It’s a time to celebrate for 18-year-old Carissa Yip. The Bostonian student took a gap year from college to pursue chess at a higher-level, during which time she became the youngest American female International Master, the highest-rated U20 woman player in the world, and now she rounds it off by putting in a stellar performance at the Saint Louis Chess Club to now become the 2021 US Women’s Champion!
And she did it with just a touch of élan, and in typical Yip fighting-fashion, going on a seven-game winning tear to take the $25,000 first-place prize, en route beating four U.S. champions(!) – Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih, Nazi Paikidze and Sabina Foisor – to capturing her first national title, as she scored 8½/11 to finish a full 1½ points ahead of her nearest rival, Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, the Uzbek-born émigré and University of Missouri student.
“It was a very pleasant surprise to find out I not only won first place but I was the first woman to beat four former U.S. Women champions,” said a surprised and smiling Yip in her first interview as champion. “I want to thank my family and friends for their support. This was an amazing win for me.”
From it’s very beginnings, the Saint Louis Chess Club has been at the vanguard of supporting women’s chess, that has indirectly seen a big rise over the past few years in prize-money for the female game. The innovative and groundbreaking club also organised and sponsored the Cairns Cup, the very first elite-level women’s tournament, named after patron Dr Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield, who along with husband Rex, was jointly inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame earlier this month for their generous and continued support for chess.
1. IM C. Yip, 8½/11; 2. WGM G. Tokhirjonova, 7; 3. GM I. Krush, 6½; 4-6. WGM T. Abrahamyan, WGM K. Nemcova, WIM A. Eswaran, 6; 7. WGM L. Cervantes, 5; 8-9. WGM A. Zatonskih, WGM N. Paikidze, 4½; 10-12. WGM S. Foisor, WGM A, Sharevich, WIM M. Lee, 4.
IM Carissa Yip – WGM Anna Zatonskih
2021 US Women’s Ch. (7)
French Advance, Wade variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Bd7 This all comes with a great British backstory to it. In round 2, after 5…Nc6, Yip essayed a near perfect Milner-Barry Gambit – named after the “last gentleman amateur”, as William Hartston dubbed Wartime Enigma codebreaker Sir Stuart Milner-Barry – to crush Tatev Abramhyan. And now with 5…Bd7 comes the creation of the doyen of British Chess, and Milner-Barry contemporary, the late, great Bob Wade. 6.Bd3 cxd4 For a quieter life, Black can play what Wade originally intended with his 5…Bd7, namely 6…Bb5 to exchange off the “bad” light-squared bishop, thus sidestepping the potential sacrificial quagmire of the Milner-Barry Gambit. 7.0-0!? It’s all about active piece-play for the swashbuckling and free-spirited Yip, but then again, after 7.cxd4 Nc6 we are back into known Milner-Barry territory. 7…dxc3 8.Nxc3 Ne7 9.h4! Gaining vital space on the kingside, and looking to dissuade her opponent from playing …Ng6 – and this was the very method that proved so potent for Yip as she crushed Abrahamyan in round 2. 9…h6 10.h5 Qd8 Zatonskih is skating on thin ice here, as you can’t afford such tempo-wasting moves in Milner-Barry Gambit-type positions. And for a mere pawn, just look at Yip’s development, which offers more than enough compensation for the gambit offering. 11.Be3 Nec6 12.Rc1 Be7 13.Bb1 Na5 14.Qd4 Nbc6?! The critical moment comes early doors for Zatonskih, and she makes what looks a solid move – but in fact it just locks her a5 knight out of the game, giving White the time to launch a brutal attack. The tactical try to ease the pressure was 14…Nc4! given that 15.Qg4 Nxe3 16.Qxg7 Nxf1 17.Qxh8+ Bf8 18.Rxf1 Qb6! will likely see White having to bail-out now with 19.Qf6 Qxb2 20.Bg6 fxg6 21.hxg6 Qa3 (Definately not 21…Qxc3?? 22.Qf7+ Kd8 23.Qxf8+ easily winning.) 22.g7 Bxg7 23.Qxg7 Qxc3 24.Qh8+ Ke7 25.Qf6+ Ke8 26.Qh8+ etc and a repetition. 15.Qg4 Kf8 16.b3! Rendering the a5-knight useless, looking and no easy way to get back into the game again. 16…Rc8 17.Ne2 b6 18.Rcd1 Rc7 19.Qg3 Bc8 It’s awkward for sure, but Zatonskih has to re-arrange the ‘furniture’ somehow to survive. 20.Nfd4 While this move admittedly solves the issue with Zatonskih’s knight on the rim looking dim, it has to be weighed up with the consideration that Yip wants to launch an all-out attack with f4 coming. But that said, better was 20.Nf4! especially as 20…Ba6 gets hit by 21.Bg6! Bc8 22.Bd3 Nb4 23.Bb1 and Black has to live on the edge with White’s attack steadily reaching critical mass. 20…Nxd4 We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return for Black, and Zatonskih really had to be bold here with 20…Ba6!? allowing 21.Nxe6+!? fxe6 22.Nf4 Bc8 23.Ng6+ Kg8 24.Nxh8 Kxh8 25.Qg6 Qg8 26.Bxh6 where the engine will tell you not to panic, as after 26…Bb4 it is, after all, just “0.00” – but the human instinct tells you that there lurks danger, and after 27.Bd2!? Bxd2 28.Rxd2 Bd7 (Not 28…Nxe5?! 29.Qg3 Nac6 30.Re2 and the pin on the c7 rook only favours White more.) 29.f4 Be8 30.Qg5 with a dangerous attack brewing, the main threat being f5 to blow the position open for White’s rooks. 21.Nxd4 Nc6 The knight is at least back in the game, but it is too little too late now. 22.Nb5 Rd7 23.f4 d4 24.Bf2 Bc5? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Black really had to play 24…f5!? to try to stop White crashing through on the kingside – and if White is intent on blowing lines open with 25.exf6 then 25…Bxf6 26.Qf3 Rd5!? 27.a4 a6 28.Na3 Qc7 29.Be4 Rc5 and good survival chances; at least if Black does go down, it won’t be without a fight. 25.f5 exf5 26.Bxf5 Re7 27.Be4 Nxe5? A final blunder that only compounds Zatonskih’s misery, but she looks doomed now anyway, even after the better 27…Qd7 28.Bxc6 Qxc6 29.Nd6! where White clearly has a dangerous attack. 28.b4! [see diagram] Yip doesn’t take long to spot the big flaw with her opponent’s last move. 28…Bxb4 29.Rxd4 1-0 And Zatonskih resigns, faced with losing a piece and her king still in the firing line.