Xiong springs to classic first

by Alex Yermolinsky
3/11/2019 – 18-year-old American GM Jeffery Xiong (pictured, left) scored a clutch last round win to avoid a play-off and take top honours in the St. Louis Spring Classic. He finished with six points from nine games, a half point more than Ukrainian GM Illya Nyzhnyk. In the parallel "B" tournament, Chinese GM Bai Jinshi (pictured, right) was clear first with the same score, despite losing his last round game! ALEX YERMOLINSKY reports on the highlights from the past ten days of chess action in the U.S. chess 'capital'. | Photos: Austin Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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Xiong takes A while Bai bags B

The U.S. chess Mecca of St. Louis upheld its tradition of excellence by hosting the Spring Classic consisting of two Grandmaster tournaments, both featuring an interesting mix of players.

The “A” event boasted average rating of 2653 and it was graced by the participation of two great visitors, Vassily Ivanchuk and Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Yet, their experience failed in the face of relentless assault from the younger generation.


Ivanchuk will turn 50 next week! | Photo Austin Fuller

Ivanchuk problems started early with a loss with White to Varuzhan Akobian and it got worse, as the tournament progressed.


Despite this success the 24-year-old from the Netherlands finished with a slightly disappointing 4 out of 9. A similar fate awaited the pre-tournament favourite, the only 2700+ among the field, Vietnam's Le Quang Liem, who only managed a +1 score while losing some rating points.

The spotlight was captured by the inspiring play of local talent Ray Robson, Jeffery Xiong and Illya Nyzhnyk (I know the latter still represents Ukraine, but Illya has been living in the U.S. for some time already since he became a member of Webster University team, so I count him as one of ours).

One critical battle was fought in Round 2.



Nyzhnyk is in his last year at Webster University | Photo: Austin Fuller

On the strength of this win Illya took an early lead, but he was unable to build on it. While a Round 6 win over Eric Hansen (a popular Canadian GM of the "ChessBrahs" fame), saw Nyzhnyk going up to +2, ultimately it proved not be enough to win the tournament.

First it was Ray who joined the leaders by prevailing in the following encounter.


Robson and Akobian

Robson (left) and Akobian | Photo: Austin Fuller

Varuzhan Akobian once again delighted his fans with uncompromising play, but ultimately his constant struggles with the clock caused him to finish in the bottom half of the standings.

In the same penultimate round the future winner nearly suffered a big setback.


It took Rustam Kasimdzhanov until the least round to notch his one and only victory in St. Louis. I can only imagine how difficult it is to combine coaching duties to a World Championship contender with his own career aspirations.


Kasimdzhanov seldom plays nowadays | Photo: Austin Fuller

As for Jeffery, escaping from what looked a sure defeat inspired him to fight for all the marbles in the last round money game.


Jeffery is only 19 and he has been through wars already. One can expect a big push form him in 2019, and what would be a better time and place for that than a week from now when St. Louis hosts another U.S. Championship? Let's keep our hopes high not only for Jeffery but also for Ray and Varuzhan, along with Sam Sevian and Alex Lenderman, who are defending the U.S. colours at the World Teams in Astana, and Awonder Liang and Timur Gareyev, who are resting at home (or possibly jumping out of aeroplanes). There will be some big scalps to be taken at the Championship. Go get 'em, boys!

Final standings — Group A


All games — Group A


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Bai navigates B

To conclude my report I'd like to say a few words about the “B” tournament. There wasn't much of an intrigue involved in determining a winner of the event. The 20-year old Bai Jinshi from China is accustomed to playing in the United States, and he sailed smoothly through the field by using his comprehensive opening preparation combined with competent positional play. Most of his victories were achieved in deep endgame.

I was delighted to see a familiar name there, my old friend and teammate Greg Kaidanov received a rare invitation to play in a closed event.

As the following game demonstrates Greg did not exactly embarrass himself in St. Louis.


Click or tap the second game to switch


"Greg parties like it's the 1984 USSR Young Masters in Vilnius all over again!"

Congratulations to all participants and big thank to St. Louis Chess Club for making these events possible!

Final standings — Group B


All games — Group B



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.
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benonijump benonijump 3/14/2019 12:57
I want to see Baadur Jobava play in St Louis
malfa malfa 3/12/2019 09:18

as yet I have not checked Your newly proposed variation, anyway what I meant is that by keeping the bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal White prevents the enemy king from getting to d6 too early, so I do not think we reach the same position.

Specifically: 48...g4 49.f4 Kf6 50.Ke4 Kg6 (50...Ke7 51.Kf5) 51.Bd5 Kf6 52.Kd4 Ke7 53.Kc3 Kd6 54.Be4 Kc5 55.Kb3 Kd4 56.Bg2 looks curtains.

Could it be that easy or am I missing something?
AlexYermo AlexYermo 3/12/2019 02:20

49.Bb1 or 49.f4 what difference does it make? We get the same position with white kd4, B on the diagonal and White's Kc3 (going after the the a-pawn) is answered by Kd6 again.

I was about to hit send when an idea occured to me. What if before going Kc3 White puts his B on b3? Then Ke7 will be answered by Kc3 Kd6 and now Bd1!! the idea is Kd5 Bxg4!! leading to a won pawn endgame.

I think we got it now. Thank you for your help.
AlexYermo AlexYermo 3/12/2019 02:04
There are many things I could learn about the game of chess, but this isn't very helpful. +4.0 evaluation means nothing in low material endgames. it's either 1-0 or 1/2-1/2. As far as mate in x number of moves goes, if takes more than your average GM's calculation horizon then you better give some explanations of how it's done.

Some people may find it archaic, but I do not use chess engines in my annotations, at least noit beyond a cursory blunder check.
malfa malfa 3/11/2019 09:55
Even without resorting to the tablebases, to me the immediate 49. f4 does look like an obvious improvement over 49.Bb1+, doesn't it?
TommyCB TommyCB 3/11/2019 08:45
Alex Yermolinsky should probably learn how to use endgame tablebases to check his work. In Xiong - Robson he gives 42. f3!, but the engine quickly determines 42. Kf1, 42. Bc4, 42. Bb5 are clearly winning, and about 6 other moves lead to +4.00 or better evaluations.

To be fair, 42. f3 does not throw away the win.

At move 48 he comments "Perhaps, salvation could have been found in 48...g4!", but the engines soon jump to evaluation mate in 54 (if not sooner).

And in the 48...g4 variation, he doesn't see a win and asks for help after 54...Kd6, but the engines say mate in 33.