Once More, for all the Marbles

It all comes down to the final day.

Awonder Liang and Nicolas Checa are tied for first place in the 2019 U.S. Junior Championship entering tomorrow’s final round action. Both players are at 6.5/8, a point ahead of the field. Joshua Sheng will be hoping both lose, so that with a win he can grab a share of the first place prize.

Alex Shabalov and Carissa Yip are in sole possession of first place in the Senior and Girls Championships, respectively, each leading their fields by a full point. While each player is guaranteed a share of the top honors, they still have jobs to do tomorrow, with four players in the Senior Championship and two in the Girls ready to pounce if they slip.

Here’s how we got to Round 9.


courtesy STLCC

Nicolas Checa entered the day’s play a half-point ahead of Awonder Liang, but his draw with John Burke opened the door for Liang to hop into a share of the lead.

Liang had to go through a determined Jennifer Yu, but in the end, his pawns overwhelmed her bishop and he won, moving to +5 (6.5/9) and a tie with Checa heading into tomorrow’s final round.

Andrew Tang defanged Craig Hilby’s “Rat Defense,” winning in 29 moves.

In other results, Atulya Vaidya and Hans Niemann drew their game, as did Brandon Jacobson and Joshua Sheng.

Final Round Pairings: Hilby (2.5) – Vaidya (3), Liang (6.5) – Tang (4.5), Sheng (5.5) – Yu (0.5), Burke (3.5) – Jacobson (4), Niemann (3.5) – Checa (6.5).


courtesy STLCC

Maggie Feng nearly pulled off a Houdini-esque escape, but in the end, Carissa Yip’s extra piece was more powerful than Feng’s pawns, and she defeated Feng in 72 moves.

Yip is at +6 (7/8) heading into the final round. She is trailed by two players: Rochelle Wu, who drew against Martha Samadashvili in 92 moves, and Rui Yang Yan. Yan handily dismantled Veronika Zilajeva’s French Defense, and continues to impress with her play in Saint Louis. Both Wu and Yan are at +4 (6/8) and can only hope for a share of first place if Yip loses.

Yan-Zilajeva (photo Crystal Fuller)

It was Emily Nguyen’s birthday today, but Rachael Li spoiled the party by turning the tables on Nguyen’s better position and snatching her first win of the tournament.

In the remaining game of the round, Thalia Cervantes defeated Agata Bykovtsev on the White side of a King’s Indian.

Final Round Pairings: Samadashvili (4) – Cervantes (4.5), Feng (3) – Wu (6), Nguyen (4.5) – Yip (7), Zilajeva (1) – Li (1.5), Bykovtsev (2.5) – Yan (6).


courtesy STLCC

Alex Shabalov is a point clear of the field after his victory over Alex Fishbein. Shabalov’s 28. … Nxf2! was a typical Shabba masterstroke, and he managed to convert his material advantage despite Fishbein’s stiff resistance.

Four players trail Shabalov at +1 (4.5/8): Gregory Kaidanov, Joel Benjamin, Igor Novikov, and Alex Yermolinsky. Kaidanov, who entered today’s play as a co-leader, lost to Yermolinsky, while Novikov drew with Larry Christiansen.

Benjamin and Kraai (photo Crystal Fuller)

Joel Benjamin’s draw with Jaan Ehlvest is a tale that will be told for years to come at the Senior Championship. Ehlvest inexplicably blundered a piece in the opening, but after some miscues by Benjamin, Ehlvest managed to muddy the waters enough to swindle the down-on-the-clock Benjamin into accepting a draw offer.

There was just one problem – Ehlvest offered the draw on move 28, and tournament rules state that no games can be drawn before move 30. So the players made a few more perfunctory moves, the last of which (30. … Kc8) is actually a huge blunder. Perhaps Benjamin, who was visibly desolate in the post-game interview with Jesse Kraai, will find some humor in the way things worked out!

Last but not least, Max Dlugy continued his second-half resurgence with a win over Alex Goldin.

Final Round Pairings: Shabalov (5.5) – Ehlvest (3.5), Kaidanov (4.5) – Fishbein (2.5), Dlugy (3) – Yermolinsky (4.5), Novikov (4.5) – Goldin (4), Benjamin (4.5) – Christiansen (3.5).

The 2019 Junior, Girls, and Senior Championships will be contested daily from July 10th-20th at the Saint Louis Chess Club, with a rest day on July 16th. Rounds start at 1pm CDT, except for July 20th, when play begins at 11am.

US Junior/Senior/Girls Quick Links: 

Official STL Chess Club YouTube

Live on uschesschamps.com 

Pairings & Results US Junior

Pairings & Results US Senior

Pairings & Results US Girls 


  1. Wild west/wild child chess everywhere STUNNING/THRILLING … Yu/Shabalov games alone were truly fabulous thrilling analytical out of this world jungles that must be played over to be appreciated.Do not kid yourselves crew….JENIFER YU is the future … truly has the “CHESS DAZE” running amock like Shabalov …which every great player must have… it is like gasoline pouring into a furnace. Jude Acers/ New Orleans

  2. If the top Junior and Girl players want their respective scholarships they have one round left to prove it. Without a clear first tie-breaks will decide. Best wishes to all.

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