Round 9 Recap - U.S. Junior, Girls' Junior & Senior Championship

 The final round was a nailbiter, as all the champions had plenty of tense moments. Alex Shabalov had a complex game against Jaan Ehlvest, but managed to simplify the position and get the needed draw to clinch first. Carissa Yip had to do the same, though she was in serious trouble against Emily Nguyen, and accurate play was required to lock up her title.  Awonder Liang was on the ropes in his classical game, but managed to draw after a blunder by Andrew Tang, then had to win a tense playoff against Nicolas Checa. Let’s take a look at the final round games.  

U.S. Junior Championship

Craig Hilby has been having a rough event, but he finished with a straightforward win against Atulya Vaidya. He stole a pawn in the opening and had converted with little difficulty. 

Joshua Sheng won a straightforward game against Jennifer Yu, and clinching clear 3rd place with an incredible performance. He was the only player to defeat Awonder, and was one of the players to beat all event. 

John Burke and Brandon Jacobson played extremely creatively in the opening, but perhaps too creative from Burke, who ended up in a bad endgame. He defended resourcefully, however, and drew it in the end. 

Hans Niemann played in extremely timid style against Nicolas Checa, and while White had plenty of chances for advantage, he clearly had a safety-first agenda. The players agreed to a draw in a roughly balanced endgame. 

Awonder Liang was seriously on the ropes against Andrew Tang, and it looked as if no playoff would be necessary. Andrew blundered an exchange to a tactic on move 35, however, and the players agreed to a draw in a complicated position where neither side wanted to risk anything. This resulted in a playoff between GMs Awonder Liang and Nicolas Checa.

Awonder chose White for the first rapid game, and got a promising position against Checa’s French Defense. It looked murky for a while, but Awonder penetrated with this queen and took advantage of Nico’s king on e8 using an x-ray tactic, locking up a 1-0 lead. The second game was another wild tussle, where it seemed like Nicolas had a promising position with a passed d-pawn. He sacrificed an exchange in an interesting way, and in a wild game with both kings in trouble, Awonder was the one who delivered checkmate first. This is a 3rd victory in a row for GM Awonder Liang, who takes home $6000 and qualifies for the U.S. Championship in the spring.    

Hans Niemann and Awonder Liang are in a good mood before round nine.

U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

Martha Samadashvili and Thalia Cervantes liquidated into a rook ending very quickly in their game. It looked as though Thalia had the better side of it, but she was unable to make the most of her chances, and they eventually drew.

Veronika Zilajeva and Rachael Li, despite being in the last two places, both played inspired chess. Veronika navigated the complications a bit better, and ended up in the classic bishop and knight endgame. While it was clear Veronika had trouble remembering the technique, she figured it out just in time, delivering mate only two moves before the 50-move limit. 

Ruiyang Yan got a tough position as Black against Agata Bykovtsev, as White had a powerful knight on d5 and a lot of pressure. Eventually Agata won an exchange, and converted it into a win. Despite this loss, Ruiyang had an unbelievable event, finishing with an impressive 6/9. 

Knowing she’d have to win to have a shot at first place, Rochelle Yu sacrificed a pawn for a lot of positional pressure against Maggie Feng. This risk paid off very well, and she finished off the game with a nice tactical sequence. This left Rochelle in clear 2nd place with 7 points out of 9. 

The winner of the event, however, was Carissa Yip. She was in quite a bit of trouble against Emily Nguyen, and had to sacrifice a couple pawns to ensure she had enough counterplay. In the end, Emily couldn’t keep enough pawns to win the game, and thus Carissa became the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion with an impeccable 7.5 out of 9.  

Carissa Yip had to remain focused to hold off Emily Nguyen in her final game.

U.S. Senior Championship

Gregory Kaidanov needed to win to have a chance at first, but Alex Fishbein always seemed to have good counterplay after sacrificing a pawn in the opening. Eventually they agreed to a draw in an opposite bishop endgame. 

Joel Benjamin entered an opposite colored bishop endgame against Larry Christiansen, but went astray and ended up in a position where he barely had any moves. Larry finished off the game with some precise maneuvering. 

Igor Novikov went astray by allowing Alex Goldin to put pressure on his e3 pawn in a Queen’s Gambit Declined. Goldin sacrificed an exchange for three pawns, and was clearly winning the rest of the way. 

Maxim Dlugy stole a pawn with a nice tactic against Alex Yermolinsky in a London System, and forced resignation after winning a second. After a rough start for Max, finishing the tournament with three straight wins must have felt good. 

Alex Shabalov needed just a draw to clinch the title, but he had a complex position on his hands against Jaan Ehlvest. He managed to win a pawn, however, then adeptly simplified the game into a position where he could never lose. The players traded the remaining pieces and agreed to a draw, clinching GM Alex Shabalov the 2019 U.S. Senior Championship title.  

The Seniors had a tight event, but it was Alex Shabalov who ended up at the head of the class.

Round nine was the tournament’s final round. We’d like to thank our commentators GM Robert Hess, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, and GM Jesse Kraai for their incredible work all tournament. Be sure to follow us next year!