Dear Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis members,
The 2015 U.S. Chess Championships, the nation’s premiere event, is less than three weeks away and everything is in a state of meticulous, carefully staged preparation.
That is: Chaos reigns at the Chess Club.
The Club for the past month has been undergoing an extensive remodel. Downstairs, the original classroom, with its projector and lectern, is now gone -- instead, becoming a permanent broadcasting studio for major events. The design drawings of the new studio are simply gorgeous, with massive LED smart-screen displays that adorn the room, complete with beautiful sets and even a “fireside chatting” area for post-game interviews.
At the moment, however ... let’s see, how to describe the studio’s current state? The ceiling is missing; massive spools of varied wiring and cables litter the floor; the walls, with all the fancy smart-board screens, are currently scarred and blank; and tools lie everywhere.
Things are just as frightful on the other side of the Chess Club. Lester’s Bar & Grill, our old neighbor and a favorite restaurant for Club members, sadly is no more. The Club, however, has taken over the lease at Lester’s and, for the last few weeks, the sounds of smashing pieces and clocks has been overwhelmed by that of buzzing saws and hammer strikes. A new eatery is to be born: “The Kingside Diner” -- gotta like that one.
The Club’s plan is to have everything ready by the first round of the 2015 U.S. Chess Championships on April 1, 2015 -- a fine plan. But judging by the massive amounts of cabling, electrical rewiring and power outlets that await their new permanent home, I’ll just ask that readers say their prayers for it to all work out on time. Otherwise, April Fool’s Day will be rather unintentional.
As chaotic as the Club’s preparations appear, just as likely are the players all in the same modus operandi – doing their best to repair, save, alter, redesign or completely change their repertoire – offering everyone a brand new look. And what a field of players we have in store for 2015 -- Oh my! This year will feature an all-grandmaster, 12-player round-robin battling for the coveted U.S. Champion title, as well as qualification places into the FIDE World Championship cycle. The record $175,000 in prize money will also be most appreciated. In addition, the Club will simultaneously host the U.S. Women’s Championship, also a 12-player round-robin with a $75,000 prize fund.
Have a look at the two lineups:
|2015 U.S. Championship||2015 U.S. Women's Championship|
|GM Gata Kamsky (U.S. Champion)||GM Irina Krush (U.S. Women's Champion)|
|GM Hikaru Nakamura||WGM Anna Sharevich|
|GM Wesley So||WGM Tatev Abrahamyan|
|GM Ray Robson||WGM Sabina Foisor|
|GM Alex Onischuk||WGM Katerina Nemcova|
|GM Daniel Naroditsky||IM Nazi Paikidze|
|GM Sam Shankland||FM Alisa Melekhina|
|GM Varuzhan Akobian||IM Rusudan Goletiani|
|GM Timur Gareev||WIM Viktorija Ni|
|GM Kayden Troff||WIM Annie Wang|
|GM Conrad Holt||NM Apurva Virkud|
|GM Sam Sevian||WFM Jennifer Yu|
Unabashedly, I’ll state that this is the strongest U.S. Championship ever held. Consider that half of this year’s championship field features players ranked in the top-100 in the world, while two players appear in the top-10. Not since the days of Samuel Reshevsky and Robert Fischer have two of the world’s top-ten players competed for the national title. America’s longtime top-rated player, Hikaru Nakamura, currently ranked number three in the world with a lofty 2798 FIDE rating is enjoying a career-best form. Hikaru has been on a roll in 2015, so much so that he is being whispered as a potential Candidate.
As good as his performances have been, however, Hikaru will feel the heat from Wesley So. Recently switching from the Philippines to the U.S. Chess Federation, So has racked up a year-long series of impressive triumphs and catapulted himself into the world’s No. 8 spot with a 2788 FIDE rating -- his own career best.
While the unfolding rivalry between Hikaru and Wesley will be keenly watched by all, knowledgeable insiders don’t expect a mere two-man race -- not at all. The field is loaded with star-studded competitors, including the five-time U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky, the only player in the field to have competed as a Challenger in a World Championship match. A true veteran, Gata knows what it takes to win, and he is seeking a three-peat as national champion as well as his fifth title in the past six years. Saint Louis has served as a second home for Gata and, if he brings his “A-game” – watch out. His career is a 24-carat gold, silky-smooth one highlighted by numerous world champion scalps.
Sandbagging a 2669 FIDE rating is Alex Onischuk, a pillar of stability for numerous U.S. Olympic teams. Noted for his rock-solid style, Alex is a hard man to beat, and those who take too many risks will learn the hard way that Alex bites.
Var Akobian, who tied for first in last year’s US Championship though lost an Armageddon playoff to Kamsky, will be out for a repeat of last year’s form. Var is a hard worker, constantly polishing and refining his repertoire, so look for him to bring some novelties to the table.
On the other side of the coin is a true crowdpleaser, Timur Gareev, a wild, attacking player with a constant take-no-prisoners attitude always striving for victory. Give Timur a complicated double-edged position, and he can out-calculate any player in the field.
Besides the solid, wily and cagey veterans, the really scary part of the 2015 field is the “danger squad” -- a group of the finest chess talents America has ever yielded, from any generation: GM Sam Shankland, America’s star gold-medalist from the 2014 Chess Olympiad; Ray Robson, U.S. Olympic team participant and two-time collegiate champion; Daniel Naroditsky, sitting on a career-best 2633 FIDE and rising fast; Kayden Troff, the reigning U.S. Junior Champion who is as ambitious as anyone (and with good reason); and Sam Sevian, the youngest grandmaster in American history and the 2015 wildcard nominee.
Playing against this line of all-stars is like walking across a chess minefield. Mr. T might predict pain, but I’m predicting numerous upsets. Yes, there will be the $64,000 Bobby Fischer bonus prize for any competitor in either field who can go through with a perfect 11-0 record -- but good luck with that!
On the ladies side, there is six-time U.S. Women’s Champion GM Irina Krush -- the big pre-tournament favorite, though she is up against an unparalleled field of strong rivals. WGM Anna Sharevich recently transferred from Belorus and will seek to challenge Irina’s ambitions as the second highest rated player in the field. In 2014, WGM Tatev Abrahamyan came agonizingly close to winning and is determined as ever to become Champion. Besides the veteran players the 2015 field will include the U.S. youngest master, 12-year-old WIM Annie Wang; and the reigning U12 World Junior Champion, WFM Jennifer Yu. The U.S. Women’s Championship will also have its own $64,000 Fischer Bonus prize.
To make the 2015 U.S. Championships as exciting off the board as the battles on the board, all the rounds will be streamed live on www.uschesschamps.com featuring analysis from the commentary team of WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Maurice Ashley and GM Yasser Seirawan. Live spectators may also visit the tournament playing hall at the CCSCSL, attend additional on-site commentary led by GMs Ben Finegold and Alejandro Ramirez; while enjoying catered food and beverages at the freshly opened Kingside Diner -- all included with ticket purchase. Additional event, ticketing and hotel information may be found at www.uschesschamps.com
May all your sacrifices be sound,