Favorites in Good Position to Advance
By FM Mike Klein   
May 19, 2010
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GMs Alex Onischuk and Gata Kamsky along with Nakamura and Shulman lead after six rounds, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 

SAINT LOUIS – With one round to play before the field splits for the three-round quad finale, four of the top five seeds from the 2010 U.S. Championship have given themselves the best chance of qualifying.

An uneventful draw between the pre-round leaders and two decisive games on boards two and three have landed GM Gata Kamsky, GM Alex Onischuk, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Yury Shulman atop the tables with 4.5/6. The four players, which comprised 80 percent of the last U.S. Olympiad Team, are all undefeated with three wins and three draws each.

Onischuk and Kamsky played for the fourth time in their careers and the result went the way of the previous three. The duo played a pedestrian game, though Kamsky tried to explain that he pressed a little. “We had opposite-colored bishops and his king was open,” he said. “I played  …h6 and I was thinking, ‘Maybe (there are chances).’ I play this stuff as Black all the time. I know the nuances.”


Nakamura, entering the round for the first time not in first place, caught back up with an endgame swindle against GM Jesse Kraai. Most fans expected more of an aggressive opening system. “I played the Catalan,” Nakamura said. “Generally speaking that is a draw. I just felt like playing something simple rather than going for complications.” Nakamura fell behind on the clock for one of the first games in the event and became worried that Kraai’s celerity meant some home cooking. “I didn’t want to walk into anything,” Nakamura said.


Kraai said he simply missed the pin 26…Rc8, which offered better resistance. Kamsky claimed even before the wholesale trades Black should have played …a5 before White played it. “But okay, I can defend passive positions,” Kamsky said. Understanding Nakamura’s reputation, Kraai said he did not feel comfortable crouching into a ball and defending for several hours.

Also winning to tie for the lead was Shulman, who beat GM Alex Stripunsky. Like Nakamura, Shulman won a rook-and-pawn endgame due to his more active rook.


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GM Yury Shulman, Aleksandr Stripunsky and Alexander Onischuk, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 

GM Varuzhan Akobian, the fifth member of the Olympiad team, could not join the leaders. He played the longest game of the game but was unable to win with his extra pawn, despite GM Larry Christiansen’s claim that “Armenians have great endgame technique.” In one of the most studied endgames, GM Alex Yermolinsky was up to the task and held the draw without too much difficulty.


In addition to Kraai’s falter, another unlikely player doing well also had a slip in round six. IM Irina Krush lost to Christiansen. 

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GM Larry Christiansen and IM Irina Krush, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 

While her chances of making the quad are gone, she still has a lot to play for. With two out of her last three she will earn a grandmaster norm and she even has good chances with only 1.5 out of three.


Meanwhile Christiansen, with four out of six, still controls his own destiny. When told he would likely get White against one of the leaders, possibly Nakamura, Christiansen said, “I can live with that.” Commentator GM Maurice Ashley said that during his playing days he preferred to not be in that kind of situation. “You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have to win in the last round,” Ashley said.
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Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis founder and president Rex Sinquefield, GM Maurice Ashley and County Executive Charlie Dooley, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 
  
So with the four players at 4.5 and Christiansen at four, a group of players at 3.5 will need to win and some luck. That list includes GM Alex Shabalov, who defeated GM Gregory Kaidanov, GM Ben Finegold, who defeated GM Joel Benjamin, Akobian, Stripunsky and Yermolinsky. Only one of these players will control his own destiny, as he will play someone in the 4.5 score group. Not everyone with 4.5 can be paired with each other for round seven since there have been too many head-to-head matchups already.
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GMs Joel Benjamin and Ben Finegold, chair and commentator Jennifer Shahade, Photo Betsy Dynako 
 
“I’ve reached a similar situation to last year where I’ve played everyone at the top,” Nakamura said. “I’ve been the wrong colors against the wrong people.” Nakamura seemed resigned to bad pairing luck going forward. "I’m pretty much expecting the worst.”

The round featured three Grunfeld Defenses. Despite relatively good results for Black in the first five rounds, White won six of the eight decisive games in round six. This is the third round which featured eight winners. Overall, the championship has had a draw rate so far of 39 percent, up slightly from 2009, which was 34 percent.

Players with three points are officially eliminated from contention for the quad finals.

Also winning was GM Robert Hess, who recovered from two straight losses. GM Aleksandr Lenderman got his first win of the tournament, beating GM Sergey Kudrin’s Grunfeld, which he has played for years, but which Ashley said is “like putting a target on your back.” Lenderman’s non-traditional 4. e3 he learned from an online video authored by none other than Benjamin, who actually beat Lenderman in round five. GM Vinay Bhat beat IM Sam Shankland.

Round Seven Pairings 
TableWhiteScoreRatingBlackScoreRatingResult
1 GM Shulman, Yuri 4.5 2613 GM Onischuk, Alexander 4.5 2699
2 GM Christiansen, Larry 4.0 2578 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 4.5 2733
3 GM Kamsky, Gata 4.5 2702 GM Shabalov, Alexander 3.5 2585
4 GM Kraai, Jesse 3.5 2492 GM Stripunsky, Alexander 3.5 2570
5 GM Yermolinsky, Alex 3.5 2528 GM Finegold, Benjamin 3.5 2539
6 GM Hess, Robert L 3.0 2590 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 3.5 2599
7 IM Krush, Irina 3.0 2455 GM Lenderman, Alex 2.5 2598
8 GM Ehlvest, Jaan 2.5 2591 GM Bhat, Vinay S 2.5 2547
9 GM Kaidanov, Gregory 2.5 2577 GM Robson, Ray 2.5 2569
10 GM Khachiyan, Melikset 2.0 2539 GM Benjamin, Joel 2.5 2565
11 GM Kudrin, Sergey 1.5 2571 GM Gurevich, Dmitry 1.5 2488
12 IM Shankland, Samuel 1.5 2507 IM Altounian, Levon 1.5 2454

Round Seven Fantasy Standings 

The fantasy chess leaders from yesterday are still on top with 22.5 / 36.  Seven people have 22 / 36, but a unique one has the lowest average team rating.  The daily prize goes to Amir Mohammed. 

Brian Aguirre (2636.67):
GM Gata Kamsky (2771)
GM Varuzhan Akobian (2671) 
GM Larry Christiansen (2657)  
GM Alexander Stripunsky (2621)
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2572)  
GM Jesse Kraai (2528)  

Yuxin Zhao (2636.67):
GM Gata Kamsky (2771)
GM Varuzhan Akobian (2671) 
GM Larry Christiansen (2657)  
GM Alexander Stripunsky (2621)
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2572)  
GM Jesse Kraai (2528)  

David Kim (2636.67):
GM Gata Kamsky (2771)
GM Varuzhan Akobian (2671) 
GM Larry Christiansen (2657)  
GM Alexander Stripunsky (2621)
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2572)  
GM Jesse Kraai (2528)  

Yiming Benjamin Wang (2639):
GM Gata Kamsky (2771)  
GM Alexander Onischuk (2765)
GM Yury Shulman (2669)  
GM Ray Robson (2607)  
GM Jesse Kraai (2528)  
IM Irina Krush (2494)  

John Elmore (2639):
GM Gata Kamsky (2771)  
GM Alexander Onischuk (2765)
GM Yury Shulman (2669)  
GM Ray Robson (2607)  
GM Jesse Kraai (2528)  
IM Irina Krush (2494)  

Amir Mohammed (2638):
GM Hikaru Nakamura (2817)
GM Yury Shulman (2669)  
GM Robert Hess (2657)  
GM Benjamin Finegold (2619)
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2572)
IM Irina Krush (2494)