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U.S. Senior, U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior Chess Champions crowned in Saint Louis

U.S. Senior, U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior final recap by WGM Sabina Foisor

The final day of the 2022 U.S. Senior, U.S. Junior, & U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships was one of the most thrilling finishes at a National Championship and one to be remembered for years, with all the titles being up for grabs until the final round, the day was certainly an emotional rollercoaster.

In an incredible turn of events, and after 9 hard-fought rounds, 5 players tied for 1st in the Senior Championship. They played a mini rapid tournament among each other in a rapid time control of 10 minutes + 2 seconds delay. After an exciting mini-tournament the players with the highest amount of points (they both had scored 2.5/3) happened to have to face each other in the final round. The battle was between GM’s Larry Christiansen and Alex Shabalov. In the penultimate and final battle, it was Shabalov who won the game to take home the title of 2022 US Senior Champion and pocket $20,0000. GM’s Larry Christiansen, Vladimir Akopian, Maxim Dlugy and Dmitry Gurevich shared 2nd place and each won $9,000.

The Junior Championship was the only championship where the Champion was decided after the 9th round, and in the end it was GM Christopher Yoo who won first place. Yoo dominated the field throughout the event, though he suffered a loss in Round 7, he kept his cool throughout the entire competition and didn’t succumb to the mounting pressure. Ultimately he finished the tournament with a draw in the final round against IM Carissa Yip. He pocketed $12,000 in addition to a $10,000 scholarship, jointly supported by US Chess and Dewain Barber and a spot at this year’s US Championship. GM Andrew Hong finished second winning $8,000, while GM Abhimanyu Mishra and IM Balaji Daggupati shared 3rd place each winning $4,500.

The Girls’ Championship had a dramatic turnaround. After leading the entire tournament, WFM Sophie Morris-Suzuki lost her final game against local favorite FM/WGM Thalia Cervantes. Having caught the leader, by winning the game, Thalia forced a playoff to decide the title of Girls’ Junior Champion. FM/WGM Jennifer Yu also won her final round making it a 3-player tie for first. The girls played a round robin with a time control of 10 minutes with 2 seconds delay. In a dramatic turn of events, each girl scored a point, giving each of them a second equal chance to win the event. The second time around, it was FM/WGM Jennifer Yu that won against both Sophie and Thalia. Jennifer pocketed $6,000 in addition to a $10,000 scholarship, jointly supported by US Chess and Dewain Barber and a spot at this year’s US Women’s Championship. FM/WGM Thalia Cervantes and Sophie Morris-Suzuki took home $3,500 each.

Check out the full replay of live coverage from the day here. Each event features a 10-player round-robin format, with a time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves, followed by an additional 30 minutes with a 30-second increment added from move one.

U.S. Senior Championship

 Senior Results of Round 9
  Senior Final Standings
2022 Senior Champion

Round 9 in the Senior Championship began and ended with 5 players tied for first place that ultimately ended the day with a five way playoff. The final round was not without many ups and downs however, given that at some point there was even a chance for a 6th player to tie for 1st place. 

The 6th player who could have tied for 1st, was GM Gregory Kaidanov. He played a dominating game against IM Khmelnitsky and was set to win, until a blunder in an unbalanced endgame where he was up a rook for 2 pawns unfortunately put an end to his winning chances as the rook wasn’t able to stop his opponent’s passed pawns anymore and the game ended in a repetition.

Four of the co-leaders were playing each other and they all played entertaining chess, with all of the games finishing after the time control. 

 GM Alex Shabalov – the 2022 U.S. Senior Champion | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

GM Alex Shabalov gained some initiative against his opponent, GM Dlugy’s Qd6 Scandinavian, and had an interesting idea to play 13. b5 followed by 14. d5 to break open the position and put pressure on his opponent’s king in the center. However, the advantage was minimal and Dlugy was able to trade to a balanced rook bishop vs rook knight endgame, where Black had a pawn up, but it was doubled on the h-file and the players agreed on a draw on move 57.

 GM Larry Christiansen – 2nd place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

The other co-leaders battling against each other were GM’s Dmitry Gurevich against Larry Christiansen. The latter opted for a Queen’s Indian Defense which led to a position with hanging pawns. Gurevich tried to be aggressive, creating an attack on the kingside, playing 18…g4, however that only seemed to weaken his position giving Christiansen the edge and very good chances to win. Unfortunately he missed a few opportunities to convert the game. The final one being most likely his choice of trading the rooks on move 31, with 31…Rxg1?? He may have thought that trading pieces due to his extra pawn would be sufficient to convert. Instead he could have played 31…Rh5 keeping his rook for the attack which could have sealed the deal and brought him the title. Gurevich defended fiercely and the game ended in a draw.

 GM Vladimir Akopian- 3rd place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

The only player who was not playing a co-leader was GM Akopian. He was paired with GM Nick De Firmian, who did not have the best tournament results but It was great to see De Firmian fight until the bitter end; choosing the Alekhine Defense and getting a good position with winning chances against the highest seed. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to convert his advantage allowing GM Akopian to maintain the co-lead and join the others in a playoff.

The Playoff was mainly an affair between GM’s Larry Christiansen and Alex Shabalov. Both of them dominated their opponents and had to face each other in the final round of the 5 player Round Robin Event. The opening choice was a symmetrical English, where it was GM Christiansen who misplayed first allowing Black to take the initiative and break through the position with 14…b5 .Shabalov soon won the c4 pawn and then went on to build an attack on the kingside. Though he made some inaccuracies and possibly lost a bit of his advantage in the end, he was able to win the game thanks to a final blunder by Christiansen. 

Shabalov was one of the players to have a difficult start in this event, only scoring 1 point in the first 3 games, but thanks to his fighting spirit, attacking style, and ability to control his emotions helped Shabalov to win the 2022 U.S. Senior Championship. 

 Final handshake GM  Larry Christiansen (left) vs GM Alex Shabalov after their final Playoff game  | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

U.S. Junior Championship

Junior Results of Round 9
Junior Final Standings
2022 Junior Champion

Going into the last round, GM Christopher Yoo only needed a draw to secure first place in the US Junior Championship. He was facing current US Women’s Champion, IM Carissa Yip with the Black pieces. In a Neo-Arkhangelsk Variation of the Ruy Lopez, it was Yoo who blundered first. GM Yoo chose a wrong continuation playing 15…dxe5?? (instead of 0-0), a line that was played by Volokitin successfully against Aronian. White’s choice in that game was 16. Rd3 which would have given White a big advantage. Instead Carissa missed this opportunity as she played 16. Qe2 after which 16…Nc5 followed and Black had a better position. In order to complicate matters, Carissa chose the unexpected and ambitious piece sacrifice: 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18. Ng5 + Kg8 19. Rxe5 , but after 19…Nd5 Black’s king position was safe and the material advantage should have been a deciding factor in winning the game. Unfortunately, Christopher made some suboptimal decisions and in the end found himself in an equal position. He tried sacrificing an exchange and kept pressing, but there was no more chance to win the game, but the draw was sufficient to clinch the title and a spot in the 2022 US Championship. 

Final handshake in his game against IM Carissa Yip GM Christopher Yoo – The 2022 US Junior Champion | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

GM Andrew Hong had a difficult game against NM Pedro Espinosa. Though the expected result was a win for the young Grandmaster, he faced serious trouble against the talented NM. At first Hong had a much better position coming out of a Ragozin Defense, but he misplayed a kingside attack that left him with an exchange down. Luckily for him, his opponent blundered on move 60 and he was able to create a fortress and draw the game, leaving him the 2nd place prize.

GM Andrew Hong – 2nd place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

GM Abhimanyu Mishra had a nice finish in the event with a dominating win in the final round where he was able to take advantage of his queen side majority and bishop versus knight against IM David Brodsky. 

GM Abhimanyu Mishra – 3rd place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

Girls’ Results of Round 9
Girls’ Final Standings
2022 Girls’ Junior Champion

The Girls’ Championship was probably one of the most dramatic that fans have seen in years. WFM Sophie Morris-Suzuki dominated the event until the latter half of the tournament but ultimately she still ended up placing among the top finishers. Morris-Suzuki started the tournament as the 7th seed and displayed an excellent fighting spirit, but also a great understanding of positional and attacking chess, while at the same time being able to manage her opening preparation and time management very well. 

Going into the final round, Sophie only needed a draw to clinch the title. She was playing FM/WGM Thalia Cervantes with the black pieces, who needed a win to force a playoff between them and FM/WGM Jennifer Yu, had she won her game.

Coming out of the opening, an Exchange Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the position was balanced, but slightly easier to play for White. Thalia followed a plan on the queenside, while Sophie was struggling to attack on the kingside. On move 20 Sophie decided to keep her rook active and gave up the a-pawn and shortly after, blundered with 24…Ra8?? , trying to trade a pair of rooks and get activity on the queenside. This allowed Thalia to take the initiative and take advantage of Black’s weak king side. By move 29, Thalia was up two pawns and was on her way to win the game. But in time pressure, she failed to realize that her opponent could take advantage of the f2-weakness and there didn’t seem to be any possible progress for White. Unfortunately for her, Sophie moved her king on a wrong square 33…Kg6? instead of waiting (staying with the queen on 2nd rank). This gave Thalia once more a chance and she didn’t miss it this time. 34. e4! , allowed Thalia to regain the advantage and soon she was able to win her game and force a Playoff.

The two players were joined by FM/WGM Jennifer Yu, who had a tough game against WFM Anne-Marie Velea, who kept the game balanced for a long time. However, Jennifer was able to take advantage of a blunder, on move 29. Rc7?? which gave Yu the chance to win an exchange and win the game shortly thereafter.

FM/WGM Jennifer Yu – 1st place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

Sophie, Thalia and Jennifer faced each other in the three-way playoff. In the first game Jennifer gained an early positional advantage against Sophie, winning a pawn on move 18 and dominating the position with a majority on the queenside and a knight on the e6-outpost. However, she got really low on time and started to slowly lose her advantage. Watching the game was a riveting experience as Jennifer played the final 10 moves with 2 seconds on the clock, but was able to win the game.

In the next game Thalia had the White pieces against Jennifer. The players went for a variation of the Slav Defense, where Jennifer didn’t get the chance to castle. Thalia took the initiative and was better at managing her time. In the end it was Thalia who won the game.

FM/WGM Thalia Cervantes – 2nd place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

In the 3rd game of the playoff Sophie played with the White pieces against Thalia and she had to win in order to give herself one more chance at the crown. Sophie seemed to have regained her confidence and played the Evans Gambit against Thalia. This may have been a surprise preparation as she spent much less time than her opponent. With the extra piece, Sophie played similarly to the first 6 games in the Girls’ Championship and was able to convert without much trouble.

WFM Sophie Morris-Suzuki – 3rd place finisher | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

With all 3 players scoring one point, a second Playoff was forced, this time it was a blitz. Jennifer Yu dominated the blitz as she was able to win both her games, first against Sophie and then against Thalia to clinch the title of 2022 US Girls’ Champion. 

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