Foisor Wins U.S. Women's While So, Onischuk Head To Playoff

| 55 | Chess Event Coverage

On her ninth attempt, it was mate in nine. WGM Sabina Foisor's elegant winning combination continues the legacy of a legend.

Less than three months removed from the unexpected loss of her mother, a five-time Romanian Women's Champion, Foisor became 2017 U.S. Women's Champion. Her finishing combination, initiated by a queen sacrifice, was close to a pure puzzle -- every piece was used in the combination.


GM Elshan Moradiabadi and WGM Sabina Foisor, moments after her first title became official. "He was there for me even in times when I have been stressed," Foisor said of her fiancee.

After winning the game, Foisor said she was "sad and excited."

IM Cristina Foisor died in January and never got to see her eldest daughter fulfill their mutual ambition. Sabina was playing this one for her.

"For some years we always had this goal to be in the top three," she said. They never got to share that together, but Sabina sensed her mother with her this event.

GM Elshan Moradiabadi said she was crying last night, wondering how she'd feel if she won her first title but couldn't celebrate with her mother. As her opponent resigned, she tried to remain stoic, then her smile won out before she finally embraced Moradiabadi and weeping again.

"She wasn't crying about having won," Moradiabadi said.

Here's the dramatic moment when Foisor didn't go for a prosaic winning liquidation and instead channeled her forces and her mother's spirit to the crown:

"I didn't think this would happen," Foisor said. She said that while she was a perfect six-for-six as White, she felt her play as Black was subpar before today.

The ultimate underdog -- not only did she have heavy emotions, but she lost two of her first four games (the first winner since 2011 to suffer multiple losses) before roaring back to win the title outright. In her final seven games, she scored five wins and two draws.

Here's our video interview right after the game when it wasn't clear yet if there would be a playoff or not.

She's now the third member of her family with a national championship. Her father, IM Ovidiu Foisor, was Romanian champion in 1982.

"I know how difficult it is since my mother passed away last year," fellow player IM Anna Zatonskih said about trying to concentrate with a heavy heart.


IM Cristina Foisor at the 2016 Olympiad in Baku, about to play against USA. Curiously, she lost that day to IM Nazi Paikidze, whom Sabina overtook today.

Even after the combination, Foisor had to sit and wait for more than an hour to see if IM Nazi Paikidze could win to keep pace. Foisor was told by her fiancee not to check the game at all during the round, but she couldn't avoid peeking after her own competition ended.

She watched from the ground floor of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, watching Paikidze resign a lost ending. Moradiabadi hugged and kissed his bride-to-be as Foisor wept.


"Sabina's my friend and I'm really happy for her," Paikidze said after losing to WIM Jennifer Yu. "She had a phenomenal tournament and I'm really happy for her."

Just like Paikidze's title last year, everything fell into place for Foisor in the last round. Unlike last year, Foisor didn't have to quit her job just to compete.

She takes home $25,000 for first place. At an average of four hours per game, that's $568 per hour, likely more than whatever that past job was last year!


The happy couple. Photo: Lennart Ootes for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Yu completed her amazing sweep of the top seeds. She went 3-0 against the only three women to have won past titles. Collectively, GM Irina Krush (7), Zatonskih (4), and Paikidze (1) have accumulated a dozen titles but were no match for the 15-year-old former world youth champion.


WIM Jennifer Yu (second from left) and NM Maggie Feng (far right) led the "teenager contingent" with a tie for fourth. Also pictured: WFM Apirva Virkud (far left), NM Carissa Yip (middle), WIM Emily Nguyen (second from right).


The open championship began the day with three leaders. That event is not settled yet and is headed to a two-man Monday playoff with GM Wesley So and GM Alex Onischuk.

GM Daniel Naroditsky and So played all of 14 moves over 17 minutes. Both players could have gone for more, but both had their reasons for the non-game.

"I wouldn't really call it 'disappointed,'" So told about the perfunctory battle. "He didn't do anything wrong. I wasn't exactly sure what he was going for."

GM Gata Kamsky called the early draw a "gamble, that's for sure," since a victory by either of the other leaders would end So's event (of course, Kamsky "controlled" one of the two games in question).

Naroditsky told he just wanted the tournament behind him. He hadn't been playing well, and an effortless draw with the top player would allow him to leave St. Louis "without a bad taste in my mouth."

"I don't have anything on the Berlin," Naroditsky said. "I don't know anybody who's been able to crack Wesley's Berlin in the last 18 centuries...I'm not the most combative player.

"I'm a bit out of gas at the moment...It's somewhat unprofessional but fully within my rights."


Four games had to fall in place perfectly for the unexpected five-way tie discussed yesterday to occur. GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Fabiano Caruana , winners of the last two titles, handled their parts of the bargain, but So's early draw dispelled any chance of them adding another.

Before Narodtisky leaves, he has to hit the books, which he cited as another reason he could use the open Sunday afternoon. Due tomorrow is a problem set for his class on "Mathematical Foundations of Computing." Stanford's not done with his time -- Tuesday another assignment is due in his social psychology class.

At least one of the other two college students in the field can sympathize.

"I finished my game and had to run to my classes," GM Yaroslav Zherebukh said today about a previous round. "You can't really do well on's pretty tough."

"I thought, 'Now everything depends on me,'" Onischuk said about the moments after that draw. He allowed himself to luxury of contemplating winning his second title.


Legends of U.S. chess die hard. After the first 17 minutes today, all eyes were on the two games by these men. From left, GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Hikaru Nakamura, IM John Donaldson, GM Alex Onischuk, GM Gata Kamsky (at the 2008 Olympiad, not the 2017 U.S. Championship!).

Alas, that was not to be, at least not yet. Despite a more deliberate effort, against five-time champion Kamsky, Onischuk similarly couldn't make any headway. He had considered playing the Sicilian today, but was talked out of it by friends. Instead, his Archangelsk Spanish proved too hard to break through.

As for tomorrow's head-to-head battle with the number two player in the world, Onischuk is just happy to have his chance. He harbors no illusions of who has the better chances.

The format will be two games of G/25+5, and if still tied, an unspecified Armageddon game will take place. So's rapid acumen is well known. Last year he finished fourth and second in the two rapid events of the Grand Chess Tour, and just recently he led his team to the title and became MVP in the inaugural season of the PRO Chess League.


Onischuk recalled online surveys giving him less than one percent of a chance to win the tournament. His back-of-the-napkin math suggested it's now at least 10 percent.

"I'll take it," he said. "If I knew before the tournament I would be in this situation, I most probably wouldn't believe."

Does he really think his odds are that low? Here's our video interview:


What's with the Russian/Ukrainian modesty? Sean Connery gave himself one chance in three, while Onischuk game himself only one chance in 10 tomorrow.

GM Hikaru Nakamura spoiled the opportunity of a three-way playoff by beating GM Varuzhan Akobian, who is still searching for his first title.

Akobian had some chances to even win outright, but after trading queens Nakamura took control in the ending.

Akobian continues to struggle against Nakamura. He's now scored a mere draw from their last six games.


Close calls in 2003, 2014, and now 2017: GM Varuzhan Akobian finished with yet another top three finish but not title.

World Cup invitations were also earned today. Qualifying from the U.S. Championship were So, Onischuk, Nakamura, Caruana, Akobian and Zherebukh. GM Jeffery Xiong will also travel to Batumi, Georgia by virtue of winning the 2016 World Junior Championship.


Images courtesy Spectrum Studios.

You can catch tomorrow's playoff the normal round time: 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. Live coverage will be available at either or at the official site,

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