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Players Arrive in Tulsa Print E-mail
By Tom Braunlich   
May 13, 2008
Alex Shabalov and Alex Yermolinsky at the Opening Ceremony of the U.S. Championships.

John Fedorowicz joked that the Players Meeting on the eve of the 2008 Frank K. Berry U.S. Championships should go pretty quickly this year since neither Joel Benjamin nor Walter Browne are here. And indeed it did, although Alex Ivanov and Alex Yermolinsky did their best to fill in with a few insistent questions, much to The Fed’s amusement.
This preview of the Championships begins with some news from the players meeting where Frank Berry, the sponsor and arbiter for the tournament, announced the addition of a Fighting Spirit Award of $100 per round donated by Jeff Smith, of South Carolina. It is to be awarded to the best fighting game of each round (in either tournament), as voted on by the viewers each day watching the games live on monroi.com. The prize is to be shared $75 to the winner and $25 to the loser. Thanks to Jeff for this generous support!
After supervising the election of a players appeals committee (Larry Kaufman, Iryna Zenyuk, and Yury Shulman), Frank had Alex Onischuk draw lots for color pairings in the first round. He drew white, and this leads to these pairings for the first round of the Championship:
Round 1 Pairings: 2008 FKB U.S. Championship
1 Onischuk, Alexander 2728 - Kraai, Jesse 2569

2 Yermolinsky, Alex 2568 - Shabalov, Alexander 2709
3 Kaidanov, Gregory 2697- Friedel, Josh 2539

4 Fedorowicz, John 2514 - Shulman, Yury 2676
5 Akobian, Varuzhan 2666 - Ippolito, Dean 2512

6 Pruess, David 2497 - Becerra, Julio 2648 

7 Ivanov, Alexander 2628 - Vigorito, David 2439

8 Ludwig, Daniel 2429 - Perelshteyn, Eugene 2626 

9 Gulko, Boris 2623 - Kaufman, Larry 2384

10 Langer, Michael 2307 - Finegold, Benjamin 2613 

11 Gurevich, Dmitry 2594 - Shankland, Sam 2299

12 Galant, Sergey 2176 - Kudrin, Sergey 2588
The first round starts Tuesday, March 13, at 2:30pm (central time). You can watch the games live on Monroi.com, where there also will be round-by-round summaries and updates of the standings and next round pairings. There will also be regular updates here on Chess Life Online.
The Field and the Favorites

The field of course is dominated by experienced veterans, mixed in with a few newcomers who will have their work cut out for them.
First we have the 2007 champion Alex Shabalov and the 2006 champion Alex Onischuk on the top two boards paired with veteran GMs Yermolinsky and Kraai. These two 2700+ GMs must be considered the theoretical pre-tournament favorites, but there are no easy first round pairings for them.
Experienced professionals also hold down the remaining of the 12 boards — Kaidanov, Shulman, Akobian, Becerra, Ivanov, Perelshteyn, Gulko, Finegold, Gurevich, and Kudrin. All of these top-rated veterans can be said to have a reasonable shot at the championship as well, especially since many of them are past winners. Only Perelshteyn and Akobian are relative newcomers to this group, but both are steadily climbing the rating charts and perhaps could be surprise winners this year if they can play up to their potential. Kaidanov and Shulman of course are also solid near-2700 GMs who could easily take the title this year without anyone being surprised at all.
On the second half of the crosstable we have (in addition to veterans Kraai, Yermo, Kaufman, Vigorito, and The Fed) some young players who will be highly motivated to show their potential and stake their place in U.S. Championship history — in particular:  Friedel, Ippolito, and Pruess. These three are all young and improving fast toward the GM title, and must be anxious to take advantage of this opportunity.
Of special note is Larry Kaufman. He convincingly won the U.S. Senior Championship earlier this month, and says his play has improved a lot recently to around a 2600 performance level, which he attributes to his work on the Rybka programming team. “Spending so much time with the best chess player in the world is bound to improve your play!” he quips. Perhaps it has also rubbed off on his son Ray Kaufman, who Larry informed me recently completed his norms for the IM title at a tournament in South America. Larry points out this makes the two of them the only father/son pair of IM strength in the U.S., (at least we couldn’t think of any others) and one of the few in the world.
Daniel Ludwig happens to have the same name as the guy who invented the oil supertanker in the 1950s. I’ll leave it to you to ponder the symbolic meaning of this non-sequitor. He and fellow teenager Sam Shankland are clearly dark horses here but proved they could play with the grandmasters by edging them out impressively at the Qualifier Open last March to win a spot in this event. It will be interesting to see how well they do and how many scalps they can take. They are sharing a room together here at the Radisson, so who knows what special synergy that can create.
Michael Langer earned an IM norm at this event last year and aims to do so again, although it does not help that work obligations forced him to stay in Austin on Monday and fly into Tulsa Tuesday morning just before the first round starts. Finally, local wild card Sergey Galant obviously has a long road ahead. I’ve played him many times here in Oklahoma and know first hand he is capable of very impressive play and of putting a noticeable dent in this tournament if he plays his best.
So who is my prediction for the title? I hesitate to say since many of these players are my friends and there is no obvious favorite. So I’m going to go for a sentimental long-shot pick, The Fed(!), which has nothing to do with the fact that he kindly did me a favor by agreeing to get up at 7:00am this morning to do a live TV interview for the local morning show.
The Women’s Championship
The first round pairings for the U.S. Women’s Championship are:
1 Abrahamyan – Krush
2 Zatonskih – Zenyuk
3 Rohonyan – Battsetseg
4 Epstein – Tuvshintugs
5 Airapetian – Jamison
(For the complete pairings schedule for this round-robin see http://monroi.com/the-2008-fkb-us-chess-championship-pairings.html )
Picking a favorite here, let’s face it, is much more clear-cut. Irina Krush is not only the highest-rated player, but she vanquished a very similar field last year. The late withdrawal of one of her main rivals, Rusa Goletiani, also works in her favor.
Her main adversary is IM Anna Zatonskih, who of course also has good chances. But Anna has been relatively inactive the last couple of years with a new baby to take care of, spending time recently in Germany with her husband GM Daniel Fridman. Typically an inactive period like this makes it difficult for a player to perform consistently at her peak as is required to win such a tournament, although admittedly sometimes the opposite effect can occur.
So, all signs point to Krush as the clear favorite and my prediction, although she had travel difficulties on Monday – ending up in Oklahoma City due to some snafu, she had to rent a car to drive the 90 miles to Tulsa at night.
If they play their best, Katerina Rohonyan and Tatev Abrahamyan have an outside chance at the title. Look for Chimi Tuvshintugs and Iryna Zenyuk to pull off some upsets. (I might be tempted to predict a strong result for Iryna if it weren’t for the fact she has been working very hard to finish just last week her complex engineering projects at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, leaving her zero time to prepare for this event.) Battsetseg and Epstein have the experience to make a mark on the tournament, and wild-card teenager Courtney Jamison from Texas of course will be looking to her first big event as a valuable learning experience.
The time control for the Championships is a variation on the slow FIDE format: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves (with a 30-second add-on increment each move, which is equivalent to 2 hours for 40 moves), then 30 additional minutes for the rest of the game (also with 30-second increment). With the long increment each move the players are required to keep an accurate scoresheet even in time trouble — or actually must keep their Monroi device up-to-date, since it is being used by all the players here.
Keep Chess Life Online on your “favorites” list and check here often for full coverage of the championships. Coverage of the fantasy competition will also be located on CLO. Deadline for entering your team is 3:30 EST on May 13. I will have an update after round 3 here with some behind-the-scenes stories.
You can follow the action live at http://monroi.com/the-2008-fkb-us-chess-championship-home.html where there will also be posted daily standings, reports, and pairings.
The organizing committee for the Qualifier Open and the 2008 FKB U.S. Championships is Frank K. Berry, Jim Berry, and Tom Braunlich.