Invitationals Enter Final Round at U.S. Open

In many sports, halftime is a great time for players to reset, gather their bearings, and map out their plans for the rest of the event. In the U.S. Invitationals, with its intensive two-round days, players get only one brief night to rest before the next day, and the fatigue players acquire towards the end of the tournament is a testament to how physically taxing chess can be. After the first double-round day, multiple players finished close to or even past midnight, and the field was all set for an exciting penultimate day. As expected, the players did not disappoint; with several back-and-forth roller coasters and wide-open positions, rounds four and five felt less like an appetizer for the final round and more like the main course with myriad climactic games. 


Round Four

Despite the rating difference between players growing smaller and smaller every round (which should theoretically lead to more evenly matched and drawish games), the players were ruthless in round four, with an overwhelming majority of the top boards ending in decisive results. With multiple players often within a half-point of the leader, these decisive games can shake the standings like an earthquake, leaving us at the edge of our seats all the way until the end of the final round. 



Of the top six boards in the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, four games ended decisively. The previous round’s tournament leaders IM Arthur Guo and IM Maximillian Lu continued their streak, both achieving wins with the black pieces against Levon He and IM Evan Park, respectively. In Guo’s game, He amassed a strong central pawn duo on the e4- and d5-squares, but with Guo’s pieces firmly blocking them, the second player’s activity and flank majorities kept the game in balance. The endgame was fought under mutual time pressure, but a few precise moves from Guo allowed his queenside pawn majority to prevail. 

Park – Lu was a well-anticipated battle between two of the top seeds of the tournament that lived up to its hype. Featuring an imbalanced sideline of the Open Sicilian, the resulting to a razor-sharp position with mutually exposed kings, both devoid of pawn cover. The players soon traded down into an endgame, where Lu’s bishop and two pawns ultimately overwhelmed Park’s rook, making for an instructive opposite-colored bishops finish. 



With their respective victories, Guo and Lu were set to face off in round five, guaranteeing that there will be at most one perfect scorer going into the final round. Also in contention for the champion title at this point, with 3½/4, were Nicolas Colina and FM Gus Huston, who are set to play on board two in round five.


Huston’s win over FM Sharvesh Deviprasath was also a Sicilian, but of a very different breed than Park – Lu. With a strong bind on the d5-square, the first player opted for a slow squeeze, and a superior pawn structure in the resulting knight-and-pawn endgame was sufficient for the win. 




In the Barber Tournament of Middle School Champions, all four top boards ended decisively! The two players leading after day two — FM Erick Zhao and Eric Feng — continued their lead with victories over Ronen Wilson and Sihan Tao, respectively, landing themselves on perfect 4/4 scores. ½

In Tao – Feng, Black got the better of an opposite-side castling position from the Caro-Kann after he exploited White’s more exposed king.


Image Caption
Erick Zhao has delivered some of the most entertaining, not to mention nail-biting, games of the whole tournament, and round four was no different (photo Daniel Day)


A far more tumultuous game was Wilson – Zhao, which quickly devolved into chaos after Wilson made a daring bishop sacrifice that netted him three pawns and an attack. The first player’s attack was close to crashing through, but severe time trouble muddled the waters, and Zhao emerged up a piece after the dust settled. 



As the only two perfect scorers after round four, Zhao and Feng were set to clash in round 5. Not far behind the duo is rating favorite FM Brewington Hardaway, who won three games after a first-round bye to become the sole chaser on 3½/4. His fourth-round win against Andrew Jiang was a nice positional squeeze in the four knights opening. 




In the Haring Tournament of Girls Champions, we continue to see all four decisive results on the top boards. With Jwalanthi Ram prevailing against Sanjana Ramesh, Ram is now the only player with 4/4. After building up an advantage in an isolated queen's pawn position, Ram uncorked an aesthetic tactic to win a piece as well as the game. It is rare to capture a piece defended by not one but two pawns, but pins are pins and two pins is double the trouble! 



Closely on her heels are three chasers with 3½/4. After grinding out a long win with a successful minority pawn storm against Aradh Kaur, WFM Nastassja Matus was the first to join the pack, joining our usual pair of Californians and two of the rating favorites: FM Ruiyang Yan and Esther Jou. A queen sacrifice normally only occurs in puzzles, but Yan whipped up a standard puzzle rush tactic to decide the game against Celina Zhou. Let’s see if you can spot it! 



In round five, our sole perfect scorer Ram plays rating favorite Yan, and the other two chasers Matus and Jou face off. These matches will be crucial in deciding the pre-final-round standings! 



In a clear contrast from the other sections, the Irwin section for Senior Champions was relatively the most peaceful one, with only two of the top four boards ending in decisive results. However, the tranquil atmosphere did not stop GM Jesse Kraai from seizing the sole lead with a win against IM Nikoloz Managadze. In a typical Sicilian pawn race, both pawn storms hit, and the doubled rooks bearing down on both kings made the position anything but clear. In a nick-of-time decision, Kraai opted to jettison his bishop, foreseeing a forced mate-in-five to end the game with a bang. 



The other two top boards, FM Karl Dehmelt – GM John Fedorowicz and IM Timothy Taylor – IM Mark Ginsburg, ended in draws after both sides’ accurate play prevented any of them from achieving significant winning chances. 

With a full-point lead over the next player, Kraai stands strong going into the final two rounds, but the tournament is far from over, with a whopping 10 chasers on 3/4 points. These chasers include the two other grandmasters — GM John Fedorowicz and GM Enrico Sevillano — as well as several IMs and FMs. Next round, Fedorowicz will take on Kraai in a highly anticipated matchup between two strong and experienced veteran GMs. 



In the Rockefeller Tournament of Elementary Champions, two players remain perfect after four rounds. Andrew Jing, one of the rating favorites, continued his streak after prevailing over Harvey Hanke in a mutual fianchetto position. The Maroczy Bind lived up to its name with a fierce bind on the d5-square gave Jing enough time to build up an advantage on the queenside, and after the game simplified into a slightly better endgame for White, the bishop pair showed its power with a brutal tactical sequence. 



In Aiden Liu – John Abraham, Abraham’s audacious risk to keep his king in the center paid off after his kingside attack struck first. White had a whole extra rook, but the mating net weaved by the bishop pair and queen proved too strong, and it allowed Abraham to take down the rating favorite. 



Closely trailing Jing and Abraham is sole chaser Vijay Anandh, who jumped to 3½/4 after a win against Bryan Lin. Jing and Abraham clash in round five, reducing the number of perfect scorers going into round six to either one or none. The trio are also chased by a pack of players on 3/4, including the dark horse Lenox Serette. Reminding us that rating is just a number, the 1482-rated player took down a 2012 and a 1791 rated player back-to-back, making for a rare consecutive upset. 


Round Five

The second round of the day also marked the penultimate round of the invitational tournaments, and with everyone vying for a favorable spot in the pre-final standings, there were also many interesting games. Although some sections have clear leaders, none of them have a guaranteed winner yet, with second place no more than a half point behind in all sections. All eyes will be on the final round, but for now, let’s hop into the action of the penultimate round! 



With the top of the standings starting to solidify, the pool of possible winners has now been narrowed to just two players in the Denker section. After getting the better of a wild back-and-forth game against Lu, Guo is now the sole perfect scorer in not only the Denker, but also over the whole invitationals. Lu continued to surprise both his opponent and the audience with his courageous first move (this time: 1. …a6!?).


Image Caption
With his fifth consecutive victory, a draw will clinch the Denker for Guo (photo Daniel Day)


Both the strange opening choice and his decision to forgo castling paid off when he won a pawn in the middlegame, gaining the upper hand. However, as mutual time trouble loomed, with both players dipping under two minutes, Guo spotted a clever tactic, utilizing some nice geometry to end the game.  



In the battle of the two chasers, Huston prevailed over Nicolas Colina, squeezing a seemingly dead drawn rook and minor piece endgame to a win. The symmetry and staleness of the position could provide a sense of security, but a game is never truly “dead drawn”!



All eyes will be on the matchup between Guo and Huston in the final round. The winner of the game will take home the title of Denker Champion, while in the case of a draw, the title will go to Guo, who enters the round with a half-point lead. With no other players having more than 4 points, there will be no one catching either of these players on the top, ensuring that we will have a clear first winner in this section. 



In the Barber section, leaders Zhao and Feng played basically a perfect game; after blitzing 15 moves in an exchange Caro-Kann, both sides demonstrated proficient knowledge of the resulting pawn structure, with White attacking on the queenside and Black on the kingside. The pieces traded off like clockwork, and a drawn position was on the board in no time. 



Since FM Brewington Hardaway drew with Ronen Wilson, Zhao and Feng are the only players with 4½/5, looking solid entering the final round. The other chasers joining Hardaway include Henry Deng, Jasmine Su, and Yiding Lu, who all joined the pack after winning their round five games. The championship for the Barber section rests on multiple games. If both Zhao and Feng win their game tomorrow, they will tie for first with 5½/6. If only one of the two wins, that’s our sole champion. Otherwise, a massive tie at 5/6 is still possible! 



The Haring Tournament of Girls Champions also ran out of perfect scorers, and the new leaders are — once again — our usual California duo: Yan and Jou, both winning their games and jumping to 4½/5. In Jou’s game against Matus, an aggressive kingside lunge in the early Caro-Kann proved especially effective after many of the second player’s pieces found themselves marooned on the queenside.


Esther Jou
Image Caption
Esther Jou did her part in setting up in intra-Californian Haring final (photo Daniel Day)


A double piece sacrifice by the South Californian representative was followed up with a swift pawn checkmate that ended the game on the spot. 



Meanwhile, Yan squeezed a slightly better rook and knight endgame a-la-Magnus, slowly undermining the opponent’s weaknesses. With three extra pawns, two of them connected, the game looked to be over, but a cornered king generated a potpourri of stalemate traps, and Yan was forced to play minesweeper with her own king to prevent the first player from sacrificing all her pieces. Ultimately, Yan avoided the mined squares and delivered an Arabian mate to end the game. 



Entering the final round, all eyes will be on the match between the two Californians. If one of them wins, they will take home the title of Haring Champion. In the case of a draw, a tie at five points will ensue, whereupon chasers Megan Paragua, Jwalanthi Ram, and Elizabeth Braddy with 4/5, may join the tie by winning their final game. 



In the Irwin, GM Jesse Kraai maintains his sole lead after a solid draw with GM John Fedorowicz, but the chasers lessened the gap to only half a point, making the final round extremely critical. Right behind Kraai are IM Nikoloz Managadze, GM Enrico Sevillano, and IM Mark Ginsburg, all of whom won their games and improved to 4/5. 


Sevillano’s game against FM Cornelius Rubsamen was an intense endgame battle. After Sevillano won the bishop pair in an Exchange French opening, the players quickly traded down into a minor piece endgame. The two-bishops versus bishop-and-knight endgame, and subsequent king-and-pawn endgame, that followed shortly could easily both have come straight from an endgame book. 



With a half-point lead over the next three players, Kraai can take home the Irwin title with a final round win, but in any other scenario, a massive tie at 5/6 points is in the forecast. 



With a draw on board one between Andrew Jing and John Abraham, the Rockefeller section for Elementary Champions also ran out of perfect scorers. However, despite ending peacefully and continuing to share their lead, their game was anything but peaceful, with White’s king all the way on a4 in the final position. Jing’s kingside attack in the King’s Indian looked scary, but Abraham conducted the seemingly impossible coast-to-coast odyssey with his monarch, transferring it from g1 all the way to b3 to seek refuge from the attack. After a tactically rich middlegame, Black gave a perpetual check to split the point. 



Jing and Abraham each have the opportunity to reach 5½/6 upon a final round win, where they will either tie or win outright, depending on how the other does. If neither manages to win, a large tie at 5/6 is possible, giving chasers Aiden Liu, Harshin Jagirapu, and Vijay Anandh a chance to join the tie with a win. 

With five rounds completed now, the invitationals are so close yet so far from the end. On one hand, a majority of the games are over, but on the other hand, none of the final standings are set at all! All eyes will be on round six to determine our national champions of champions. Will Guo follow up on his shared title from last year with an outright 6/6 win in the Denker? And in the other sections, will any of them end up in logjams on 5/6?


The final round is currently underway with live commentary streaming on Twitch.


Elsewhere, in Grand Rapids

It's not too late to register for the accelerated sections of the open, or to join one of the many one-day side events yet to take place. Let's catch up on what's happened so far.


The Open

While the invitationals are reaching their final leg, the U.S. Open is slowly heating up. Although only 11 players remain on a perfect 3/3 in the traditional schedule, most of the two-pointers who were 2200 or above held on and advanced to 3/3. With broadcasting starting soon and many master-versus-master games to come, you can look forward to a lot of amazing chess action on the horizon.

The biggest upset of the round was on board nine, with Austin Earsley (1941) upsetting FM Eugene Yanayt. Earsley is the only sub-2200 player on a perfect 3/3 in the open. 


Weekend Swiss

Local master Stephen Adams swept the Weekend Swiss, going 5/5. There was a six-way tie for second place on 4/5, featuring players ranging in rating from 2358 (Iowa's Joseph Wan) all the way to 1473 (Michigan's Mourya Tuniki, who knocked off a 1700 and a 1659 in consecutive rounds to join the tie)!


Monday Quads

Monday also saw a dozen quads take place, with Asish Panda (also of the second-place tie in the Weekend Swiss) finishing ahead of Wan in Quad A. Congratulations to Hemachanra Rambha (TN) for winning Quad B with 2½/3 and Nicholas Lacroix (NE [Editor's note: Go Nick! Go Nebraska!]) for going 3/3 in Quad C. All results are available here.


Quick Links:

Main event page

Round-by-round coverage

Pairings page

Live games on

US Chess Twitch channel

Social media tags: