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Decisive Start to the US Chess Championships Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
May 14, 2010
GM Aleksandr Stripunsky, Craig Caeser Consulting and GM Hikaru Nakamura, Photo Betsy Dynako 

The first round of the 2010 U.S. Chess Championship, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, produced an uncharacteristically high number of decisive games, with eight out of 12 games yielding a winner. Normally at top levels of chess a draw rate of more than 50 percent would not be abnormal.

As the tournament began, the Swiss system pairing format pitted the top players against the bottom players. But since the tournament only invites the top rated players and makes open qualification difficult, there are no easy opponents in the 24-player field.
IM Irina Krush, Photo Betsy Dynako

International Master (IM) Irina Krush of New York City, the only woman in the field, came in to the tournament ranked second to last, but she got off to a fast start. By beating Grandmaster (GM) Gregory Kaidanov of Lexington, Ken., she turned in the biggest upset of the round. Previously, she had never defeated Kaidanov in tournament play.


 “My thinking process was not so smooth,” Krush said. “There were definitely a lot of lines I was scared of. Somehow, I kept control, even though I was doubting myself. I was concerned about my position.” She finished off her opponent by sacrificing a rook for a knight to force checkmate.

The other big upset came on board six as Glendale, California’s GM Melikset Khachiyan edged Brooklyn’s GM Aleksandr Lenderman in a close rook-and-pawn endgame. Lenderman is the former World Youth Champion but Khachiyan has been dominating the California chess scene as of late.


GM Aleksandr Lenderman and GM Melikset Khachiyan, Photo Betsy Dynako

Recently relocated from the Pacific Northwest, current Saint Louis resident and defending champion GM Hikaru Nakamura survived a tactical melee against GM Alexander Stripunsky from New York City. Nakamura used a nifty queen sacrifice to finish off his opponent. 


Nakamura said afterward that Stripunsky helped put him on the map – when Nakamura was 10, he defeated his first grandmaster, and it was Stripunsky.

The youngest player in the event for the second year in a row, 15-year-old GM Ray Robson from Largo, Fla., narrowly missed drawing former champion GM Gata Kamsky of New York City.  Kamsky praised Robson’s intuitive decision to sacrifice a knight for three pawns. Afterward, in what looked like a tough endgame conversion, Kamsky showed effortless technique to convert the point. He also produced some aesthetically pleasing moves. “OK, it’s an element of the game,” he explained.


GM Gata Kamsky, GM Jesse Kraai and GM Alexander Shabalov, Photo Betsy Dynako 

Third-seeded Baltimore resident Alexander Onischuk played the longest game of the day at more than five hours but got by New Jersey’s GM Joel Benjamin.  Benjamin is playing in his 22nd consecutive U.S. Championship, a record.

GM Jaan Ehlvest, Photo Betsy Dynako 

Former World Championship contender and Estonian native GM Jaan Ehlvest got off to a fast start by beating GM Alex Yermolinsky of Sioux Falls, SD. Ehlvest, like Onischuk, lives in Baltimore.



GM Robert Hess and IM Sam Shankland, Photo Betsy Dynako

Last year’s surprise second-place finisher GM Robert Hess did much to continue his winning ways in Saint Louis by defeating fellow youngster IM Sam Shankland. Neither player has yet seen their 20th birthday. 


IM Sam Shankland and WGM Jennifer Shahade, Photo Betsy Dynako 

Tournament veteran GM Larry Christiansen of Cambridge, Mass., who first won the title back in 1980, found a spectacular checkmating attack on GM Dmitry Gurevich of Chicago. “When in doubt, attack!” Christiansen said. He is known for his swashbuckling rampages on the enemy king. The exciting game featured the two oldest players in the event.


Games ending in a draw included GM Yury Shulman (Chicago) against GM Vinay Bhat (San Francisco); GM Ben Finegold (St. Louis) against GM Varuzhan Akobian (North Hollywood, CA); GM Jesse Kraai (Bay Area, CA) against GM Alexander Shabalov (Pittsburgh) and GM Sergey Kudrin (Stamford, Conn.) against IM Levon Altounian (Tucson, Ariz.).

While a draw is not as good as a win, some players noticed the obvious. “Well, I have more points now than I had going into round one,” Finegold joked.

The most intriguing matchup of round two will take place on the top board, as Nakamura and Hess square off. Last year’s first and second-place finishers also met at the 2009 U.S. Championship, when Nakamura won.

Round Two Pairings

Bd. # White # Black
1 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura 8 GM Robert Hess
2 18 GM Melikset Khachiyan 2 GM Gata Kamsky
3 3 GM Alexander Onischuk 10 GM Larry Christiansen
4 7 GM Jaan Ehlvest 23 IM Irina Krush
5 24 IM Levon Altounian 4 GM Yury Shulman
6 5 GM Varuzhan Akobian 21 GM Jesse Kraai
7 9 GM Alexander Shabalov 17 GM Ben Finegold
8 16 GM Vinay Bhat 12 GM Sergey Kudrin
9 20 IM Sam Shankland 6 GM Aleksandr Lenderman
10 11 GM Gregory Kaidanov 15 GM Joel Benjamin
11 22 GM Dmitry Gurevich  13  GM Alexander Stripunsky
12 14 GM Ray Robson 19 GM Alex Yermolinsky

In the fantasy chess competition,  Anthony Venezia won the daily prize. His team (2637), listed below, scored 5.5/6. 

GM Hikaru Nakamura (2817) 
GM Jaan Ehlvest (2669)  
GM Robert Hess (2657) 
GM Larry Christiansen (2657)
GM Jesse Kraai (2528)  
IM Irina Krush (2494) 

The 2010 U.S. Chess Championship is open to the public and will feature grandmaster commentary by GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. Live Spectators can access the event by purchasing a membership to the CCSCSL, which costs just $5/month for students and $12/month for adults. The championship quad finale will take place May 22-24 and will culminate with the $10,000 U.S. Championship Blitz Open at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 24, an event that will feature U.S. Championship competitors and some of the top players from across the country.

Follow all the action live at uschesschamps.com.

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