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.

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.

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.

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.

Shankland also took to Twitter to congratulate his successor.

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.

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.

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

Women

Comments

  1. Congratulations to Nakamura for winning yet another tournament magnus didn’t play in and for being kind of a buzzkill for saying he thought magnus should win the world championship if it went to tie breaks.

  2. I believe that that the top two players in the 2019 Women’s Championship qualify for the World Cup. In that case, who qualified for the 2nd spot: Anna Zatonskih or Tatev Abrahamyan?

    According to the site’s “Regulations” webpage (https://www.uschesschamps.com/2019-us-championships/regulations-format ), it looks like:

    #7: Playoff Procedures: The following tie-breaks will be used for the purposes of the crosstable and any special prizes or trophies: (1) Direct Encounter (if applicable); (2) Most Blacks; (3) Koya System; (4) Sonneborn-Berger; (5) Won Games.

    • Jim, Tatev qualified on tie-breaks over Anna for the 2020 FIDE Women’s World Cup (Knock-out), formerly Women’s World Championship (Knock-out) Tournament.

  3. Yeah, why is Naka always like that. As good as he is Naka talks a bit too much. He also ragged (passively) on Fabiano in the interviews – saying that he was not worried about being in a three-way tie with Fabi and dismissively saying that Fabi would never get past Shankland.

    Great to win another US title. But is his arrogance ever going to fade?

  4. Congrats to Jennifer Yu….I remember seeing her in the Ashburn chess club, (founded by Herky Del Mundo), as a little kid. To think that in a few years, she would become the strongest female player in the USA makes all of northern Virginia proud. Go Jennifer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Congratz to Naka and Yu! Wish the $$$ prize funds between men and women we more equal. Maybe Jen Shahade can do something in her new role.

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