Back To St. Louis: U.S. Championships Fields Set

Back To St. Louis: U.S. Championships Fields Set

| 43 | Chess Event Coverage

After several years of shifting formats, the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship have settled in to a consistent scheme, but that doesn't mean the fields are static. The new normal — smaller numbers competing in a round robin — also means some worthy names have been left out.

The 2016 fields and format were announced recently by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which will be be hosting both events for the eighth consecutive year. Each will be a 12-player round robin with a single rest day following round five.

According to the club's press release, both 2016 editions will feature the highest average ratings in history.

The events will have the same schedules and will take place from April 13-27, 2016. There's also an add-on event April 28-29. It will be a busy few weeks for chess fans — Norway Chess is scheduled for April 18-30, 2016. (While the days will conflict with Norway Chess, the club did just announce that the Sinquefield Cup will move up several weeks because the Baku Olympiad also did the same).

For the open championship, which has been a de facto men's field since 2010, only seven of last year's 12 men made it back. Returning will be defending champion GM Hikaru Nakamura (he of four lifetime titles) and five-time winner GM Gata Kamsky. Top FIDE-rated American GM Fabiano Caruana will make his first appearance; he transferred his federation in May, 2015, making it too late to play last year. 

"They're having the tournament the same place I beat those world-class players one after another?!" Caruana might be thinking.

Also returning will be U.S. number three GM Wesley So and four-time champion GM Alex Shabalov. Like Nakamura, Shabalov will be attempting to equal Kamsky's mark of five U.S. titles, which is fourth-best of all time and the most of anyone who's alive. GM Sammy Reshevsky and the recently-deceased GM Walter Browne both earned six, while GM Bobby Fischer famously won all eight that he competed in.

Shabalov and Kamsky will soon be linked in another way. Shabalov didn't qualify last year, but after being inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame at the opening ceremony, he correctly predicted that he'd return to the U.S. Championship one day. He did just that by winning the U.S. Open

GM Alex Shabalov did the chess equivalent of Babe Ruth "calling his shot."

Kamsky will be inducted into the hall of fame this year at the beginning of the event, along with Grandmaster-turned-commentator Maurice Ashley.

Grandmaster, promoter, businessman, commentator, teacher and occasional hustler Maurice Ashley will soon be enshrined in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.

The other returnees include GM Alex Onischuk, champion in 2006, and three men who've come close but have yet to win a title: GMs Varuzhan Akobian, 2014 Olympiad gold-medalist Sam Shankland and Ray Robson, who is 21 years old and playing in his ninth championship!

Also returning will be GM Alex Lenderman, who nearly won in 2014, his last trip to this event. Two players will make their first appearance: wildcard invite GM Jeffrey Xiong and IM Akshat Chandra, an automatic invite courtesy of winning the 2015 U.S. Junior.

Notable snubs (due to lower rating) include GM Daniel Naroditsky, GM Timur Gareev, and GM Alejandro Ramirez, each of whom have played multiple championships in recent years.

On the women's side of the room, defending champion GM Irina Krush continues her quest for the all-time American mark of nine career championships (WIM Gisela Gresser is the standard bearer). Krush is two shy but closing fast — she's won four in a row and five of the last six.

GM Irina Krush accepts her award in 2015 from club founder Rex Sinquefield.

The only other woman to have notched a title since 2006 is IM Anna Zatonskih, who returns after a one-year hiatus. WGM Tatev Abrahamyan will hope that the lucky penguins she visits each year in Forest Park will finally end her "best player to have never won" role.

WGM Katerina Nemcova and IM Nazi Paikidze both only finished one point off the pace last year, and they both return. Nemcova, a St. Louis local, is on her peak U.S. Chess rating (2425), having gained about 200 points since moving from Czech Republic to the U.S. for university. Longtime player WGM Sabina Foisor is also back.

Then a whole bushel of youngsters rounds out the field: 2014 World Youth gold medalist WFM Jennifer Yu returns from last year, while author and youngest-ever American female master Carissa Yip and number one U-18 American female WIM Agata Bykovtsev play their first championship. U.S. Junior Girls Champion WIM Ashritha Eswaran comes back from a 2014 appearance.

The total purse for the men is $194,000 (first place $50,000) and for the women $100,000 (first place $25,000). Both sections will have the usual Fischer Prize of $64,000 for anyone who goes 11-0. In the past, several women have come within reach of the prize but no man has ever begun with more than four wins since the prize was introduced.

So what about this add-on event? The top three finishers in the U.S. Championship will play in a two-day blitz event after the classical chess with former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov. No other details on the format are available at this time.

Unless disaster strikes for Nakamura and he doesn't finish in the top three, we will get to see Kasparov, his former teacher, battle him in blitz.

2016 U.S. Championship | Players (Average rating: 2739 USCF)

Rank Name USCF Rating Residence
1 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2869 St. Louis, MO
2 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2858 St. Louis, MO
3 GM So, Wesley 2848 Minnetonka, MN
4 GM Robson, Ray 2752 St. Louis, MO
5 GM Onischuk, Alex 2745 Lubbock, TX
6 GM Kamsky, Gata 2737 Brooklyn, NY
7 GM Lenderman, Alex 2727 Brooklyn, NY
8 GM Shankland, Sam 2723 Orinda, CA
9 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 2704 North Hollywood, CA
10 GM Xiong, Jeffrey 2675 Coppell, TX
11 GM Shabalov, Alex 2622 Pittsburgh, PA
12 IM Chandra, Akshat 2608 Iselin, NJ

2016 U.S. Women's Championship | Players (Average rating: 2370 USCF)

Rank Name USCF Rating Residence
1 IM Zatonskih, Anna 2542 Hartsdale, NY
2 GM Krush, Irina 2535 Brooklyn, NY
3 WGM Abrahamyan, Tatev 2450 Glendale, CA
4 WGM Nemcova, Katerina 2428 St. Louis, MO
5 IM Paikidize, Nazi 2398 Baltimore, MD
6 WGM Sharevich, Anna* 2367 St. Louis, MO
7 WGM Foisor, Sabina 2332 Lubbock, TX
8 WFM Yu, Jennifer 2306 Ashburn, VA
9 NM Yip, Carissa 2305 Andover, MA
10 WIM Gorti, Akshita* 2297 Chantilly, VA
11 WIM Bykovtsev, Agata 2239 Goleta, CA
12 WIM Eswaran, Ashritha 2238 San Jose, CA

*Sharevich and Gorti were listed on the club's press release but are not yet on the official web site.

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FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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