With his top rivals falling by the wayside, GM Wesley So held off an unexpected challenge to claim his first U.S. national championship Monday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.
The 23-year-old Philippine native defeated surprise finalist GM Alex Onischuk 1½-½ in a rapid playoff, barely holding off Onischuk’s attempt to tie the match in the decisive second game. The playoff was needed after the two topped the 12-player field with identical 7-4 scores.
On the women’s side, WGM Sabina-Francesca Foisor, seeded sixth in the 12-player field, earned her first U.S. title with a 8-3 score, a full point clear of 2016 women’s champ NM Nazi Paikidze.
Coming up short on the men’s side were defending champion GM Fabiano Caruana and four-time former champion GM Hikaru Nakamura, both of whom were expected to contend with So for the title. Round 9 proved fatal to both players’s chances, as Caruana was jolted by a loss to GM Varuzhan Akobian and Nakamura’s hopes were derailed by an untimely loss to Onischuk.
On the women’s side, Virginia WM Jennifer Yu had a massive say in the standings en route to a fine 6-5 result, defeating Paikidze and top seeds GM Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih — both multiple past champions — during the event.
The 41-year-old Onischuk was not a favorite coming into the tourney, but he won the title a decade ago and still is the sixth highest rated player in the country. His veteran savvy and technical skill were both on display in his win Saturday over U.S. junior champ GM Jeffery Xiong. Black mishandles the opening (12 … Nc6? is rarely played for a reason) and soon coughs up a pawn to White’s bishop pair. The game’s best move may be 40. Rf2!, allowing the opposite-colored bishop ending after 40 … Bc3 41. Rxb2 Bxb2 42. Ke4.
Black expertly uses his assets on both sides of the board to force a won position. Xiong resigns after 51. Kf3 Kg7 52. Kg4 — White can either push the f-pawn and use his threats on both wings to activate the a-pawn or just sacrifice his bishop for the g6-pawn and the Black bishop can’t hold back the three White pawns.
Foisor, who was born in Romania and played for the powerhouse University of Maryland/Baltimore County chess team, finished in style with a dominating win over 16-year-old Michigan NM Apurva Virkud in Sunday’s Round 11. An opening mistake (9. a3 was better than Virkud’s 9. Bd2?! d4!) gives Black an overwhelming pawn center that quickly rolls up the White position.
Black cashes in with 23 … e3! 24. fxe3 Qxe3+ 25. Kh1 (also losing was 25. Rfd2 Rf6 26. dxc5 Rxf2 27. Rxf2 Nd3 28. Qd2 Qd4! 29. Nc3 Re2! 30. Nxe2 Qxf2+ 31. Kh1 Bxe2) Rf6 26. Rg1 (see diagram; on 26. Qxc5, Black has 26 … Rxf1+ 27. Bxf1 Bf3+ 28. Rg2 [Bxg2 Qe1 mate] Qf2 29. Nd2 Qxg2+ 30. Bxg2 Re1+ 31. Nf1 Rxf1 mate) Qxg1+!, leading to a mating attack.
White resigns after 31. Ke3 Rf3+ facing 32. Ke2 (Ke4 Re1+ 33. Re2 Rxe2 mate) Rf6+ 33. Ke3 Re1+ 34. Re2 Rxe2 mate.
Breaking … Sad news — GM Arthur Bisguier, the “Dean of American Chess” who has done as much as anyone over the half-century to promote the game in the U.S., has died at the age of 87. The 1954 U.S. champion also won three U.S. Opens, a U.S. Senior Open, and represented the country in five Olympiads. An author and relentless popularizer of the game in school halls, prisons and hospitals in every corner of the country, he will be missed.
Onischuk-Xiong, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, April 2017
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Nf3 c5 8. Be3 Bg4 9. Rc1 O-O 10. Be2 Qa5 11. Qd2 cxd4 12. cxd4 Nc6 13. Qxa5 Nxa5 14. h3 Bxf3 15. Bxf3 Rfc8 16. Ke2 e5 17. dxe5 Bxe5 18. Bg4 Rc4 19. f4 Bb2 20. Rxc4 Nxc4 21. Bf2 Re8 22. Bf3 Na3 23. Rd1 Rc8 24. e5 Bc1 25. Bxb7 Rc2+ 26. Kf3 Bd2 27. Bd5 Nb5 28. Bb3 Rb2 29. g3 Nc3 30. Ra1 a5 31. e6 fxe6 32. Bxe6+ Kf8 33. Bc5+ Kg7 34. Bd4+ Kf8 35. Bb3 Ke8 36. Rf1 a4 37. Bxc3 Bxc3 38. Bxa4+ Kf8 39. Bb3 Bd2 40. Rf2 Bc3 41. Rxb2 Bxb2 42. Ke4 Ba3 43. Ke5 Ke7 44. g4 Bd6+ 45. Ke4 Ba3 46. Bg8 h6 47. h4 Kf6 48. Bb3 Ke7 49. g5 hxg5 50. hxg5 Kf8 51. Kf3 Kg7 52. Kg4 Black resigns.
Virkud-Foisor, U.S. Women’s Championship, St. Louis, April 2017
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. Nf3 c5 6. dxc5 Na6 7. c6 bxc6 8. g3 d5 9. Bd2 d4 10. Ne4 Rb8 11. Nxf6+ Qxf6 12. Bg2 e5 13. O-O Bf5 14. Qc1 Bxd2 15. Qxd2 h6 16. Qa5 c5 17. b3 e4 18. Nd2 Rfe8 19. Rad1 Rb6 20. Nb1 Qe7 21. e3 Bg4 22. Rd2 Nb4 23. exd4 e3 24. fxe3 Qxe3+ 25. Kh1 Rf6 26. Rg1 Qxg1+ 27. Kxg1 Re1+ 28. Bf1 Rfxf1+ 29. Kg2 Rg1+ 30. Kf2 Ref1+ 31. Ke3 Rf3+ White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.