Carissa Yip glides, Wesley So grinds on way to U.S. national chess titles

The queen arrived early, but the king took his time.

IM Carissa Yip has fulfilled the promise of a strong junior career by capturing her first U.S. women’s national title. The 18-year-old Massachusetts native clinched the title at the St. Louis Chess Club with a round to spare, finishing 1½-points ahead of surprise contender Begim Tokhirjonova, a 22-year-old Uzbek-born WGM now studying at the University of Missouri and playing in her first U.S. title event. Tokhirjonova dealt the new champ her only loss of the event.

The U.S. Championship was a much more competitive affair, with GM Wesley So pulling out a rapid playoff win Tuesday with victories over GMs Fabiano Caruana and Sam Sevian. The three tied in the regular tournament at 6½-4½, after Caruana staged a furious comeback after two painful midtournament losses and nearly beat GM Sam Shankland in the 11th and final round Monday for the outright win.

In a tightly bunched tournament, GMs Leinier Dominguez Perez, Aleksandr Lenderman and Ray Robson finished in a three-way tie for fourth at 6-5.

For So, it was his third U.S. national crown to go with three national titles he collected in his native Philippines before moving to the U.S. in 2013.

Yip clinched the crown in style with a nice Round 10 attacking win over two-time U.S. women’s champ Nazi Paikidze. Against Yip’s Modern Defense, White seems to abandon in midstream her promising queenside play (15. a5!, instead of 15. g3?!, was much more to the point), allowing Black to sacrifice a piece for a ferocious central pawn phalanx.

Thus: 21. Kh2 h5! (against White’s aimless play, Black decides to strike) 22. f4? (opening the floodgates; 22. Bxg5, accepting the sacrifice, looks tougher, though that means risking scary lines such as 22…h4 23. g4 Bxg4 24. hxg4 Nxg4+ 25. Kg1 h3) gxf4 23. gxf4 exf4 24. e5 Ng4+! 25. hxg4 hxg4+ 26. Kg1 dxe5 27. Bc5 Qd8, and already the unopposed Black central pawn mass looks unstoppable.

White’s defenses buckle on 32. Qd3 (Nc5 f3 33. Bg3 fxg2 34. Kxg2 Qh1+ 35. Kf2 f4) fxe4 33. Bxe4 Nf8 34. Bd4 f3! (cutting off the bishop and threatening 35…Qh1+) 35. Bxf3 gxf3, and Paikidze had seen enough and resigned. One fun finish might be 36. Kf2 Ne6 37. Bc3 Qh4+ 38. Kxf3 Nd4+! 39. Bxd4 Qg4+ 40. Kf2 0-0+ 41. Ke3 Bh6 mate.


Despite losing both games in the rapid playoff, the 20-year-old Sevian can already count his two weeks in St. Louis as a raging success, capped by consecutive wins over Caruana and veteran GM Lazaro Bruzon Batista. The takedown of Bruzon Batista was particularly brutal, forcing the Cuban-born GM’s resignation in just 22 moves from the White side of a Reversed Benoni.

White seems fine through 12. c5 Bc7, but fails to bolt down the center before initiating major operations: 13. Re1?! (Ng5 a6 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Bxe4 looks much more playable) e4! 14. dxe4 d3 15. Na3, driving the knight back to its miserable boardside post.

A wasted tempo in a difficult position leaves Bruzon Batista, already way behind on the clock, effectively busted: 19. Kg2? (Re3 Qd7 20. Bd2 Rad8 21. Bxb4 axb4 22. Rxb4 Qxh3 23. Bg2 at least lets White play on) Nd7!, and the knight’s arrival on either e5 or c5 will prove a positional disaster for White.

A bad day at the office only gets worse for the veteran GM after 20. Be3 Ne5 21. Rb3? (creating another target in a position already full of them) Nxa2 22. Kh2 a4!, and Black must win material in gruesome lines such as 23. Rxb7 Nc3 24. Qc1 Nxf3+ 25. Kh1 Qc8, hitting the rook and the h3-square. Bruzon Batista resigned.

Bruzon Batista was the victim of another stunning young American GM’s attack in his Round 9 loss to GM Jeffery Xiong, which we pick up the diagrammed position after White has just played 44. Qb3-d1. Play is roughly equal but Xiong manages to whip up a deadly attack on an unsuspecting White seemingly out of thin air.

Play continued: 44…Qe4 45. f3 Qe5 (the premature 45…Qh7?! is met by 46. Rh2) 46. Kg2 axb5 47. Rdb2?? (obliging Black by removing a key defender; 47. Rb4! Rh6 48. Rbxd4 Qh8 49. Qg1 keeps the balance) Rh6! 48. Rxb5 Qh8!! (tucked away in the corner of the board, the Black queen supports a killer threat down the h-file, even while conceding White a capture with check) 49. Rxg5+ Kf8 50. g4 (the point is that 51. Qg1 no longer works — 51….Rh2+! 52. Qxh2 [Kf1 Qh3+] Re2+ 53. Kf1 Qxh2, with mate to come) Rh2+ 51. Kg3 Rh3+ 52. Kg2 (Kf4 Qf6+ 53. Rf5 Qd6+ 54. Kg5 [Re5 Qxe5 mate] Qh6 mate) Qh4, and White resigned facing 53. Qxd4 Qg3+ 54. Kf1 Rh1+ 55. Qg1 Qxg1 mate.

Paikidze-Yip, U.S. Women’s Championship, St. Louis, October 2021

1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 a6 5. a4 Nd7 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bg5 Ne7 8. Qd2 h6 9. Be3 b6 10. h3 Bb7 11. O-O Nf6 12. d5 e5 13. Nh2 Nh5 14. Rfe1 g5 15. g3 Ng6 16. Qd1 Nf6 17. Bf1 Bc8 18. a5 b5 19. Bg2 Bd7 20. Nf1 Qc8 21. Kh2 h5 22. f4 gxf4 23. gxf4 exf4 24. e5 Ng4+ 25. hxg4 hxg4+ 26. Kg1 dxe5 27. Bc5 Qd8 28. Ne4 f5 29. d6 c6 30. Bb6 Qh4 31. Bf2 Qh5 32. Qd3 fxe4 33. Bxe4 Nf8 34. Bd4 f3 35. Bxf3 gxf3 White resigns.

Bruzon Batista-Sevian, U.S. Championship, St. Louis, October 2021

1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 c5 4. c4 d4 5. e3 Nc6 6. exd4 cxd4 7. O-O e6 8. d3 Bd6 9. Na3 O-O 10. Nc2 e5 11. b4 Re8 12. c5 Bc7 13. Re1 e4 14. dxe4 d3 15. Na3 Bg4 16. h3 Bxf3 17. Bxf3 Nxb4 18. Rb1 a5 19. Kg2 Nd7 20. Be3 Ne5 21. Rb3 Nxa2 22. Kh2 a4 White resigns.

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

Sign up for Daily Newsletters