Reports Apr 1, 2019 | 9:23 PMby Colin McGourty

Nakamura and Yu win 2019 US Championships

Hikaru Nakamura has won his 5th US Chess Championship after beating Jeffery Xiong on demand in the last round while his co-leaders were held to draws. Fabiano Caruana got nothing at all against Sam Shankland, while Leinier Dominguez missed a tricky win before getting thwarted by some brilliant defence from Timur Gareyev. The women’s event didn’t go down to the wire but was a coronation for 17-year-old Jennifer Yu, who beat Anna Zatonskih to win with a round to spare before ending on a majestic 10/11.

A 5th US Championship for Hikaru Nakamura and a first for rising star Jennifer Yu | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

You can replay all the games from the 2019 US Chess Championship using the selector below:

And here’s the live commentary on what turned out to be the final day of action:

Caruana makes his move

The final day of the US Chess Championship couldn’t have been set up better. In the penultimate round the co-leaders Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Dominguez played out a solid 29-move draw, allowing Fabiano Caruana to catch them on 7/11 by beating Aleksandr Lenderman.

Fabiano Caruana scored 4.5/5 to catch the leaders before the final round | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Lenderman took the bold decision to play the Petroff Defence against its most famed proponent, a turn of events that Fabi described himself as “not displeased” about. He went on to inflict doubled isolated pawns on his opponent, then methodically pushed his queenside pawns until Black’s position was at the point of collapse. A snapshot:

Here Lenderman went for 39…Rxd4, but it was clear that was just desperation. Resignation came on move 47.

Nakamura’s must-win games

In the final round we therefore had three leaders, all of whom were playing different opponents. Dominguez looked to be the favourite, with White against outsider Timur Gareyev, while Fabiano Caruana had drawn the short straw – Black against defending champion Sam Shankland. Hikaru Nakamura also had Black, against 18-year-old Jeffery Xiong, who went into the round on 50%.

"I make my living crushing people's dreams", Sam Shankland once said for a reality TV show, and, in some small way, he did that to Caruana on Sunday in St. Louis | photo: Justin Kellar, official website

Things began as you might have expected. Fabiano had cooked up an offbeat line that got his opponent thinking on move 6. At first Sam accepted the challenge and seized space in the centre, but then he dismayed Caruana with his choices:

Fabiano felt 11.0-0 Bg4 12.Qf4 Bxf3 13.Qxf3 Nxd4 14.Qxd5 Qxd5 15.Nxd5 was absolutely the dullest option Sam could have chosen. By the time both players began to think it was already clear the game would end in a draw. 

Fabiano could only enviously look at what was happening on Nakamura’s board:

He created the sort of game that would have been perfect for him, or for me!

Nakamura played the Dutch Defence, 1.d4 f5!?, which pleased a watching Dutchman:

Objectively White was doing well, but Hikaru noted that Jeffery was unused to playing the structures that arose, and gradually it was Black who took over. 

Xiong gained more tough experience at this year's US Chess Championship | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The computer gives the position after 31…Kf6 as the point of no return:

It’s symptomatic of how bad White’s position had become that 32.Re6+!! was the only move to stay in the game, since after 32…Bxe6 33.dxe6 Ne5 34.Nd5+! the e-pawn is immune from capture due to knight forks. Further tricks might follow (34…Kg7 35.e7! Rc8 36.Nc7!), but in the game after 32.Rb7? axb3! 33.axb3 Rfa8 the invasion of the black rooks into the white position signalled the end, even if Jeffery continued to put up a heroic fight until his king was hunted down on the other side of the board:

59.Kg4 g2! and the g-pawn would decide the game. Nakamura was proud to have won a third “must-win” black game in a row, something that reminded him of his youth, and even specifically of a run of comeback wins at the 2006 US Championship. He managed to forget the pressure he usually feels nowadays to play “correct” chess:

Being able to forget all that and play without fear was like harking back to the old days.

The reason Hikaru considered his game a must-win was that Leinier Dominguez had the white pieces against Timur Gareyev, who entered the round in second last place. Timur stayed true to his style, playing the Sicilian and ultimately getting a position that was lively but far from robust. 

Dominguez-Gareev was again a clash of approaches to chess and fashion | photo: Austin Fuller, official website

The fate of the US Championship could have been very different if Leinier had made another choice on move 26:

26.f5! turns out to be winning, though Leinier had understandably been worried about possible complications after 26…Ng5. Instead he played another promising line, 26.fxe5, but Gareyev, who was short on time, managed to calculate a saving resource where he gave up a piece for a single pawn! Dominguez had seen this far…

…but admitted afterwards that he’d thought he was winning since he’d be able to play Qc4-b3 and slowly eliminate the pawn on b2. What he’d missed was the blunt threat Black had of Qxc3 and b1=Q, drawing on the spot. 

The 2018 and soon-to-be 2019 Champion watched the final game together | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

After that realisation Leinier had to try every finesse in the book, and even at the very end he could still dream:

It looks like anything draws, but in fact only 74…Kg5! does, since after 74…Kg4?? 75.Ng7! the black king is cut out of play and White has a simple win. Timur made no mistake, though, playing 74…Kg5 75.Ng7 Kf6! (also an only move) and the players repeated the position.

That was a case of what might have been for Leinier Dominguez, but an unbeaten +4, shared 2nd place and $30,000 was a good start to his US Chess Championship career after a 2-year break from classical chess.

Leinier will soon re-enter the Top 20 as an active player on the classical rating list, and can now also travel from the US. He’s planning on playing in the Russian Team Championship in Sochi in early May.

The hero of the hour, though, was of course Hikaru Nakamura, who could finally celebrate his triumph.

It was a fifth title for Nakamura, who last won the event back in 2015 - the year Wesley So made his debut and before Caruana’s switch of federations. He was delighted finally to win a classical tournament, with the 14.7 rating points gained taking him back up to the edge of the Top 10 after a string of disappointing results.

Perhaps the warmest congratulations Nakamura received were from the 2018 Champion Sam Shankland, who had earlier described himself as “heartbroken” not to have managed to mount a defence of his title.

Sam elaborated on Facebook:

The final standings look as follows, with Wesley So still sharing 4th place despite getting crushed with the white pieces by 15-year-old Awonder Liang. For Awonder that was a doubly memorable moment, as he finally crossed the 2600 barrier.

Jennifer Yu reigns supreme

2019 US Women's Champion Jennifer Yu | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

In the Women’s US Championship it was all about one player, 17-year-old Jennifer Yu. After a stunning start you expected gravity to kick in at some point, but it never did, and in the end she conceded only two draws on the way to 10/11, a $64,000 Bobby Fischer prize near miss! Her advantage over the field was a staggering 2.5 points:

She clinched the title in the penultimate round against her only remaining challenger, Anna Zatonskih. Jennifer had the black pieces and confessed she was only thinking about not losing until near the end, but she correctly went for a tactical trick with 20…Bxf2+! and then pounced once more at the very end:

31…Bxg3+! 32.Kxg3 Qc7+! 33.Kg4 Be6+ and with mate-in-2 on the board Anna resigned.

Fabiano Caruana, who knows a thing or two about clutch wins, commented:

Today she showed she’s really a champion. To win at the most critical moment is a skill that few people have!

Jennifer, who had picked up $25,000 along with the title, could have been forgiven for easing off in the final round, but she went on to beat Carissa Yip to end up 2.5 points clear of Anna and Tatev Abrahamyan (who took $15,500 each). Tatev had scored a brilliant +5 after her first-round defeat, but we might go decades without a result as impressive as Jennifer’s!

So that’s all for the 2019 US Chess Championships! Congratulations once more to Hikaru Nakamura and Jennifer Yu, and we hope you enjoyed the show. 

Of course elsewhere the show goes on, with World no. 1 Magnus Carlsen, world no. 3 Ding Liren, 5-time World Champion Vishy Anand and co. already in action in Shamkir for the Gashimov Memorial. Follow that live here on chess24!

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