US Chess Championships R9: Leaders Draw, Caruana Wins
Fabiano Caruana, scoring a decisive win against Dariusz Swiercz in round nine, is only half a point behind leaders. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

US Chess Championships R9: Leaders Draw, Caruana Wins

| 15 | Chess Event Coverage

In round nine of the 2021 U.S. Chess Championship, which took place after a rest day, all leaders drew their games. Meanwhile, GM Fabiano Caruana beat GM Dariusz Swiercz. As a result, GMs Aleksandr Lenderman, Wesley So, and Sam Sevian are sharing first with 5.5/9, while GMs Ray Robson, Leinier Dominguez Perez, and Caruana are only half a point behind.

In the U.S. Women's Championship, IM Carissa Yip won her fourth game in a row and nearly secured herself the tournament win, as she now has 7/9. The two closest rivals, WGM Katerina Nemcova and GM Irina Krush, played each other. Krush won and is now a point behind Yip with 6/9, while Nemcova and WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova are now sharing third with 5.5/9.

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

2021 US Chess Championships

So, one of the leaders, had a great chance to come out ahead on Saturday, as he was facing one of the lowest-rated players of the tournament, GM Daniel Naroditsky, and had the white pieces.

However, Naroditsky has already proved himself multiple times in this event, both by beating top-seed Caruana (you can find a detailed analysis of the game in the report on round five) and by relentlessly surprising the world's best players with rare opening choices. 

Naroditsky's ambitious opening choice and daring piece sacrifice yielded him a draw vs. Wesley So. Photo: Bryan Adams/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The tendency continued: So went for the slow Italian, and Naroditsky responded with an aggressive ...h6-g5 plan. On move eight, So had a chance to trade queens, getting an endgame with a slight initiative, but chose to keep the strongest pieces on the board. By move 15, Black was considerably better, but Naroditsky added even more wood to the fire by sacrificing a piece to keep White's king in the center.

This was not a bad decision, but it did allow So to consolidate the position. Soon he was much better but failed to play a couple of precise moves, which resulted in a perpetual check on move 31. A truly fascinating game! In the post-mortem interview with GM Maurice Ashley, So said: "I thought I missed some very good chances to win today and probably the tournament."

I missed some very good chances to win today and probably the tournament.
—Wesley So

Another leader, Lenderman, with the white pieces vs. GM Sam Shankland chose the Fianchetto variation against Shankland's Grunfeld. However, Black showed fantastic preparation, sacrificed a pawn, and on move 19 had an hour and 36 minutes, which is more than when the game began.

On move 17, Shankland started taking his time, and six minutes later, decided to sacrifice one more pawn to take advantage of his superior development. On move 21, Lenderman missed a great opportunity and the advantage was gone. White was still two pawns up, but Black doubled his rooks on the second rank, was incredibly active, and made White play very precisely. Soon the game was drawn by repetition.

Sam Shankland showed very deep preparation in the Grunfeld to draw the leader, Alexander Lenderman. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

The other player who was sharing the first place, Sevian, faced GM John M. Burke. Their game saw the Quiet Italian and was developing rather peacefully until Sevian as Black provoked several complications on move 23. It was a rather suspicious decision, as with perfect play, White was supposed to be better. However, it is not possible to play the way engines do; humans make errors, especially in complicated positions. Shortly, Burke misplayed the position and found himself considerably worse. Black missed his chance, as he rushed to win back the sacrificed pawn, which soon resulted in a perpetual check.

Two players who were half a point behind the leaders, Dominguez and Robson, played each other. The higher-rated and more experienced Dominguez had the white pieces and chose 1.e4 to answer Robson's 1...e5 with a very aggressive setup in the Italian Game. Black handled the position very well and was somewhat better; however, due to the position's complexity, both players were burning a lot of time, which by move 21 left them with just a bit more than 20 minutes each. On the next turn, Robson failed to find a very difficult defense, which started with an unexpected king move, and his position started rapidly deteriorating.

In the endgame White was much better, probably winning, as the black pieces were barely able to move. Unfortunately, instead of increasing the pressure, Dominguez preferred to win a pawn, which allowed Black to activate his forces. White was still in control but could not find a way to pose problems, soon misplayed the position, and allowed Black to save half a point. A very tenacious defense by Robson, who saved the game despite severe time trouble.

With tenacious defense, Ray Robson saved a lost position vs. Dominguez and is half a point behind the leaders. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

As we see, all leaders ended their games in a draw. However, there also were two decisive encounters.

Caruana had the white pieces against the debutant of the U.S. Championship, Swiercz, and chose to repeat the recipe that brought him success two rounds earlier; that is, to open with 1.c4, going for the Reversed Rossolimo type of positions. The game developed nearly perfectly for the favorite: by move 17, not only was White winning on the board, but his opponent had burned nearly all of his time, being down to 12 minutes.

Nevertheless, Swiercz kept defending and posed a series of issues to the top seed, who made a couple of inaccurate decisions. For a few moments, Black was close to holding the game, but his unfortunate move 34 deteriorated matters decisively. From that moment on, Caruana was ruthless.

This important win allowed Caruana to get to 5/9, which is just half a point behind the leaders. That he hasn't faced one of the leaders, Lenderman, is shaping to be a very crucial component of the event.

Finally, GM Jeffery Xiong with Black beat GM Lazaro Bruzon Batista. He chose the French Defense, to which Bruzon replied with 3.Nd2, the Tarrasch Variation. White did not get much out of the opening, and by move 20, Black was considerably better; besides, he had more than an hour on his clock, while Bruzon was down to 10 minutes. However, White managed to keep the game balanced but eventually made a few crucial mistakes close to the time control, and his position collapsed very rapidly. Xiong started the tournament with 0.5/4 but then eventually scored two wins, which now places him at a solid 4/9. 

 U.S. Championship All Games Round 9

Round 9 Standings

Round Nine Standings

Round nine of the U.S. Women's Chess Championship turned out incredibly fascinating and entertaining, as five games out of six ended decisively. It also completely reshaped the tournament standings. 

Yip is absolutely unstoppable: she scored her fourth(!) win in a row on Saturday. Maybe she is inspired by Caruana's 7/7 performance in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup? With two more rounds to go, 7/7 might not be possible for her, but she is certainly coming close. She had the white pieces against WIM Ashritha Eswaran and showed some rather deep preparation in the trendy 4...Nf6 variation of the Classical Caro-Kann.

A lovely pawn break on move 22 caused Black to make a decisive mistake. Then White still needed quite a few moves to score a full point, but the result was never in question. After this game, Yip has seven out of nine points, while her closest competitor is a full point behind. Not an easy gap to bridge, given just two rounds are left.

The players in second and third places, Nemcova and Krush, faced each other. Nemcova hadn't lost a single game up to this moment, but this time, she apparently wanted to win rather badly, as instead of the solid Slav Defense, she chose the risky Leningrad System of the Dutch Defense. Krush handled the game nearly perfectly: in a very solid positional style, she slowly but surely increased her advantage, traded queens, and created an outside passed pawn, which with the better minor piece gave her a decisive advantage.

The game took 68 moves, but the last 30 or so were a pure formality, as White was already completely winning. This win was huge, not only for Krush, now in clean second place with 6/9, but also for Yip because she increased her lead by half a point. 

Irina Krush scored a very important win over Katerina Nemcova to leapfrog in the standings. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Another important game was between Tokhirjonova and IM Nazi Paikidze. Normally a rather solid player, Paikidze has kept choosing aggressive openings. In this event, she has played the ambitious Dutch and Modern Defenses, and on Saturday, she went for the King's Indian. Tokhirjonova met it with the solid Fianchetto system and had a nearly decisive advantage after 20 moves. Eventually, the game transposed in an endgame where White was a pawn up. Black still had some chances to survive, but it was by no means easy, especially because she was also in severe time trouble.

For a long time, the evaluation was fluctuating between a much better position for White and a winning one. However, Paikidze was the last one to make mistakes, and eventually, White scored a full point. This win enabled Tokhirjonova to share third place with Nemcova, as they both now have 5.5/9. One of these two players is nearly guaranteed to get a medal because the other players are at least one and a half points behind, which is a big distance, given just two rounds are left. 

WGM Tatev Abrahamyan delighted chess fans by playing a gorgeous attacking game with White in the Sicilian Defense vs. WGM Anna Sharevich. Winning such games certainly takes a lot of precise calculation and intense work over the board, but she made this look very nice and simple. Black tried her last chance—a desperate piece sacrifice—but never had a chance to survive, as White played very carefully and accurately.

Tatev Abrahamyan won a very instructive game in the sharp Sicilian vs. Anna Sharevich. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

IM Anna Zatonskih scored a second win in a row, as with White she outplayed WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor in the trendy 4...a6 variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. The position was balanced for a long time, but then Black made several inaccurate moves and handed White a substantial advantage, which was eventually converted to a full point.

Finally, the only draw of the round was between WIM Megan Lee and WGM Thalia Landeiro Cervantes. For the first 20 or so moves, the game was rather balanced, but then Cervantes, who was Black, made a mistake and allowed White to get a large advantage. However, to do so, she needed to spot a very subtle idea on move 25. That did not happen and the position was balanced again, which eventually resulted in a drawn rook endgame.

U.S. Women's Championship All Games Round 9

Round 9 Standings

Women Standings Round Nine

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:

More from IM YuriyKrykun
Ray Robson Again Dominates Puzzle Battle World Championship

Ray Robson Again Dominates Puzzle Battle World Championship

Speed Chess Championship: So Knocks Out Caruana, Advances to SF

Speed Chess Championship: So Knocks Out Caruana, Advances to SF