US Ch: Jennifer Yu takes the title with a round to spare

by Antonio Pereira
3/31/2019 – The astounding run of Jennifer Yu continued on Saturday, when she took down the one other contender for first place to get the title in style with a round to spare. The 17-year-old defeated Anna Zatonskih and stands on an unreachable 9 out of 10 score. Meanwhile, in the Open, Fabiano Caruana caught up with Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Dominguez in the lead thanks to a win over Aleksandr Lenderman. | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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A breakthrough performance

In her first appearance at a US Women's Championship in 2015, Jennifer Yu finished last with a 2½/11 score, but she has only improved since then — she got five points in '16, six in '17 and six-and-a-half in last year's edition. Potentially, she could wrap up the tournament on a whopping 10/11, a score only comparable to Krush's 8/9 in 2010 and 2013 or Zatonskih's 8½/9 in 2009. The numbers speak for themselves.

The teenager will take home $25,000 after playing her last round game against Carissa Yip. Second and third places are still up for grabs as Zatonskih, Tatev Abrahamyan and Annie Wang are separated by a point before Sunday's final round.

Standings after Round 10

 

Jennifer Yu, Carissa Yip, Annie Wang

Did she know she would win beforehand? | Photo: Crystal Fuller

In five out of the eight wins she achieved in Saint Louis so far, Yu had the black pieces. In her showdown against Zatonskih, she chose a fashionable line of the Slav Defence, the same one she had used to draw Annie Wang in round five of the tournament. Pressed to win at all costs, Zatonskih played 17.h4, weakening his king's shelter, before securing the queenside with 17.a5. Later in the game, White's kingside fragility allowed Yu to hit decisively:

 

After 30...f2 White is completely busted. The game continued 31.d2 xg3+ 32.xg3 c7+ 33.g4 e6+ and White resigned with mate-in-two on the board:

 

The king is doomed.

Anna Zatonskih, Jennifer Yu

The final showdown | Photo: Crystal Fuller

In the post-game interview, still nervous after getting the title, Jennifer confessed she never expected to win this game:

I actually didn't think that I would ever win this game, and I'm not just saying that because, you know, just for the sake of saying that...I was just hoping not to lose.

She still could not believe what she had done:

Maurice Ashley: Has it sunk in yet?

Jennifer Yu: I don't think it ever will.


Full interview with the 2019 US Women's Champion


Results of Round 10

 

All games

 

Caruana catches the leaders

Rating favourite and number two in the world Fabiano Caruana said he "wasn't displeased" when he saw his round ten rival, Aleksandr Lenderman, had prepared the Petroff. Black went for a position with doubled d-pawns in which, according to Fabiano, "White was on the better side of equality".

Lenderman had a big advantage on the clock — like he did all throughout the event, like Jennifer Yu and Caruana stated at their interviews. His hasty play, however, led to some positional inaccuracies which allowed Fabiano to show his class, slowly improving his pieces until pushing his opponent to give up an exchange:

 

Black does have the pair of bishops but his position is lacking coordination, while White has the safer king and a clear plan to keep advancing his b-pawn. Under these worrisome circumstances, Lenderman went for 39...xd4 — after only two minutes of consideration — and had little to no compensation for the surrendered material.

On move 45, Aleksandr gave up another exchange and found himself in a resignable position shortly afterwards:

 

The simple 47.♖c1 was the last move of the game.

Fabiano Caruana

Someone seems worried on the background | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The big clash of the day saw Leinier Dominguez using a very solid approach with the black pieces against Hikaru Nakamura. Given the great form shown by Leinier in Saint Louis — particularly in technical positions — we cannot blame Hikaru for choosing not to push his luck against the Cuban-born. The game ended in a repetition after 29 moves.

Hikaru Nakamura, Leinier Dominguez

In good spirits | Photo: Austin Fuller

The other decisive game of the day in the Open saw Timur Gareyev get his second win of the tournament, this time against Ray Robson. True to his style, Timur pushed 10.g4, although it must be said that this was a positionally justified decision. Ray did not react actively enough to his rival's approach and found himself in a losing position rather quickly:

 

Feel free to move the pieces on the diagram above

Only the c1-rook is not directly pointing towards the black king, so it should not surprise anyone that White's attack after 23.xf6 is winning. Robson needed to respond with 23...♝xf6 in order to keep the fight going — albeit in dire conditions — but his choice of 23...gxf6 allowed Gareyev to show mate on the board: 24.h7+ g7 25.xe6+ fxe6 26.cg1+ (the rook joins the onslaught) ♚f7 27.g6+ and Black resigned:

 

Mate will follow with 28.♗e8#.

Timur Gareyev

Timur is never one to go unnoticed | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Final round pairings

 

With Wesley So a point behind the co-leaders, only a miracle would allow him to catch up and reach a four-way playoff, so it is safe to say that one of the three on 7/10 will end up getting first place. Nakamura and Caruana will have the black pieces against the only two players that stand on an even score, Jeffery Xiong and Sam Shankland, respectively. Let us not forget that Xiong had a great start this year and Shankland is the defending champion.

Meanwhile, Dominguez has the white pieces against the unpredictable Gareyev, a player that has lost no less than five times in Saint Louis. When asked about this situation, Caruana accepted that he and Hikaru will be glad to reach a playoff as Leinier does have the better chances on Sunday's final round.

If Dominguez wins, the U.S. Championship will have six different winners in the last six editions. Gata Kamsky was the last one to "repeat", as he got back-to-back victories in 2013 and 2014.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi

Nakamura is getting first-rate assistance before the final round — Tanitoluwa Adewumi visited the St. Louis Chess Club on Saturday | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Standings after Round 10

 

All games

 

Correction: Jennifer Yu was born February 2nd, so she is now 17 years old, not 16.

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Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.
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Alexey Root Alexey Root 4/3/2019 04:33
Anna Gulko (Anna Akhsharumova) 9-0 at the 1987 U.S. Women's Chess Championship.
rcs784 rcs784 3/31/2019 08:45
You should also include Krush's 8.5/9 in 1998 (at 14 years old!) on your list of "comparable performances" in regard to Jennifer Yu.
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