The Big Mind Meld in Middleton: 13 GMs Tied for Lead

The coveted trophy in gold, and the US Junior Grand Prix trophy in silver, won by Alan Hung of California.

Friday night at the US Open Championship sees The Big Merge.

Everyone in the nine-day traditional schedule, the 6-day and the 4-day schedules finally all sit down together in the same room, punching their clocks to start play at the same time. Nearly 400 filled the same spacious ballroom at the Marriott West Convention Center in a suburb nearby the Wisconsin state capital of Madison. Grandmasters and first-timers alike are all in this together.

Five GMs led at 5.5 out of 6 at the start of Round 7. Three are from Missouri, brought there on scholarships by well-funded university chess programs: Alex Shaminov and Illia Nyzhnyk (Webster University), and Alexander Ipatov (Saint Louis University). Awonder Liang is the Madison hometown favorite. Ruifeng Li (Texas), and Alexander Shabalov (Pennsylvania) round out the leaders, ahead of their closest competitors by half a point. Shabalov is a six-time US Open Winner. He’s also a four-time US Champ and an inductee into the US Chess Hall of Fame.

Webster teammates Shimanov and Nyzhnyk draw quickly. The rest of the combatants coming into the round at 5.5 fight for hours for a win that would keep them ahead of the pack, but in the end, all six leaders drew. At the conclusion of Round 7, they thus joined a group expanded by those who had been a half-point behind but managed a win.

Grandmaster Ipatov, Photo Henk Prinsloo

So after midnight, when Shabalov ceased torturing Ipatov in a problem-like ending and called their game a draw, the group at 6-1 comprised 13 of the 20 participating GMs. In addition to Shaminov and Nyzhnyk, the leaders at 6-1 are Jorge Cori (Missouri), Ipatov, Li, Andrey Stukopin [see game], Timur Gareyev (Kansas), Liang, Alexander Shabalov, Vladimir Belous (Texas), Elshan Moradiabadi (North Carolina) [see game], GM Alexander Fishbein, and Mackenzie Molner (New Jersey).

GM Elshan Moradiabadi, Photo Al Lawrence 

GM Elshan Moradiabadi was first to win in Round 7, besting young NM Dex Webster (Louisiana)—who had drawn Shabalov in Round 4 and GM Robert Hungaski (Connecticut) in Round 6 and won all his other games.

Dex Webster, celebrating his draw with Black against Shabalov.

But as White against Moradiabadi, Webster allowed his pieces to become poorly coordinated and permitted his opponent to dominate the open files.

Like Moradiabadi, GM Andrey Stukopin joined the leaders with a win. He got by this year’s Denker Champion of Champions Andy Huang (Virginia), but Huang missed a nice combination that could have turned the game around.

Grandmaster Awonder Liang, one in the big tie who has already secured his spot into the 2019 US Chess Champs, Photo Henk Prinsloo

It will all come down to the two final nights and rounds at the Madison Marriott West. Besides the significant prizes, the top US player is seeded into the next US Chess Championship. So the stakes are high.

Follow the final rounds of #USOpenChess on our livestream (7-11 CT tonight, and 3-7 CT on Sunday, August 5th). Find standings and pairings here. 


  1. Jorge Cori may be attending college in Missouri but he and his sister Deysi are two of the most prominent Peruvians in the world of chess. Deysi Cori is a former world junior girl’s champion.

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