US Ch: Favourites prevail

by Antonio Pereira
3/30/2019 – Only three out of twelve games finished drawn in Friday's ninth round at the US Championships in Saint Louis. In the Open, those on top maintained their winning ways, with Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Dominguez still sharing the lead. Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So also won and are the only ones with realistic chances of leaping to the front in the final sprint. In the Women's, Anna Zatonskih is a half point behind her round ten rival, Jennifer Yu. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Hikaru and Leinier keep up the pace

All five 2700+ players in Saint Louis showed their superiority over lower-rated opposition in round nine. In fact, the four top seeds are atop the standings, with only defending champion Sam Shankland lagging behind on an even score. The one draw of the day was actually signed in the close match-up between rising stars Sam Sevian and Jeffery Xiong.

Results of Round 9


Ray Robson played a line in the Sicilian that he had explored twice before in tournament play — winning both times — against Hikaru Nakamura. The contenders stayed in theory until move 17, when it was a race to reach opposite-side castled kings. It was sharp, and the co-leader outcalculated his younger colleague: 


You can move the pieces on the diagram above

Black ignored his bishop en prise and lashed out with 28...xc2. He then gained a tempo with 29.xe6 c4, forking the rooks, and after 30.ef6 a3 31.bxa3 bxa3 32.xa3 the kamikaze black rook continued the attack:


Nakamura had calculated the following sequence from afar: 32...xc1 33.xc1 xe4+ 34.b2 e5+ 35.c3 b8+, taking back the rook and going into a favourable ending. More precise manoeuvres gave Black another pawn and, with 3 v 1 and only queens on the board, a technical task was in store for the four-time US champion. Hikaru delivered and provoked Ray's resignation after move 55. 

HIkaru Nakamura

The always expressive Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

But Nakamura cannot rest in his laurels, as Leinier Dominguez won his third consecutive game on Friday, this time with White against Awonder Liang. After the queens were exchanged on move 26, Leinier gobbled up a pawn on the queenside, and slowly but surely pushed it forward in a position with two rooks and two pieces per side. On move 50, White gave up material to advance the hero of his position to the sixth rank:


The idea of 50.e8 is to distract Black's defending rook from the a-file. The game followed 50...dxd6 51.xd6 xd6 52.a6 and the pawn went on to queen four moves later. Dominguez had no trouble in converting his advantage into a full point.

The co-leaders are on 6½/9 and are scheduled to face-off on Saturday's tenth round. Nakamura will have the white pieces.

Leinier Dominguez

Cold-blooded, pragmatic | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Fabiano and Wesley still with chances

Half a point behind the leaders is Fabiano Caruana, who made good use of his game against a rather tilted Varuzhan Akobian. The 2018 World Championship challenger had the black pieces and answered 1...f5 to 1.d4 and the game left theory already on move 8. Akobian misread the position and eventually had to give up a couple of pawns. Fabiano never lost control and got the point after 49 moves. The final position:


Caruana with tea

Fabiano is the rating favourite after all | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

The last player with an outside chance of getting the title is Wesley So — Sam Sevian could mathematically reach a tie-break for first, but only if both leaders, Caruana and So have disastrous final rounds. After drawing six games in a row, Wesley got the better of Aleksandr Lenderman with the white pieces.


Black is already a pawn down but has defended his kingside effectively during the last fifteen moves or so. Here, he blundered, however, with 42...e3 (42...♛e3 was a better try). Wesley thought for almost ten minutes before choosing the correct 43.xh7, but after 43...xf4 he faltered with 44.d6.


The computer gives 44...♛g7 as a saving move for Black, bringing back the queen to the defence, while Lenderman's 44…8f7 allowed So to keep putting pressure on the hapless black king.

Wesley manoeuvred his queen through Black's camp until finding the right spots to simplify the position in his favour. Lenderman resigned after move 60, in a completely hopeless 3 v 2 knight endgame.

So discusses with Akobian

Sharing some laughs | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Standings after Round 9


All games


Commentary webcast

A two-horse race in the Women's

Stating that only two players are in the race for the women's title is rather obvious, given the fact that Jennifer Yu and Anna Zatonskih have been head and shoulders above the rest throughout the event...but now it is literally impossible for anyone else to catch them. Tatev Abrahamyan and Annie Wang, on 6/9 and 5½/9 respectively, will be fighting for third place.

It might be a little frustrating for Yu to realize that after piling up eight points in nine rounds, she is still very much in danger of finishing in second place. The big clash against her relentless chaser Zatonskih will be played in round ten, and a loss would leave Jennifer with a hard task in the final day.

Yu and Abrahamyan

This was Yu's second draw of the event | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Zatonskih closed the gap to a half point on the leader board by showing she knows her way around pawn endgames in her encounter against Annie Wang:


Anna reached the time control with the obvious 40...f8 and made good use of the fact that the white king needs to keep an eye on both flanks to get a crucial 57-move victory.


Zatonskih won her fourth U.S. title in 2011 | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

Results of Round 9


Standings after Round 9


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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