- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2022

There’s been no shortage of gripping drama so far at the U.S. national and U.S. women’s chess championships, now entering the final lap this week at the St. Louis Chess Club.

Thankfully, it’s all been confined to the chessboard.

The Hans Moke Niemann cheating controversy hasn’t exactly gone away — the competitors are getting an especially thorough “wanding” as they enter the playing hall and the moves are being posted online only after a 15-minute delay — but aside from a few characteristically pugnacious comments from the 19-year-old Niemann, both he and his rivals have been relative models of decorum during play, preferring to let their chess do the talking.

And some exciting finishes are on tap as this is being written, with GM Fabiano Caruana trying to hold off surprise challenger GM Ray Robson with two rounds to go for his second U.S. title. On the women’s side, it’s Northern Virginia FM Jennifer Yu setting the pace, a half-point ahead of eight-time U.S. women’s titleholder GM Irina Krush.

Play concludes on Wednesday, with Thursday reserved for possible playoffs.

There have been no whispers about Niemann’s play so far in St. Louis, with his performance about what you’d expect from a talented but often reckless player on the rise, competing in his first national title tournament. He started with a nice win over 15-year-old GM Christopher Yoo in Round 1, but suffered three midtournament losses and was in a tie for eighth at 5½-5½ going into Tuesday’s Round 12. His most impressive play, in fact, might have been an 80-move loss to Caruana in Round 4, when Niemann put up a stout, resourceful resistance before finally succumbing with a late blunder.

Robson, by contrast, has been most impressive, with wins against top-seeded defending champion GM Wesley So and Niemann is a nice counterpunching game. White’s enterprising 3. Bf4!? gets both players out of well-trodden opening lines, though Robson reacts well with some principled play. After 11. a3 a6 12. Ne4 (b4!? Be7 13. Rc1 would have thwarted Black’s plan to anchor the bishop on the c5-post) a5 13. Rc1 Nce7!?, both players judged that Black gets sufficient positional compensation for the pawn on 14. Nxc5 bxc5 15. Rxc5 Qb6 16. Rc2 Ba6 17. Bxa6 Qxa6, with good queenside pressure.

Instead, Niemann’s admirable aggressiveness leads him astray on 17. Re1 Nf5 (White may have the tiniest of edges here: Black’s rook on a6 has to get back into the game, though White’s bishop on g3 is no prize either; the coming kingside demonstration falls short due to Robson’s inspired defense) 18. Nh4!? Nxg3 19. hxg3 Be7 20. Qh5? b5 21. Nf3 Rc6 22. Rcd1?! — still chasing the attack while letting his queenside fall.

White puts all his chips in for mate, but only to get hit by a strong Black counter: 25. f4 Ra2 26. f5 Nc3!, an unpleasant diversion that takes advantage of the fact that 27. Nxc3?? Qxg2 is off the table. The White attack is effectively broken on 27. f6 Bxf6! (the only winning move; bad were both 27…Be8?? 28. Qg5 g6 29. Qh6, and 27…Nxe4? 28. fxe7 Re8 29. Qf3!, and if 29…Nc5, White wins with 30. Qxa8 Rxa8 31. Nc6 Nb7 32. Rd8+ Rxd8 33. Nxd8) 28. Nxf6+ (exf6 Nxe4 29. fxg7 Rc8 also holds for Black) gxf6 29. Nf3 Nxd1 30. exf6 Kh8 31. Rxd1 Rg8, and Black emerges an exchange and a pawn to the good.

Niemann gets in one last mate threat, but Robson has the position under control: 33. Rd7 Qe2 34. Qh3 Qxf3 35. Rxf7 (with two mate threats on h7, if only White had the move) Rxg2+!, and White resigned as 36. Qxg2 Qh5+ picks off the rook on f7.


The youngest participant in either tournament, 13-year-old (as of last Thursday) FM Alice Lee, was just a point off the pace in the women’s title chase before a Round 11 loss Monday left her in fourth place, 1½ points behind Yu, with two rounds to go.

The Minneapolis prodigy got off to a flying start with another fine defensive effort in Round 1, surviving a fierce attack out of a Reti Opening from FM Ashritha Eswaran before launching a killer mating attack of her own. White’s brash 8. Rg1!? Re8 9. g4 reveals her aggressive intentions, and Lee as Black hustles to generate queenside counterplay to avoid being swept off the board.

A fascinating moment comes on 13. Bd3 Bb7 14. g6 — the enemy appears to be storming the gates, but Black correctly judges that she has made no positional errors and has enough defenders around the king to survive what’s coming. On 14…fxg6 15. Ng5!? (on 15. hxg6 h6, with Black set to advance her e-pawn, White will have nothing to show for her pains) bxc4! (not neglecting her own play despite the kingside dangers) 16. bxc4 h6 17. Nf7 Kxf7 18. Bxg6+ Ke7 19. Bxe8 Qxe8 20. Rxg7+ Kd8, and Black has two good minor pieces for a rook and pawn and the mate threats — for now — have dissipated.

As in Niemann-Robson, White gets into trouble trying to pursue an attack that is no longer there: 21. Qa4? Qxh5! — the pawn is trivial, but now White can’t castle queenside and the possibility of a queen check on h1 will prove highly disruptive. After 24. Ba3 (Rb1 Ne6 25. Rg8+ Kf7 26. Rxa8 Bxa8 27. Qxa6, Black can already turn the tables with 27…Ne5! 28. Qxa8 Nd3+ 29. Kf1 Qh1+ 30. Ke2 Ndf4+! exf4 Nd4+ 32. Kd3 Qf3+! 33. Kxd4 c5 mate) c5 25. Rb1 d4!, 26. exd4 (Rxb7 Qh1+ 27. Ke2 Qxb7, while Black is also on top after 26. Ne2 Ne6 27. Rg1 Be4 28. Rb3 d3 29. Nc3 Ng5) Qh1+, the Black queen and minor pieces leave the enemy king no peace until the very end.

White’s army comes off the board after 28. Kd3 (Ke3 Qh3 is devastating) Be4+! 29. Nxe4 Qxb1+ 30. Ke3 cxd4+ 31. Kxd4 Ne6+ 32. Ke3 Bf4+ 33. Kf3 Ne5+ 34. Ke2 Qxe4+ 35. Kd1 Nxg7. Again as in the first game, White manages one last mate threat, but Black again is ready: 36. Qc5 Qf3+ 37. Kc2 Qc6! and the pinned White queen can’t deliver mate on e7; Eswaran resigned.


The most jaw-dropping moment of the tournament had nothing to do with covert computer assistance or body beads in sensitive places. It came when GM Elshan Moradiabadi fell into a known trap on the Black side of a Petroff’s against GM Leinier Dominguez Perez and had to resign in just 10(!) moves. From the diagrammed position, White sets the trap with 8. c2-c4, when it’s been known for some time Black cannot do what Moradiabadi walks right into: 8…0-0?? (dxc4! is the correct move) 9. cxd5 Qxd5 10. Bxe4!, and sickeningly, Black must lose a piece: 10…Bxe4 (Qxe4 11. Re1 picks off the bishop on e7 even more quickly) 11. Nc3 Bxf3 12. Nxd5! Bxd1 13. Nxe7+ Kh8 14. Rxd1.

Caruana, who of course knew the trap, said later of watching Black make the fateful move: “I didn’t want to look. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.”

Niemann-Robson, U.S. National Championship, St. Louis, October 2022

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Bf4 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Bg3 c5 6. e4 Nf6 7. Nd2 Nc6 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ngf3 O-O 11. a3 b6 12. Ne4 a5 13. Rc1 Nce7 14. Bd3 Ba6 15. Bxa6 Rxa6 16. O-O Qa8 17. Re1 Nf5 18. Nh4 Nxg3 19. hxg3 Be7 20. Qh5 b5 21. Nf3 Rc6 22. Rcd1 Rc2 23. b3 Ra2 24. Nd4 Rxa3 25. f4 Ra2 26. f5 Nc3 27. f6 Bxf6 28. Nxf6+ gxf6 29. Nf3 Nxd1 30. exf6 Kh8 31. Rxd1 Rg8 32. Kh2 Qe4 33. Rd7 Qe2 34. Qh3 Qxf3 35. Rxf7 Rxg2+ White resigns.

Eswaran-Lee, U.S. Women’s National Championship, St. Louis, October 2022

1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. b3 Nbd7 6. Bb2 Bd6 7. Qc2 O-O 8. Rg1 Re8 9. g4 Nf8 10. g5 N6d7 11. h4 a6 12. h5 b5 13. Bd3 Bb7 14. g6 fxg6 15. Ng5 bxc4 16. bxc4 h6 17. Nf7 Kxf7 18. Bxg6+ Ke7 19. Bxe8 Qxe8 20. Rxg7+ Kd8 21. Qa4 Qxh5 22. cxd5 exd5 23. Qa5+ Ke8 24. Ba3 c5 25. Rb1 d4 26. exd4 Qh1+ 27. Ke2 Bf3+ 28. Kd3 Be4+ 29. Nxe4 Qxb1+ 30. Ke3 cxd4+ 31. Kxd4 Ne6+ 32. Ke3 Bf4+ 33. Kf3 Ne5+ 34. Ke2 Qxe4+ 35. Kd1 Nxg7 36. Qc5 Qf3+ 37. Kc2 Qc6 White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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