Shulman, Kamsky to battle for 2010 U.S. Championship

Round 9 report by FM Mike Klein

Saint Louis, May 23, 2010 – Twenty-four players came to the 2010 U.S. Championship with a dream. After nine rounds, all but two players have woken up.

In the most dramatic and meaningful round so far, GM Yury Shulman upset defending champion GM Hikaru Nakamura on board one. On board two, GM Gata Kamsky dug out of a hole, and after his draw offer was refused, he delivered GM Alex Onischuk his first loss in nearly five years of U.S. Championship appearances.

Nakamura played quickly in the opening and sacrificed a center pawn to gain pressure on the kingside. He won a few pawns and pinned all his hopes on advancing his passed h-pawn. But Shulman’s pieces arrived too quickly, and the pawn never seriously threatened Shulman’s position.

“The first mistake was the opening choice,” Nakamura said. “I wasn’t 100 percent prepared.”

“In the opening I had to recall,” Shulman said. “I was having a hard time. Once I played h6 I realized I was back in my preparation. … [The move] h6 was quite a problem for Hikaru to solve.”

US ch Schulman

Yury Shulman, the 2008 U.S. champion, photo courtesy of Betsy Dynako

In the post-mortem, the players agreed that after 20…Rc8 21. Qd3 Qh7 22. Qh6 was an improvement, when White has a better chance of holding the balance. “It’s probably just a draw,” Nakamura said. “That was the best I have.”

Instead, after the queens remained and Nakamura played 22. f4, his king was too open to last much longer. Shulman’s rook got to the second rank, his queen to the king’s diagonal, and his knight was poised to jump to f5 and g3. “I forgot about these stupid ideas,” Nakamura said.

Shulman said that after his rook got to c2, he found the idea of sacrificing Rxg5 and the only thing that remained was getting the move order right.

The game only lasted 26 moves and ended well before board two, meaning Kamsky and Onishcuk knew the result while their game was still in progress. This may help explain why Onischuk turned down Kamsky’s draw offer after 41. Ne4, the first move after time control. If Onischuk had accepted, he would no longer control his own fate since he already played Shulman in the first game of the quad finals.

Kamsky claimed he was worse out of the opening but praised his defensive idea of Rd4 and f4. He said he still preferred Onischuk’s position after the offer was refused. But after the game became a rook-and-pawn endgame, Onischuk may have had better chances with 43…b4. He then ran low on time and slipped with 45…Kd5. “He played Kd5 really quickly, and I was really surprised,” Kamsky said.

Gata Kamsky square 6

Gata Kamsky

Onischuk’s string of unbeaten games at the U.S. Championship ends at 49, second-best all-time to Samuel Reshevsky’s record of 82 straight games.

Shulman said going into the round that the winner of the three-round quad would need some luck to win the tournament. His knowledge of the opening came from helping prepare Kamsky for his match against GM Veselin Topalov last year. Now, he takes White against Kamsky for the title. If tomorrow’s game does not produce a winner, the two will play again in a rapid tiebreaker on Tuesday morning. Besides the $35,000 first place, the winner also gets an automatic spot on the 2010 Olympiad Team.

Nakamura and Onischuk are mathematically eliminated from winning the tournament. The U.S. Championship will again not have a repeat champion. The last person to successfully defend his title was GM Lev Alburt in the 1980s.

In the final round of the Challenger’s Swiss, GM Alex Shabalov beat GM Alex Stripunsky in only 25 moves. He takes home the top prize of the Swiss, which is actually fifth-place money – $10,000.

IM Irina Krush tried but failed to earn a grandmaster norm. Needing a win today, she could only muster a draw against GM Jesse Kraai. She finishes with 4.5, an even score, and a performance rating above 2580.

The 2010 U.S. Chess Championship is open to the public and features 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 takes 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 8 report by FM Mike Klein

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