Early Leaders Emerge in U.S. Junior, Girls, and Senior

Round 3 of the 2019 U.S. Junior, Girls, and Senior Championships is underway as this goes to press, and while it’s still early, the fields are beginning to sort themselves out on the leaderboards. Four players have jumped to the top of their respective tables after two days of play. Will they be able to stay there? Only time, and their moves, will tell!

Here’s a recap of yesterday’s Round 2 action.


courtesy STLCC

Top-seed Awonder Liang jumped out to an early lead in the Junior Championship with his win over Atuyla Vaidya, but despite the rating difference of nearly 400 points, Liang had to really work for his full point. Vaidya played impressively, but an ill-considered check gave Liang the tempi needed to get his b-pawn towards the endzone.

Liang is alone at the top of the Junior after two rounds with 2/2. Four players – John Burke, Nicolas Checa, Joshau Sheng, and Brandon Jacobson – are half a point behind at 1.5. All four, along with Andrew Tang and Craig Hilby, drew in round two. The other decisive result of the round came in the game between Hans Niemann and Jennifer Yu. Niemann’s early g2-g4 dragged the game into the tactical weeds, and he better navigated the ensuing complications.

Niemann-Yu (photo Crystal Fuller)

The remaining games, as mentioned above, were drawn: Sheng-Hilby, Burke-Tang, and Checa-Jacobson.


courtesy STLCC

It was a round without draws in the Girls Championship, which is led by Carissa Yip and Rochelle Wu as round three gets underway. Both players are at 2/2, and they are followed closely by Maggie Feng and Rui Yang Yan, who are at 1.5/2.

Yip’s victory over Agata Bykovtsev seemed fairly unlikely 15 moves into the game, when both of Yip’s bishops were buried behind pawns of both colors. But the liberation of the c8-bishop was a shot of adrenaline for Black’s position, and simplifications favored Yip immensely. Soon Yip had a technically winning endgame, one that she converted without drama.

Carissa Yip (photo Austin Fuller)

Zilajeva-Wu (photo Austin Fuller)

Rochelle Wu got a roaring attack against Veronika Zilajeva’s king, but her 32. … Nb6 drew an important defender away from her kingside. Zilajeva correctly sacrificed her knight to open Wu’s king, and she even had a chance to win the game after Wu eschewed a clear drawing continuation. Wu survived, however, as Zilajeva missed the most forcing continuation and the perpetual check was not to be found.

In other games, Maggie Feng won against Thalia Cervantes, Emily Nguyen downed Martha Samadashvili, and in the battle of the two youngest players in the field, Rui Yang Yan checkmated Rachael Li in 66 moves.


courtesy STLCC

Larry Christiansen continued his winning ways in Round 2, defeating Alex Goldin in another attacking gem. He has sole custody of first place in the Senior Championship with 2/2 as today’s Round 3 is underway, followed by Alex Shabalov at 1.5/2. Five players are tied for third with 1/2.

Christiansen-Goldin (photo Austin Fuller)

Christiansen’s use of the Bishop’s Opening followed games by Magnus Carlsen (with both colors), and after twelve moves he already thought that he had a promising position against Goldin. His commentary in the post-game interview with Jesse Kraai is striking, especially when compared with the rapidfire tactical analysis offered by the juniors. Christiansen mixed key strategic insights – talk of the ‘tiny’ d6 weakness in Black’s camp, the incessant search for correctly timed pawn breaks, etc – with concrete lines, resulting in a fascinating insight into a top GM’s thinking.

Dlugy-Shabalov (photo Austin Fuller)

Alex Shabalov won a “typical Shabalov game” against Max Dlugy. The engine shows that Shabalov was winning for many moves in the ending, but the nuances are so complex, and the win so demanding, that the engine doesn’t actually seem to make progress despite its high scores for Black. Shabalov did well to ‘pull an [Alexander] Onischuk,’ as he described it in the post-game interview, and go deep into calculation to find the correct technical win.

Benjamin-Yermolinsky (photo Austin Fuller)

Joel Benjamin had the third decisive result of the round, defeating Alex Yermolinsky in what Jesse Kraai described as his favorite game of the tournament thus far.

Elsewhere, Jaan Ehlvest got on the scoreboard with his draw against Gregory Kaidanov, and Igor Novikov shared the point with Alex Fishbein.

The 2019 Junior, Girls, and Senior Championships will be contested daily from July 10th-20th at the Saint Louis Chess Club, with a rest day on July 1th. Rounds start at 1pm CDT, except for July 20th, when play begins at 11am.

US Junior/Senior/Girls Quick Links: 

Official STL Chess Club YouTube

Live on uschesschamps.com 

Pairings & Results US Junior

Pairings & Results US Senior

Pairings & Results US Girls 

Winners of the US Junior Championship and US Junior Girls Championship will be awarded a $10,000 scholarship to be used at the institution of his or her choice. The scholarship is generously jointly funded by the Dewain Barber Foundation and US Chess.

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