Reports Mar 14, 2017 | 5:41 PMby Colin McGourty

Howell leads Winter Chess Classic in St. Louis

English GM David Howell leads | screenshots: St. Louis Chess Club YouTube

David Howell has enjoyed a little luck - and beaten the World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong in fine style - to take the sole lead on 2.5/3 in the A Group of the Winter Chess Classic in St. Louis. That’s one of two 10-player round-robins that form a warm-up for the US Chess Championships, with the other featuring regular commentators Alejandro Ramirez and Benjamin Finegold as well as 7-time Women’s US Champion Irina Krush. So far, though, Ukraine’s Andrey Baryshpolets and Romania’s Ioan-Christian Chirila lead.

Once upon a time up-and-coming US players like Fabiano Caruana were all but forced to travel to Europe to pursue their chess careers, with the US chess scene offering little other than open tournaments with tough schedules and no conditions for top pros. That’s all changed in the last decade, with Rex Sinquefield in particular putting St. Louis on the map as an international chess destination with the Sinquefield Cup and the reborn US Championship. The accompanying boom in the university chess scene has seen the picture almost completely reversed – a large number of young European players are now saved from the dilemma of whether to pursue studies or chess by offers of chess scholarships at US colleges.

We’re seeing a new stage in that development now, with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis hosting a growing number of round-robin tournaments for players just below the international elite level – giving some of the world’s most promising youngsters the chance to gain experience and IM and GM norms. That’s not all, though – the $20,000 prize fund includes $5,000 for the winner of the A Group and $4,000 for the B Group winner. So far it’s led to some thrilling chess!

You can watch and replay all the A Group games by clicking on a result below – hover over a name to see all of a player’s games so far:

David Howell is the elder statesman of the group at the advanced age of 26, but his games have typified the huge swings we’ve seen everywhere in the tournament. Against former World Junior Champion Alexander Ipatov in Round 1 it looked as though it was all over:

Here Ipatov only needed to play 35…Ref2! and mate is unavoidable – the simple plan is 36…Rf1, 37…Rxg1+, 38…Ne2+ and 39…Rf1 mate, which White could only delay. Instead, in time trouble, Ipatov played 35…Rxb2?! and after 36.Qd6 Ne2? (36…Rbf2! is messier than before but still winning) 37.Qxe6+ Kh7 38.Qxe5 there was nothing better than allowing a draw by perpetual check.

The English grandmaster followed up by crushing current World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong in 31 moves in Round 2, though Xiong will still be fighting to reach 2700 when he plays in the US Championship later this month. 

Sam Sevian is growing up fast, with perhaps only India able to compete with the US for teenage talents just now

In Round 3 another 16-year-old, Sam Sevian, had Howell on the ropes, but the youngster misplayed his attack and allowed David to demonstrate a remarkable king march to take home the full point – it was thrilling to watch live, since Howell was down to increments for his last dozen moves. This is the final position:

The consolation for Sam Sevian was that he’d mated Ruifeng Li from a lost position in the previous round. The advantage has also tended to swing from side to side at least twice in Vladimir Fedoseev’s games, with the Russian Aeroflot Open winner joining Dariusz Swiercz in second place on 2/3.

A last mention should go to Sam Shankland, who’s currently starring in the reality TV show Kicking and Screaming, where’s he’s paired with a survival expert and forced to adjust to jungle life in Fiji. 

That’s all as a build-up to the following position from Round 1...

Sam has White and admittedly his position is pretty shaky, but survival instincts should have prevented the suicidal 30.Ka1?, setting the king up for disaster. Black won a piece with 30…Bxc5!, since after 31.Nxc5 Rbxc5 32.Rxc5 Rxc5 White can no longer take the bishop on e8 due to the threat of mate on c1. Sam instead played 31.Rxe8, but there was no stopping Yaroslav Zherebukh from picking up the full point.

It's a jungle out there for Sam Shankland...

You can watch Ben Simon’s first two video recaps of the action in St. Louis below, with many of the players commentating on their games:

The B Group has been just as much fun, and can also be followed live:

One appeal of this event has been to see players we’re more used to looking at as commentators in action at the board. Ben Finegold beat Irina Krush in Round 1, then Irina struck back by beating Alejandro Ramirez in Round 2. 

Ben has been making very enjoyable post-mortem videos of his games:

See also his videos on his Round 2 and Round 3 games - if he's this tired already you may wonder if he'll last the tournament!

Irina Krush recovered from a tough loss to Ben Finegold... beat Alejandro Ramirez in Round 2 - here she talks about the final position (she had White)

Alejandro has no reason to be too downhearted, though. He outplayed Akshat Chandra positionally in Round 1 and then won a cracker of a game against Ali Marandi in Round 3. He correctly sacrificed a piece on move 12, but the reason the game will go down in history is the final move:

46.0-0-0! Black resigns

That’s nearly the latest castling on record, and Marandi deserves praise for allowing it to be the move that ended the game! Peter Svidler once told a wonderful story of how he broke the rule about talking during games to insist that Vishy Anand beat him with 31.0-0! – that was more crushing, but with 15 more moves Alejandro can be proud of his achievement!

With six more rounds to go, the action starts each day at 1pm St. Louis time (7pm CET) and can be watched here live on chess24: Group A | Group B 

You can also watch the games for free in our mobile apps:


See also:

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