US Chess Championships R10: Caruana Shares First, Yip Women's Champion
In round 10, Fabiano Caruana won a crucial game with Black vs. Aleksandr Lenderman to share first place. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

US Chess Championships R10: Caruana Shares First, Yip Women's Champion

| 35 | Chess Event Coverage

Round 10 of the 2021 U.S. Chess Championship reshaped the tournament standings before the decisive day. GM Fabiano Caruana won with Black against GM Aleksandr Lenderman and is now sharing first with GMs Wesley So and Sam Sevian with 6/10 (who drew each other), while GMs Ray Robson, Leinier Dominguez Perez, and Lenderman are trailing by half a point. 

In the U.S. Women's Championship, IM Carissa Yip guaranteed herself first place with one round to spare by winning her fifth game in a row and scoring 8/10. GM Irina Krush and WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova are now sharing second place with 6.5/10, as Krush drew her game, while Tokhirjonova beat the recent leader, WGM Katerina Nemcova.

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The games of the U.S. Chess Championship can be found here: Open | Women.

2021 US Chess Championships

The two leaders, Sevian and So, played each other. Sevian chose a relatively infrequent setup with Bb5+ in the London System, which had already occurred in this tournament several rounds ago. GM Sam Shankland had played that variation vs. Dominguez, was better, but eventually lost. So seemed to be better prepared, as after 13 moves, he had more time than in the beginning, while his opponent had already burned nearly half an hour. However, that was not necessarily a correct assumption, as Black misplayed the position and found himself in a very awkward situation.

In a critical position on move 22, Sevian unfortunately did not evaluate the pawn sacrifice correctly, chose a safer continuation, and ended up wasting most of his advantage. He was low on time, and even though So made a few imprecise moves and White had a large positional advantage, Sevian decided to repeat the moves.

In the game between two leaders, Sam Sevian chose to make a draw by repetition in a much better position vs. Wesley So. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Monday's round will show if that decision was right: had he won, he would be the sole leader, but now he is sharing first place with So and Caruana and has the black pieces in the last round vs. GM Daniel Naroditsky. So, instead, escaped a bad position and has white when he faces Robson in the last round, which gives him a great chance to win the event.

The tournament's top seed, Caruana, was half a point behind the leaders prior to this round. Of course, it was a must-win situation for him, but winning did not seem like an easy feat, as with Black he was facing Lenderman. However, America's best player did manage to pull off a brilliant win.

In a post-mortem interview with GM Maurice Ashley, Caruana said: "Before today's game, I was optimistic because I felt the trend was kind of improving. Maybe it was not a must-win but a pretty must-win game. It was a crazy game. I didn't expect it to go this way. At some point, I was sure I was losing; at some point, I was sure I was winning. After the time control, I thought I'm for sure winning, but it was still super difficult to keep under control."

It was a crazy game.... At some point, I was sure I was losing; at some point, I was sure I was winning. 
—Fabiano Caruana

He chose the ambitious King's Indian Defense, which Lenderman met with the Fianchetto variation. White had a few better opportunities a bit earlier, but the critical position occurred after 14 moves. By retreating his knight to f3, White allowed for a very tempting positional sacrifice, which Caruana happily executed. Black obtained a perfect blockading position with a pawn for the missing exchange, and the white rooks were not able to do much.

To his credit, Lenderman was defending really well and was even nearly winning after Black made a tempting yet imprecise decision on move 30. However, he did not take advantage of the opportunity, and eventually Black ended up dominating the board. It still took a lot of effort to close the game out, but after nearly 60 moves of tense fight, Caruana pocketed a full point and became one of the tournament's leaders.

In the last round, Caruana with White is facing Shankland and has real chances to win the event, despite losing two games in a row in the middle of it. What an amazing comeback!

One of the players who has been very close to the leaders the entire time, Dominguez, drew with the black pieces vs. GM Jeffery Xiong. He chose the Queen's Gambit Accepted, one of his main openings, which is extremely solid. White was a tiny bit better, but eventually Black equalized and had the opponent take a draw by perpetual check. 

The other grandmaster who has been close to the top of the standings the entire time, Robson, with the white pieces was facing John M. Burke. The complex Ruy Lopez position arose on the board. On move 19, White had a choice between continuing in a quiet positional manner or launching a kingside assault, which would require several sacrifices. Robson is known for his fierce attacking skills and for his incredible Puzzle Rush scores, so it's no wonder he opted for the latter choice. The sacrifices were objectively hardly sound, but Black needed to handle the position very carefully. For a while, he did and was better, but White managed to bail out and draw the game. Robson is now half a point behind the leaders and as Black will play So, which is by no means an easy challenge, but a win would practically guarantee him the medal.

Another decisive game was between Shankland and Naroditsky. The latter had already made all the followers familiar with his rare opening choices, but this time he went for a solid line in the Nimzo-Indian with Black and obtained an endgame that looked rather drawish. Nevertheless, White had somewhat better chances due to his outside passed pawn. Shankland demonstrated a truly impressive endgame technique and scooped up the full point after a long fight, which allowed him to return to the 50-percent score. 

Sam Shankland scored another endgame win, this time vs. Daniel Naroditsky, and is back to 50 percent. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Finally, GM Dariusz Swiercz, who had a very tough start, outplayed GM Lazaro Bruzon Batista in a brilliant positional game. White obtained a massive space advantage, completely paralyzed Black, and eventually found a way to tear his position apart. This win allowed Swiercz to come back to a very solid score of 4.5/10.

 U.S. Championship All Games Round 10

Round 10 Standings

Round 10 Standings

In the U.S. Women's Chess Championship, round 10 identified the winner: Carissa Yip scored her fifth(!) win in a row and became unreachable a round before the end. A fantastic accomplishment! At the same time, the placement of players between second and fourth places has been completely reshaped, too.

With the black pieces, Yip was facing IM Nazi Paikidze. Most players, being a point ahead of the competition with just two rounds to go, would choose the most solid and reliable opening and style of playing. However, that's not what the new U.S. Women's Champion wanted: instead, she played the speculative Modern Defense and had a suspicious position. However, after White burned most of her time by move 15, she quickly demolished her opponent with a ferocious kingside attack. 

In round 10, Carissa Yip destroyed Nazi Paikidze and became the new U.S. Women's Champion. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

There was another very important decisive game: Tokhirjonova, who had won two games in a row prior to this round, with black beat the former leader of the tournament, Nemcova. White repeated the same variation with 4.d4 in the Two Knights Defense that had brought her success a few games earlier, but this time, Black was better prepared and got a large advantage in the opening, which Tokhirjonova went on to convert nearly flawlessly after 59 moves. Now, the tournament's debutant is sharing second place with one round to go and has the better tiebreaks, which with an overwhelming probability assures her of at least the bronze medal, no matter what the last round's outcome is.

Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova is unstoppable: she won her third game in a row and shares second place with one round to go. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The player who was on clear second place before the round, Krush, as Black drew WGM Thalia Landeiro Cervantes. It was a very solid game, where initially White was slightly better, but then Black neutralized the initiative and slowly seized it herself, but it was never more than miniscule. In a position where a clever temporary bishop sacrifice would have given her fighting chances, Krush went on to repeat the moves.

As White, WIM Ashritha Eswaran challenged IM Anna Zatonskih in a lengthy theoretical variation of the French. On move 18, Zatonskih took exactly an hour(!) to make her next move. A few moves later she made a series of decisive mistakes and lost after White developed a gorgeous attack.

As White, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan beat WIM Megan Lee. She went for the Reti/King's Indian Attack type of position and was worse after the opening, but took advantage of her opponent's unforced errors and later converted her advantage nearly flawlessly. This win allowed her to get to the 50-percent score with 5/10, which is amazing after a 1/4 start! 

Finally, WGM Anna Sharevich drew WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor. Sharevich had the white pieces and went for the London System. The game was rather even for a long time, but on move 55, in a complex yet objectively balanced endgame, Black made a decisive mistake, which gave Sharevich an opportunity to win. However, she immediately went wrong as well, and 20 moves later, the game was drawn.

U.S. Women's Championship All Games Round 10

Round 10 Standings

Round 10 Standings Women

The 2021 U.S. Chess Championships take place October 5-19, 2021 in St. Louis to determine the next chess champions of the United States. The 2021 U.S. Women's Championship is being held concurrently. Both events have the same format: 12 players, 11-round tournament with a $194,000 prize fund for the U.S. Championship and $100,000 for the U.S. Women’s Championship.

Earlier reports:

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