The U.S. Championships kick off

by Antonio Pereira
3/19/2019 – The U.S. Chess Championship and U.S. Women's Chess Championship will take place for an eleventh time at the Saint Louis Chess Club starting on Wednesday. The opening ceremony was held on Monday March 18th. Two concurrent twelve-player round robin events will determine the new chess champions of the United States. The open section has a stellar line-up, with five 2700+ players for the first time in the national tournament, as Leinier Dominguez will make his debut as an American representative. Fabiano Caruana (pictured) is the top seed. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

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A national chess celebration

The official governing body of American chess, the U.S. Chess Federation, celebrates its 80th year of existence. And they will be commemorating the occasion with yet another well-organised strong pair of national championships. Once again — for an eleventh time — the city of Saint Louis will host the events at the distinguished chess club in town, as the work done by the Sinquefield family continues to bear fruit.

The formal start took place on Monday, when the St. Louis Zoo — recognised as a leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation and education — hosted the opening ceremony. That produced the following pairings for round one of the Open on Wednesday:

Round 1 pairings

Pairings and plaques for World Chess Hall of Fame inductees | Photo: Austin Fuller

The U.S. Chess Hall of Fame and the World Chess Hall of Fame each officially received six new inductees. For the U.S. Hall:

  • Max Judd, Saint Louis resident, immigrant and top player at the turn of the 20th century
  • William Lombardy, Chess Olympiad gold medallist who was an instrumental collaborator in bringing four world championship titles to the United States
  • Susan Polgar, Olympiad gold medallist, former women’s world chess champion and Webster University collegiate chess coach

The World Hall of Fame, in coordination with FIDE inducted:

  • Xie Jun, Olympiad team gold medallist, chess author and first player from Asia to become women’s world chess champion
  • Akiba Rubinstein, Olympiad gold medallist and one of the strongest players of the early 20th century, who is best remembered for his contributions to opening theory and rook and pawn endgames
  • Mark Taimanov, Olympiad team gold medallist, prolific chess writer and theoretician, and one of the few players to have defeated six world chess champions

The organisers are including a Community Day on Tuesday, while the chess action will kick off at 18:00 UTC (19:00 CET, 14:00 EDT) on Wednesday (NB: The USA has already advanced their clocks for Daylight Saving Time!). Eleven rounds will take place from March 20th until March 31st, with the play-offs scheduled to follow, if needed, on Monday April 1st.


Date Time (GMT-5) Event
March 18 06:00 p.m. Opening Ceremony
March 19   Community Day
March 20 01:00 p.m. Round 1
March 21 01:00 p.m. Round 2
March 22 01:00 p.m. Round 3
March 23 01:00 p.m. Round 4
March 24 01:00 p.m. Round 5
March 25 01:00 p.m. Round 6
March 26   Rest Day
March 27 01:00 p.m. Round 7
March 28 01:00 p.m. Round 8
March 29 01:00 p.m. Round 9
March 30 01:00 p.m. Round 10
March 31 01:00 p.m. Round 11
April 1 01:00 p.m. Playoff (if necessary)
  06:30 p.m. Closing Ceremony

Paikidze and Shankland in 2018

Nazi Paikidze and Sam Shankland were the winners in 2018 | Photo: Austin Fuller

The "FIDE time control" will be used in both events: 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an addition of 30 seconds (increment) per move starting from move one. Quick draws will be avoided as much as possible, as the players will not be able to mutually agree to a draw in less than 30 moves.

Unlike the rules used at some official FIDE tournaments, in case of a tie for first, a rapid round robin tournament or direct match (depending on the number of players) will take place. (The regulations for the new World Championship cycle were announced and, if there is a tie at the top, the winner of the Candidates tournament will not be decided in a rapid play-off of some sort, again).

Big prizes are at stake — US$194,000 in the open section, with US$50,000 for first place, and US$100,000 in the women's category, with US$25,000 in stock for the winner. Also, the "$64,000 Fischer Bonus Prize" continues to be in offer, for the player that replicates Fischer's 11-0 sweep achieved at the 1963/64 U.S. Championship.

Shahade and Seirawan

Jennifer Shahade and Yasser Seirawan have been providing commentary from St. Louis for quite a while | Photo: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club 

The tried-and-tested team of Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley will provide commentary from Saint Louis, with a first-class technical staff supporting their work. Previous broadcasts and much more content can be found at the club's YouTube channel.

The field — Open section

World number two Fabiano Caruana will be heading the line-up. He has good memories from the club, as he got an astounding first place at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup — ahead of Magnus Carlsen — after famously winning seven games in a row, and won the U.S. Championship in 2016. Also, it is very likely that Fabiano still has some unused home preparation from last year's World Championship match, and he will not hesitate to use it at this prestigious event.

Second according to rating is Wesley So, the 2016 national champion. The 26-year-old has been showing good results in accelerated time controls, after losing some traction in classical chess. His solid style almost guarantees he will stay in the fight for first, although from time to time he performs below his usual level.

Wesley So

Wesley So at the opening | Photo: Crystal Fuller

Third seed is four-time U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura. Lately, he has fallen to number 15 in the world rankings, sitting currently rather far from his 2816 peak rating from 2015. Nonetheless, ‘Naka’ is a natural-born fighter, and we must not forget he is the defending champion of the Grand Chess Tour — in any rapid play-off scenario, he would certainly be the favourite.

The newest addition to the American federation is Leinier Dominguez, a five-time Cuban national champion who has a long list of tournament wins in the international circle. It remains to be seen whether his hiatus from classical chess will play a role in this tournament. The chess world was waiting to see him back in action, and what a debut it will be!

Defending champion Sam Shankland is the final 2700+ player in the field. His work ethic and strong will power got him a career-changing triumph in last year's edition. Sam will arrive in Saint Louis after having played in Wijk aan Zee, at the Bundesliga and in Prague. His heavy schedule might be a positive factor for him, as he will need less time to adjust to the competition.

Three youngsters are totally capable of upsetting the favourites and make a run for first place: former World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong (18 years old), former American Continental Champion Sam Sevian (18) and two-time U.S. Junior Champion Awonder Liang (15).

Complete list of participants

Title First Last FIDE rating Qualification Method
GM Fabiano Caruana 2828 Rating
GM Wesley So 2762 Rating
GM Hikaru Nakamura 2746 Rating
GM Leinier Dominguez 2739 Rating
GM Sam Shankland 2731 US Champion
GM Ray Robson 2667 Rating
GM Jeffery  Xiong 2663 Rating
GM Sam Sevian 2642 Rating
GM Aleksandr Lenderman 2637 Rating
GM Varuzhan Akobian 2625 Wildcard
GM Awonder Liang 2590 US Junior Champ.
GM Timur Gareev 2557 US Open Champion

The field — Women's section

The rating favourite is seven-time U.S. Women's Champion Irina Krush. Her last national victory came in 2015, although she has finished in sole third place in the last two editions. She is working heavily as a trainer in New York, but she is surely still capable of defeating the field. Will 2019 be her 'comeback year'?

Second-seeded is Krush's eternal rival at these tournaments — four-time U.S. Women's Champion Anna Zatonskih. The Ukraine-born International Master comes from having good results in all three previous editions (3rd, 4th and 4th), although she has not won the whole thing since 2011. She will be trying to recover from a subpar performance at the Cairns Cup, also played in Saint Louis.

Tatev Abrahamyan almost won this event in 2016, when only an amazing 8½/11 performance by Nazi Paikidze — who will be absent this year — prevented her from at least going to play-offs. This will be her 11th appearance at the U.S. Women’s Championship.

Carissa Yip, Annie Wang (pictured) and Jennifer Yu (aged 15, 16 and 17 respectively) are three youngsters to keep an eye one, while Sabina Foisor proved in 2017 that she is capable of taking first place against this strong a field.

Complete list of participants

Title First Last FIDE rating Qualification Method
GM Irina Krush 2451 Rating
IM Anna Zatonskih 2430 Rating
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan 2377 Rating
WIM Annie Wang 2304 Rating
WGM Anna Sharevich 2282 Rating
WIM Carissa Yip 2279 US Girls’ Champ.
WGM Sabina Foisor 2276 Rating
WGM Jennifer Yu 2273 Rating
WIM Akshita Gorti 2272 Rating
WIM Ashritha Eswaran 2234 Wildcard
WIM Maggie Feng 2199 Wildcard
WIM Emily Nguyen 2143 Rating


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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