July proved a disorienting month for patriotic American chess players. We opened the month celebrating our declaration of independence from a foreign king and closed the month with a triple coronation right here at home.
New York GM Hans Niemann is the new U.S. junior champion, clinching his crown with a draw Sunday as his three nearest rivals — GM Brandon Jacobson and IMs Praveen Balakrishnan and David Brodsky — could not catch him in the ninth and final round. In addition to the glory and prize money, Niemann also books a slot in the 2022 U.S. closed championship.
IM Annie Wang captured her second consecutive U.S. junior girls title, holding chief rival WCM Ruiyang Yan to a draw Sunday to win the 10-player section by a full point.
The silver-haired set had a little more drama, as GM Larry Christiansen scored a final round win over GM James Tarjan to catch front-runner GM Gregory Kaidanov and force a rapid playoff in the U.S. Senior Championship. Kaidanov took the two-game playoff by a 1½-½ score to claim the title for players 50 years and older.
All three events were played at the St. Louis Chess Club.
Although he came up just short, Christiansen showed some veteran savvy and nice endgame skills in his critical game with Tarjan, capped by a clever bishop move to the corner of the board that assured the win. Needing a win to catch Kaidanov, Christiansen as Black gets what he wants out of this English Opening, a dynamic position with a lot of pieces still on the board. The course of the game turns on an early dust-up: 14. Kh2 d5 15. Be3!? b6 (dxc4!? 16. bxc4 Bxc4 17. Rac1, and White’s open lines and powerful bishop pair offer nice compensation for the pawn) 16. Qa4 c5 17. cxd5 Ncxd5, and Black secures a three-to-two queenside pawn majority, which will loom over virtually all of the subsequent maneuvering.
With 27. Kg1 b5, the pawn advance gives Black his first clear initiative. Suddenly, the more trades in the position, the more that pawn imbalance will matter. With 39. Kg2 a6 40. e3?!, Tarjan stops any annoying e4-e3 breaks by Black but severely restricts his own bishop in the process. That becomes critical when Black finally obtains a passed c-pawn and Christiansen cleverly exploits a final White inaccuracy to clear the pawn’s path to glory.
Thus: 47. Rxc4 bxc4 48. f3? (see diagram; the losing move — White had to buckle down with 48. Kf1! Ke6 49. Ke2 Kd5 and challenge Black to find another way to break through) Ba1!! (a lovely idea, squirreling the bishop in the corner so that the pawn can follow and Ba1-b2 will decide) 49. Ba3 (Kf2 c3 50. Ke2 Bb2 51. Kd1 exf3 and wins) c3 50. Bc5 Ke6! (one beautiful point of 48…Ba1 is that now 51. fxe4 c2 52. Ba3 Bc3! 53. Bc1 Ke5 54. Kf3 g6! will soon leave White in a deadly zugzwang after his pawn moves run out) 51. Bd2 c2.
Black’s c-pawn will queen after all. Tarjan resigned.
Wang’s most dramatic win was a wild, seesaw struggle with WFM Sophie Morris-Suzuki in Round 2. Showing some impressive theoretical grounding, the two players rattle off more than 20 moves of a trendy Sicilian line, when the real battle begins.
After 23. Nb3 Rdc7, White appears to control the commanding heights, but as with so many Sicilians, Wang’s defense is tough to crack and her center will prove powerful if the right break comes along.
Black gets in the classic…d6-d5 freeing move but fails to follow up with an attack on the queenside, wasting moves as Morris-Suzuki grabs control of the d-file and posts her knights on strong posts. After 40. Qd3 Rb8 41. Ned6! (letting Black shed her miserable bishop, but creating new targets in Wang’s defense) Bxd6 42. Nxd6 Qc7, White could have maintained her dominance with lines like 43. Kb1! Rg8 44. Qf3 Qe7 45. Qe3 Rb8 46. Nc4 Qc7 47. Rd6 a5 48. Rxf6, which looks close to winning.
Instead, on 43. Rf2?! Rd8! (the pin allows Black to crawl back into the game, and the tactics heat up as both players face a time crunch) 44. Rxf6 Kb8! (threatening 45…Nc8 as the knight capture is no longer check) 45. Qd2? (now White had to find the very computer-ish 45. Re6!!, the point being that 45…Nc8 can be met by the unexpected 46. Ne8! Rxd3 47. Nxc7 Rxh3 48. Nxa6+ Kb7 49. Nxb4, win a won ending) a5 46. Qd3 e4 47. Qg3? (a better way to lose the knight was 47. Qxe4! Rxd6 48. Rxd6 Qxd6 49. Qxh7, with real endgame drawing chances) Nd5 48. Re6 Qc3+!? (good enough, but 48…Qg7+ 49. Kc1 Qa1+ was a faster, surer win) 49. Qxc3 bxc3+ 50. Kc1 Nc7 51. Rh6 52. Kd1 Nb5 53. Ke2 Nxd6 (the ill-starred knight finally falls) 54. Rxh7?, when 54. Kxe3! Rd7 55. a4, would have set up a fortress Black’s rook and knight would have trouble storming.
The Black knight, rook and e-pawn prove a formidable trio, forcing Morris-Suzuki to part with her rook as well. Perhaps out of sheer momentum, the players play it all the way out to mate.
Tarjan-Christiansen, U.S. Senior Championship, St. Louis, July 2021
1. c4 e5 2. g3 c6 3. d4 exd4 4. Qxd4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Na6 6. Bg2 Bc5 7. Qe5+ Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Nc3 Re8 10. Rd1 Nc7 11. Qa5 d6 12. h3 Be6 13. b3 Qc8 14. Kh2 d5 15. Be3 b6 16. Qa4 c5 17. cxd5 Ncxd5 18. Bd2 Bf8 19. Rac1 Bd7 20. Qc4 Bc6 21. Ng5 Qb7 22. Nxd5 Nxd5 23. Be1 Re5 24. Nf3 Re6 25. Ng5 Re5 26. Nf3 Rh5 27. Kg1 b5 28. Qd3 Nf6 29. Bc3 Rd5 30. Qc2 Ne4 31. Bb2 Rxd1+ 32. Rxd1 f6 33. Bc1 Re8 34. Rd3 Qf7 35. Nd2 f5 36. Nxe4 Bxe4 37. Bxe4 fxe4 38. Rd1 Qe6 39. Kg2 a6 40. e3 Rc8 41. Qd2 Be7 42. Qd7 Qxd7 43. Rxd7 Bf6 44. Rd2 Kf7 45. Rc2 c4 46. bxc4 Rxc4 47. Rxc4 bxc4 48. f3 Ba1 49. Ba3 c3 50. Bc5 Ke6 51. Bd4 c2 White resigns.
Morris-Suzuki — Wang, U.S. Junior Girls Championship, St. Louis, July 2021
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O Bd7 9. f4 Be7 10. Nf3 b5 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Kb1 Qb6 13. f5 O-O-O 14. g3 Kb8 15. fxe6 fxe6 16. Bh3 Na5 17. Nd4 b4 18. Nce2 e5 19. Bxd7 Rxd7 20. Nf5 Nc4 21. Qd5 Rc8 22. Nc1 Bf8 23. Nb3 Rdc7 24. Qd3 Qc6 25. Nd2 Nb6 26. Rc1 d5 27. exd5 Nxd5 28. Ne4 Rd7 29. Qe2 Nb6 30. Rhd1 Nc4 31. Rxd7 Qxd7 32. g4 Qb5 33. Qd3 Qc6 34. Rd1 Nb6 35. Rd2 Ka7 36. b3 Bc5 37. h3 Bf8 38. Kb2 Rb8 39. Qe3 Rc8 40. Qd3 Rb8 41. Ned6 Bxd6 42. Nxd6 Qc7 43. Rf2 Rd8 44. Rxf6 Kb8 45. Qd2 a5 46. Qd3 e4 47. Qg3 Nd5 48. Re6 Qc3+ 49. Qxc3 bxc3+ 50. Kc1 Nc7 51. Rh6 e3 52. Kd1 Nb5 53. Ke2 Nxd6 54. Rxh7 Re8 55. Rh5 Ne4 56. Rb5+ Kc7 57. Rxa5 Ng3+ 58. Ke1 Rf8 59. Rf5 Nxf5 60. gxf5 Rxf5 61. Ke2 Re5 62. h4 Kc6 63. a4 Kc5 64. h5 Kd4 65. b4 Rxh5 66. b5 Rh2+ 67. Ke1 e2 68. b6 Ke3 69. b7 Rh1 mate.
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