Top boards draw at 2010 U.S. Championship

Round 8 report by FM Mike Klein

Saint Louis, May 22, 2010 – The top four players at the 2010 U.S. Championship have been battling for eight games, and for all practical purposes, they are right back where they started. After drawing amongst themselves today, the quad finals move on to round nine with the quartet all tied with 5.5/8. All are due one turn as White and one as Black in the final two games.

The top two seeds, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Gata Kamsky, met for the second round in the tournament, though with colors reversed this time. Nakamura had a promising initiative, but then Kamsky turned the tables on the attacking player by offering several pawns to gather a piece storm near Nakamura’s king.

The first surprise from Kamsky came when he played 16…Bf8. “It’s a quad, everyone’s trying to win a game, and in that sense, Bf8 was a good try,” Nakamura said.

“Bf8 makes a lot of sense,” Kamsky agreed. “I get my structure ruined but I didn’t see any way for White to exploit it.”

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Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky, all photos courtesy of Betsy Dynako

The commentary room focused on the possible variation 18…Nexc5. The players analyzed 19. Nxc8 Nxb3 20. axb3 Raxc8 21. Bd3 Nc5 22. Bxf5 Rcd8 23. Rd4 Nxb3 24. Rg4+ Kh8, which Kamsky evaluated as slightly better for Black.

Later, Nakamura’s White queen went gallivanting in search of queenside pawns. Kamsky took the opportunity to amass all of his pieces menacingly near Nakamura’s castle king. As commentator GM Maurice Ashley has been fond of saying all tournament: “When one queen is away then the other one plays.”

“I think I just miscalculated the resulting variations,” Nakamura said. “I missed how strong the Re6, Rg6, Ng5 idea is.”

In round six, Nakamura and Kamsky also played to a draw, with Kamsky playing White. All of their lifetime encounters have ended in draws.

Both players praised the format, which saw them qualify for an all-play-all final three rounds. The other two players making the cut prior to round eight were GM Alex Onischuk and GM Yury Shulman, the third and fourth seeds, who met for the second round in a row.

Unlike round seven when both players were playing it safe to qualify for the quad, Onischuk had White and more of a reason to create complications. Still, after a benign opening, no initiative was created for either side. Shulman said he felt very little stress during the rematch. “I felt that Alex didn’t get what he wanted out of the opening,” Shulman said.

With two rounds to go, even a single win might be enough to take the title. In round nine, Nakamura has White against Shulman, who both play the same color for the second game in a row. Kamsky has White against Onischuk. The choice of who gets White twice in the round-robin was based on the number of Whites in the Swiss.

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Benjamin Finegold and Robert Hess

Players who did not qualify for the quad had this round and one more to try to take the fifth-place prize. Board three featured the two favorites in the Challenger Swiss – GM Alex Stripunsky and GM Larry Christiansen were the only players with 4.5/7 going in to the round.

Stripunsky’s Sicilian Alapin netted him little more than a weak king, but Christiansen erred during the attack. The clever 28…Rg4 was visually impressive but ultimately threw away Black’s advantage. Christiansen said he forgot that his opponent did not have to take the rook immediately. Once Stripunsky did, White held all the trumps.

“What was I, like plus two?” Christiansen said, referring to how a computer program would evaluate his position. “Then I had to go and get fancy with Rg4 – forcing him to win! (It is) sickening.”

Stripunsky, who has seven decisive games in eight rounds (five wins, two losses), will only need a draw in round nine to earn at least a tie for the win in the Swiss.

The consolation tournament also dealt a blow to IM Irina Krush’s chances for a grandmaster norm. Her connected pass pawns were not enough to counter her severe space deficiencies against GM Alex Shabalov. Krush will need to win her last round against GM Jesse Kraai to qualify for a second norm.

The other winners of the round included GM Ray Robson and GM Joel Benjamin. Robson is trying to get his rating high enough to qualify for the 2010 U.S. Olympiad Team. According to IM Greg Shahade, this is the final tournament that will count toward the rating-based selections.

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Ray Robson and Melikset Khachiyan analysing

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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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

Round four report by FM Mike Klein

Round five report by FM Mike Klein

Round six report by FM Mike Klein

Round seven report by FM Mike Klein

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