We’re only just over a week away from what arguably could be one of the most eagerly-anticipated U.S. Championships ever, as the midwest American wonderland of chess, St. Louis, gears up to host yet another super-strong national field inside the battle arena of Rex Sinquefield’s Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the ninth consecutive year.
For the second successive year, the field will be led by three of the world's top-10 players, namely the in-form Wesley So, the current world No.2, who has his eyes on a first U.S. crown to add to his already bulging trophy cabinet; then there's defending champion Fabiano Caruana, the world no.3, who is not likely to give up the title without a fight; as well as the four-time champion Hikaru Nakamura, on a confidence high after his recent hat-trick of wins at the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters.
The all-GM strong field (in rating order) is: GM Wesley So, GM Fabiano Caruana, GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Ray Robson, GM Sam Shankland, GM Jeffery Xiong (US Junior Champion), GM Gata Kamsky, GM Alex Onischuk, GM Daniel Naroditsky, GM Varuzhan Akobian, GM Alex Shabalov (US Open Champion), and wildcard GM Yaroslav Zherebukh.
Also, there’s the US Women’s Championship, with reigning champion IM Nazi Palkidze returning to defend her title. The full field (in rating order) is: GM Irina Krush, IM Anna Zatonskih, IM Nazi Palkidze, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, WGM Katerina Nemcova, WGM Sabina Foiser, WGM Anna Sharevich, WFM Jennifer Yu, WFM Apurva Virkud (U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion), and wildcards WFM Carissa Yip and NM Maggie Feng.
"We are thrilled to once again be the epicenter of this country’s chess talent with the 2017 U.S. and U.S. Women’s Championships," said Tony Rich, the Executive Director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL). "It’s a true honor to host our nation’s very best and brightest competitors, and we look forward to a fantastic tournament."
The championships will run March 28 – April 10, 2017 and will be streamed live daily on www.uschesschamps.com, featuring play-by-play and analysis from the world-renowned commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.
And as a warm-up for the main event, the CCSCSL recently hosted the St Louis Winter Classic that ran 11-19 March. This was two all-play-all events, with the strong A-Group won by the young English GM David Howell, who was in 'wonderland' as he top-scored on 6/9 to take the title and $5,000 first prize by half a point ahead of GMs Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia) and Dariusz Swiercz (Poland). The B-Group was won by Andrey Baryshpolets (Ukraine) on 6.5/9.
GM David Howell - GM Jeffery Xiong
St Louis Winter Classic ‘A’, (2)
Queen’s Indian Defence, Petrosian System
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 b6 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.d4 e6 5.a3 The Petrosian System was named after the great Soviet-era Tigran Petrosian, world champion from 1963-69 - but arguably its cause was effectively taken up more by another world champion, Garry Kasparov, who very successfully adopted it when he was in his pomp. 5...g6 The double fianchetto is the more modern approach to the Petrosian System. 6.Qc2 c5 7.dxc5 bxc5 8.Bf4! This move immediately highlights the drawback of the double fianchetto, as White hones in on the d6 weakness. And to counter this, Black takes drastic action that weakens his game. 8...Nh5 9.Bg5! White cleverly continues exploiting Blacks weakness, as now, if 9...Be7 then 10. Bh6! stops Black castling and gives White a bind over the dark-squares. And faced with this reality, Xiong has on other option other than to further compromise his position - and this all builds up for a disaster. 9...f6 10.Be3 f5 The die is cast, and there's no respite now for Black, as after 10...d6?! White has 11.g4! Ng7 12.Rd1 Nd7 13.Bg2 and White has an easy game by hitting at the d6 weakness. 11.Rd1 Be7 12.g3 g5 Black's in a bind and decides just to 'go for it' now by unbalancing the position, probably not liking the fact that after 12...0-0 13.Bg2 f4 14.Bc1! White will have an easy game after castling by dominating the d-file/combined with the dark-square weakness in Black's camp. Not an easy position to play, and in such positions, you can understand a junior player wanting to lash out here - and this is where experience will tell in the future for Xiong, as he'll learn the hard way that you have to be patient, even if it means you are suffering. 13.Bg2 f4 14.gxf4 gxf4 If 14...Nxf4 15.Bxf4 gxf4 16.Rg1! and suddenly White is poised to have his rooks dominating the d- and g-files with a multitude of threats on Black's unsafe king. 15.Bc1 Nc6 Black can't play the tempting 15...Rg8? as 16.Qxh7 wins quickly here after 16...Nf6 17.Qh3! 16.Qd3 White ratchets up the pressure on the d-file. 16...Rg8 17.Rg1 This time White doesn't have 17.Qxh7? Nf6 18.Qh3 as now 18...Na5! now offers Black serious counterplay with active pieces for the pawn sacrifice(s). 17...Nf6 Black's in a fix, there's no co-ordination of his position, and he now attempts to realign his pieces to safeguard his king and connect his rooks.The other option was 17...Rg6 but after the simple 18.Kf1 White has a big advantage. 18.Bxf4 Qa5 19.Kf1! The simple king shuffle to the side, and suddenly White has everything protected and all his pieces now ready to strike. 19...0-0-0 20.Nb5! The threat is now Bc7! - and, if ...d6, White will have Bh3! 20...Rdf8 21.Bh3! All of White's pieces are now co-ordinated for the attack on Black's king and the structural weakness in the Black camp. 21...Rxg1+ 22.Kxg1 Rg8+ 23.Kf1 Qb6 24.Nd6+ Bxd6 25.Qxd6 Rd8 26.Ng5! Something has to give - and soon! 26...Ba6 27.Nf7 Bxc4 28.Nxd8 Nxd8 29.Rc1 1-0