2015 U.S. Championship Youngest, Strongest In History

2015 U.S. Championship Youngest, Strongest In History

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
Mar 26, 2015, 3:12 PM |
22 | Chess Event Coverage

This is no April Fool's joke. The world's oldest national championship will commence with its strongest field ever on April 1 in St. Louis, Missouri.

The 2015 U.S. Championship and 2015 U.S. Women's Championship will be twin 12-player round robins and both will take place April 1-13 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

According to championship statistical guru Ed Gonsalves, the average age of the men's field, less than 25, makes it the youngest championship ever. Last year, GM Gata Kamsky won in a playoff, even as the oldest player in the competition (39; he won his first title in 1991 at 17 as the youngest player in the field). This year he turned 40 and is one of only three players in the field over the age of 30.

The gaudy average USCF rating is 2732 and FIDE is 2642. The biggest newcomer to the championship is undoubtedly GM Wesley So, currently world number eight, who recently transferred to the U.S. from the Philippines. Besides a few coaching stints for the American national team, this will be his first time officially playing in an event where U.S. federation status is required.

GM Gata Kamsky has played in 14 open events in the U.S. since last year's title. Here he is en route to winning the 2014 National Open in Las Vegas.

Along with current world co-number three GM Hikaru Nakamura (who is amazingly the fourth-oldest at 27!), the top two men will be heavy rating favorites. For his part, Kamsky has won four of the last five titles (a hegemony only broken by Nakamura himself in his last appearance in 2012), but has shed nearly 100 ELO in the last few years. Although Kamsky is still very active and successful in open events (he's played five already in 2015), U.S. Captain IM John Donaldson has said previously that Kamsky has played in his final Olympiad.

Nakamura and Kamsky at the 2013 Sinquefield Cup.

Also of note are the rising stars GM Ray RobsonGM Sam Shankland and GM Daniel Naroditsky, who are all in the mid-2600s FIDE. The latter two will be playing for the U.S. in the next World Team Championship (Nakamura and So will sit out). That trio is nipping at the heels of GM Alex Onischuk, a mainstay as the U.S. third board (he now coaches the Texas Tech University chess team and will also play in St. Louis).

Former college teammates GM Ray Robson (left) and GM Welsey So (right) being interviewed by Fox Sports Midwest.

Finally, some heavy experience and another youngster: GM Varuzhan Akobian, still without a title after last year's late tournament lead ended in a playoff loss, will look to close out this year.

GM Varuzhan Akobian (left) strategizing between playoff games in 2014. He often brings GM Gabriel Sargissian as his second.

GM Alex Lenderman, the third player in last year's playoff, will not compete in 2015 -- he traditionally does not play in events during Easter. Meanwhile, the world's youngest grandmaster, Sam Sevian, will compete in his second U.S. Championship. He's 14 now, but in 2013 became the youngest-ever participant in the tournament's history (which, according to GM Andy Soltis, dates to 1845 if you count all the different formats).

The club often tinkers with the format from year to year. Now hosting for the seventh straight time, it's had Swisses, 36- and 24-player fields, men and women mixed together, and also twin round-robins with a quad final. For 2015, nothing much changed. Like in 2014, organizers have preferred the "traditional" format of a 12-player round robin, which the tournament used for most of the 20th century.

Bigger changes actually came on the women's side. Held as a 10-player round robin most years, this year the field expands to 12 ladies for the first time in St. Louis. Now with parity to the men, they'll have the same schedule (only one rest day, after round five).

That field is a little less recognizable than the men's. Noticeably absent is four-time champion IM Anna Zatonskih. She was the last woman not named Krush to win a title (like her friend Kamsky, GM Irina Krush has won four of the last five years; her mark includes a current three-in-a-row streak). This appears to be the first U.S. Women's Championship Zatonskih has missed since transferring to the U.S. over a decade ago.

Eight of the last 10 titles in the last five years: GMs Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush.

This leaves longtime American third board WGM Tatev Abrahamyan as the closest rival to Krush. Abrahamyan still seeks her first U.S. title. She has made a playoff several times, including last year where she advanced past Zatonskih only to fall to Krush after a three-way tie in the regular round robin. Abrahamyan and Krush both faced a potential conflict if either had made a deep run in the 2015 Women's World Championship; instead neither advanced past the second round.

Like So in the men's field, the women's contingent has several strong players who recently transferred to the USCF. Four-time Belarusian Champion WGM Anna Sharevich, a late scratch from the 2014 U.S. Women's Olympiad Team, will make her American debut as the third seed.

GM Fabiano Caruana's coach GM Vladimir Chuchelov looks on with WGM Anna Sharevich (middle) and FM Alisa Melekhina. Sharevich is not the first Belarusian transfer to try to win a U.S. title -- GM Yury Shulman succeeded in 2008. Melekhina is back competing shortly after being admitted to the New York State Bar Association.

Former Republic of Georgia star IM Nazi Pakidze has also completed her transfer and will be ranked sixth, while fellow former Georgian IM Rusa Goletiani returns to the competition after completing an advanced degree (she was the last women besides Krush or Zatonskih to win the crown, and that was 10 years ago).

The average age of the women (23) would have been much higher than the men were it not for three wild-card invites -- two teen and one preteen! NM Apurva Virkud, 16, joins WIM Annie Wang (12) and WFM Jennifer Yu (13) as the next generation of U.S. chess. All are playing in their first championship.

Here's a look at the entire field for both events and how each qualified:

The host club also produced a one-hour championship preview with frequent commentator GM Yasser Seirawan.

The total purse is $175,000 for the U.S. Championship and $75,000 for the U.S. Women's Championship. Both events will feature a $64,000 "Fischer Prize" for anyone who manages to score a perfect 11-0 (the prize was formerly only for the main championship but was extended to the women last year).

All games will begin at 1:00 p.m. local time (CDT, GMT -6). Rounds are from April 1-12 with April 6 as the only rest day and April 13 reserved for possible playoffs. Live coverage can be found at the host site, www.uschesschamps.com. The live show will also be embedded at www.chess.com/tv.

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