HAPPY SPRING – IT’S TIME TO RENEW FOR FALL 2019!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

The United States Chess Championship is regarded as one of chess history’s most storied national championship – and the latest edition has just got underway at what’s now become its ‘spiritual home’ in the Midwest city of Saint Louis, built by chess patron Rex Sinquefield, namely the Saint Louis Chess Club, as the marquee event continues to go from strength to strength with twelve of the country’s leading grandmasters all vying over the next two weeks for the coveted title that was first won by Charles Stanley way back in 1845.

With a prize fund on offer of $194,000, qualification into the World Championship title, the field is headed by former World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana, who is the pre-tournament favourite to win, and also includes top elite stars Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, and defending U.S. champion Sam Shankland, who will also be among the favourites for the title. Also in the mix (and making his debut) is the five-time Cuban champion, Lenier Dominguez; leading U.S. juniors Jeffrey Xiong, Sam Sevian and Awonder Liang; and also Ray Robson, Varuzhan Akobian, Alex Lenderman and ‘Blindfold King’ Timur Gareev.

Also taking place at the same time is the U.S. Women’s Championship and a prize fund of $100,000, and with GMs Irina Krush and Anna Zaitonskih continuing their long rivalry. The 12-player field is complete with WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, WGM Jennifer Yu, WIM Carissa Yip, WGM Sabina Foiser, WIM Annie Wang, WGM Anna Sharevich, WIM Akishita Gorti, WIM Maggie Feng, WIM Emily Nguyen, and WIM Ashritha Eswaran,

The mixture of styles, age and experience will mean that there’s something for everyone to take an interest in one of the strongest and most diverse national championships in the world. And of the many interesting struggles of the opening round, the only decisive game of the marquee event saw Xiong getting off to a flyer, as the in-form Texan top junior steadily outplayed Gareev.

U.S. Championship Round 1:
Sevian ½-½ Caruana
Nakamura ½-½ So
Shankland ½-½ Robson
Akobian ½-½ Dominguez
Gareev 0-1 Xiong
Liang ½-½ Lenderman

U.S. Women’s Championship:
Krush 1-0 Nguyen
Zatonskih 1-0 Gorti
Abrahamyan 0-1 Feng
Eswaran 0-1 Wang
Sharevich 0-1 Yu
Yip 1-0 Foiser

The 2019 U.S. Championships will also be streamed live daily on www.uschesschamps.com, featuring play-by-play and analysis from the renowned commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. Spectators may view the action live in the tournament hall and enjoy additional grandmaster-led commentary at Kingside Diner. Additional event, ticketing, and hotel information may be found at www.uschesschamps.com.

Photo: Jeffrey Xiong stayed strong to score the only decisive game of the opening round | © Lennart Ootes / St. Louis Chess Club

GM Timur Gareev – GM Jeffrey Xiong
U.S. Championship, (1)
Reti’s Opening
1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 This line of the Reti usually transposes into a Reversed Blumenfeld or Benko Gambit with an extra move – but despite the extra move, it doesn’t seem to offer White all that much if anything at all. 3…Bg4 4.Ne5 A very provocative line, where mayhem will break out on the board. More standard is lines such as 4.Bb2 or 4.Qb3. 4…Bf5 5.e3 Nf6N Unbelievably, we are already in uncharted waters! More usual – and also scoring well here for Black – has been 5…Qd6. 6.g4 Be4 Xiong had a bit of a long think here – and he was probably looking at trying to force things “early doors” with 6…dxe3!? 7.fxe3 (The best move. White will only come to grief after 7.gxf5? exf2+ 8.Kxf2 Qd4+ 9.Kg2 Qxe5 where the piece has been reclaimed, the White king is wandering dazed in the open, and Black will pick off some additional pawns.) 7…Be4 8.Rg1 Nbd7 but even here, despite Black’s advantage, he really doesn’t have much more than he gets in the game. 7.f3 Bg6 In case you are wondering, 7…Qd6 falls into 8.Nxf7! Kxf7 9.fxe4 and a murky position after 9…dxe3 10.Nc3!? where I doubt if White stands any worse than Black does. 8.Bb2 dxe3 9.dxe3 Nbd7 With Gareev’s king the one more exposed, Xiong rightly avoids 9…Qxd1+ 10.Kxd1 that looks about even with the trade of queens as there’s less danger on the board. 10.Nxg6 hxg6 Gareev has the bishop-pair – but Xiong has a solid position and the potential to make something of the exposed lines around the White king. 11.Nc3 e6 12.c5 c6 13.g5 Nd5 14.Nxd5 exd5 15.f4 Qe7 16.Qd2 Rh4!? An interesting rook lift that threatens …Rxf4 – and one that White can’t simply escape from by queenside castling. 17.Qf2 If 17.0-0-0?! then suddenly 17…a5! threatens to open the a-file and the White king exposed once again. 17…Qe4 The whole point of Black’s play – but unless Gareev cracks with a blunder, White’s position is not without its own resources to stay in the game. 18.a3 Qxh1 Black’s position looks primed for a brutal kill, but it isn’t that easy to find one. If 18…Rxf4 19.Qxf4 Qxh1 does win a pawn, but after 20.0-0-0! Qe4 21.Qxe4+ dxe4 22.Rd4! f5 23.gxf6 Nxf6 24.Bg2 suddenly White pieces have come to life: he’ll easily win the e4-pawn and hold a slight advantage going into the ending with the doubled Black g-pawns. 19.Qxh4 a5 Centralising the queen by first playing 19…Qe4 and keeping open the threat of …a5 looked the right way to continue; though there’s not much in the game now anyway. 20.Qf2? Just when Gareev is finding his way back into the game, he errs badly by missing his best shot with the brave move of 20.0-0-0!? as although 20…axb4 21.axb4 Qe4 looks good and strong for Black, White has the rather cunning retreating resource of 22.Qe1! and now there’s no way to stop White playing Bd3 followed by e4 to open the game up to his advantage now. 20…axb4 21.axb4 Rxa1+ 22.Bxa1 Qe4! 23.Bc3? You know it has gone rather awkward for White when you see that all the engines now are saying the best hope was to voluntarily give up the e-pawn to trade queens with 23.Qb2 Qxe3+ 24.Qe2 Qxe2+ 25.Bxe2 and try to make some use of the bishop-pair to survive the ending. Unfortunately, with the queens still on the board, Xiong quickly opens the game for his pieces to join in the coming attack. 23…b6! [see diagram] Tactics and the undermining of Gareev’s queenside pawns quickly decides the game now. 24.Kd2 White can’t play 24.cxb6 as he’ll walk into 24…Qb1+! 25.Ke2 Qc2+ 26.Bd2 Bxb4 27.Qe1 Nc5! where to avoid losing a piece, White will have to play into the forced losing ending after 28.b7 (The only try. If 28.Qc1 Qd3+ 29.Ke1 Qxe3+ 30.Be2 Qg1+ 31.Bf1 Nd3+ quickly wins) 28…Nxb7 29.Qc1 Qxd2+ 30.Qxd2 Bxd2 31.Kxd2 Nc5 and with the extra pawn, Black should have no problems converting the ending. 24…bxc5 25.b5 cxb5 26.Bxb5 The freedom of the bishop is short-lived, as Xiong ruthlessly finds the winning continuation. 26…c4! 27.Qe2 Qb1 28.Bxd7+ Forced; and with it, White will soon have to resign. 28…Kxd7 29.Qg4+ Qf5 30.h3 Kc6 With an ending of bishops of the same colour, the ending is lost – and soon Xiong will be trading the queens to convert the ending. 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 Gareev resigns, as the only way to stop one of the pawns queening is to give up his bishop.

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