Be Prepared: Round Five of the U.S. Championships

The U.S. Junior Championship (Junior), U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship (Girls’), and U.S. Senior Championship (Senior) participants have a rest day on July 20. The players, fans, and commentators have one day to recover from the heart-pounding games on July 19. 





In the Junior, a three-way tie for first place after round four — among IM Arthur Guo, GM Abhimanyu Mishra, and GM Brandon Jacobson — transformed into a different three-way tie after round five when Jacobson lost in devastating fashion.


GM Balaji Daggupati (L) is right back in the event after upsetting co-leader GM Brandon Jacobson (courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC)


After hanging on for dear life against GM Balaji Daggupati’s attack, it looked like Jacobson would have a chance to defend after the time control. Until… 



Replacing Jacobson in the three-way tie atop the standings is GM Andrew Hong, who won against FM Arthur Xu. Guo and Mishra drew their games, against IM Josiah Stearman and IM Jason Liang respectively. 




In the Girls’, FM Alice Lee remains the sole leader after her round five draw with WGM Rochelle Wu. 




GM Melikset Khachiyan defeated GM Maxim Dlugy, who had shared the lead with Khachiyan after round four. The position looked equal after Khachiyan’s sac led to an early endgame. But Khachiyan managed to keep pushing, creating weaknesses that led to an impressive breakthrough:



Now, Khachiyan is the sole leader of the Senior.


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We're seeing a lot of this man's face, aren't we? (courtesy Austin Fuller/SLCC)


GM Alexander Shabalov is tied for third place, a point and a half off the leader, after winning his game against GM Vladimir Akopian:



Tactics and Strategies

The Saint Louis Chess Club (SLCC) introduced the Chess merit badge in 2011. Since then, over 300,000 Scouts have earned Chess merit badges. Some badge requirements challenge even the experienced chess players in the Junior, Girls’, and Senior. 

Scouts learn tactics such as “clearance sacrifice, decoy, discovered attack, double attack, fork, interposing, overloading, overprotecting, pin, remove the defender, skewer, zwischenzug.” 

My husband, IM Doug Root, overlooked a zwischenzug in round four. GM Joel Benjamin was playing White.



Root could have played 23. … Nc2!, winning the game. Instead Root traded rooks with 23. … Rxe1+ and the resulting endgame was equal. The game became the fourth draw in a row for Benjamin, who followed up with another draw in round five.


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IM Kirk Ghazarian is in good company when it comes to missing the Tactic Of The Day (courtesy Austin Fuller/SLCC)


Almost every other theme on the list appeared during a critical moment of yesterday’s game between IMs Kirk Ghazarian and Justin Wang.



Both of the above games were examples where tactics could have turned an equal game into a win. But tactics are often an outgrowth of a strategic victory. This was the case in FM Zoey Tang’s win over Rose Atwell. After controlling the center out of the opening and unleashing a kingside attack, her final tactic was the culmination of a strategically excellent game:



The strategies listed as Chess merit badge requirements are relevant to beginners and to top players too: “exploiting weaknesses, force, king safety, pawn structure, space, tempo, time.” 

Another example from the Girls’ that demonstrated these strategic concepts was IM Carissa Yip’s Ruy Lopez victory against WFM Gracy Prasanna. Yip’s extra pawn was not content waiting for an endgame, instead helping launch a key breakthrough that converted White’s advantage with a swift attack:



Be Prepared

The motto of the Boy Scouts of America is “Be Prepared.” As of February of 2019, the Boy Scouts also welcome girls as Scouts. Girls too must be prepared. Scoutmasters, some of whom are the same age as the Senior players, must also be prepared.



In round five, opening preparation was most clearly evident in the following game, which clearly captured the attention of many of the participants!



This game was the first one done of any of the championships. GM Patrick Wolff asked commentator GM Christian Chirila what happened in the post game interview, to which Chirila responded that Liang blitzed out 33 moves of opening theory.

Considering that the position was completely new as of move 16, and already in mostly uncharted waters for the preceding moves, Liang’s preparation was nothing short of remarkable.


Rest Day Recommendations

Few players in the Junior, Girls’, and Senior championships have cars with them in St. Louis. The following three tourist destinations are within walking distance of the championships’ World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) playing site. 


1) The SLCC is across the street from the WCHOF and celebrates its 15th anniversary from 3–8 p.m. Since July 20 is also International Chess Day, a visit to the SLCC, the premier chess facility in the United States, is especially timely.


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The author (R) and her husband IM Douglas Root at West Side Story (courtesy of the subject)


2) West Side Story is at the MUNY at 8:15 p.m. Free tickets are available for each show but the paid seats are closer to the stage. The MUNY’s previous show was Chess (the musical).


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The author insists there is a rabbit in this photo of the Saint Louis Zoo's herpetarium (courtesy Dr WIM Alexey Root)


3) The Saint Louis Zoo is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In this “year of the rabbit,” spot the rabbit in my photo of the historic herpetarium.


In their own words

Commentator GM Cristian Chirila interviewed GM Balaji Daggupati right after Daggupati defeated GM Brandon Jacobson. Daggupati said that he would spend his rest day resting and preparing for the next four games. His answer was the most common one given by the competitors.

On July 19, after round 5, SLCC social media specialist WGM Gulrukhbegim “Begim” Tokhirjonova asked players, “What are your plans for tomorrow [the July 20th rest day]?” Check out their answers here: or


Four more rounds! Four more rounds!

One re-election chant is “Four more years! Four more years!” During the past five rounds, chess fans at the SLCC have watched mounted televisions that broadcast commentary by SLCC Chief Commentator and Spokesperson GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Cristian Chirila, and WGM Katerina Nemcova. 

SLCC fans are eager for “Four more rounds! Four more rounds!” If you are in the St. Louis Central West End, join them in person for free chow, camaraderie, and commentary. Or catch the commentary from anywhere in the world, via Twitch and YouTube, starting at 1:20 p.m. on July 21, 22, 23, 24, with playoffs, as needed, on the 25th.

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