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US Champs and US Women's Open in Saint Louis! Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
April 15, 2011
GM Ray Robson, GM Gata Kamsky, IM Daniel Naroditsky and GM Yury Shulman, Photo FM Mike Klein

The chess elite mixed with local dignitaries Thursday night at the Missouri History Museum to commence the 2011 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. The 24-player field also conducted some business – drawing lots to decide the colors and pairings of their games over the next fortnight.

Tony Rich, the executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, presided over the opening ceremony. He began by telling of how the club got its start at the museum. Almost three years ago, Rich said, an event was held there before the club opened its doors. The club is now hosting its third consecutive U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship. This is the first time they will be held concurrently in St. Louis.

“The next two weeks are going to be the most energetic, thought-provoking and grueling for the players,” Rich said. 

He added that the prize fund for both events will be more than $230,000.

“If you’re a chess player, we’re celebrating our heroes,” said United States Chess Federation Executive Director Bill Hall. While leading the organization that sanctions the championships, Hall admitted to taking time out from board meetings to watch the matches. “From 2:00 (the afternoon start time of most games), we won’t get a lot of work done.”

Jeanne Sinquefield took the podium and announced that her longtime goal of making chess an official Boy Scout merit badge is finally coming true. Together with husband Rex, the Sinquefields are the largest benefactors to the club and the championship. Rex Sinquefield said the badge will introduce the game to more than one million boys and will further the club’s main priority of scholastic outreach.

“We’re struggling to keep up with demand,” Sinquefield said of the waiting list to get chess teachers in St. Louis area schools.

Mayor Francis Slay echoed the sentiments of other local politicians when he praised the educational benefits of chess. “It gives [children] something to do to improve their mind and to improve themselves long-term,” he said.

Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kindler referenced the role St. Louis played in organizing a world championship chess match in the late 1800s. The city was then the fourth-largest in the country. “I believe it’s a city on the verge of becoming great again,” he said. “One of the reasons I can defend that is the presence of the chess club.”

The club, in St. Louis’ trendy Central West End, will be open daily for spectators to view the matches. Fans can also view the matches live on the Internet at uschesschamps.com with expert commentary from Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade. The competitions will conclude April 27 with a possible tiebreak the following day.

For the first week of competition, players will play round-robin matches beginning at 2 p.m. daily. The 16 men in the U.S. Championship will play in two evenly-matched eight-player groups while the eight women will play in a section of their own. For more information on round times and championship formatting, or to watch the games, visit uschesschamps.com.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, players came on stage to randomly choose their placements and thus the order of their opponents. Defending U.S. Women’s Champion and International Master Irina Krush chose the number one, considered by many players slightly advantageous since that player gets to play white in the first two games. The crowd let out a collective, “Ohhhh,” and the other competitors took turns from there. GM Gata Kamsky is the defending U.S. Champion and he chose the number seven.

The pairings for the first round will be as follows:

U.S. Championship Group One (first player listed is white):
GM Larry Christiansen – GM Alexander Shabalov
GM Yasser Seirewan – GM Gregory Kaidanov
GM-elect Sam Shankland – GM Robert Hess
GM Ben Finegold – GM Alexander Onischuk

U.S. Championship Group Two:
IM Daniel Naroditsky – GM Jaan Ehlvest
GM Yury Shulman – GM Alex Stripunsky
GM Alexander Ivanov – GM Gata Kamsky
GM Varuzhan Akobian – GM GM Ray Robson

U.S. Women’s Championship:
IM Irina Krush – WIM Sabina Foisor
WFM Tatev Abrahamyan – WGM Camilla Baginskaite
IM Rusa Goletiani – WIM Iryna Zenyuk
IM Anna Zatonskih – FM Alisa Melekhina