The St. Louis Chess Club has made it a tradition to organize four strong round-robin invitational events throughout the year — one for each season. The purpose of these events is to give the opportunity for talented American titled players to gain experience battling it out against players of similar or higher levels. They can improve their game while also potentially winning a prize fund of over $30,000 among the two events. The Winter Chess Classic was the final event, rounding out the quarterly strong series of 2019. It was, by far, one of the most exciting events this year, allowing for some records to be achieved over the board as well as during the live commentary show.
Players from nine countries competed over the course of the tournament, starting Nov. 10 and ending Nov. 18. While the players only had to play one game per day, it was a grueling experience, since the tournament approached the end with the ratings and financial prizes at stake for the 20 players.
In the A group, American grandmaster Jeffery Xiong and Rinat Jumabayev from Kazakhstan took an early lead in the tournament, but their game in round six changed the standings in favor of the latter, putting him in sole lead with one point ahead of the rest of the field.
In a complex position, the talented young American made a few inaccuracies, which gave Jumabayev the opportunity to convert the game. With three rounds remaining, it looked impossible that things would change in the standings. But after a devastating loss in round eight against Armenian Hovhannes Gabuzyan, Jumabayev was again sharing the “pole position” with Jeffery Xiong, who had drawn Var Akobian.
Going into round nine, we could have expected a playoff had the two players drawn their games. Although in a better position, Jumabayev blundered a piece unexpectedly and ended up losing his second game in a row. Moments later, Xiong drew his last round, winning the title solo. This goes to show the tension of the event.
Some players had incredibly interesting attacking games and kept the fans rooting for them. I was particularly impressed with grandmaster Hovhannes Gabuzyan’s attacking style and his way of managing his time right, but this didn’t prove to be his event all the way until the end. He played an important role in the switch of the standings after pulling a win against then-leader grandmaster Rinat Jumabayev in round eight, allowing Jeffery Xiong to catch up with the leader.
The most notable result aside from the two leaders was done by Indian grandmaster S.P. Sethuraman. He started the event with three losses but maintained his composure, amazing us all as he scored point after point — 4.5 points in the next five rounds. He was close to possibly tying for first place had he won in his last round. Unfortunately for him, he lost in his final round to Alexey Sarana from Russia.
Grandmaster Sergei Azarov from Belarus seemed to have the best chances from start to finish to clinch the title in the B group. But going into the last round, Emilio Cordova from Peru was able to catch up with him. After losing in round two, blundering a pawn very early into the game against young international master Christopher Yoo, Emilio Cordova had an amazing comeback, scoring 5.5 out of this last six rounds.
The entire B group was full of surprising results and unexpected blunders, proving that nobody is perfect, and even at the higher level, grandmasters make mistakes, too; but good players will try their best not to let those mistakes affect the rest of their play during a tournament. Aleksey Sorokin from Russia was close to clinching his final GM norm, but the pressure might have had a say in his play in the last two rounds. He was a half-point short of his final grandmaster norm. I expect he will accomplish his goal in the near future.
Live commentary was provided daily on St. Louis Chess Club’s YouTube Channel. The commentators were national master Caleb Denby, who was replaced two days after by Ben Simon, and yours truly: WGM Sabina Foisor. The production team consisted of Ben Simon, Isaac Schrantz, Tony Chen and Danny Machuca.
As always, I had a wonderful time being back at the St. Louis Chess Club, although not as a player this time, but as a commentator, and I hope to be back soon; until then, stay tuned for more events at saintlouischessclub.org and uschesschamps.com.
Sabina Francesca Foisor is a Romanian American women’s grandmaster. She won the 2017 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship and represented the U.S. at five consecutive Olympiads and four Women’s World Chess Championships since 2010. Aside from playing chess, Sabina enjoys sharing her passion for the game, and promotes it through lectures and simuls. In her free time, Sabina enjoys spending time with family, friends and her cat, Regina, as well as reading, listening to music and watching movies.
The St. Louis Chess Club is a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.