 Re7 46. Rf8+ Kc7 47. Rf4 Kb6 {White
resigned.} 0-1

Yip vs Foisor

Carissa Yip is one of the biggest talents in American chess, and her recent results have proved that she is in good shape coming into this event. Sabina Foisor, the 2017 champion, has always been a fierce competitor therefore this matchup was likely going to produce fireworks. And it did. Sabina obtained a good position out of the opening but failed to tame the middlegame complications and swiftly fell into an unpleasant defensive situation.

Carissa handled her initiative well but almost gave it all away with 39. Qg4?! Fortunately for her, Sabina immediately responded with a huge blunder of her own which simply gave the game away.

Zatonskih vs Gorti

One of the big favorites of the tournament, 4-time champion Anna Zatonskih, played a smooth technical game against the young Akshita Gorti. Her handling of the central pawn majority was a masterpiece and she precisely converted her assets into a full point.

An explosive round here in Saint Louis, and we are all looking forward to see how the rest of the event will unfold!