U.S. Championship Underway
The 2014 U.S. Chess Championship and U.S. Women's Championship both begin today in St. Louis, Missouri. For the sixth straight year, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis will play host to both events.
With 12 players instead of 24, the field is more condensed than last year in the U.S. Championship. It also feels much younger, as many veteran American GMs are notably absent (including of course the not-old GM Hikaru Nakamura). This edition marks the first time that no one over 40 has competed in the championship.
A strong group of GMs seeking their first title (left to right): Mackenzie Molner, Sergey Erenburg, Varuzhan Akobian, Josh Friedel, Alejandro Ramirez, Chess.com columnist Daniel Naroditsky
The opening ceremony took place across the street Wednesday, at the World Chess Hall of Fame. Club founder Rex Sinquefield noted that this tournament is the 50 year anniversary of Bobby Fischer's remarkable perfect score at the U.S. Championship. (The club regulary offers a "Fischer Prize" of $64,000 to any player who can repeat his 11-0 performance; to date no one has collected, with the closest being GM Gata Kamsky's 4-0 start last year.)
Sinquefield, a devout St. Louis sports fan, also noted that 50 years ago the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Sinquefield also praised the U.S. Senate, which passed a bill recognizing St. Louis as the chess capital of the nation. The bill had bipartisan support and he said he was confident that the U.S. House of Representatives, the other half of America's bicameral legislature, would follow suit shortly. Sinquefield, a staunch fiscal conservative, then joked that he hoped Washington would not create a department to oversee chess education.
The ceremony continued with the induction of two players into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, and two players into the World Chess Hall of Fame - GM Paul Keres and GM Maia Chiburdanidze.
The drawing of lots commenced, and reigning (5-time) U.S. Women's Champion GM Irina Krush picked first. Sinquefield's newest book, "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States," hid the numbers, and Krush's selection was the uncoveted slot ten.
GM Irina Krush
The remainder of the field followed, then the men got their chance. There was some mild confusion when defending champion GM Gata Kamsky opened his book and looked at his numeral - it was either a "6" or a "9." After some consultation with the arbiter, it became clear that the "6" had a line underneath signifying its correct value, and the "9" did not. Kamsky was thus "9" and immediately after him, second-seeded GM Timur Gareev drew number four, meaning the top two will play in the first round!
GM Gata Kamsky and tournament chair WGM Jennifer Shahade
Some research shows that Kamsky, only a few months shy of his 40th birthday, adds a first to his resume. He is now the only player to have been the youngest (1991) and oldest (2014) in a U.S. Championship field - that's quite a career.
Rounds will be at 1:00 p.m. local time (U.S. Central Time, GMT -5). The U.S. Championship is a 12-player round robin; the Women's a 10-player round robin. First prize is $45,000 and $20,000, respectively. The full schedule is here.
Recent law school graduate Alisa Melekina will be one of many women trying to break the hegemony of GM Irina Krush and IM Anna Zatonskih, who have collectively won the last eight women's titles
“The Irinas” as they are known - good friends WIM Iryna Zenyuk (left) and GM Irina Krush
Chess.com and FIDE Master Mike Klein also got a chance to speak with Shahade, 2013 Runner-Up GM Alejandro Ramirez, and the tournament's youngest player, 13-year-old NM Ashritha Eswaran.