Lee and Khachiyan clinch titles, Junior Up for Grabs After Action-Packed Turn

The National Championships held in St. Louis are known for showcasing America’s chess talent, from the veterans in the Senior to the rising youth in the Junior and Girls’ Junior championships. With innovative opening novelties and creative tactics, the action of round eight did not disappoint.

In Texas Hold’em poker, the revealing of the penultimate card is known as the turn, and this year’s penultimate round can also be called the turn of the tournament, as the players geared up for the final round this afternoon. With a convincing 1½-point lead over the next player, FM Alice Lee and GM Melikset Khachiyan — the leaders of the Girls’ and Senior, respectively — both clinched their titles with one round to spare. However, the fight for the Junior title remains tense, with five players within half a point of the leading score.





In the Junior Championship, IM Arthur Guo — the tournament leader from round seven — held a tough pawn-down knight endgame against IM Jason Liang. After a balanced Ruy Lopez, Liang got the better of the middlegame after Guo made too many pawn pushes near his king.


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Guo opts for a modified version of the "head-in-hand" pose that chess fans know so well (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Although the three-on-one majority looked promising for Liang, Guo’s outside b-pawn and accurate endgame defense proved enough to hold the half point.



GM Abhimanyu Mishra joined Guo in the lead with 5½/8 scores after his win against FM Arthur Xu. The key moment came when Mishra’s strong light-squared bishop and aptly timed g-pawn thrust developed into a decisive initiative.


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Abhimanyu Mishra is ready for an important final round (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Closely behind the two leaders is a strong chase pack, all with 5/8 scores. GM Brandon Jacobson remains part of the chasers after a draw with Black against IM Justin Wang, a well-played King’s Indian where both sides demonstrated near perfect accuracy.

GM Andrew Hong bounced back from his loss yesterday after successfully navigating a sharp opposite side castling position against IM Josiah Stearman. Stearman uncorked an opening novelty as early as move six, and just when it seemed like the game was veering towards an early three-fold repetition on move 15, Hong decided to play on despite being down more than 45 minutes on the clock, taking his chances in a dynamically balanced middlegame.


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Hong's focus took him through a lengthy game against Stearman (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Although the white king found himself nearly void of pawn cover, dangerously besieged by Stearman’s doubled rooks and central pawn mass, Hong defended precisely and ultimately emerged two pawns up in a winning endgame.



GM Balaji Daggupati also joined the chase pack when his queenside pawn majority proved superior to IM Kirk Ghazarian’s central majority. Ghazarian seemed to be winning the early central battle in an exchange slav, but Daggupati’s ninth move was a cold shower, unleashing a crucial central thrust that gave Black a strong initiative out of the opening. Ghazarian fought stubbornly, reaching close to equality at some points in the middlegame, but Daggupati’s passed c-pawn ultimately prevailed.



This afternoon, Daggupati will face Mishra with the white pieces. It is likely that the players will not settle for a peaceful draw, and a sharp double-edged battle is on the forecast. Another crucial matchup is between Jacobson and Hong, with a win for either landing them in a strong position to make a tiebreaker final. The other co-leader, Guo, will face Ghazarian with the white pieces.

Will there be a clear winner at the end of round nine? Will we have a two-way tie at 6½/9? A massive tie at 6/9? The tension rises, but we will find out tonight!


Girls’ Junior



In the Girls’ Championship, FM Alice Lee extended her lead to 1½ points, thus clinching the title of U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion with a round to spare. Her game against WIM Iris Mou fizzled out to a draw after Mou demonstrated good preparation in the Tarrasch Defense.


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She's done it! (courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC)


The second player developed a slight advantage after a few aggressive piece lunges, but Lee quickly sensed the potential danger and neutralized it with a series of trades, leading the game to a peaceful endgame.



The sole chaser during round seven, FM Zoey Tang, was defeated by IM Carissa Yip in a long 76-move battle. Tang had a typical strong pawn center coming out of the King’s Indian, but Yip exploited the more exposed white king and was in the driver’s seat for most of the sharp middlegame.


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Carissa Yip (R) played the role of spoiler for Zoey Tang's event (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Amidst the flurry of complications, the second player missed a few winning shots, and Tang found a nice resource to liquidate into a pawn-down rook-and-bishop endgame. However, Yip demonstrated strong endgame technique and ultimately converted the full point.



Also jumping into tied for second place was FM Ruiyang Yan, who demonstrated a great positional masterpiece in her win against WCM Shreya Mangalam. Utilizing her space advantage and pawn majority, Yan’s maneuvering allowed her queenside attack to crash through before Black could utilize her kingside superiority.


Ruiyang Yan
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Ruiyang Yan is back in the conversation for second place (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


The knight sortie 33. Nd4 was a nice cherry on top, winning an Exchange by force and ending the game with a blast. With this win, Yan has now achieved 3½ points out of the past four games, an impressive streak indeed.



The remaining games were also not without excitement. In Rose Atwell’s game against WFM Gracy Prasanna, both sides demonstrated proficiency in main line theory of the Ruy Lopez, and Prasanna ultimately prevailed in a nice kingside attack. FM Rochelle Wu’s clash with Kelsey Liu started off as a Nimzo Indian but quickly exploded into chaos when Liu grabbed three pawns for a piece. The strong pawns offered Black great winning chances in the middlegame, but the complications ultimately settled peacefully in a draw by perpetual check.

Although first place has already been determined, the fight for the runner-up spot is still hot. This afternoon, 5-pointers FM Ruiyang Yan and FM Zoey Tang will both have the black pieces against WFM Gracy Prasanna and WIM Iris Mou, respectively, while IM Carissa Yip will face FM Rochelle Wu with the white pieces.





Just like in the Girls’ section, the Senior Championship also crowned a clear winner at the end of round eight, with GM Melikset Khachiyan maintaining his 1½ point lead and thus becoming the U.S. Senior Champion with one round to go.


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Melikset Khachiyan clinched a well-deserved title with a round to spare (courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC)


Khachiyan’s game against GM Patrick Wolff saw a peaceful Canal-Sokolosky which ended in an early draw by repetition.



GM Alexander Shabalov — the sole chaser after round seven — gained a slight opening advantage as Black against GM Dmitry Gurevich when an early queenside attack by the first player fizzled out. However, Gurevich was able to quickly recover, and pushing his e- and f- pawns towards the Black king, he generated enough counterplay to draw. By failing to win, Shabalov ended his outside chance of catching Khachiyan in the last round.



The only decisive game of the day occurred in IM Douglas Root’s game against GM Gregory Kaidanov when Root utilized “collegiate preparation” to navigate the game from the Göring Gambit towards a sharp, dynamically balanced middlegame.


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Douglas Root has been making a furious comeback these last few rounds (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Despite gambiting two pawns and later swapping two pieces for a rook and a pawn, the menacing e- and f- pawns guaranteed the first player adequate compensation. Kaidanov defended well for most of the middlegame, but a fatal blunder decided the game in a snap.



In the fight for runner up, Shabalov, the sole chaser, will face Khachiyan with the white pieces, while GM Vladmir Akopian, who is in clear third, will play Gurevich with the white pieces. Kaidanov and GM Maxim Dlugy will also meet in the final round, with a win from either giving them a chance at a tie for second place.

Don’t miss the action! Watch the live games and live commentary this afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CST to watch what happens in the final round of the U.S. Championships.

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