No One is Safe: Round Seven of the 2023 U.S. Championships

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Alice Lee (L) paced her way through an imbalanced win against a determined Carissa Yip (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Round seven of the U.S. Championships saw a sole leader emerge or remain in all three championships. However, none of these leaders have guaranteed themselves clear first place in the final standings yet, setting up crucial penultimate and final rounds to come. 

Meanwhile, almost all of my predictions from my Round 6 recap came true: is there a special prize for that? (Editor’s note: no.)





In the Junior section, co-leaders IM Arthur Guo and GM Andrew Hong faced off, with the other co-leader GM Abhimanyu Mishra facing IM Justin Wang. Here’s what I predicted in yesterday’s recap:


“An important pairing in round seven is between co-leaders Guo and Hong. Will they play it safe? I predict so.

Meanwhile, Mishra will face Wang. Can Wang follow his sixth-round win with another one against one of the co-leaders? I’d be surprised.

And Stearman will face Jacobson, when a win for Jacobson could see him join the leader pack if none of the leaders win. I admit that this is my hope and prediction, as Brandon has been one of my rooting interests since I first met him almost a decade ago at the Marshall Chess Club in NYC.”


Of these predictions, the second and third were correct, but the first was way off: Guo did not play it safe at all, and delivered a powerful and controlled positional win:



As I predicted, Wang did not even come close to a win against Mishra, and in fact it was Mishra who overlooked a textbook tactic before the game stabilized to a draw:



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Brandon Jacobson did not let the author's predictions down (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Meanwhile GM Brandon Jacobson made me proud by grinding out a long siege against IM Josiah Stearman:



And there were two more decisive games besides that! IM Kirk Ghazarian beat tail-ender FM Arthur Xu, while GM Balaji Daggupati beat IM Jason Liang.

The field remains quite narrow, with Guo on 5/7, Mishra and Jacobson close behind with 4½/7, and Ghazarian, Hong, and Daggupati still keeping hope alive with 4/7.

Everything comes down to rounds eight and nine, and no one has an easy schedule: leader Guo plays Black against Liang followed by White against Ghazarian; Jacobson has Black against Wang followed by White against Hong, and Mishra has a potentially easier White against Xu followed by a potentially difficult Black against Daggupati.

I predict that first place in this section will come down to a tiebreak playoff.





In the Girls’ championship, IM Carissa Yip had her last chance to stop sole leader FM Alice Lee. Here’s what I predicted:


“Yip faces a must-win situation with White against leader Lee; this is her final opportunity to keep any chances for a comeback first-place finish. I predict a decisive result one way or the other!

Meanwhile Tang has a more favorable pairing, and she could even leapfrog into first place if Yip manages to defeat Lee.”


This was spot-on: both players came out with guns blazing, and after a tough struggle with winning chances for both sides, Lee eventually emerged victorious:



This was a tough second loss in a row for Yip, eliminating her from contention for first place.


Image Caption
Lee could be seen in the background of a large number of the photos for this round. Perhaps walking around helped her focus. Or perhaps she was just keeping tabs on her rivals. (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Meanwhile, sole chaser FM Zoey Tang saw her chasing chances decrease after being held to a solid fighting draw by co-tail-ender NM Kelsey Liu. Tang will face Yip in round eight, which I predict will be another fight to the death.

WIM Iris Mou found a resourceful defense to save a losing position against FM Ruiyang Yan:



Mou faces the unenviable schedule in the remaining rounds of playing sole leader Lee followed by sole chaser Tang. Tang’s task is also uphill: beat Yip followed by Mou, and hope that Lee loses to Mou and/or bottom seed WCM Shreya Mangalam.

My money is on Lee to hold her sole-leader spot through to the end of the tournament.





In the Senior championship, runaway leader GM Melikset Khachiyan had Black against GM Gregory Kaidanov. Here was what I predicted:


“Kaidanov is the only chaser still to face Khachiyan, and he will have his chance in today’s round. Will he heroically try to stop the runaway train, or write off first place as already Khachiyan’s property? I predict a draw.

By all appearances, this will be Khachiyan’s year!”


This prediction was correct, as Khachiyan tried to repeat the position shortly after move 20 (remember: draw offers are not allowed!), and Kaidanov obliged. Khachiyan now sits on 6/7.


Image Caption
Shabalov rises, but is it too late to catch Khachiyan? (courtesy Crystal Fuller/SLCC)


Meanwhile, the only chaser who won his game was GM Alexander Shabalov, who won a beautifully creative game against GM Joel Benjamin:



This was Benjamin’s first loss (and first non-draw) of the tournament. Shabalov is now in clear second place with 4½/7, and has yet to face the big man Khachiyan.

Meanwhile tail-ender IM Douglas Root posted his first win of the tournament against GM Maxim Dlugy, who with three straight losses has collapsed from shared first place after round four to fifth place after round seven.



GM Patrick Wolff also found a nice tactic to beat GM Dmitry Gurevich:



In round eight, Khachiyan has White against Wolff, and a win will secure him clear first place in the tournament, while a draw will secure clear first place except for one possibility: if Shabalov wins as Black against Gurevich in round eight and then wins as White against Khachiyan in round nine, he will have caught up to Khachiyan’s score and the two will contest a tiebreaker playoff for first place. 

If anyone can pull this off, it’s Shabalov. But Khachiyan will have multiple chances to control his own fate, either by winning against Wolff today or at least drawing against Shabalov tomorrow.

Overall, as I said before, this still feels like Khachiyan’s year.


Tune in on Sunday at 1:20 p.m. CST for the action and thrills of round eight, and to see whether my prediction performance rating remains high!

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