U.S. Chess Championship: All Leaders Win Again; Women Down To 2

| 24 | Chess Event Coverage

After yet another day of more wins than draws, a full nine players left the Saint Louis Chess Club as winners in round nine of the 2019 U.S. championships. Just like in round seven, the four leading men won again (this time joined by the defending champion) while on the women's side, the title could be decided tomorrow.

In fact, although WGM Jennifer Yu and IM Anna Zatonskih have been running away with things all fortnight, it's now official: No other woman is mathematically alive for the title except these two. Yu's draw today gave the veteran a rare opportunity to catch up, and Zatonskih's win halved the deficit to 0.5 points.

Anna Zatonskih
IM Anna Zatonskih beat last year's runner-up, WIM Annie Wang, to edge closer to the lead. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Zatonskih is now on 7.5/9, Yu on 8.0/9. They'll face each other tomorrow, meaning one of them must get to at least 8.5/10 and thus the third place WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (6.0/9) will have to wait one more year for another chance at her first title. If Yu wins, she would even seal the title with a round in hand.

In the open championship, the two leaders will also face off in tomorrow's Super Saturday. GM Hikaru Nakamura will get White against GM Leinier Dominguez. Technically this could end tomorrow also, but that would require one of them to win and for world number-two GM Fabiano Caruana to lose as White to GM Aleks Lenderman, so well, it will likely come down to the Sunday finish.

Fabiano Caruana
His last two events have had two players, then four players, so Fabiano Caruana might be wondering why all these people are gathered. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

At the women's championship, Zatonskih got to within a half-point by first giving last year's sensation WIM Annie Wang more pawn islands, then entering a favorable king-and-pawn ending.

"I got an equal position but not dead equal, very playable," Zatonskih said. "It was very precise play."

She had to make the decision to trade queens nearly right on the time control, something players like not to have to do. But in a sense it was easier since she thought the queen ending was surely drawn, and the pawn ending gave her better chances. Score one for intuition:

The four-time winner, ebullient after finally being back in the running for another title, caught up with after the round.

A video interview with Zatonskih.

Yu "suffered" a draw, only her second non-win of the event. She's bagged seven wins in nine rounds and still leads, but was under some slight duress after missing the method by which Abrahamyan won the a-pawn.

Tatev Abrahamyan
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan drew quite comfortably against the leader as Black, and yet that still ended her title hopes. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Abrahamyan was in her preparation until 12...Qxd1. In fact she knowingly defied her own planning as she had thought pre-round to keep the middlegame going with 12...Qxe5, but went her own way over the board.

Abrahamyan said she thought she rushed through the rook ending and perhaps she should have made the time control first before being proactive.

"At this point I feel like I should stop prepping because no one plays into your prep anymore," Yu said. "It's kind of annoying!"

Whether that was a joke or not, she can expect to be prepping against a grandmaster tomorrow. As Zatonskih explained, her husband GM Daniel Fridman just wrapped the European Championship in Macedonia and can now devote his full attention to helping his wife.

Also winning in round nine was WIM Carissa Yip and WGM Sabina Foisor.

Here's the full round results for the ladies:

And here you can see that no one can catch both Yu and Zatonskih. Yu could even wrap things up tomorrow with a round to spare, or give up the lead entirely:

In the open championship, all the top players scouted out both their own and their rivals' remaining schedule, and planned accordingly.

Nakamura gave some insight on his thoughts before round nine: "I didn't realize [Dominguez's] pairings for the last couple of rounds, so I felt that pretty much I had to take a shot in the last few games."

He thought he might need at least two wins from three games, and so he trotted out the Chinese Dragon today against GM Ray Robson.

"I thought it was the best opening to surprise Ray," Nakamura told, explaining that he usually played 1...e5 against him.

Sunil Weeramantry Rex Sinquefield
Nakamura's stepfather, FM Sunil Weeramantry, looks on with club founder Rex Sinquefield. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

"The gamble paid off," Nakamura said, "I thought I played almost perfectly." He said his quote referenced not just the quality of his moves, but the tournament standing and timing of the win (which reminded him of a well-timed win over GM Gata Kamsky at the same event in 2015).

With both Nakamura and Zatonskih fighting for their fifth career titles, asked Nakamura if he had given thought to what number he'd like to end his career with.

"Seven would be impressive," Nakamura said. "Especially now at this point considering all the players at the top, it would be great."

GM Irina Krush of course has seven women's titles, and there was a time where she started thinking about getting to double digits and setting the all-time ladies' record. "I don't think she's probably going to win another one," Nakamura said.

Hikaru Nakamura
It was a roll-up-your-sleeves and get the job done kind of day for Nakamura. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Since last year's championship, Nakamura has become quite the devoted online streamer. Has that affected his play at all?

"Knowing there are a lot of people rooting for me on Twitch, that's inspiring," he said.

Leinier Dominguez
Leinier Dominguez might be new to the U.S. championship, but he has already played in several events in St. Louis. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Dominguez kept pace by inch-worming his extra pawn up the edge. Much before that he explained that the seemingly-unplayable 12...c5 didn't unnerve him; he was ready for it.

"I had to be precise; I was trying to remember the details of my preparation, but still I got some advantage," Dominguez said.

The championship newcomer noticed that he's now won a trio of games against the isolated d-pawn. Note to the field: Don't go for the IQP against the new guy!

Dominguez may not have the titles of players like Nakamura, but that is for a lack of trying! He's in position to possibly win in his first attempt, which has only happened once in the last 25 years.

Caruana also took care of business to keep pace. He's on a tear, having won 3.5/4.

Like Nakamura, he needed to dial up something special as Black, and out came the Dutch. After an imbalanced game, he scored the win against the tournament's tail-ender. caught up with Caruana after the game and asked whether or not the experience of a world championship match could help him for a "normal" tournament like this one.

A video interview with that answer and more.

Also winning was GM Wesley So, who was pleased to notch a win after a few draws.

Wesley So
What's behind this door? A win! But not any closer to the lead for Wesley So. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Here are the full results, where draws were hard to come by:

Unlike in the women's event, the field has barely winnowed, with the top-four rated players in the U.S. having the best chances:

Here's the full broadcast from today's round.

The official broadcast of round nine.

GM Robert Hess is providing round-by-round U.S. championship commentary on his Twitch channel. Here's his take on all of round nine:

Watch US Championship Commentary from gmhess on

Previous reports:

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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