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On Chess: Teen Dominates US Women’s Championship While Veteran Claims Fifth Title In Open Section

U.S. Chess Championship winners, Jennifer Yu and Hikaru Nakamura on April 1.
Lennart Ootes | St. Louis Chess Club

The U.S. Chess Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship are the marquee events of American chess and for the last 11 years, the St. Louis Chess Club has been hosting both events at their illustrious club.

This year’s edition has been the strongest championship in history, with a record five players over the 2700 rating threshold. The U.S. Women’s Championship has had a tale of its own, with an eclectic mix of new and experienced players setting the stage for what would become one of the most exciting national championships in history.

The open section quickly saw the top-rated favorites build a significant edge over the field, with Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Domínguez leading the charge.

Fabiano Caruana, the rating favorite and 2018 World Championship contender, struggled to make a statement in the early rounds and fell behind by as much as a full point at the tournament’s mid-point. As the tournament progressed, Caruana began to find his stride, and, with that, a string of victories followed.

Going into the last round, there were three players tied at the top: Nakamura, Dominguez and Caruana. The four-time champion, Nakamura, was the only player to score a victory in the final round, as the other contenders drew their game. With that, Nakamura clinched his fifth national title.

In the Women’s Championship, the 17-year-old Jennifer Yu completely stole the show from beginning to the end. She scored an incredible 10 points out of 11 total, dominating the field and padding her rating coffers with more than 100 points.

Coming into the tournament, the rating favorites were the experienced Irina Krush (the only grandmaster in the tournament) and Anna Zatonskih. While Krush couldn’t find her form throughout the event, Zatonskih kept pace with Yu and went into their round-10 direct encounter trailing by only half a point.

All eyes were on this game, as everything was on the line. On one hand, you had the four-time champion and experienced veteran Zatonskih; on the other hand, you had the exuberance of youth in the high school junior, Yu. Both women are fierce competitors, and the tension was high from the get-go.

Yu surprised her opponent and played confidently, while Zatonskih seemed to not be fully aware of the position’s requirements. Yu’s pressure was too much for Zatonskih, who finally erred and allowed her young opponent to break through. Yu’s victory gave her the title with one round to spare, as all other competitors were too far behind in the standings. It was a career-defining moment for Yu, who has now officially confirmed her talent and opened new doors for further success.

Congratulations to the 2019 U.S. Chess and U.S. Women’s champions, Hikaru Nakamura and Jennifer Yu.

Cristian Chirila is a Romanian chess grandmaster. He is coach of the Mizzou Chess Team.