A Dream Championship in St. Louis

A Dream Championship in St. Louis‎

WIM energia
15 | Middlegame

The US Championship is the event that all American players wait for with anticipation. This year it is being held at the glamorous St. Louis chess club from May 7 to 17 and gathers twenty four of the best American players. Let's just name few: Gata Kamsky- the World Championship contender, Hikaru Nakamura… no need to introduce him, Yury Shulman – the defending US Champion, Alex Onischuk – past US Champion, and winner of numerous tournaments, Alex Shabalov – 4 times US Champion. The players are competing for a prize fund of more than $135,000. So far, there were lots of fighting chess, no short draws, let's say only in Round 5 there were two queen sacrifices. A partial explanation for the fighting spirit is the gap in prize money between first and second places: while the winner receives 30,000$ the second place gets only half as much – 15,000$, also if there is a clear winner he gets 5,000$ bonus. This rather unusual prize distribution encourages the players to put out their best competitive spirit.

            I would like to show some game fragments from the Championship. The first one is from the game Kamsky-Akobian. Gata Kamsky is here to win the tournament, anything else would be a disappointment for him. He is the only player in the Championship who is playing in world elite chess for the past couple of years. He did not play any US tournaments since he joined the top world players, so coming to play in the Championship, it is clear as his second GM Sutovsky put: he wants to win it. So far, he gave up a couple of draws but is still in contention for the title. In the following game, black played a sharp line of the French Defense where Kamsky got very active pieces; the position is ready for the decisive blow.





            A disappointing loss for Varuzhan Akobian, but he managed to pull himself together and won the next three games to get back into contention for the title. Varuzhan is the only player from the top who never won the championship. Hikaru Nakamura pointed out that there are four players in the Championship of about the same strength: himself, Kamsky, Onischuk and Shulman. These players are very strong but also have significant achievements; when being asked about Akobian, Nakamura said that Var is very strong but does not yet have the achievements that the above-mentioned four players have. Let's look at one example of Varuzhan’s play.





            This game clearly shows that Akobian has strong nerves, after the game he came to comment on it and he pointed out that one must stay calm when under attack. The other important point he made is that when going for the position where Ehlvest sacrificed the queen, he took risks, since it was not too clear if white’s attack is strong enough; by taking risks one win games.

            The wild cards that the organizers gave to young promising players proved to be great choices. Hess, Robson and Friedel got into the tournament through wild cards and they show some great chess. GM-elect Hess drew two top players: Kamsky and Onischuk with black, while losing only to Nakamura. Interestingly, against Kamsky he played in the Sicilian Defense a mix of Dragon and Naidorf for only the second time in his life and managed to equalize out of the opening. In the following example Robert showed creative imagination to overcome GM Khachiyan.





            Another young player showing good chess in the championship is GM Josh Friedel. Lately, Josh is having many games that go into endings. We even have a joke about him, that Josh can win only by exchanging into endgames. In the Championship he won a rook and bishop endgame with extra pawn vs. Kaidanov, a nice rook endgame vs. Benjamin, which I will show below, he held a R+B+pawn vs. R+N endgame against Kamsky and won a bishop ending against Brooks. Impressive list, isn’t it?  While in his younger years Josh preferred combinative chess with bright sacrifices, now he is very solid and wins by converting small advantages into full points. The endgame vs. Benjamin demonstrates his play well.





            The tournament is very strong and it is not a regular swiss since there are only 24 participants and the field is packed with really good players, so it is a rather mix between a swiss and round robin. Even strong 2600s have a hard time scoring points, for example GM Gulko started the tournament with a disappointing 0-3 result, GM Shabalov with 1.5 out of 5 or GM Becerra having 2 out of 6. The players of such high caliber are not used to play on the last boards but when you have a tournament of such a high prize fund it will attract the players like Kamsky, Nakamura, who otherwise would not have played. What we can learn from the next game is that it is never too late to resign.





            There are still three rounds to go (as I write this) and there is no clear leader so pretty much anyone from the top can win the event. I would like to mention also IMs Ray Robson and Irina Krush who have all the chances to get their GM norms here. The games so far brought true pleasure to watch, I spend every day 6 hours watching them and listening to the live commentary of WGM Jenn Shahade and GM Emil Sutovsky on ICC. The organizers did a splendid job! I hope in the future we will see more championships like this one. For now I am looking forward and hoping to play in the US Women’s Chess Championship, which will be held at the same venue in October 2009.


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