Nakamura and Yu are 2019 U.S. Champs

It took two weeks, eleven rounds, and a heavy dose of final day drama, but US Chess now has its 2019 Champions: Hikaru Nakamura and Jennifer Yu. Yu was effectively crowned after the tenth round, when no one else could catch the 17-year old from Virginia. Hikaru Nakamura had to wait until the very last game was decided in the Open Championship to claim his title. His victory over Jeffery Xiong coupled with draws by co-leaders Fabiano Caruana (against Sam Shankland) and Leinier Dominguez (against Timur Gareyev), gave Nakamura his fifth U.S. Championship. FOR ALL THE MARBLES Three players – Caruana, Dominguez, and Nakamura – were tied with 7/10 coming into Sunday’s play. Looking at each of their pairings, the common wisdom gave Dominguez, who had White against Timur Gareyev, the best chances to win his game. Caruana had Black against last year’s champ and 2700+ rated Sam Shankland, while Nakamura also took Black against junior phenom Jeffery Xiong. Caruana’s game ended first. He played a “provocative” opening, but after Shankland dried the position out with a series of central exchanges, there was little Caruana could do to complicate and keep winning chances alive. So a draw was agreed after 39 moves.

[pgn] [Event "63rd ch-USA 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.31"] [White "Shankland, Samuel"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E11"] [WhiteElo "2731"] [BlackElo "2828"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Bd2 Be7 {Provocative. Afterwards Caruana explained his opening choice, saying that he'd already sprung the Dutch in a previous round, and that this opening can be very sharp if White wants a fight. } 5. Nc3 O-O 6. e4 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e5 Ne4 {On Caruana's opening choice: "It's a little bit suspicious, but if you're not prepared for it, you're not going to punish it." (Shankland)} 9. Bd3 Nxd2 10. Qxd2 Nc6 {Black's position is "borderline bad" but complicated, so Caruana hoped that Shankland would be goaded into battle.} 11. O-O {Caruana thought that Shankland passed up chances to sharpen the game in the interest of heading for a draw.} (11. h4) (11. Bc2) (11. Rd1) (11. h3) 11... Bg4 12. Qf4 Bxf3 13. Qxf3 {"The most unambitious option of all of White's options." (Caruana)} Nxd4 14. Qxd5 Qxd5 15. Nxd5 Bd8 16. Rad1 c6 17. Nc3 Bb6 18. Rfe1 Rfe8 19. Kf1 Rad8 20. f4 Ba5 21. g3 {"It's a pretty balanced ending." (Shankland)} g6 22. a3 Bxc3 23. bxc3 Nb3 24. Kf2 Nc5 25. Bc2 Kf8 26. Kf3 a5 27. Rxd8 Rxd8 28. Rd1 Rxd1 29. Bxd1 h5 30. Ke3 Ke7 31. Kd4 Ne6+ 32. Ke3 Nc7 33. Be2 b5 34. Kd4 Ne6+ 35. Ke3 Nc5 36. Bd1 Kd7 37. Bc2 Ke7 38. Bd1 Kd7 39. Bc2 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Ever a gentleman, Caruana was largely diplomatic in his post-game interview, although he was obviously frustrated by what he felt was Shankland’s lack of ambition. For his part, Shankland’s disappontment in his performance was evident and visceral, saying that 2019 Championship was “far from my worst event, but definitely my most painful one.” He said that he’d be taking a bit of a break from competition, but broke a bit of news when he said that he’d be writing the sequel to his critically acclaimed Small Steps to Giant Improvement in that time.

Surprised by Xiong’s first move (1.d4 instead of 1.e4), Nakamura reached into his deep bag of tricks and pulled out a Leningrad Dutch, something he used to play in years past. Xiong was unfamiliar with some of the details of the Leningrad structures, and Nakamura eventually found himself in a position where his pieces were too active for Xiong to resist. IM Kostya Kavutskiy wraps up his outstanding analysis for CLO with his exclusive notes to Xiong-Nakamura.

[pgn] [Event "U.S. Championship"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2019.03.31"] [White "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A89"] [WhiteElo "2663"] [BlackElo "2746"] [Annotator "Kostya"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. d4 f5 {The Dutch! I guess this is the choice of super-GMs when they need to play for a win with Black. This was also what Fabiano Caruana chose in the previous round against Akobian, which was a must-win game for Fabi in order to stay in contention.} 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O d6 { Hikaru used to play the Leningrad Dutch rather often, but has since preferred to play more solid systems with Black. Nevertheless I'm sure he felt quite at home here.} 7. Nc3 Nc6 8. d5 Na5 (8... Ne5 {leads to some very sharp theory after} 9. Nxe5 dxe5 $13) 9. b3 {A rare choice. Nd2 and Qd3 are more commonly seen.} c5 10. Bb2 a6 {The position now resembles a Fianchetto King's Indian, where the inclusion of f7-f5 is favorable for Black.} 11. Ng5 {A natural move, but Jeffery never follows up with either e2-e4 or Ne6.} Rb8 12. Qd3 Qe8 13. Nd1 {Although Stockfish approves of this move, it's hard for White to get anything going in the resulting position.} ({Perhaps} 13. e4 $5 {was called for here. After} h6 14. Ne6 Bxe6 15. dxe6 Nxe4 16. Bxe4 fxe4 17. Qxe4 Nc6 18. Rad1 $14 { White seems to have a nice position.}) 13... b5 14. Qd2 Nb7 15. Ne3 Nd8 $1 { Black's setup looks odd but Hikaru has defended the e6-square sufficiently and because of that it is not clear what White should be doing here.} 16. Nh3 Bd7 17. Rad1 $6 (17. Rab1 $5 {was needed, when the b3-pawn is defended after} b4 18. a3 $14 {and with the queenside under control, White can still play for something on the kingside.}) 17... b4 $1 {Closing the position and playing for the a5-a4 break, which creates slow but effective counterplay.} 18. Qc2 (18. Ra1 $1 {was still OK, where White can meet} a5 {with} 19. a3 bxa3 20. Rxa3 a4 $13 {and things are far from clear.}) 18... a5 19. Nf4 a4 20. h4 Ra8 21. Qb1 Ra6 {A nice improving move, getting the rook off of the long diagonal in case of a future Ne6.} 22. Bf3 Qf7 23. Neg2 $6 {This allows Black to make some headway.} (23. Rd2 {would be a way to stay put, where Black would have a wide choice of moves but no clear way to break through just yet.}) 23... Ng4 $1 { This move initiates some favorable exchanges for Black, which will leave White with a pair of passive knights and some long-term weaknesses.} (23... h6 $5 { with idea g5 was also quite promising for Black.}) 24. Bxg4 fxg4 25. e4 Bxb2 { I feel like Nakamura gives away some advantage here. Instead of trading the queens immediately, he could have started with Bf6 and kept control over the long diagonal.} (25... Bf6 $5 {Followed by Qg7 may have given Black a bigger advantage, as the knight could then jump to f7 and e5 quite quickly. For instance} 26. Rfe1 Qg7 27. Bxf6 Qxf6 28. Qa1 Nf7 29. Qxf6 exf6 $19 {and Black's knight on e5 will be dominant.}) 26. Qxb2 Qg7 27. Qxg7+ Kxg7 28. e5 $1 {The only move, otherwise Black would clamp down with Nf7-e5.} Bf5 {Best.} ( 28... dxe5 29. Nd3 $14 {would leave Black with structural issues.}) 29. exd6 $6 {Clarifying the situation for Black.} (29. Ne3 $1 {would keep White holding on. } Be4 30. Rfe1 h5 $13 {and the position would be quite unclear.}) 29... exd6 30. Rfe1 Nf7 31. Re7 $6 (31. Ne6+ Bxe6 32. dxe6 Ne5 33. Re4 $1 $13 {is apparently equal, though tough to play for White.}) 31... Kf6 32. Rb7 $2 { After this final slip, Nakamura's advantage becomes decisive.} (32. Re6+ $1 { was White's last chance to stay in the game.} Bxe6 33. dxe6 axb3 34. axb3 { Nakamura had planned} Rfa8 ({though} 34... Ne5 {is probably stronger:} 35. Nd5+ Kg7 36. e7 Rb8 37. Nc7 Raa8 38. Nxa8 Rxa8 $15 {and Black will quickly round up the e7-pawn.}) 35. exf7 Kxf7 36. Kh2 Ra1 37. Rxd6 Rf1 {where White is just barely hanging on after} 38. Nd3 $11) 32... axb3 33. axb3 Rfa8 {Black's weaknesses are all nicely protected while in the long-run, White won't be able to hold the b3-pawn. All Jeffery could hope for here was some potential counterplay against Black's king, but Nakamura was able to convert without falling for any tricks.} 34. Ne3 Ra1 35. Kf1 Ne5 36. Rxa1 Rxa1+ 37. Ke2 Nf3 $5 {A technical decision, forcing White to trade on f5 and create some breathing room for his king.} (37... Rb1 $6 38. Rb6 Nf7 39. Rb7 Rxb3 $2 40. Nxf5 gxf5 41. Nh5+ Kg6 42. Nf4+ $11 {is one of the ways White could escape with a draw.}) ( 37... Be4 38. Rxh7 Rb1 $19 {was also winning but Black would need to be very careful not to blunder anything around his king!}) 38. Nxf5 Kxf5 39. Ke3 Re1+ 40. Kd3 Ne5+ 41. Kd2 Ra1 42. Ne6 {The computer evaluation of this postion would lead you to believe that Black is just trivially winning here, but there were still plenty of ways to go wrong.} h6 ({For instance after} 42... Ra2+ $2 43. Ke3 $1 $18 {Black's king would suddenly fall under incredible danger, where White is threatening Ng7-e8-xd6, all with checks, as well as just Rxh7.}) 43. Rb6 Ra3 44. Kc2 Ra2+ 45. Kd1 Nd3 46. Rxd6 Nxf2+ 47. Ke1 Nd3+ 48. Kd1 Ke4 49. Nc7 $5 {Setting a fantastic trap.} Nf2+ 50. Ke1 Kd3 $1 {The only way to win.} (50... Ke3 $4 {looks incredibly natural, but would play directly into White's hands after} 51. Re6+ Ne4 52. Rxe4+ $1 Kxe4 53. d6 $11 {and amazingly the rook has no way of stopping the d-pawn! Black would have to give a perpetual with Ra1/a2+.}) 51. Rxg6 Ne4 {Threatening Ra1 mate. From here, Naka found the most efficient way to close out the game:} 52. Kf1 Nxg3+ 53. Kg1 Ne2+ 54. Kh1 Ke3 55. Rf6 (55. Rxg4 Kf3 $19) 55... Ra1+ 56. Kg2 Rg1+ 57. Kh2 g3+ 58. Kh3 Rh1+ {And in view of the g-pawn running through, White resigned. An excellent win for the deserving 2019 U.S. Champion!} 0-1 [/pgn]
So it was all up to Leinier Dominguez. Could he defeat Gareyev? Dominguez got out of the opening with a decent enough position, and the game looked to be moving in his direction until Gareyev played the inspired 33…a3!. Try as he might – and he did try for another 44 moves – Dominguez could not break Gareyev’s defenses and had to acquiesce to the draw.

[pgn] [Event "63rd ch-USA 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.31"] [White "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"] [Black "Gareyev, Timur"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B56"] [WhiteElo "2739"] [BlackElo "2557"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "154"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. f3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. Nd5 Be7 9. c4 O-O 10. Be3 a5 11. Qd2 a4 12. Nc1 Nd7 ({Caruana recommended} 12... Bxd5 13. cxd5 Nd4 {with the idea of the pawn sacrifice after} 14. Bxd4 $6 exd4 15. Qxd4 Nd7 {and Black controls all the dark squares.}) 13. Ne2 f5 14. exf5 Bxf5 15. Nec3 Nc5 16. Be2 Bh4+ 17. g3 Bf6 18. Rd1 {Perhaps imprecise. (Dominguez)} (18. O-O Nd4 19. Nxf6+ Qxf6 20. Bxd4 exd4 21. Nd5 Qe5 22. f4 Qe4 23. Bf3 Qd3 {and Dominguez considered this unclear during the game, although as he said, it's obvious that White is much much better.}) 18... Ne6 19. O-O Ncd4 20. Bd3 Bh3 21. Rf2 Bg5 22. Bf1 Bxf1 23. Rdxf1 Bxe3 24. Qxe3 Rc8 25. f4 Rxc4 26. fxe5 (26. f5 {was an improvement; after} Ng5 27. Kg2 Nf7 28. f6 g6 { Dominguez didn't see mate so he went for the game continuation.}) 26... Rxf2 27. Rxf2 Rc5 28. Kg2 h6 29. h4 Nc6 30. exd6 Qxd6 31. Rd2 Ncd4 32. Rxd4 Nxd4 33. Qxd4 a3 $1 {Dominguez saw this, but 'forgot' that Black's idea is to take the knight.} 34. Nf6+ Qxf6 35. Qxc5 axb2 36. Qd5+ (36. Qc4+ Kh8 37. Qb3 Qxc3 $1 $11 ) 36... Kh8 37. Nb1 {Now it's a draw.} Qg6 38. Qd1 Qe4+ 39. Kf2 Qf5+ 40. Kg2 Qe4+ 41. Kh2 Qf5 42. h5 Qf2+ 43. Kh3 Qf5+ 44. g4 Qe4 45. Kg3 b5 46. a3 b4 47. axb4 Qxb4 48. Qd8+ Kh7 49. Qd3+ Kh8 50. Qf5 Qd4 51. Kf3 Kg8 52. Ke2 Kh8 53. Kf3 Kg8 54. Qe6+ Kh8 55. Ke2 Kh7 56. Qf5+ Kh8 57. Nd2 Qc3 58. Qf8+ Kh7 59. Qf5+ Kh8 60. Qe4 Kg8 61. Qd5+ Kh8 62. Qd8+ Kh7 63. Qd3+ Qxd3+ 64. Kxd3 g6 65. Kc2 Kg7 66. Ne4 gxh5 67. gxh5 Kf7 68. Kxb2 Ke6 69. Kc3 Kf5 70. Kd4 Kg4 71. Nf6+ Kf5 72. Ne4 Kg4 73. Nf6+ Kf5 74. Ne8 Kg5 75. Ng7 Kf6 76. Ne8+ Kg5 77. Ng7 Kf6 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Dominguez seemed pleased enough with his second place finish in the post-game interviews, especially given his enforced inactivity over the past two years. He said that he was “eager to play some more chess,” and mentioned team events in Russia and “rapids and blitz in China,” which presumably is the World Mind Sports event in May. Irina Krush also announced her participation in that tournament during her interview with Maurice Ashley. THE ONCE AND CURRENT CHAMP After the final game ended, Nakamura described his path to victory, and how important he felt it was to forget about ratings and money and play in a freer style that hearkened back to “the old days.” He also made sure to thank his Twitch followers, whom he credited with inspiring him to victory.
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Shankland also took to Twitter to congratulate his successor.

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Other results shaped the final standings. Awonder Liang defeated Wesley So, breaking So’s 45 game unbeaten streak and pushing Liang over the magic 2600 barrier for the first time. Var Akobian downed Ray Robson to end his tournament on a good note. Alexander Lenderman and Sam Sevian drew. THE RACE FOR SECOND PLACE In some ways the final round of the Women’s Championship was anti-climatic. Jennifer Yu had clinched the title the day before, but two questions remained. First, would Yu be able to win in a ‘meaningless’ game and improve her score to an unbelievable 10/11?

Of course she did. Jennifer Yu did what she did all tournament long – she took her chances in a topsy-turvy game, defeating her friend Carissa Yip in what looked to be a drawn endgame. Yip put too much faith in the bishops of opposite color, and after Yip incorrectly traded rooks, Yu followed the “principle of two weaknesses” and created a passed h-pawn that could not be stopped.

[pgn] [Event "59th ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.31"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Yip, Carissa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [WhiteElo "2273"] [BlackElo "2279"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [PlyCount "103"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 Ne7 5. d4 d5 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Nf3 O-O 8. O-O Nbc6 9. a3 Nf5 10. e3 a6 11. Ne1 Nce7 12. Nd3 c6 13. b3 Nd6 14. a4 a5 15. Ba3 Re8 16. Re1 Nef5 17. Qc2 h5 18. h3 Nh6 19. Rad1 Bf5 20. Qc1 Rc8 21. Nf4 Kh8 22. f3 b5 23. Bc5 $6 (23. axb5 cxb5 24. Bc5) 23... b4 $1 24. Nce2 Nb7 25. Nd3 Qg5 ( 25... Bxd3 26. Rxd3 Nf5 27. e4) 26. Kf2 Bxd3 27. Rxd3 Nxc5 28. Qxc5 Nf5 29. e4 $1 Bf8 (29... Bxd4+ 30. Nxd4 Qxg3+ 31. Kf1 Nh4 32. Re2 dxe4 33. Rde3) 30. Qc1 Qxc1 31. Rxc1 Ng7 32. Rd2 Ne6 33. exd5 cxd5 34. Rxc8 Rxc8 35. f4 Rd8 36. Rc2 Bh6 (36... h4 37. g4 Bh6 38. f5 gxf5 39. gxf5 Ng7 $14) 37. Rc6 h4 38. Ra6 hxg3+ 39. Kxg3 Bg7 40. Rxa5 Nxd4 41. Nxd4 Bxd4 42. Bxd5 (42. Rxd5 Rxd5 43. Bxd5 Kg7 44. a5 {and Black can hope to draw due to the bishops of opposite colors}) 42... Kg7 43. Rb5 Ba7 44. Kf3 Kf6 45. Ke4 Rb8 $2 {The opposite color bishops won't save Yip here.} 46. Rxb8 $1 Bxb8 47. a5 Ke7 48. a6 f6 49. h4 Ba7 50. f5 $1 {Creating the passed pawn and a second weakness.} g5 51. h5 Kf8 52. h6 1-0 [/pgn]
What about second place? Coming into the round, Anna Zatonskih had a half-point advantage (7.5/10) over Tatev Abrahamyan (7.0), and a full point lead over Annie Wang (6.5). Both Zatonskih and Abrahamyan had what appeared, at least based on form, to be favorable pairings. Zatonskih had Black against Foisor, while Abrahamyan had Black against Gorti. Wang took White against Sharevich. Foisor showed why she was the 2017 Women’s Champion, defeating Zatonskih in a lovely attacking game. The finish is simple but pleasing.
[pgn] [Event "59th ch-USA w 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2019.03.31"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Zatonskih, Anna"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2276"] [BlackElo "2430"] [Annotator "Hartmann,John"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1r2B3/2qP2k1/p3Qbpp/2p1n3/8/2N3P1/1P3P1P/3R2K1 w - - 0 35"] [PlyCount "3"] [EventDate "2019.03.20"] 35. Qxf6+ Kxf6 36. Nd5+ {A royal fork.} 1-0 [/pgn]
This gave Abrahamyan a window, but she could only draw against Gorti. Both Abrahamyan and Zatonskih finished with 7.5/11, and so both share second place. In the remaining games, Wang drew against Sharevich to clinch clear fourth place, Eswaran defeated Nguyen, and Krush won out against Feng. Krush, who finished with 5/11, suffered through a difficult tournament, but anyone who knows the history of American chess knows that Irina Krush will be back next year competing for the title. FINAL STANDINGS Open


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