US Ch: Sevian joins the leading pack

by Antonio Pereira
3/25/2019 – Two decisive games in each tournament did little to alter the standings of the US Championships. In the Open, Sam Sevian defeated Varuzhan Akobian with Black and is now part of the five-player leading pack on 3 out of 5, while Timur Gareyev beat Awonder Liang and left the cellar of the standings. In the Women's, Tatev Abrahamyan and Carissa Yip were the winners of the day. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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A tight race

In the post-game interview after his draw with Aleksandr Lenderman, defending champion Sam Shankland wittily pointed out that now it is mathematically impossible for him to reach "+6" in the tournament like he did in 2018 to claim the title. At the same time, the commentators clarified that he is still a point behind the leaders with six rounds to go, and therefore well in the race for first place.

Five players are sharing the lead of the US Championship on a mere "+1" after five rounds, making it all but impossible to make any informed predictions about who will triumph in the end. Just like Fabiano Caruana had mentioned previously, Leinier Dominguez explained that even the lowest-rated in the field are tough opponents, making it unavoidable for everyone in Saint Louis to fight for every half point.

US Chess Championship 2019

Portraits of this year's participants | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

The new member of the leading group is Sam Sevian, who wasted a huge chance against Timur Gareyev the previous round. When Maurice Ashley asked him about his 32.d3 blunder, Sam noted that even not moving the pieces for some turns would have kept his advantage. After all, a victory against Gareyev would have allowed the 18-year-old to reach sole first place after round five — and Sam is the eighth seed!

Sevian played the Nimzo-Indian against Varuzhan Akobian and took advantage of the latter's bad handling of the clock. The younger contender made good use of the weakened light squares in Black's camp and closed the deal swiftly:


The black knight wreaked havoc with 33...d3, threatening the b2-bishop and a 'royal fork' on f4. Akobian played the desperate 34.e4 and resigned after 34...xe4+.

Sam Sevian

Will this be Sam's breakthrough event? | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

It was not all bad for the experienced players in Saint Louis, however, as Timur Gareyev took down 15-year-old Awonder Liang with the white pieces. After getting a better position out of the opening, the 'colourful' Timur — as he was described by the official site — entered a rook endgame a pawn up after the time control. This is what Gareyev had to work with after 43 moves:


The drawing tendencies of rook endgames forced Timur to look for ways to make progress patiently. And he managed. This is the final position 29 moves later:


This was Awonder's second loss of the event, which left him in sole last place with 1½ points. Timur left the cellar and now — like Shankland and Akobian — is a point behind the leaders and still with chances to win the whole thing.

Lenderman watches Gareyev

A clash of personalities | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Three balanced games from beginning to end led to draws in Robson v So, Shankland v Lenderman and in the most anticipated match-up of the day, Nakamura v Caruana. Leinier Dominguez, on the other hand, did get good chances against Jeffery Xioong but was not able to find the right path shortly before the time control — Leinier kept pushing until move 65, but Jeffery's correct defence prompted the draw.

Results of Round 5


Standings after Round 5


All games


Wang stops Yu's streak

Annie Wang was the first player not to lose against Jennifer Yu in this year's US Women's Championship. In fact, Annie was the one in the driver's seat throughout her game against the leader, but Yu defended accurately and the peace treaty was signed after 49 moves. Given the fact that Anna Zatonskih also tied in round five — against Anna Sharevich — Jennifer is still the sole leader with an impressive 4½/5 score.

Women players

A friendly atmosphere | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

Sole third place was claimed by Tatev Abrahamyan, who defeated Ashrita Eswaran from the black side of a French Defence. A closed pawn structure allowed for knight manoeuvres to decide the game in favour of Tatev — she confessed that it was a little hard to give up the hero of her position for a rook on move 32:


Black got a decisive material advantage after 32...♘xd3 and went on to win the game after 41 moves. This was the long path taken by Tatev's courageous knight:


Lennart Ootes and Tatev Abrahamyan

Photographer Lennart Ootes and Tatev — exchanging tips on hair colour possibilities? | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

The other winner of the day was Carissa Yip, who took down Maggie Feng from the white side of a French Defence. Carissa has not signed a single draw so far in the tournament and stands on 3/5, sharing 4th-5th place with Annie Wang.

birthday cake for Yasser

Yasser Seirawan celebrated his 59th birthday on Sunday | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Results of Round 5


Standings after Round 5


All games


Commentary webcast


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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