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U.S. Championship Opens, Shabalov Inducted

U.S. Championship Opens, Shabalov Inducted

MikeKlein
| 9 | Chess Event Coverage

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis is hosting the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship for the seventh straight year, but they don't seem to be running out of locations for the opening ceremonies.

They've used various buildings and cultural attractions around the city, but this year the festivities were held in the St. Louis Art Museum (perhaps appropriately shortened to "slam" in their web address). As CCSCSL Executive Director Tony Rich pointed out, seven of this year's 24 players have played every year since 2009, when the championships were first held in St. Louis.

Still, reigning champion GM Gata Kamsky was asking others as he walked into the building if they had been here before.

GM Varuzhan Akobian lost in a playoff in 2014. Here he takes in some art.

In both the literal and figurative sense, they had not. Rich pointed out that this is the strongest and youngest U.S. Championship in the 80-year history of the tournament.

Jeanne Sinquefield, the club's co-founder, proudly announced the success of her cherished Boy Scout merit badge for chess. She marshaled the resources to get the badge approved in 2011. Since then, more than 87,000 boys have earned the Chess merit badge, making it the 22nd most popular out of 135 (and 12 of those are required). If she had her way, chess would surely be a required achievement too.

Her husband, Rex Sinquefield, announced that the club's newest venture is the restaurant business!

Rex Sinquefield, club founder.

The deli next door to the club, in which a pass-through door was built to facilitate the hosting of live commentary there, has been remodeled and renamed. The "Kingside Diner" will officially open just after the championships ends; until then grandmaster commentators Ben Finegold and Alejandro Ramirez will have free rein to entertain the live audience.

Rex also proudly explained that his beloved St. Louis Cardinals have partnered with the club. Manager Mike Matheny starred in several commercials for the club. He plays chess every day, and not just for the love -- he suffered 17 concussions in his career as a catcher according to Rex and chess has shown promise in helping prevent dementia.

(Left to right) IM Rusa Goletiani returns to the championship, WGM Jennifer Shahade again commentates, and WGM Anna Sharevich plays in her first.

From there FIDE Vice-President WIM Beatriz Marinello inducted three deceased players into the World Chess Hall of Fame. Lyudmila Rudenko and Olga Rubtsova were both Women's World Champions in the 1950s, while the latter was also the inaugural Women's World Correspondence Champion. 

Only two women in the field have won a U.S. Women's Championship (Krush and Goletiani). WIM Viktorija Ni and FM Alisa Melekhina will look to change that fact.

Carl Schlechter was then given his due. Were it not for losing a better position against Emanuel Lasker in the final game of his world title quest in 1910, he would have also ascended the coveted world champion throne.

U.S. Chess Trust President Jim Eade then listed the accomplishments of GM Alex Shabalov before inviting him to the stage: four Olympiads, four U.S. Championship titles and even an opening named after him (an early g4 against the Slav Defense).

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay with a bowtied Shabalov and Eade.

Shabalov arrived at the podium and dedicated his induction to his coaches, GMs Vladimir Bagirov and Mikhail Tal. He also reminded the crowd that GM Boris Gulko last won the U.S. Championship at the age of 52. Shabalov is 47 and said his best chance to get back in the tournament is winning the U.S. Open; the tournament doesn't always invite the U.S. Senior Champion.

"This is not my retirement speech," Shabalov said. As for Schlechter, he lamented him only being a "few moves from the world championship, and joked, "The modern generation only knows his name because Kamsky's played his variation the last 20 years!"

Shabalov with some of the youths he referred to -- teenage GMs Kayden Troff and Sam Sevian are at the left.

Shabalov said his own style of play, like GM Alexei Shirov, is clearly influenced by his teachers. When asked how the tournament has changed since the early 1990s, he said, "It's become definitely younger. You need a completely different set of skills than, say, 1993 (the year he won the first of his four championships)."

After that came the drawing of lots. Both top seeds, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Irina Krush, drew higher numbers, giving them more blacks than whites.

Not mentioned in this report but not forgotten: GM Wesley So is hours away from his first U.S. Championship.
GM Daniel Naroditsky will somehow continue his regular Friday column at Chess.com while playing in the tournament!

Below are tomorrow's first round pairings in the twin 12-player round robins. In the U.S. Championship, it is mostly a top-half versus bottom-half opening round. Players on the left columns will enjoy six whites and five blacks over the fortnight.

Even with six blacks, GM Irina Krush will be the heavy betting favorite to win her fourth crown in as many years.

All games start at 1pm Central (GMT -6). Live coverage can be found at www.chess.com/tv.


MikeKlein
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 Chess.com as a Senior Journalist and at ChessKid.com 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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