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Contact: John Henderson

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Saint. Louis, May 16 -- After eight rounds of tense competition at the 2009 U.S. Chess Championship, two young players enter the final round tied for the lead and the title. 

Former champion and second seed Hikaru Nakamura, 21, of White Plains, N.Y., who in 2004 became the youngest player since Bobby Fischer to win the national title, was the first to take the lead in the penultimate round by beating Michael Brooks, of Kansas City, Mo. He has six points.

Nakamura was followed later in the day at the top of the leader board by rising star and high school football linebacker Robert Hess, 17, of New York. Hess capitalized on an endgame error from defending champion Yury Shulman, of Barrington, Ill., to score a win when a draw seemed the more likely result.   

Three players are a half point behind Nakamura and Hess: No. 1 seed Gata Kamsky, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Alexander Onischuk, of Baltimore, (who drew with Kamsky); Varuzhan Akobian, of North Hollywood, Calif., who beat three-time U.S. champion Joel Benjamin, of New Jersey; and Josh Friedel, of New York, who beat Jaan Ehlvest, of Baltimore. 

In the final round, Nakamura will play Friedel and Hess will meet Akobian.  If more than one player finishes with the same number of points at the top of the leader board, there will be a playoff for the title and prize money on Sunday evening.

Despite losing to Nakamura, Michael Brooks' dream of achieving a grandmaster norm late in life at 47 still lives on.  But to do so, he faces the tough task of having to win his last round game against Ildar Ilbragimov, of New Haven, Conn., to become the first Missourian to attain a grandmaster-level performance.  

Meanwhile, the youngest player in the 24-player field, Ray Robson, 14, of Largo, Fla., needs only a draw against his coach, Alexander Onischuk, to also score his first grandmaster norm.  

The final round-nine of the championship concludes Sunday.

For a live update of tournament play on Twitter, go to Results of all matches are available at

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis opened in July 2008, and has more than 500 members. The club also will host the 2009 U.S. Women's Chess Championship from October 2-12.