U.S. Championships: Caruana beats Niemann, Tokhirjonova wins again

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
10/16/2023 – Fabiano Caruana continues to have a full-point lead over his closest chasers with two rounds to go at the U.S. Championship. Caruana beat Hans Niemann, one of the players sharing second place before round 9, but the remaining three chasers all won to remain one point behind the leader. Meanwhile, in the women’s event, Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova grabbed her fifth consecutive win to become the sole leader — now only she and Carissa Yip, who stands a half point behind, are in the race for first place. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Four decisive results

All four games involving players still in the fight for the title at the U.S. Championship finished decisively on Sunday — and all four games featured double-edged, fighting struggles.

Leinier Dominguez was the first one to score a win, as Andrew Tang’s attempt to surprise the Cuban-born grandmaster with the Philidor Defence backfired. Playing white like Dominguez was Wesley So, who came back from behind in his game against Ray Robson.

Both players have dangerous passers in this position, but Black is the one with the extra pawn and the chance to take the initiative here — 39...Qxh5, threatening ...Rc4-h4, is winning.

However, with only seconds on the clock (So also had about a minute here), Robson erred with 39...Rd4. Perhaps he had seen that in the line with 39...Qxh5 40.g3, the way to convert his advantage was precisely to play 40...Rd4, and decided that playing it first was even better.

One more mistake on the very next move not only gave away Black’s advantage but saw White getting the upper hand. Once the time control had been reached, So was ruthless in conversion, making perfect use of his queen and knight to create problems around Black’s king.

Robson resigned in this position, as White is threatening to play 50.Ne6, and Black will need to give up his queen to prevent mate on g7.

Wesley So

Wesley So beat Ray Robson | Photo: Crystal Fuller

While So and Dominguez beat lower-rated opponents with white, Abhimanyu Mishra defeated a nominally stronger player with the black pieces. Much like So, the 14-year-old first survived an inferior position and then made the most of his advantage once the tables turned in his favour. His rival in round 9 was 2018 U.S. champion Sam Shankland.

In the marquee encounter of the day, leader Fabiano Caruana defeated Hans Niemann, who only two rounds ago was in sole second place as the only player standing a half point behind the defending champion.

A tough strategic battled emerged from a theoretical Italian Opening. Both a great calculator and a fierce fighter, Caruana opted for complicated lines repeatedly, and the following position with six major pieces on the board was reached.

Caruana’s 31...f3, played after seven minutes, keeps Black’s advantage, but is not as strong as 31...Qxh3.

The idea that justifies the queen capture being the stronger alternative is certainly attractive — after 32.Rf2, Black has 32...Rxg2+ 33.Rxg2 f3, and if White moves the rook along the second rank, the black rook from a8 will join the attack along the g-file, while 34.Rg5 (the only safe square along the g-file) fails to 34...Qh4.

The threat of ...f3-f2 check is deadly.

Despite missing this chance, Caruana continued to find correct manoeuvres until Niemann resigned the game on move 42. Find below in-detail analysis by IM Robert Ris!

Round 9 results

Standings after round 9

All games

Tokhirjonova wins, Yip draws

From round 5 until round 8 in the U.S. Women’s Championship, Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova and Carissa Yip both scored win after win to remain as co-leaders with an increasing advantage over the remaining tournament contenders.

Finally, in round 9, one of the two in-form players got to take the sole lead, as Tokhirjonova beat Ruiyang Yan while Yip was finally held to a draw, by Nazi Paikidze.

Tokhirjonova got an advantage as early as on move 7, as her opponent mistakenly grabbed the b4-pawn with her king still in the centre.

6...Bxb4 is bad due to the usual 7.Qa4+, and after 7...Nc6 8.Ne5 Black is forced to play the ugly 8...Rb8. Tokhirjonova found the most precise way to punish her opponent until move 11, when she lost a bit of her edge. Nonetheless, she emerged an exchange up and managed to convert her advantage into an extremely valuable 45-move win.

Tokhirjonova now stands a half point ahead of Yip and 2½ points ahead of Irina Krush and Alice Lee. With two rounds to go, this has become officially a 2-horse race!

Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova

Sole leader — Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Tatev Abrahamyan

Tatev Abrahamyan beat Anna Zatonskih on Sunday | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 9 results

Standings after round 9

All games


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.