They took very different paths to get there, but GM Fabiano Caruana and Northern Virginia’s own WGM Jennifer Yu both claimed their second national titles at the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship tournaments that wrapped up last week at the St. Louis Chess Club.
Caruana, despite his lofty rating and stellar career, had won just one U.S. title back in 2016 (along with four Italian national championships when he was playing for the Italian federation). But he used a 4½-½ flurry in the middle of the tournament to seize control, and was able to draw the rest of his games while keeping just ahead of chief pursuer GM Ray Robson. Robson pushed GM Jeffery Xiong in the 13th and final round, but could only draw and finished a half-point back in second at 8-5.
Tying for third with 7½ points were veteran GM Leinier Dominguez Perez and 19-year-old GM Awonder Liang, who turned in a strong performance with just one loss.
There was far more drama on the women’s side, with Yu surrendering her lead in the penultimate round by flat out hanging a bishop in a balanced position to chief rival GM Irina Krush, who was seeking an amazing ninth U.S. women’s title. Yu bounced back with a gutsy final-round win over Thalia Cervantes Landeiro, stopping the 19-year-old WGM’s five-game winning streak and qualifying for a rapid playoff rematch with Krush, with both players at 9-4. The two split a pair of rapid games when Yu as Black proceeded to hang another bishop in the deciding Armageddon blitz game, only to claw her way back into the game, After Krush missed multiple opportunities to win, Yu claimed the crown when her opponent ran out of time in a messy position.
Cervantes Landeiro had a fine third-place result at 8-5, with 14-year-old FM Ruiyang Yan alone in fourth at 7½-5½.
As for the only story line my non-chessplaying friends cared to talk about, 19-year-old GM Hans Moke Niemann, at the center of a cheating controversy that has generated global attention and misguided punditry about our game around the world, completed his first U.S. title tournament with a respectable 7-6 score, part of a five-way tie for fifth. Although there were some awkward moments and not-so-subtle signs of disrespect during the tournament, there was no suggestions Niemann’s play was anything but aboveboard, literally and figuratively.
Niemann’s boldest move came the day after the playing stopped, when he filed a $100 million lawsuit against world champ Magnus Carlsen, U.S. former champ Hikaru Nakamura and Chess.com, alleging they were “colluding to blacklist” him by their accusations he was still getting illegal outside help at the chessboard. Niemann has admitted to episodes of cheating in online events when he was younger, but has stoutly denied both tacit and explicit accusations that he is still at it in recent events, including his now-famous upset win over Carlsen at September’s Sinquefield Cup.
Chess.com has denied the allegations in the lawsuit and both sides have lawyered up. Stay tuned.
Back at the board, we’ll start with the women and Yu’s truly impressive bounce-back win over Cervantes Landeiro. Admitting she was still traumatized by the terrible blunder to Krush a round earlier, Yu said after the game she took a carefree approach and never bothered to even glance at how Krush’s game was going a few feet away.
Black’s Queen’s Indian, a new defense for Yu, caught White by surprise, and by 14. Qb3 Qb4!, Yu said she judged the coming position as one in which only Black had realistic chances to win. White has no targets and no active plan, and by 28. Rc2 Nb4 29. Rd2, Cervantes Landeiro can only sit and wait as Black improves her position in preparation for a central breakthrough. Black starts things rolling with 34. Kg2 c5, but, as so often happens, one last tactical shoal nearly shipwrecks Black’s hopes.
Thus: 40. Ra1 Nc6 41. Rc1 d4?! (see diagram; this looks obvious, but it is Yu’s first real misstep of the game; Black stays on top with a little more prep work in lines like 41 … Ne7! 42. Rdc2 Nf5 43. Rxc5 Nxe3+ 44. fxe3 Rfxg3+, and it’s over on 45. Kh2 [Kf2 Rg2+ 46. Ke1 Rg1+ 47. Kd2 R4g2+ 48. Kc3 Rxc1+ 49. Kd4 Rd2 mate] Rxe3 46. Rxa5 Re2+ 47. Kh1 Rxh4+ 48. Kg1 e3 and wins), and now the engines are screaming for 42. Rc3!, when Black’s intended 42 … d3? throws away the win due to the trick 43. Rcxd3+! exd3 44. Kxf3.
White misses her chance with 42. exd4? cxd4, and now the Black pawn storm can’t be held back. At the end after 54. Rxh5 Ke3 (the pawns are equal, the kings are not) 55. Rd1 Ke2 56. Ra1 d2 57. Rh4 e3, White resigns facing 58. Rd4 (to stop the pawn from queening) Rh3+ 59. Kg2 Rfg3 mate.
Caruana’s Round 6 win with Black over GM Elshan Moradiabadi, concluding his decisive midtourney streak, was a more straightforward affair. The winner was highly skeptical of White’s 10. Bg4?! idea, (simply 10. 0-0 is natural and solid), as after 10 … Bxg4 11. Qxg4 h5 12. Qh3 (sad but mandatory, as other queen retreats lose the bishop to 13 … h4) h4 13. f3 Bg5 14. 0-0 Rh6, White’s queen is exiled and his kingside lacks all coherence.
Black keeps a clamp on the position even after a queen trade, and Caruana said White’s decision to sacrifice was a good practical call given that, after 23. Nd5?! Nxd5 24. Rxd5 Ne3 25. Bxe3 Bxe3+ 26. Kh1 Rxc2 27. Rxa5 Rg6, “White is slowly getting mated.”
Moradiabadi keeps fighting after 23. Na2 Ne3 24. N2c3 Nxd1 25. Rxd1, as the resulting position presents some technical problems for Black before he can claim the point. White could have made things even dicier with the disruptive 30. Bd8!, but finds the idea a move too late: 30. Rd3? Bd4 31. Bd8? b5 (the point is that, now on 32. Bxf6 gxf6 33. Nd5, the Black bishop is no longer attacked) 32. Bxf6 gxf6 33. Nd5 Rxc2 34. Ne7+ Kh7 35. Nxg6 Kxg6 — White has clawed back (briefly) to material equality, but his b-pawn can’t be saved and, more critically, the Black bishop dominates the White knight.
In the final position after 44. Rf6+ Kg7, another White pawn is about to fall and the ending can’t be saved. Moradiabadi resigned.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Cervantes Landeiro-Yu, U.S. Women’s Championship, St. Louis, October 2022
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. Re1 a5 8. Bg5 Ne4 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Nfd2 f5 11. Nxe4 fxe4 12. Nc3 d5 13. cxd5 exd5 14. Qb3 Qb4 15. Red1 Na6 16. Rac1 Qxb3 17. axb3 Rad8 18. Nb5 c6 19. Nc3 Nb4 20. Na4 Ba6 21. Bf1 Rb8 22. Kg2 g5 23. e3 Bd3 24. Rd2 Rf6 25. Kg1 Kf7 26. Bxd3 Nxd3 27. Rf1 Rf3 28. Rc2 Nb4 29. Rd2 Ke7 30. Rc1 Kd6 31. Rf1 Kc7 32. Nc3 Rbf8 33. Ne2 h5 34. Kg2 c5 35. h4 gxh4 36. gxh4 Rg8+ 37. Ng3 Rg4 38. Rh1 Kd6 39. dxc5+ bxc5 40. Ra1 Nc6 41. Rc1 d4 42. exd4 cxd4 43. Rc4 d3 44. Ra4 Ne5 45. Rxa5 Ng6 46. Ra6+ Kc7 47. Ra4 Nxh4+ 48. Kh3 Nf5 49. Rc4+ Kd6 50. Kh2 Nxg3 51. fxg3 Kd5 52. Ra4 Rgxg3 53. Ra5+ Kd4 54. Rxh5 Ke3 55. Rd1 Ke2 56. Ra1 d2 57. Rh4 e3 White resigns.
Moradiabadi-Caruana, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, October 2022
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bf4 d6 7. Bg3 Be7 8. Be2 Bd7 9. Nb3 e5 10. Bg4 Bxg4 11. Qxg4 h5 12. Qh3 h4 13. f3 Bg5 14. O-O Rh6 15. Bf2 Nf6 16. Rad1 Qc7 17. Nc1 Kf8 18. a3 Na5 19. Nd3 Nc4 20. Nb4 Qc8 21. Qxc8+ Rxc8 22. Na4 a5 23. Na2 Ne3 24. N2c3 Nxd1 25. Rxd1 Rc6 26. Kf1 Bf4 27. h3 Kg8 28. Bb6 Rg6 29. Bxa5 Be3 30. Rd3 Bd4 31. Bd8 b5 32. Bxf6 gxf6 33. Nd5 Rxc2 34. Ne7+ Kh7 35. Nxg6 Kxg6 36. Nc3 Rf2+ 37. Ke1 Rxb2 38. Nd5 Bc5 39. f4 Rxg2 40. Ne7+ Kh5 41. fxe5 fxe5 42. Rf3 Rg3 43. Rf5+ Kh6 44. Rf6+ Kg7 White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.