"... who have transformed US chess into such a prestigious pursuit..."
Quoting John Brezina: "The 2023 US Chess Championships took place October 5-18 in St. Louis hosted by the St. Louis Chess Club for the 15th year in a row. Over those years it has been elevated to the premier US event with first class facilities and prize payouts thanks to Rex & Jeanne Sinquefield. Twelve of the best players returned to the US Championship field on the men's side and the top twelve women competed in the US Women's Championship. Making this tournament extra special is that the opening and closing ceremonies are open to the public, making a great opportunity to meet your favorite players. I was fortunate to attend both and enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people."
Jeanne Sinquefield always makes sure everything is just so...
...and rings the bell to begin the games. U.S. chess is indebted to the Sinquefield's.
"I arrived in St. Louis before the opening ceremony with some time to stop by the chess club. You never know who you'll run into around the club and I was fortunate to see Grandmasters Irina Krush and Melik Khachiyan as they were getting ready for the ceremony. Off then to downtown and CityPark stadium where the event was held. This is the home of the St. Louis City SC professional soccer team which began this year. A stadium that has over 22,000 seats and provided a beautiful background to the opening festivities. The players arrived early for a meeting with arbiters to go over rules and formalities. After that everyone had time to relax, enjoy some food and drinks, visit, and even play some friendly games of chess."
St. Louis City Park stadium...
...with a well attended opening ceremony.
"Every opening ceremony the US Chess Trust starts with inductions into the US Chess Hall of Fame facilitated by the honorable Sunil Weeramantry. The three inductees this year were Lisa Lane, William Shinkman, and Yury Shulman who was present to give a speech. Afterwards the players were introduced and called up for the drawing of lots. Then pairings were announced and players seemed understandably anxious to leave and prepare for round one the next day. A wonderful event came to a close on a beautiful night in St. Louis."
Sunil Weeramantry inducting the newest Chess Hall of Fame members.
"Now onto chess. While the club expansion is still under construction, the World Chess Hall of Fame hosted the players. The third floor was converted into a beautiful playing hall with top notch conditions and amenities. I was grateful to be able to photograph round one and be amongst the strongest players in the US. I then followed the remainder online with the superb commentary team of Yasser Seirawan, Katerina Nemcova, and Cristian Chirila. One can always count on former US women's champion Nazi Paikidze to arrive first as she did once again. Then slowly players continued to arrive and fill up the playing hall. Fabiano Caruana and Jennifer Yu were the defending champions and would have their work cut out for them. Both fields yielded some amazingly young players. Fourteen year old Abhimanyu Mishra in his first championship and Alice Lee who turned fourteen during the match."
Jeffery Xiong (w) vs. Abhimanyu Mishra (b)
Alice Lee was opened with her Queen's pawn.
"Round one started off slowly as players settled into the long tournament. Most games ended in draws except for one in each field. Recent Chess9LX winner Sam Sevian battled Ray Robson and somehow managed to turn the tables despite both kings being exposed with queens still on the board and sealed the first victory. The other win was by former US Women's chess champion Nazi Paikidze. Her game against Ashritha Eswaran was a prime example of "It ain't over till it's over!".
Nazi Paikidze (w) vs. Ashritha Eswaran (b)
They reached an endgame where Paikidze promoted and had an extra queen on the board. Eswaran tried one final trick in the position to hold the draw, playing on move 40...Qd3. This left only one winning move for white and Nazi found it, 41.Kh4!! A great example of precise play being necessary even with such a material advantage. Any other move would have allowed a draw amazingly."
Nazi Paikidze vs. Ashritha Eswaran It is hard to believe that in this position 41. Kh3-h4!! is the only move to win. Chess is amazing.
"Young Mishra started out strong and after three rounds took the lead in his first US championship while in the Women's field both Carissa Yip and Begim Tokhirjonova won their games to continue their lead and never looked back. They were then paired in round four and after a long struggle, they managed a draw. Defending champion Fabiano Caruana won in round four to take the lead from Mishra who lost to Hans Niemann. Round five was a bloodbath with ten decisive games. Fabiano won his third in a row to remain in the lead."
Levon Aronian arrives for his game against Fabiano Caruana.
"In round eight, Hans Niemann, who was half a point behind the leader, blundered and lost to slip in the standings. Carissa and Begim continued their incredible winning streaks and extended their lead for first and ran away from the field. A big match up in round nine was between tournament leader Caruana against Niemann, a point behind. But the veteran showed his mettle and defeated the young Niemann, extending his lead. Begim took sole lead after her win while Carissa was finally held to a draw."
Hans Niemann filling in his scoresheet.
"With just two rounds to go, anything was still possible. Caruana faced the young prodigy Mishra where a win would seal the title. Despite putting up tough resistance, the US junior champion succumbed to the pressure and Fabiano Caruana repeated his US championship title with a round to spare. But the lead in the women's was flipped with Begim losing to former champion Irina Krush while Carissa won against another former champion Anna Zatonskih. With first place secured in the US championship, the fight for second continued. Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez drew their games to both end with 6.5 points. And the young Abhimanyu Mishra finished the tournament strong with a win over the formidable Levon Aronian, putting him tied with the other two giants for second with 6.5 points as well."
Long time U.S. chess star. Irina Krush (w) vs. rising star, Carissa Yip (b)
"The women's final round saw an incredible finish. With only Begim and Carissa able to clinch first, all eyes were on their games. Carissa Yip faced Ruiyang Fan and looked as though she was in a good position. But Yip somehow blundered in a rook endgame and left the hall in disbelief as she thought Begim was winning in her game against Jennifer Yu. But the defending champion Yu somehow managed to come out on top in their game and lost as well, leaving Carissa Yip as the 2023 US women's champion. Her second title and she is only nineteen years old! Carissa would not learn of this until later at her hotel room as she would later tell in an interview."
Not only John Brezina photographs St. Louis chess tournaments.
"Another great tournament comes to an end but not a close. That would come the next day at the closing ceremony which was held at the opulent and grand Chase Park Plaza hotel. I returned to St. Louis and was joined by my beautiful wife to enjoy her first closing party. We enjoyed meeting the players and staff from the club and hall of fame that put together this incredible event. Rex & Jeanne Sinquefield kick off the ceremony on stage with short speeches and presenting the winners. First Carissa Yip was brought up and gave a heartfelt speech and thanked her parents and so many others."
Champion Fabiano Caruana at the closing ceremony.
"Then Fabiano Caruana took the stage and also gave a very heartfelt and touching speech. He thanked many, especially Rex & Jeanne who have transformed US chess into such a prestigious pursuit, and you could sense his genuine gratitude. Afterwards, dinner and drinks were had by all. Then music, chess and fellowship ruled the night. Enjoy all my photos from the opening ceremony and round one " Regards, John Brezina.
Mr. Brezina has also started to include some black and white photos, which are retro but kind of cool. Here is a sampling:
Several of the players...
Hans Niemann about to move.
A serious Sam Sevian.
Jeffery Xiong in deep thought.
Maybe one day there will be a single world champion. One of the female players in this tournament could be that champion...
... Maybe this focused young woman...
... or this smiling young lady.
As always it is my pleasure to select and caption John Brezina's great photography. Thank you kindly, Mr. Brezina.