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On Chess: A US Junior, Junior Girls And Senior Preview

GM Awonder Liang may be the player to beat for the 2019 U.S Junior Championship.
St. Louis Chess Club

The St. Louis Chess Club is known for hosting the premier chess events in the country. This is the first time, however, that three will be hosted at the same time. 

From July 10 through July 20, the top juniors, junior girls, and players over 50 will be in St. Louis to compete for the title of national champion in their respective categories. Each section will feature 10 players in a round robin, all-play and all-closed tournament. 

The Juniors

The U.S. Junior Championship returns to St. Louis with an exciting field. The top seed is two-time defending champion grandmaster (GM) Awonder Liang from Madison, Wisconsin. Awonder is one of the top juniors in the world and has broken several records in his young career. 

He’ll have his work cut out for him, however. Fellow GMs John Burke, Nicolas Checa and Andrew Tang are showing strong results and will surely have their sights on the title. International masters (IMs) Brandon Jacobson, Joshua Sheng, Hans Niemann and Craig Hilby are also young, improving players not to be underestimated. 

There is one girl in the section, and she is none other than the U.S. women’s champion, woman grandmaster (WGM) Jennifer Yu. Her earth-shattering 10/11 in that event was easily one of the performances of the year, and if she catches fire again, her opponents have plenty to fear.

U.S. Women's Champion and WGM Jennifer Yu is among the field of junior players.
Credit St. Louis Chess Club
U.S. women's champion and WGM Jennifer Yu is among the field of junior players.

Rounding out the field is national master (NM) Atulya Vaidya, who earned his spot by winning the U.S. Junior Open. While he is the rating underdog by a hefty margin, the Texan will be looking to cause his share of upsets throughout the event. 

The Junior Girls

The field for the U.S. Junior Girls is both young and strong. It is led by last year’s champion, woman international master (WIM) Carissa Yip. Carissa is an exciting player with many GM upsets to her name, including wins against former women’s world champion Anna Ushenina. 

Wu is joined by WIMs Emily Nguyen, Maggie Feng, Rochelle Wu, Thalia Cervantes and Agata Bykovtsev.  None of these players is a stranger to elite events, as many have participated in U.S. Women’s Championships, and 13-year-old Rochelle competed for the U.S. in the latest World Team Championship in Kazakhstan. 

Also playing is woman FIDE master (WFM) Martha Samadashvili, Rui Yang Yan, and 8-year-old Rachael Li. Yan recently broke master, and Li was one of the youngest players ever to make expert. Lastly, there is expert Veronika Zilajeva, who won the National Girls Tournament of Champions in 2018. This event features a wide range of ages and will be an exciting one to follow.

The Seniors

The U.S. Senior Championship will take place in St. Louis for the first time, and will feature a $50,000 prize fund and a star-studded field. 

All the participants are GMs rated between 2500 and 2600 with numerous tournament victories to their names. In fact, it looks very much like a U.S. Championship field from the 1990s. 

Former U.S. champions Alex Shabalov, Larry Christiansen, Joel Benjamin and Alex Yermolinsky have to be considered top contenders. Shabalov and Christiansen are known for their attacking styles, while Yermolinsky and Benjamin are famous for their strategic prowess.

Gregory Kaidanov has won several top open events in the U.S. and abroad, as have Alex Goldin and Igor Novikov. Estonian-born Jaan Ehlvest has as well, and once broke into the top five in the world. Maxim Dlugy was a world junior champion as well as a United States Chess Federation (USCF) president. Alex Fishbein won the first Senior Tournament of Champions last year. 

While some of these players are less active than they once were, all are top class and fully capable of winning, meaning that the event will be one worth following from beginning to end.     

The schedule is identical for all three events.

  • Round 1 will take place at 1 p.m. July 11. 
  • Rounds 2 through 8 take place at the same time from July 12 to July 19, apart from July 16,which is a rest day. 
  • The final round will take place at 11 a.m. July 20. 

You can follow all three events online at uschesschamps.com. Apart from standings and results, you’ll also find live commentary during each round. This will be provided by GM Robert Hess, GM Alejandro Ramirez and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. Spectators are welcome to come to the St. Louis Chess Club to check out the action in person. 

Josh Friedel is an American chess Grandmaster and was U.S. Open Champion in 2013.