US Ch: Four lead after Xiong's defeat

by Antonio Pereira
3/24/2019 – Round four of the US Championships was filled with peculiar episodes that made for an incredible day of chess in Saint Louis. Ray Robson took down sole leader Jeffery Xiong with the black pieces, while Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian were not able to make the most of completely winning positions against Leinier Dominguez and Timur Gareyev. In the women's section, Jennifer Yu remains perfect after her opponent blundered on move ten. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Late arrivals, blunders, swindles

Some might think following classical chess tournaments live does not make sense unless you are really into analysing positions deeply and want to improve your own game. However, round four of the US Championships was a clear example of how things can take completely unpredictable turns even when first-calibre grandmasters are the ones in the fray. 

The first surprise was given by Timur Gareyev...and this time it was not his outfit or demeanour over the board, as the Uzbek-born arrived no less than 25 minutes late to the round. It is true that unexpected circumstances can lead to anyone missing the starting time of any sort of important commitment, but this was clearly not Timur's case on Saturday — he actually registered to play another tournament at the same time! Gareyev already won his first game at the Mid-America Open and is paired against 2351-rated Jason Wang in round three (he asked for a bye in the second round). 

Not that anyone was competing against him in this category, but now, more than ever, we can say Gareyev is the most eccentric character in the field...

Sam Sevian

Time to go, finally | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Sam Sevian did not get confounded by Timur's 'no-show tactic' and achieved clear positional domination with the white pieces. When everything seemed to be a matter of time before he would get his second victory of the tournament, however, the youngster gifted Timur a stunning resource:


Sevian completely blew up his advantage with the previous blunder 32.d3?, and Gareyev needed less than a minute to find the incredible 32...xb2 — White cannot capture 33.xb2 due to 33...xc4+ 34.d4 cxd4 and Black's three extra pawns would be enough to claim a big advantage. 

A bewildered Sam continued with 33.f6+ and eventually found himself with an extra bishop against Timur's two extra pawns. However, as it usually happens in these situations, the weaker side can always go into a rook and bishop v rook endgame, and that is exactly what Gareyev did. Sevian tried to squeeze the unlikely win until move 117, but his rival did not put a foot wrong and took home the half point.

In a post-game interview, Cristian Chirila asked Gareyev about his participation in the Mid-America Open, and the following exchange ensued:

Chirila: Do you plan on continuing to play 'that' tournament or are you done with it?
Gareyev: Which one? (laughs)...No, no, I think I'm done.

Timur Gareyev

Timur drew after all | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

After the draw, Sam Sevian remains on 50%, just like Fabiano Caruana, who tied for a fifth time after missing great chances against Leinier Dominguez. After the game, Leinier admitted to simply have blundered on move 37:


Black seemed to be holding off well until 37...a3? appeared on the board. Fabiano calculated correctly the winning continuation 38.xh6+ gxh6 39.f6+ xf6 40.exf6 and the queen cannot keep defending the rook while avoiding a checkmate after g4-g7. Therefore, Dominguez continued 40...xg3+ and went into an endgame of rook versus knight and pawn with both queens on the board.

Leinier Dominguez

Is anyone else as busted as I am? | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Fabiano continued to play accurately...until he missed a rather simple winning manoeuvre:


Caruana's 47.h2 does not give away all the advantage, but he did miss the strong 47.f3, when due to the threats against f7 Black is forced to offer the exchange of queens with 47...d5, and White is left with an easy technical task.

After about forty more moves filled with suspense, Leinier found a perpetual check and got the half point. Fabiano has not won a classical game since before the London World Championship match, and none other than Magnus Carlsen took the chance to remind him of precisely that on Twitter:  

Robson takes down the leader

The only decisive game of the day — a surprising fact given the level of excitement on most boards — was Ray Robson's 45-move win with Black over Jeffery Xiong. The latter gave up a piece in a complex middlegame, but then missed the right continuation to maintain the dynamic balance of the position:


White put all his hopes on a queenside attack, but a cold-blooded Robson placed his king on d8 in the previous move to avoid any tricks with the knight. Jeffery needed to continue pushing his initiative with 32.c4, but instead played the harmless 32.g3. Ray did not take long to capture the free knight and went on to prove that Black's material advantage is enough to get the full point.

After Xiong's loss, there is no player in the Championship with more than +1 on the score board. Dominguez, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura now share first place with the youngster.

Jeffery Xiong

Xiong vs Robson | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Results of Round 4


Standings after Round 4

All games


Yu still vying the "Bobby Fischer prize" in the Women's

It is four down, seven to go for Jennifer Yu in the women's section, as she achieved another win on Saturday after her opponent, Emily Nguyen, blundered as early as move ten in their fourth round encounter:


You can move the pieces on the diagram above

The Italian has proven to be an opening filled with hidden resources for both sides, but to play it one needs to know all the tricks that might come up on a board filled with pieces. Nguyen went astray with 10...d5? and Yu swiftly showed that 11.xf6 gxf6 12.exd5 xd5 13.xd5 xd5 14.e4 e7 15.h4 e6 16.h5 leaves White with a considerable advantage.

Jennifer Yu

"I can't stop winning..." | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

It took the leader 32 moves to seal the deal. Jennifer is the only player that still has a chance to claim the $64,000 "Bobby Fischer prize", given to the player that gets an 11-0 score in either tournament.

The battle for first place is still wide open, however, as Anna Zatonskih won again and remains half a point behind Yu. Annie Wang and Tatev Abrahamyan are also in the hunt on 2½ out of 4 points.

Saint Louis Chess Club

Everyone is invited to the show | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Results of Round 4


Standings after Round 4


All games



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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fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 3/27/2019 12:32
Absolutely bizarre, I'm not sure how he thought it could have made sense? Games in the mid-atlantic open can go 4 hours and it's only 2 hours between that start-time and getting to the championship and starting. Plus he had to forfeit the 3rd round game there because he was still in his game with Sevian.
Alexsander002 Alexsander002 3/24/2019 06:54
Gostei muito das partidas, muito obrigado!
geeker geeker 3/24/2019 12:03
The organizers must be pleased that Gareyev is playing another tournament at the same time as the USCh?! Seems like a good way to ensure that he'll never be invited again.