Chess

Top four draw, field gains ground at 2010 U.S. Chess Championship

Logjam at top of leaderboard, report by FM Mike Klein

Saint Louis, May 17, 2010 – With the top four players battling to draws on the top two boards, a trio of other players used the fourth round of the 2010 U.S Championship to draw even.

On board one, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Alex Onischuk had the quickest game of the day. After a few brief fireworks out of the opening, Onischuk continued his usual solid ways to earn the half point as Black. He has now extended his record U.S. Championship unbeaten streak to 45 games. His only loss was in the 2004/5 event, and Onischuk came in to the tournament with the third highest lifetime win percentage ever, behind Bobby Fischer and Reuben Fine.

Nakamura’s choice of the Vienna Gambit surprised Onischuk, even though he previously played it at the 2007 U.S. Championship and at last month’s Saint Louis Open. “I was kind of shocked,” Onischuk said. He studied about 10 different openings prior to the game. Asked which one he most expected, Onischuk quipped, “All of them!”

“We’re just trying not to lose against each other and beat everyone else,” Namakura said. By “each other” he meant himself, Onischuk and GM Gata Kamsky, the only players with ratings above 2700 USCF.

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Hikaru Nakamura and Alex Onischuk, all photos courtesy of Betsy Dynako

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Varuzhan Akobian observing the top board

In the game, Nakamura curiously inverted his king and queen in the first 10 moves. “I don’t think beginners should look at this game,” he said. “It violates everything a grandmaster says.”

Grandmasters also say to put rooks on the seventh rank, but if Nakamura had tried the winning attempt 21. axb6 axb6 22. Ra7, Onischuk had intended the stunning sacrifice 22…Rf4!, which would have been his second brilliant exchange sac in as many rounds. Nakamura however saw the move and eschewed the variation, thinking 22. Rhf1 won. “I simply miscalculated,” he said, “I thought I would be winning this endgame.”

On board two, GM Varuzhan Akobian played a solid opening but soon found himself under duress from GM Gata Kamsky’s extra space and eventual passed d-pawn. Watching the game, GM Jesse Kraai thought Kamsky would squeeze out the point. “Kamsky does this kind of garbage all the time,” Kraai joked. “You think he’s worse, then he gets you.” But Akobian’s defense held up and the two agreed to terms after 53 moves.

On boards 3-5, players playing Black went 3-0. Joining the leaders on three points out of four was GM Yury Shulman, who snatched a loose pawn from GM Robert Hess and lived to tell the tale. “I didn’t think it would be so easy for Black to keep the pawn, but it turns out I don’t have anything,” a despondent Hess said at the post-game press conference. “A pawn is a pawn,” Shulman said. Hess did not offer any improvements and seemed dissatisfied with his game.

US ch Schulman

Yury Shulman, the 2008 U.S. champion

Shulman, seeded fifth, will now have to play up for the first time in round five. “Quite often you play against your teammates,” he said of his likely pairing with national squad comrades. “I don’t have any (special) strategy.”

GM Alex Stripunsky also won as Black. Just after making the time control, GM Jaan Ehlvest went in for a crowd-pleasing rook sacrifice. The audience at the chess club initially thought it was forced checkmate, but Stripunsky jettisoned a bishop and a rook to give his king space and rebuff the attack.

The final member of the three-point score group is GM Larry Christiansen, who caught up to the leaders with a self-admitted imperfect game. “Be3 was a lemon,” Christiansen said of his opponent’s, GM Alex Shabalov’s, eighth move. “It is a novelty that will not live in infamy. But with Shaba, you always wonder about a miracle attack.” Though Shabalov had to retreat this bishop and his queen to their home squares a few moves later, Christiansan said he played “barely well enough to win.”

On board six GM Alex Yermolinsky beat GM Sergey Kudrin and on board seven GM Jesse Kraai made it two in a row with a win over GM Joel Benjamin. Yermolinsky and Kraai both have 2.5/4.

US ch Finegold

GM Ben Finegold (GM Joel Benjamin behind)

“The last three games have been really messy,” Kraai said. “I feel this is the only game I played well.” Convinced that Benjamin had a plan against his usual 1. c4, Kraai looked for inspiration elsewhere. His providence, he explained, was part zoological and part supernatural. Kraai said that Panda “infected me” and convinced him to play 1. e4, then attack. “He has some sort of hormonal imbalance,” Kraai said. “They sometimes let him out of the zoo and you’ll see him around here. I like to channel him during my games.” The elephant in the room, or in this case the Panda, was none other than GM Josh Friedel, Kraai’s old roommate who is at the championship.

Benjamin was good-humored about the game, thought he admitted the loss “pretty much ends my tournament.” Still, IM Greg Shahade, co-creator of the new format, said that he expects 4.5/7 to possibly qualify for the tiebreaker into the quad final. Benjamin, at 1.5/4, would need three wins in three games to get to the mark.

The final five games were all draws, though IM Irina Krush missed a win for the second game in a row. Coming off a disappointing 113-move loss in round three, she entered a rook-and-bishop versus rook endgame against GM Ray Robson. She missed the zwischenzug 66…Ra7 67. Ke1 Rf7, winning immediately. She has now played 12 hours and 206 chess moves in the last two rounds.

US ch Robson-Shankland

GM Roy Robson and IM Samuel Shankland paired for round five

After her loss yesterday, Krush said she received lots of thoughtful emails from chess friends. She said she wanted to fight hard today to validate her support group. After the game Krush reminisced about her missed chances and how a few different moves could have allowed her to win all four games. “I still love chess,” she said without any hint of insincerity.

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.

Editor’s note:

Games are relayed live with computer analysis on the Chessdom / Chessbomb platform

Round two report by FM Mike Klein

Round three report by FM Mike Klein

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