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Second round whittles field of perfection down to two

[imagefield_assist|fid=4193|preset=bdynako-preview|lightbox=true|title=GM Alexander Shabalov topped GM Ben Finegold in round two.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=286|height=375]By FM Mike Klein

St. Louis, May 15, 2010 – Chess fans will not have to wait much longer for the strongest matchup of the 2010 U.S. Championship, as the top two seeds will face each other in round three. Both GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Gata Kamsky, the first and second seeds of the tournament, won again today to push their totals to 2-0. They are the only players with perfect scores, and tomorrow Kamsky will have White.

Nakamura began gaining a useful spatial advantage against recent high-school graduate GM Robert Hess, who was last year’s Cinderella story at the championship. Hess claimed he had no idea what opening to prepare for. In the middlegame, Hess said he felt he could not stand by and allow the White f-pawn to advance. He began operations on the queenside with 15…b5, and Nakamura admitted to analyzing variations that included the move, but “somehow I overlooked …b5 itself,” adding, “it might be the best move as far as practical chances.” But in the end Hess’ open c-file was for naught and Nakamura used his queenside pawn phalanx to win the endgame.

Kamsky kept pace by coyly jettisoning his b-pawn for a nebulous initiative against GM Melikset Khachiyan. Kamsky said the pawn was not “poisoned” but he thought he had positional compensation. While Khachiyan had a chance to lock up the position, as many players would against a higher-rated opponent, he said he only came to St. Louis to play for wins. Kamsky agreed. “That’s why we play chess." he said. "We fight. We don’t just take the easy way out.”

Nakamura and Kamsky last played at the 2009 U.S. Championship, where they played an exciting 35-move draw that ended with a repetition of position. As GM Maurice Ashley explained in the commentary, this year is especially exciting since the duo might have to face

[imagefield_assist|fid=4194|preset=fullsize|title=GM Jesse Kraai lost to the higher-rated GM Varuzhan Akobian in round two.|desc=|link=none|origsize=|lightbox=true|align=right|width=375|height=275]each other twice, once in the Swiss and once in the quad finale, a la the two USA-Canada men’s ice hockey meetings at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

For the second day in a row, more than half of the games produced a winner. This time seven of the 12 games ended decisively.

GM Alex Yermolinsky got his first point of the event by defeating rising star GM Ray Robson, who has started 0-2. This seemed to be a case of experience being more useful than young energy and calm nerves. Yermolinsky played a rare …d5 pawn thrust that he once used in a rapid game against elite player Michael Adams at a World Championship.

Robson labored over the decision whether to accept the sacrifice, and when he did, all of his opponent’s pieces rushed into the attack. “I saw …Bxc2, and it didn’t look good (for me), but I didn’t know what else to do,” Robson said.

“When people tell me White can just take the pawn and live to tell the tale, I’m not arguing,” Yermolinsky said. He said he guessed a person could use a computer to check the validity of the idea. “But I’ve got other things to do in life than check every variation with a computer.”

[imagefield_assist|fid=4195|preset=bdynako-preview|lightbox=true|title=WGM Jennifer Shahade (pictured) and GM Maurice Ashley are providing expert commentary throughout the duration of the championship.|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=292|height=375]The round also featured a pair of throwback openings, as two Benonis and two King’s Indian Defenses delighted any chess fans that relish hypermodern opening systems and the 1990s. Kamsky’s victory was on the Black side of a King’s Indian, and GM Larry Christiansen also used the opening to hold GM Alexander Onischuk to a draw. The Benoni did not fare as well. While GM Joel Benjamin drew GM Gregory Kaidanov as Black, GM Varuzhan Akobian as White swiftly checkmated GM Jesse Kraai.

“Whenever you think you’re better and you’re not, you’re going to make some mistakes,” Kraai said. He said he was still bothered by his draw in round one against GM Alex Shabalov. Thinking he should have played on for a win, Kraai could not sleep well.

Onischuk, Christiansen and Akobian, all now with 1.5/2, are also joined by GM Jaan Ehlvest and IM Irina Krush, who drew to equal the score. Two other players have one win and one draw. Shabalov defeated GM Ben Finegold and GM Sergey Kudrin won against GM Vinay Bhat.

In other action, youngsters IM Sam Shankland and GM Aleksandr Lenderman battled down to king versus king before agreeing to peace, while GM Alex Stripunsky dispatched GM Dmitry Gurevich.

The 2010 U.S. Chess Championship is open to the public and will feature grandmaster commentary by GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. Live 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.

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