2022 U.S. National Championships - Day 2 Recap

by WGM Sabina Foisor

Day 2 brought another exciting day of chess at the 2022 U.S. Senior, U.S. Junior, & U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships. Compared to Round 1, many more games were drawn. The Senior Championship (or the Legends’ event, as the commentators like to call it) had the most decisive games this round with two players sharing the lead with 1.5 points GM’s Larry Christiansen and Igor Novikov. In the Junior and Girls’ Junior sections, GM Andrew Hong and WFM Sopie Morris-Suzuki are sole leaders with 2/2. 

GM Larry Christiansen outplayed his opponent, IM Igor Khmelnitsky in a position with opposite color bishops, GM Vladimir Akopian made a comeback with a victory over GM Alex Shabalov. In the Junior Championship, GM Andrew Hong impressed again, bringing home the win after another excellent at home preparation. In the Girls’ Junior section all eyes were on the highest rated players FM/WGM Jennifer Yu and FM/WGM Thalia Cervantes, but it was WFM Sophie Morris-Suzuki who brought home the full point keeping the sole lead in the event.  

Check out the full replay of live coverage from the day here. Each event features a 10-player round-robin format, with a time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves, followed by an additional 30 minutes with a 30-second increment added from move one.

  U.S. Senior Championship

Senior Results of Round 2

The first decisive game of the day was the win of GM Larry Christiansen over GM Igor Khmelnitsky. The players went for the Alapin Variation of the Sicilian Defense and had a balanced position that seemed to be headed for a draw. It was around move 30 that Christiansen came up with an interesting plan of temporarily sacrificing a pawn for the initiative.

Position after 30…b5 , where White played 31.Rxe4 ? and the game continued 31…bxc4 32.Rxe7 Rxe7 33.Bxe7 Qb7!

Not long after Black was able to capture all of White’s pawns on the queenside.

Position after 38…Qxc3

From there on, despite the opposite color bishops, Christiansen was able to keep White on the defensive on the king side and when the time was right, he traded queens off into a winning rook and opposite color bishop endgame with two extra pawns.

GM Larry Christiansen - thinking possibly to play a nice game followed by an even nicer walk in the park | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Bryan Adams

The other game that brought the other decisive result in the Senior Championship was the one between GM’s Alex Shabalov and Vladimir Akopian. As the Chief Arbiter, IA Chris Bird pointed out, nobody would have predicted it would be in this event that would have the most decisive and longest games, but like the saying says: “Humans plan and God laughs.”

The game Shabalov-Akopian was balanced throughout. It started as a Four Knights Variation, where Shabalov played 18. c4, which allowed his opponent to trade the central pawns, thus leaving White with an unpleasant pawn structure on the queenside. 

Position after 18. c4 , the game continued 18…ed 19. Qxd4 Qf6?! 

Though it seems natural to improve the position of the queen, the engine did not like the move as it allowed White to trade the queens, take in f4 and though White remains with the bad light square bishop, it should be equal. The game continued with 20. c3 and eventually pieces traded off to the following endgame:

Position after 31. Re3

Most expected the players to agree on a draw, but Akopian found a plan of improvement bringing his king to the queenside and breaking the position with c6 trying to find a way to create a passed pawn and keep playing. 

Position after 68. Rd2

Again pieces were shuffled around for over 20 moves, it was Akopian that kept pressing, finding the break with 68…b5.

Position after 70…Rc1

After a grueling game, where he had defended a slightly worse position, but never really in danger, it was here that the length of the game probably had an impact in Shabalov’s decision of playing 71. b6?? . As a chess player sometimes we crack under pressure or feel that we are so close to the end and try to find forcing lines just to finish the game. That may have been Shabalov’s thought as well. Forcing the trade of his b-pawn with Black’s d-pawn as a way to activate his bishop only gave his opponent the opportunity to capitalize on his passed a-pawn and active knight. Once he obtained the decisive advantage Akopian was able to capitalize on it, coming back after a tough loss in the first round.

GM Vladimir Akopian determined  to come back after yesterday’s loss | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Bryan Adams

Senior Standings after Round 2

Senior Round 3 Pairings

U.S. Junior Championship

Junior Results of Round 2

In the Junior section, compared to the 4 decisive results in Round 1, this round was the opposite as it brought 4 draws and one decisive result. GM Andrew Hong keeps impressing as he not only brings his A-game, but also seems to be able to out-prepare his opponents and bring the win as if it were a homework well done. In the Four Knights of the Sicillian, Hong blitzed through his moves until 24. Ba6 (diagram below)

The engines evaluate this position with a big advantage for White. It was his passed c-pawn that helped him cruise through victory.  Hong only needed 14 more moves to take home the full point and maintain the sole lead of the Junior Championship as all other games were drawn.

IM Balaji Daggupati had a tough loss today against the leader | Photo: Courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Bryan Adams

 IM/WGM Carissa Yip made an interesting piece sacrifice in her Round 2 game against IM David Brodsky | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Bryan Adams

Junior Standings after Round 2

Juniors Round 3 Pairings

U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship

Girls’ Junior Results of Round 2

All eyes were on FM/WGM Jennifer Yu - FM/WGM Thalia Cervantes, as the two are top seeds in the event. In a Queen’s Gambit Accepted (QGA) where the position was mostly equal, Thalia misplayed allowing Jennfer to take the initiative and trade off her Isolated Queen’s Pawn (IQP). In the following position (Diagram below) Jennifer played 33.Kd2 instead of 33.d5! after which she could have had some chances to keep pressure on her opponent as both Black’s rook on a7 and bishop in a4 were badly placed.

Jennifer missed this opportunity and the game eventually ended in a draw.

It was Sophie Morris-Suzuki, who impressed in this round though. As she stated in her post-game interview, she has prepared against her opponent up to move 20…Rb8 (diagram below), where she said her preparation stopped as the position was winning for Black.

She may have had other ways to win, but she chose 23…Qb4 (position below), and with all her pieces infiltrated in White’s territory, it was a walk in the park to convert the game. When asked about how she prepared for this event, Sophie said that she had school work, but tried to do as much as possible to train with the little free time she had before the event. As for the future in this tournament, she stated : “I hope not to mess up too much”.


WFM Sophie Morris-Susuzi during her Round 1 game | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Crystal Fuller

Another game that kept the commentators and spectators intrigued was the one between FM Alice Lee and WIM Ellen Wang. It was Ellen, who was pressing the entire time after she was able to improve her position after giving up an exchange for two pawns. It was one of those  tragedies of the 40th move that gave up much of Ellen’s advantage. In the diagram below, she played 40…Qb4?? Instead of 40…Qf3.

It was after 40…Qb4??, that Alice was able to find a beautiful tactical idea to hang on by taking advantage of Black’s backrank issue and the pin on the b-file. She continued 41. Rc1! Followed by Rc4 and Qc2.

The game continued a little longer, but as White was able to activate her rook, it wasn’t difficult for the talented Alice to hold on to a draw.

FM Alice Lee had a lucky save in Round 2  | Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Bryan Adams

Girls’ Junior Standings after Round 2

Girls Round 3 Pairings

The live coverage with grandmasters Alejandro Ramirez, Cristian Chirila and Yasser Seirawan continues tomorrow with Round 3 on Saturday , July 9 at 12:50PM CDT on uschesschamps.com or our YouTube and Twitch.