One Year Older, Somewhat Richer, And a Little Bit Closer-- Playing In The US Championship

GM KaydenTroff

In my last blog, I talked about having the opportunity to play in the 2013 US Championship (  That was the beginning of the tournament and included pictures of some of the players getting ready for their profile pictures that they hang on the wall in the St. Louis Chess Club.  And though the tournament is now over, the experience did not disappoint!! 

The US Championship was a field of 24 of some of the strongest players around the country.  There was a lot of talk about GM Hikaru Nakamura (the highest rated player in the US) not being able to participate because of conflicts.  GM Nakamura was playing in the 1st Norwegian Super Tournament and the dates conflicted with the US Championship.  Even without his participation, it was still a very strong field of players.  I went in to the tournament as a wildcard--23rd of 24 players.  It ranged from players who have combined experience at the championship of over 50 years down to players who have not even reached high school yet, the youngest being IM-Elect Sam Sevian at 12 years old. 

There were a lot of exciting things for me throughout the tournament which started right off with a bang with an upset win for me against GM Alexander Stripunsky in the first round.  For one brief moment, I was actually listed on top on Chessbomb--leading the tournament :).  So, of course, we had to take a picture: 

 In the second round I was playing the #1 seed GM Gata Kamsky.  I am not exactly sure how that happened as he was the highest seed with one point and I was the lowest seed with one point, but it was definitely cool to get to play him!!  May 6th (during the tournament) was my birthday (Wahoo! Happy birthday to me) and also a chess music video I had the opportunity to be a part of was released on that day (you can see it here:!  Then, as some of you may know, my Mom is usually the one who travels with me and the Championship ran over my mom's birthday and Mother's Day!  And finally, at the conclusion of the tournament I came out with a performance that fulfilled all my goals I was aiming for this tournament.  See, exciting right?!! 

Going into the tournament I did several interviews, and one of the questions I heard quite a few times was "What are your goals for the tournament?"  So, here is a list of some of my goals: 

-Placement:  I figured that placing in 10th-15th or higher in this field would be a good solid result. 

-Rating:  I have been rising on my rating lately and I was looking to keep it up. 

-Games lost:  In my other two tournaments this year I had  lost 2 out of 18 games, so I wanted to keep up around that percentage losing only 1-2 games.  

-During tournament improvement:  I lost two games in round 2 and 3 and decided I was getting too distracted with things and not focusing on just playing Chess.  I was getting too focused on who I was playing, what I was playing in, and what I was playing for and needed to fix this. 

-Performance rating:  In my last several tournaments I have done pretty well at playing at a 2450-2550 performance rating and this tournament I wanted to have a performance rating above 2500.  

For those of you who missed it, here's an interview Kayden had with Mike Klein before his game with Kamsky... Oh yeah, and this is Danny adding this note Tongue Out

It's a long list, I know, and in the beginning I wasn't sure that it was possible but I believe that it is important to aim high, and I was able to achieve everything on my list by the end of the tournament.  The most important one for me out of these goals became "During tournament improvement".  One of the hardest things during tournaments sometimes can be to stop the downward spiral, you lose one or a few games and it is tough to switch this around.  It became very important for me that after I lost two games in a row I knew I needed to not just keep going and say, "Well it doesn't matter because they were good games and I lost to players that were quite a bit higher than me" and hope everything magically started going positively again.  I stopped and decided to aim for something very simple, to focus on playing a good game and to not worry about anything else.  I think this helped, and although I definitely did not play perfectly, I didn't lose another game. 

I read an account of GM Conrad Holt (who also played in the tournament) recapping his US Championship experience.  One of the things he mentioned was how thinking negatively and not thinking about getting a good result helped his performance.  I felt I could very much relate though maybe not exactly as he said it.  To me, he was saying that you can't get distracted by what result you want and you just have to focus on playing well.  Many top players warn about thinking too much about particular results especially when you are getting close to the end of the tournament and you realize what you are playing for like money or norms or titles, etc.  

So after my second loss in the third round is when I made this goal and thus I felt round four was when the tournament started to shift into a successful tournament for me.  

In round four, I was playing GM Alexander Ivanov as White. Throughout the game I felt I had the initiative, but it was really crazy.  After he sacrificed a Pawn and I was able to start strengthening my position I had a good advantage, but in the time scramble GM Ivanov stayed strong and with a few mistakes traded from both sides we ended up sharing the point in the end.  I was a little upset to lose the advantage but was glad to stop the losing after two losses in a row. 

In round five I was playing IM-Elect Sam Sevian.  We were the two youngest in the tournament so it was a battle of the two youngsters!  We both were familiar with each others opening repertoires (since we had been playing training games the month before the tournament) so for me the opening was kind of a scary step, not knowing what sort of preparation was going to be lashed out at me. He played a line that I had not had great success with in the past but thanks to my preparation before the game I came out of the opening okay.  The game stayed pretty calm for most of the game, but after a while I felt I had built up a slight advantage.  It was tough, he put up a solid defense and the position was heading towards a draw.  The position still had some complications, and as we were getting into the time pressure he needed to choose the right path to simplify it down to a drawn endgame.  In the time scramble, he chose the wrong road and made a few mistakes and  I was able to come out victorious. 

These two games got me heading back in the right direction and in the next 3 games I got 2/3 against GM Sam Shankland, GM Gregory Kaidanov, and FM John Daniel Bryant.  This put me at 4.5/8 a plus 1 score against many strong players.  I felt good, and really felt like I had done well at figuring out my problems and solving them as the games progressed. 

It was surprising because a lot of my pairings I pretty much said "There is no way that is going to happen"... and then it did.  Going into the last round I couldn't really guess who I was going to play because a lot of players had already played each other.  There were six people potentially playing for first going into the last round.  GM Kamsky at 6.0 was leading the tournament. GM Alexander Onischuk, GM Alejandro Ramirez, and GM Conrad Holt all at 5.5 could catch  Kamsky if he lost or drew.  Then GM Larry Christiansen, and GM Timur Gareev at 5 with a few miracles could still win the tournament technically.  This made for a very intense and exciting last round!  

So since so many people had already played each other in the last round I was playing GM Alexander Onischuk as Black.  Many people recommend if you are playing for a Norm, GM or IM, to not to think about it.  I have to admit I knew exactly what I needed to get in my last round for my first GM Norm.  I had looked at it.  My performance rating after 8 rounds was 2602... Since 2600+ is required for a GM Norm... I was sitting right at it, but unfortunately you have to play 9 rounds for a Norm.  There are some exceptions in a few tournaments I believe that don't require 9 rounds, and although since this was a National Championship the requirement to play 4 foreign players was well... not required, I still needed to finish strong in the last round.  This was my third chance at a GM Norm going into the last round and it was against the fourth highest rated player in the Country and former US Champion himself, as Black.  There was no doubt he was playing for the win: higher rated, playing as White, if he wins he might have a good chances at winning the whole thing, and also the top five in the tournament get an invitation to the World Cup so he definitely wanted to win!  I could hardly blame him for that, but well, I was really hoping that he wasn't going to get it!  I was nervous, for sure, but I was also very excited, even with all the nerves I felt good about this game. 

Out of the opening I continued to feel good since I was in preparation until move 17 with a position I knew was equal.  At the end of my preparation I offered him the chance to repeat, which he, of course, declined, but the position is still about equal.  After a couple moves I was actually quite annoyed with his two Bishops.  I thought for a while and found a way to again offer him the opportunity to repeat, but if he didn't repeat it is hard for him to keep his light-squared Bishop without compromising his position.  The next several moves I traded my Knight for his Bishop and both Rooks came off, making it more and more drawish.  Another set of Pieces was traded off and we were both left with our Queens, several Pawns, and one Piece.  We got a position that was pretty equal and for the third time I offered him the chance to repeat and take the draw and this time he accepted! 

This result got me my first GM Norm and I ended up tied for sixth!  It was a great opportunity to be at this tournament, the organizers made it a fabulous and extravagant event!  

I definitely want to congratulate two players GM Alejandro Ramirez (2nd place) and GM Conrad Holt (5th place).  Both of these players did remarkably well and were the two dark horses of the tournament!  Many of you might have watched as GM Ramirez was playing for 1st in the playoffs after tying with GM Kamsky, and although he lost in the Armageddon Game he was the player with the highest performance rating coming in at 2737!  GM Holt had a TPR of 2679 more than 150 points higher than his rating.  Also notable is IM-Elect Sam Sevian, I am pretty sure he is the youngest ever to play in the US Championship and he ended up tied for 14th place.

I certainly would like to congratulate GM Gata Kamsky and IM Irina Krush as the 2013 US Champion and 2013 US Women's Champion! 

Many thanks to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. This was the 5th year they held the US and US Women's Championship and they made it a great event.  It is great that along with all the things they do in their community and in the schools, they also try to make this tournament the best they can.


The final standings can be seen here:


Here is a cool little line that was possible in my game against Kamsky.  See if you can find the best continuation!