Past Performances to Present
Ukrainian-born GM Yaro Zherebukh received much attention for winning the 2010 Cappelle-la-Grande Open ahead of 82 grandmasters and beating Pavel Eljanov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the 2011 World Cup. He largely disappeared from the headlines since then, focusing on his education at Texas Tech University, although he also played on their chess team and switched federations to play for the US in 2015.
Now pursuing a Masters in Applied Financial Economics at Saint Louis University and playing on SLU Chess Team’s Board 2, he is in the right city to reach more acclaim— St. Louis. The chess capital in the country boasts the beautiful Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis and supports many chess activities and initiatives. His recent move has given him the chance to enter the chess spotlight again, starting from the U.S. Chess Championship.
Before the Games Began
GM Zherebukh was selected as the wildcard for the U.S. Chess Championship, as he was just shy of qualification by rating. The selection may have surprised many including the grandmaster himself.
“I thought it was a lot more likely that they would pick some young talents. I guess it was a coin toss, though, so I started preparing for the tournament in advance before I even got the decision, just in case.”
With a rating of 2605, he was the second-to-last seed (out of 12) of the tournament and not expected to perform exceptionally. Nonetheless, IM Greg Shahade gave him a little bit of a benefit of the doubt in his US Chess article with predictions for the championship, predicting that he was probably going to place around 9th.
GM Zherebukh admits to having glanced at Greg’s predictions, which I’m sure many American chess players and fans did. He commented, “I did read his article before the tournament. 9th place was reasonable, but I was hoping for better, of course.”
After all, 9th place would have put him out of the running for the World Cup, one of the most important tournaments in the world. There was the looming pressure of potentially qualifying for the whole championship, as this was a FIDE zonal tournament. The top 8 players would advance to the World Cup and he wanted to be part of that select group.
“My main motivation was to qualify to the World Cup because I wanted to prove to myself that my only World Cup wasn’t just an accident. I wanted to prove to myself that I could play some chess.”
The Mid-Tournament Shocks
Going into the rest day, GM Zherebukh was doing quite well and satisfied, claiming, “I felt happy I drew the world’s #2 and it called for celebration. I got to have a nice dinner, relax for the first time in three weeks. I played in the STL invitational, Final Four, then US Championship back to back, so I felt happy that I would not have to do chess for at least one day.”
Little did he know, more success was on the way. The grandmaster ended up shocking viewers after the one day break and most likely gained many fans throughout the U.S. Chess Championship.
As arguably the most surprising occurrence of the tournament, GM Yaro Zherebukh defeated GM Fabiano Caruana in the 7th round, which was the game that catapulted Yaro to tying for first place (temporarily). It was quite a dominating performance, and many admired the style of his win.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. a4 c5 16. d5 c4 17. Bg5 h6 18. Be3 Nc5 19. Qd2 h5 20. Bg5 Bg7 21. Rf1 Qc7 22. Bh6 Bh8 23. Ng5 Nh7 24. Nh7 Kh7 25. Be3 Qe7 26. f4 ef4 27. Bf4 Kg8 28. Rf3 Bg7 29. Raf1 Nd7 30. Bh6 Bh6 31. Qh6 Qf8 32. Qd2 Ne5 33. Rf6 Rad8 34. Qg5 Qg7 35. Bd1 Bc8 36. Qh4 Kf8 37. Qf4 Qg8 38. Kh1 Re7 39. Bh5 ba4 40. Bd1 Qg7 41. Ba4 Qh7 42. Qg5 a5 43. Kg1 Qh8 44. R1f4 Qg7 45. Rh4 Nd3 46. Rh6 Ne5 47. Rf4 Bd7 48. Qh4 Kg8 49. Qe7 Re8 50. Qg5 Ba4 51. Rf6
After his stunning win, GM Zherebukh was tied for first place, remaining atop players like GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Ray Robson, some of the country’s Olympiad team members. I’m not sure anyone expected him to win the tournament from the beginning and even at that point, though. Of course, it was never his aim in the first place.
A Bitter Burnout, But an Overall Success
After his fabulous win against Fabi, GM Zherebukh started to falter, losing against GMs Akobian and Nakamura. Still, he held other opponents to draws.
“I just got burned out,” said Zherebukh on his last few games. “Still, it was the best tournament I’ve ever played and probably the strongest.”
I mean, who wouldn’t be satisfied with a win against GM Fabiano Caruana, a 14 point rating gain, 6th place, and a $10,000 prize as the 11th seed out of 12? He will no doubt have some fans watching his performance in the World Cup in September to see if he can pull off similar shocking feats. No matter the case, his triumphs at the 2017 U.S. Chess Championships will be discussed admiringly for years to come.