Hess and Nakamura Lead
By Jennifer Shahade   
May 16, 2009
GM-elect Robert Hess and GM Yury Shulman, Photo Betsy Dynako

GM-elect Robert Hess and GM Hikaru Nakamura lead with 6/8 going into the final round of the 2009 U.S. Championship. Final round pairings here. PGN File up to round eight here. Trailing by half a point are Akobian, Kamsky and Onischuk.  The crucial matchups in the race for first are Hess-Akobian, Nakamura-Friedel, Onischuk-Robson and Ehlvest-Kamsky.

In round eight, 17-year-old GM-elect Hess won against defending champion Yury Shulman in an Exchange French. Hess did not plan to get much from the opening, but rather rationalized that Shulman is too much of an expert in Closed French positions to challenge him in those lines.

Hess pinpointed 14...h6 as a huge error for Shulman. 14...h6 gave Hess time to play 15.Re1 and then respond to 15...b4 with Nd1 (instead of Nb1, a retreat that would have been forced if Shulman chose 14..b4.) It also gave Hess a target to get his kingside attack rolling with g4.

GM Hikaru Nakamura, Photo Betsy Dynako 
GM Hikaru Nakamura got the undoubtedly softest pairing of round 8 against IM Michael Brooks. Despite losing, Brooks is having a great tournament and is up for a GM norm if he wins his last round game. But with Kamsky playing Onischuk and Hess facing Shulman, this was a lucky break for the 21-year-old #2 seed. Brooks began to think hard as early as move three, and Nakamura outplayed him in the Sveshnikov.

Onischuk and Kamsky drew in a Berlin Opening, which means they have to not only win their games tomorrow, but also hope Hess and Nakamura lose or draw, in order to get a shot at first place.

GM Gata Kamsky vs. GM Alexander Onischuk, Photo Betsy Dynako

Friedel won against Ehlvest and Akobian against Benjamin, which gives Akobian a shot for a tie for first place and Friedel good chances to qualify for the World Cup.

IM Ray Robson

Meanwhile, IM Ray Robson won against IM Enrico Sevillano, killing Sevillano's norm chances...but improving Robson's odds to earn his first GM norm.

There are a few intriguing final round pairings. Nakamura is playing Friedel, who he's had a difficult time with in the past. Onischuk is facing his student 14-year-old Ray Robson, who is also playing for a GM norm. Mathematically, up to four people could tie for first in the last round, which would lead to a playoff featuring draw odds bidding games. Read the detailed playoff rules here. The main prize pool will be divided equally in case of ties, but a bonus $5,000 (which will go to the champion in case of a clear winner) and the title will be at stake in the playoff.

In other penultimate round news, the local hero Charles Lawton avoided a sweep by drawing against Sam Shankland.

The final round starts at 11 AM EST/10 Central. Round eight video recap below. Tomorrow, watch the action on uschesschamps.com or the Internet Chess Club and look for news from the closing ceremony and a final video wrap-up on CLO.