2020 U.S. Championship - Day 1 Recap

The 2020 U.S. Championship kicked off today with twelve of America’s strongest players competing over the course of eleven rounds for a total prize fund of $150,000. After the first day of action, GM Wesley So leads with a perfect 3/3 while GM Jeffery Xiong and GM Ray Robson are tied for second with 2.5/3. Top contenders GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Lenier Dominguez had a slow start, being held to just 1.5/3 and 1.0/3 in the tough championship field.

Check out all the games from the first day of action here, and you can watch a video replay of the event’s live coverage featuring WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Maurice Ashley here.

Standings after Day 1

Round 1

The first round of the event started off with some extremely solid play, as all six games looked to be balanced well into the 25/5 rapid time control. Two of the favorites, Dominguez and Nakamura, faced off in a complex Berlin endgame where Dominguez looked to have a little bit of pressure with White. But steady defense by Nakamura allowed him to hold the draw without too much difficulty.

The U.S. #3 & #4 faced off in the first round of the event. ½-½, 49 moves

While most games in the round looked to be drawn, GM Jeffery Xiong managed to outplay fellow junior GM Awonder Liang, trading off his dark-squared bishop in order to permanently damage his opponent’s structure. Just when it seemed like Xiong would be the sole leader after Round 1, GM Alex Lenderman ended up losing a drawn but tricky endgame with a bishop against two pawns to GM Wesley So, despite holding his own for most of the game: 

The 2017 U.S. Champion needed a bit of fortune to win his first game today.

Round 2

In the second round Wesley continued to put pressure on his opponents in the endgame, this time grinding down GM Alejandro Ramirez in a rook + bishops of opposite color ending. The win brought Wesley to 2/2, earning the clear lead after Xiong drew his game with GM Sam Shankland.

After So’s 38...g4, looking to open lines and create a passed pawn on the kingside.

Meanwhile despite having a large advantage out of the opening against GM Alex Lenderman, Nakamura was unable to find a precise way to keep his edge, and was eventually held to a draw after 144 moves. But the biggest surprise of the round was GM Sam Sevian’s upset over GM Lenier Dominguez, where the junior found a nice trick to flip the evaluation of the position in his favor:

After Sevian’s 30...Nb6!, winning material in view of 31.Rxd6 Bxd6 & Bxc5 next followed by Nxa4, winning a pawn.

Round 3

The final round of the day saw Wesley in trouble for the first time, as he was worse and even losing according to the engines after sacrificing a pawn against GM Awonder Liang. But the position was quite complicated, and So was able to capitalize on his opponent’s mistakes to bounce back and collect his third point of the day.

Although So didn’t get enough for the pawn, he was able to pose some practical problems for his opponent.

Also winning their games to reach 2.5/3 were GM Jeffery Xiong, who defeated GM Darius Swiercz, and GM Ray Robson, who found a killing shot in his game against 2018 U.S. Champion GM Sam Shankland:

After 21.e5!, opening up the bishop and threatening the devastating Qh6. 1-0, 40 moves.

Rounds 4-6 of the 2020 U.S. Championship will take place tomorrow, October 27, with live coverage from WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Yasser Seirawan, and GM Maurice Ashley starting at 12:50 PM CDT on USChessChamps.com, YouTube, and Twitch.

The 2020 U.S. Championships features a series of five national title events, all taking place online from Oct 8-29, starting with the 2020 U.S. Girls Junior Championship. For full details, pairings, and results of the events, make sure to check out USChessChamps.com.