U.S. Chess Championship – Round Five

Moving day in St. Louis – Kamsky and Onischuk driving the U-Haul, report by FM Mike Klein

St. Louis, May 19, 2010 – With a field of seven players jumbled at the top of the tables, only two players managed to continue their winning ways at round five of the 2010 U.S. Championship, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. GM Gata Kamsky and GM Alexander Onischuk, the second and third seeds, both won as White and are all alone at 4/5.

Kamsky had one of the shorter games of the day as he dispatched three-time champion GM Larry Christiansen on the White side of an offbeat Ruy Lopez. Building a huge center with the one-two punch 10. d4 and 11. f4., he preceded the advances with a queen sortie that he called a “gorgeous idea.” Together, the moves gave Kamsky the initiative. Kamsky’s goal was to turn the tables on Christiansen. “I had to do something,” Kamsky said. “My experience with Larry is that he’s a very aggressive player.”

The crunching shot 26. g4 opening the b1-h7 diagonal and Kamsky’s pieces flooded the Black kingside. Though Kamsky argued that instead of “attacking” that this game should be called “positionally-based, with aggressive intentions,” Christiansen’s position collapsed faster than Mt. St. Helens.

Joining Kamsky at the top was Onischuk, who extended his U.S. Championship unbeaten streak to a record 46 games by narrowly winning against GM Varuzhan Akobian. “[Akobian] started making mistakes at the very end,” Onischuk said. In the post-mortem, Onischuk praised his opponent’s 27…Qe5, controlling the long diagonal. “His position is fine because it’s really dangerous for me to take on a6,” Onischuk said. But after the mistake …a5 on the very next move, Onischuk’s queen took up a dominating post. The final chance for Akobian to save the game may have been 31…e3, as 32. fxe3 Qxe3+ 33. Qxe3 Nxe3 34. Kf2 Nxf1 35. Kxf1 is drawn according to Onischuk.

Gata Kamsky square 6

Gata Kamsky

Onischuk explained his success simply. “I know how to prepare for important tournaments,” he said. He suggested that his studying has equipped him with several opening surprises, but so far his opponents have done all the steering into uncharted waters. “Of course I’m not going to play Nc3 and f4 – I would say crazy lines,” he said, referring to GM Hikaru Nakamura’s preparation against him in round four.

No other player could keep pace with a win, but not for a lack of trying. GM Yury Shulman and top-seeded GM Nakamura battled to a chaotic draw on board one. At one point, Nakamura promoted to a second queen and Shulman refused to take it, instead pursuing his own initiative.

“I didn’t think his advantage was serious, until I blundered severely with Qc5,” Nakamura said, explaining he simply missed the Shulman’s knight centralization. Playing quickly, Nakamura blitzed out another opening surprise, the Blumenfeld Gambit. But Shulman coolly accepted the pawn and after a long forcing sequence, acquired a small army in return for Nakamura’s extra queen. Shulman said he could not recall any game he had played like this one, but he was reminded of Kasparov-Lautier, Linares, 1994, when the Frenchman also promoted a second queen on b1 (but used it to beat the World Champion). After all three queens came off, the game was agreed drawn on the 54th move.

“You can’t win every game with Black,” Nakamura said. He will now leave board one for the first time in the event.

GM Jesse Kraai, one of the lower seeds, won his third game in a row to vault into a tie for third. Sensing that GM Jaan Ehlvest would push for a win with White, Kraai bided his time and then released his pieces. “Ehlvest feels obliged to beat me, and that gives me chances that I wouldn’t get if I was 2600,” Kraai explained. After getting his pawn to e5 and knight to f4, Kraai liked his position. Asked about his newfound possibility of making the quad final after round seven, Kraai downplayed the line of thinking, quoting some advice he received from GM Victor Mikhalevski. “Sometimes it’s better not to dream,” he said.

Neither GM Alex Stripunsky or GM Alex Yermolinsky managed to get to four points. They agreed to a draw on board four in a complicated position. Stripunsky had won three in a row prior to round five, but both players still control their own fate to qualify for the finals.

Rebounding from two consecutive missed opportunities, IM Irina Krush pounced on the luckless GM Robert Hess, who lost for the second straight day. Krush said she was embarrassed by the win, as she made some imprecise moves in building for her g-file attack. After making a random pawn move in the midst of the attack, she said, “That’s how I confuse my opponents – with moves that don’t make sense. I realized my strategy of playing well wasn’t working.” After seeing two winning positions only earn ½ point in round three and four, she said, “There is a lot of justice in chess.” Her performance rating is back over 2600, and though the topic is taboo in the press room, everyone is aware that she is on pace for her second grandmaster norm.

GM Joel Benjamin won his second game of the event with a series of sacrifices on GM Aleksandr Lenderman’s king. He eventually opened up a discovered attack on Lenderman’s queen to earn the full point.

GM Alex Shabalov ended a streak of losses, winning as Black in a long Sicilian game over GM Melikset Khachiyan. GM Gregory Kaidanov and GM Ben Finegold got their first wins of the championship. For the third time in five rounds, eight of the twelve games were once again decisive.

The crowds swelled for Tuesday’s games, and at one point the commentary room was full of spectators. Only two rounds remain before the quad qualification.

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.

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Round two report by FM Mike Klein

Round three report by FM Mike Klein

Round four report by FM Mike Klein

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