Tension Builds in Saint Louis as Contenders Draw
By FM Mike Klein   
May 23, 2010
Saint Louis – The top four players at the 2010 U.S. Championship have been battling for eight games, and for all practical purposes, they are right back where they started. After drawing amongst themselves today, the quad finals move on to round nine with the quartet all tied with 5.5/8. All are due one turn as White and one as Black in the final two games.
NakaKamshake.jpg

GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky shake hands, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 

The top two seeds, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Gata Kamsky, met for the second round in the tournament, though with colors reversed this time. Nakamura had a promising initiative, but then Kamsky turned the tables on the attacking player by offering several pawns to gather a piece storm near Nakamura’s king.


The first surprise from Kamsky came when he played 16…Bf8. “It’s a quad, everyone’s trying to win a game, and in that sense, Bf8 was a good try,” Nakamura said.

“Bf8 makes a lot of sense,” Kamsky agreed. “I get my structure ruined but I didn’t see any way for White to exploit it.”

The commentary room focused on the possible variation 18…Nexc5. The players analyzed 19. Nxc8 Nxb3 20. axb3 Raxc8 21. Bd3 Nc5 22. Bxf5 Rcd8 23. Rd4 Nxb3 24. Rg4+ Kh8, which Kamsky evaluated as slightly better for Black.

Later, Nakamura’s White queen went gallivanting in search of queenside pawns. Kamsky took the opportunity to amass all of his pieces menacingly near Nakamura’s castle king. As commentator GM Maurice Ashley has been fond of saying all tournament: “When one queen is away then the other one plays.”

“I think I just miscalculated the resulting variations,” Nakamura said. “I missed how strong the Re6, Rg6, Ng5 idea is.”

In round six, Nakamura and Kamsky also played to a draw, with Kamsky playing White. All of their lifetime encounters have ended in draws.

GatabW225.jpg
Gata Kamsky, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 

Both players praised the format, which saw them qualify for an all-play-all final three rounds. The other two players making the cut prior to round eight were GM Alex Onischuk and GM Yury Shulman, the third and fourth seeds, who met for the second round in a row.

Unlike round seven when both players were playing it safe to qualify for the quad, Onischuk had White and more of a reason to create complications. Still, after a benign opening, no initiative was created for either side. Shulman said he felt very little stress during the rematch. “I felt that Alex didn’t get what he wanted out of the opening,” Shulman said.


With two rounds to go, even a single win might be enough to take the title. In round nine, Nakamura has White against Shulman, who both play the same color for the second game in a row. Kamsky has White against Onischuk. The choice of who gets White twice in the round-robin was based on the number of Whites in the Swiss.

Players who did not qualify for the quad had this round and one more to try to take the fifth-place prize. Board three featured the two favorites in the Challenger Swiss – GM Alex Stripunsky and GM Larry Christiansen were the only players with 4.5/7 going in to the round.

Stripunsky’s Sicilian Alapin netted him little more than a weak king, but Christiansen erred during the attack. The clever 28…Rg4 was visually impressive but ultimately threw away Black’s advantage. Christiansen said he forgot that his opponent did not have to take the rook immediately. Once Stripunsky did, White held all the trumps.


“What was I, like plus two?” Christiansen said, referring to how a computer program would evaluate his position. “Then I had to go and get fancy with Rg4 – forcing him to win! (It is) sickening.”
Stripunsky, who has seven decisive games in eight rounds (five wins, two losses), will only need a draw in round nine to earn at least a tie for the win in the Swiss.
Shabakrush.jpg


GM Alex Shabalov and IM Irina Krush, Photo Betsy Dynako for CCSCSL 

The consolation tournament also dealt a blow to IM Irina Krush’s chances for a grandmaster norm. Her connected pass pawns were not enough to counter her severe space deficiencies against GM Alex Shabalov. Krush will need to win her last round against GM Jesse Kraai to qualify for a second norm.


The other winners of the round included GM Ray Robson and GM Joel Benjamin. Robson is trying to get his rating high enough to qualify for the 2010 U.S. Olympiad Team. According to IM Greg Shahade, this is the final tournament that will count toward the rating-based selections.

Pairings round 9 (Sunday, 23 May 2010)

TableWhiteScoreRatingBlackScoreRatingResult
1 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 5.5 2733 GM Shulman, Yuri 5.5 2613  
2 GM Kamsky, Gata 5.5 2702 GM Onischuk, Alexander 5.5 2699  
3 GM Shabalov, Alexander 5.0 2585 GM Stripunsky, Alexander 5.5 2570  
4 GM Hess, Robert L 4.5 2590 GM Yermolinsky, Alex 4.5 2528  
5 GM Christiansen, Larry 4.5 2578 GM Finegold, Benjamin 4.5 2539  
6 GM Robson, Ray 4.0 2569 GM Akobian, Varuzhan 4.0 2599  
7 IM Krush, Irina 4.0 2455 GM Kraai, Jesse 4.0 2492  
8 GM Kaidanov, Gregory 3.5 2577 GM Ehlvest, Jaan 4.0 2591  
9 GM Benjamin, Joel 3.5 2565 GM Kudrin, Sergey 2.5 2571  
10 GM Lenderman, Alex 3.0 2598 GM Bhat, Vinay S 3.0 2547  
11 GM Khachiyan, Melikset 3.0 2539 IM Shankland, Samuel 2.0 2507  
12 IM Altounian, Levon 2.5 2454 GM Gurevich, Dmitry 2.5 2488

 The fantasy chess daily prize winner for round seven was Alexander Adams, who had 29.5 points (including points for his final four picks.) His team is listed below, and he correctly identified all four of the finalists. Also with 29.5 points but earning daily prizes earlier in the event were John Elmore and Yiming Benjamin Wang. Stay tuned for the round eight and nine daily prize winners and final fantasy standings after the event concludes! 

Alexander Adams (2639):
GM Gata Kamsky (2771)  
GM Varuzhan Akobian (2671) 
GM Yury Shulman (2669)  
GM Robert Hess (2657)  
GM Alex Yermolinsky (2572) 
IM Irina Krush (2494)  

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)