By FM Mike Klein
The first round of the 2010 U.S. Chess Championship, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, produced an uncharacteristically high number of decisive games, with eight out of 12 games yielding a winner. Normally at top levels of chess a draw rate of more than 50 percent would not be abnormal.
[imagefield_assist|fid=4166|preset=bdynako-preview|lightbox=true|title=Craig Caesar (center) makes the ceremonial first move on board one between Alex Stripunksy (left) and Hikaru Nakamura (right).|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=312]As the tournament began, the Swiss system pairing format pitted the top players against the bottom players. But since the tournament only invites the top rated players and makes open qualification difficult, there are no easy opponents in the 24-player field.
International Master (IM) Irina Krush of New York City, the only woman in the field, came in to the tournament ranked second to last, but she got off to a fast start. By beating Grandmaster (GM) Gregory Kaidanov of Lexington, Ken., she turned in the biggest upset of the round. Previously, she had never defeated Kaidanov in tournament play.
“My thinking process was not so smooth,” Krush said. “There were definitely a lot of lines I was scared of. Somehow, I kept control, even though I was doubting myself. I was concerned about my position.” She finished off her opponent by sacrificing a rook for a knight to force checkmate.
The other big upset came on board six as Glendale, California’s GM Melikset Khachiyan edged Brooklyn’s GM Aleksandr Lenderman in a close rook-and-pawn endgame. Lenderman is the former World Youth Champion but Khachiyan has been dominating the California chess scene as of late.
Recently relocated from the Pacific Northwest, current St. Louis resident and defending champion GM Hikaru Nakamura survived a tactical melee against GM Alexander Stripunsky from New York City. Nakamura used a nifty queen sacrifice to finish off his opponent. Nakamura said afterward that Stripunsky helped put him on the map – when Nakamura was 10, he defeated his first grandmaster, and it was Stripunsky.
The youngest player in the event for the second year in a row, 15-year-old GM Ray Robson from Largo, Fla., narrowly missed drawing former champion GM Gata Kamsky of New York City. Kamsky praised Robson’s intuitive decision to sacrifice a knight for
[imagefield_assist|fid=4167|preset=bdynako-preview|lightbox=true|title=Vinay Bhat is making his first appearance at the U.S. Championship.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=375|height=289]three pawns. Afterward, in what looked like a tough endgame conversion, Kamsky showed effortless technique to convert the
point. He also produced some aesthetically pleasing moves. “OK, it’s an element of the game,” he explained.
Third-seeded Baltimore resident Alexander Onischuk played the longest game of the day at more than five hours but got by New Jersey’s GM Joel Benjamin. Benjamin is playing in his 22nd consecutive U.S. Championship, a record.
Former World Championship contender and Estonian native GM Jaan Ehlvest got off to a fast start by beating GM Alex Yermolinsky of Sioux Falls, SD. Ehlvest, like Onischuk, lives in Baltimore.
Last year’s surprise second-place finisher GM Robert Hess did much to continue his winning ways in St. Louis by defeating fellow youngster IM Sam Shankland. Neither player has yet seen their 20th birthday. Tournament veteran GM Larry Christiansen of Cambridge, Mass., who first won the title back in 1980, found a spectacular checkmating attack on GM Dmitry Gurevich of Chicago. “When in doubt, attack!” Christiansen said. He is known for his swashbuckling rampages on the enemy king. The exciting game featured the two oldest players in the event.
Games ending in a draw included GM Yury Shulman (Chicago) against GM Vinay Bhat (San Francisco); GM Ben Finegold (St. Louis) against GM Varuzhan Akobian (North Hollywood, CA); GM Jesse Kraai (Bay Area, CA) against GM Alexander Shabalov (Pittsburgh) and GM Sergey Kudrin (Stamford, Conn.) against IM Levon Altounian (Tucson, Ariz.).
[imagefield_assist|fid=4168|preset=bdynako-preview|lightbox=true|title=Gata Kamsky (left) won a close game against up-and-comer Ray Robson (right).|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=375|height=246]While a draw is not as good as a win, some players noticed the obvious. “Well, I have more points now than I had going into round one,” Finegold joked.
The most intriguing matchup of round two will take place on the top board, as Nakamura and Hess square off. Last year’s first and second-place finishers also met at the 2009 U.S. Championship, when Nakamura won.
The 2010 U.S. Chess Championship is open to the public and will feature live grandmaster commentary by GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. Spectators can access the event by purchasing a membership to the CCSCSL, which costs just $5/month for students and $12/month for adults. The championship quad finale will take place May 22-24 and will culminate with the $10,000 U.S. Championship Blitz Open at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 24, an event that will feature U.S. Championship competitors and some of the top players from across the country.