US Champs rd 1-3
The U.S. Championships got hot right from the beginning. In round 1, we already had matchups like Nakamura - Shabalov (two former U.S. Champions). And when I look at today's matchups (for round 4) there are so many that are exciting:
Kamsky - Friedel (#1 in the U.S. vs a rising star); Shulman - Nakamura (#4 v. #2; both former champions); Onischuk - Hess (#3 vs. another fast rising star); Akobian - Becerra (these two have been in rating competion for the final spot on the US national team for a year or so). That's just the beginning; there are a host of other games I'm excited about.
Here are some of the big points about the first three rounds of the tournament so far:
- The strong form of Gata Kamsky. He played very well and confidently in the first three rounds, with two wins and a draw as black against Yury Shulman, who has very dangerous white openings. I think that most people would say that Yury has the most dangerous 1.d4 openings as white in this tournament, and Julio Becerra has the most dangerous 1.e4 openings as white. So two confident wins and a draw vs Yury is a great start for Gata. Before the event I picked Onischuk to win, though I considered it very close, and now I would say the odds have shifted in Gata's favor (though it's still close). Today Josh will need every bit of grit and determination to try to slow Gata down. If Gata wins another 2 games in the next 3 rounds (plus a draw) as he did in the first 3, he'll probably win the tournament.
Since his games have been great so far, I wanted to show you all of them, but held back on yesterday's board 1 draw with Shulman.
- Robert Hess' continued strong play. Two-three months ago, Hess was a young IM with one GM norm. He was one of 5 or 6 most promising players in the U.S. under age 20. Then he won a strong round robin tournament with three grandmasters, making his second GM norm. Then he won the national high school championships (I think with a perfect score!) Then he made his third GM norm in Foxwoods. All this while attending school! Sometimes when a young player gets on a good streak, it's really hard to calculate how good they are, and for me that's the case with Robert's recent progress. He started off the U.S. Championship with two wins against very strong GMs, and at that point, I could have believed anything. Was he suddenly going to win the US Championships? He lost a tough endgame to Nakamura yesterday, which brings his story somewhere back within the realm of reality, but that is hardly a shame, and he is still just .5 points behind first. I suspect he will produce even more astounding play this event. Black against Onischuk today is another stiff test.
- Josh Friedel at the top of the standings. I expected Josh would show a good level at this event, and so far he really has. His two wins can both be considered somewhat "lucky" as his opponents should have been able to draw them, but I don't think this takes away from his play. He has given his opponents no chances against him, and played confidently and strongly, forcing them to defend in every game. With persistence, he managed to grind out two endgames wins and one endgame draw. I'll show you one sample game. While watching I found this opposite colored bishop endgame with one extra pawn to be quite fascinating. It seems that Kaidanov played very good defense for a long time. So when some people say oh my gosh, how could he have missed this vicious trick hxg6!! in time pressure, I would point out that most everyone would have lost the game sooner than that with some other mistake. Tactical errors definitely *do* occur in the games of Grandmasters, they are just much more common when 1) the opponent applies pressure and 2) the game goes on a long time and fatigue comes into play.
- Two other favorites, Nakamura and Shulman at the top. Neither of these players' standing is a great surprise. But it's definitely noteworthy that three of the four top seeds are among the four players tied for first, and the fourth is in the group one half point behind. We are in for a lot of great battles between the top players in the U.S. ! Here is one good game of each of theirs:
Finally, I'd like to include three other games that I thought were noteworthy. In the first round, the lowest rated player, US Junior Champion Tyler Hughes pulled off a win against former Soviet and U.S. Champion Gulko. He has since lost in rounds 2 and 3, but he must be getting good experience, and his first round win, should give him the confidence to play with his whole heart throughout the event.