The Saint Louis Chess Club is a host of many top-level events in chess, including the ones with the World Champion himself. However, the US Championships hold a special place for the club as the 2009 US and US Women’s Championships were the first major tournaments they hosted. Every year the tournament feels like a family reunion with the country's top players gathering in the chess capital of America for a special event.
The lavish opening ceremony of the 2021 US and US Women’s Chess Championship took place at the Saint Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, commonly known as Muny and included many prominent guests, such as the legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov. The events kicked off with the induction of the co-founders of the St. Louis Chess Club Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield into the US Chess Hall of Fame. The philanthropist couple is certainly deserving of the recognition.
Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield Photo by Lennart Ootes courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club
The US Women's Championship
After the inductions, the drawing of lots determined the pairings of the tournament. Since it was a round robin tournament, I could look up my pairings for the entire tournament but I decided to take it one round at a time. I have been playing in the US Women’s Championships since I was 16 years old. I have tied for first place several times but have not yet been able to clinch the coveted title. Going into the tournament I knew it would be an uphill battle given everything else I had going, but I could never predict the disaster ahead.
I started the tournament with an embarrassing loss in the first round, which will haunt me for a very long time. My second round loss came against the eventual winner of the tournament, the young and talented International Master Carissa Yip. I did manage to win my third game but immediately lost the following game, ending the first portion with 1 point out of 4 games. There was a certain mental fog clouding my brain, making me feel that every decision is the most important one, which in turn led to severe time trouble where I had no time to make decisions, rendering my previous good decisions useless. Truly a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break, especially when one’s confidence is broken.
Luckily, there was a rest day ahead which came right on time. After long conversations with my coach and clearing my head, we decided to shift the focus of the tournament. I made peace with whatever terrible things happened both in my games and to my rating and decided to start anew. The new goal was to use this as a learning opportunity, play some new openings and learn new structures. This was a freeing experience, which helped me rebuild my confidence. I drew the next four games, and even though I did miss some chances to score more points, doing well with new openings reminded me that I can still play chess and navigate unknown territories just fine.
My last round game against Irina Krush Photo by Lennart Ootes courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club
I ended the tournament on a high note by winning my last three games, defeating 8-time US Women’s Champion Irina Krush in the final round. Irina has historically been a very problematic opponent for me, thus the with the black pieces for the first time ever was an excellent way for me to wrap up the tournament. After being in last place for most of the tournament, I finished by tying for 4th place and only losing one rating point. Of course, had my win against Irina came in the first round, it would have been a completely different tournament for me, but such is the nature of chess tournaments. Resilience is one of the biggest lessons we can learn from chess.
As I mentioned above, the winner of the tournament was the 18-year-old Carissa Yip. She is definitely a deserving winner, as she was the strongest player in the field. After a 5th round loss she went on a winning streak with 5 wins in a row and clinched the title with one round to spare. She finished the tournament with 8.5/11, 1.5 points ahead of second place.
Carissa Yip with her trophy Photo by Lennart Ootes courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club
The US Championship
The US Championship was once again a super strong event, featuring not just the best players in the US but in the world, such as Grandmasters Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez. It was a hotly contested affair which was decided in the playoffs. In a three-way tie So and Caruana were joined by 20-year-old Grandmaster Samuel Sevian, who had a breakthrough performance in this event. Sevian is a chess prodigy who earned his Grandmaster title at the age of 13 years and 10 months, which broke the record of youngest ever American Grandmaster at the time. Ultimately, Wesley So was crowned the winner after defeating both Caruana and Sevian.
Wesley So gives a speech at the closing ceremony Photo by Lennart Ootes courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club
The 2021 FIDE Grand Swiss
The next major event on the chess calendar is the FIDE Grand Swiss and Women’s Grand Swiss, which is off to a rocky start already. The host country of Latvia will be entering new strict lockdowns, but granted permission for the event to take place nonetheless. Several top players have decided to drop out as a result, but the final confirmed list includes names such as Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian. The Grand Swiss is part of the World Championship cycle, as the top two finishers will qualify to the 2022 Candidates Tournament, the winner of which will challenge the reigning World Champion.