Applying Morphy's law in Seattle

1/15/2003 – Was a time chess players became US Champions by "popular acclaim" – they were hailed as such by virtue of their playing strength in matches and tournaments of that particular era. Today they have to fight it out against top GMs, in nine rounds and with 58 players. At least the have a world record prize fund for a national title: $253,000. Read about it in John Henderson's round five report.

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Morphy's Law

As in many countries the championship title gradually evolved through time. Whilst many in the world would immediately identify with legends of the game such as the great Paul Morphy or perhaps George Mackenzie (a Scottish mercenary who became a Captain fighting for the North during the Civil War), they, along with little known first champion Charles Stanley, only became US Champions by "popular acclaim" – hailed as such by virtue of their playing strength in matches and tournaments of that particular era.


Paul Morphy playing in New York in 1857

In the days before such official titles were organised to be fought over, they rightly were acclaimed champions one and all in the record books: Stanley 1845-57; Morphy 1857-71, and MacKenzie 1871-90. For the purisits however, the first official champion was actually the 'Kentucky Lion' Jackson Showalter (who also has another claim to fame as being reputedly accredited with the invention of the curve ball in baseball) who won the title in 1890. For nearly half a century thereafter, the US title was decided by a match between the two top players in the country – another legend Frank Marshall being the last incumbent to reign in such a way, who held the title from 1905 through to 1936.

This all changed in 1936 when the national title became an invitational affair between the top players in the country – dominated in the process (and in order) by three players: Sammy Reshevsky, who won the first of his six titles in 1936 (his last in 1969!); Bobby Fischer, who broke all the records for the championship; and the redoubtable Walter Browne, a competitor in this year's championship, with six titles to his name.


Stripunsky vs Walter Browne, with Boris Gulko looking on

The new-styled Open format of the championship created by the America's Foundation for Chess has breathed new life – and money – into an ailing tournament; one which unbelievably was all but cancelled by the USCF until the intervention at the eleventh hour of the then Seattle Chess Foundation in 2000.

This new format created by the AF4C has added an extra dynamism and prestige to the championship as the elite field of the US's finest battle it out for a world record prize fund for a national title of $253,000, with $25,000 slotted to the winner. And, as the competition hots up for this year's title, the race is well and truly open as the championship reaches its metaphoric midway point of the rest day.


Alexander Shabalov vs Gregory Kaidanov

A tough top-board encounter between the leaders Gregory Kaidanov, looking for his first title, and former champion Alexander Shabalov ended after a 31-move draw. This left the door open for a number of former champions to play 'catch-up' with some decisive play. First to join the chasing pack was local hero and four-time title winner Yasser Seirawan, who wasted no time in dispatching Yury Lapshun as the 'Greek Gift' of Bxh7+ won the day with a brisk 24 move win. Next up was two-time winner Joel Benjamin, whose timely exchange on c3 against Eugene Perelshteyn led to a positionally won game.


Eugene Perelshteyn vs Joel Benjamin


Alex Yermolinsky

Another two-time winner Alex "The Yerminator" Yermolinsky gradually ground down tournament veteran Anatoly Lein (a sprightly 71) in a long ending.

Draws between former champion (both US and USSR) Boris Gulko and 2002 Samford Fellowship recipient Varuzhan Akobian, and defending champion Larry Christiansen and US Junior champion Hikaru Nakamura, kept not only two top juniors in the hunt for a dream first title and their final GM norms, but also another two seasoned champions. In a round with many spectacular games, that will no doubt feature in the list of best game prizes, check out, apart from Seirawan-Lapshun and Perelshteyn-Benjamin, Stripunsky's win over six-time champion Walter Browne with a beautiful combination, and Serper's stunning 24 Rh8+!! over Ippolito – all likely candidates for the Paul Albert Jnr. $1,000 Brilliancy Prize.

It's Murphy's law I suppose (the principle that if anything can go wrong, it will), but with no clear runaway leader the logjam now at the top, especially with the addition of more ex champions and a couple of hungry young wannabes to the chasing pack, means that this year the title could yet again be decided by a nerve-wracking playoff, which will be slotted in for Sunday the 19th if needed.

Results: 1 GM Alexander Shabalov draw GM Gregory Kaidanov; 2 IM Varuzhan Akobian draw GM Boris Gulko; 3 IM Hikaru Nakamura draw GM Larry Christiansen; 4 IM Eugene Perelshteyn 0-1 GM Joel Benjamin; 5 GM Yasser Seirawan 1-0 IM Yury Lapshun; 6 WGM Elena Donaldson draw WIM Jennifer Shahade; 7 GM Alex Fishbein 1-0 GM Nick De Firmian; 8 GM Alexander Stripunsky 1-0 GM Walter Browne; 9 GM Alex Yermolinsky 1-0 GM Anatoly Lein 1-0; 10 IM William Paschall draw IM Ben Finegold; 11 IM Jesse Kraai 1-0 WGM Irina Krush; IM Justin Sarkar draw GM Alexander Ivanov; 13 GM Gennadi Zaitshik draw GM Dmitry Gurevich; 14 FM Igor Foygel draw IM Boris Kreiman; 15 WGM Kamile Baginskaite draw IM Greg Shahade; 16 FM Stephen Muhammad 1-0 GM Sergey Kudrin; 17 FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat draw GM Alexander Goldin; 18 GM Gregory Serper 1-0 IM Dean Ippolito; 19 WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg 1-0 WIM Elina Groberman; 20 IM Ron Burnett 0-1 GM Maurice Ashley; 21 IM Larry Kaufman 0-1 IM Michael Mulyar; 22 David Pruess 0-1 FM Aaron Pixton; 23 IM John Donaldson draw IM John Watson; 24 FM Allan Bennett draw WIM Esther Epstein; 25 IM Stanislav Kriventsov draw GM John Fedorowicz; 26 WIM Olga Sagalchik 0-1 WIM Anna Hahn; 27 Julia Shiber 0-1 FM Gregory Markzon; 28 WFM Laura Ross 1-0 Marc Esserman; 29 WIM Cindy Tsai draw Anna Levina.

Standings

1
1 Kaidanov, Shabalov
4
3
Gulko, Seirawan, Benjamin, Stripunsky, Christiansen, Yermolinsky, Akobian, Nakamura, Fishbein, Muhammad
13
Finegold, Ivanov, Serper, Zaitshik, Kreiman, Gurevich, Foygel, Perelshteyn, Mulyar, Kraai, Paschall, Burnett, Sarkar
3
26
Goldin, De Firmian, Fedorowicz, Lapshun, Browne, G. Shahade, Enkhbat, Pixton, Kriventsov, Lein, Baginskaite *, Watson
38
Kudrin, Ashley, J. Donaldson, Ippolito, Kaufman, E. Donaldson*, Krush*, J. Shahade*, Battsetseg*, Hahn *
2
48
Pruess, Markzon, Bennett, Epstein*, Ross *
53
Tsai*, Sagalchik*, Levina*, Groberman*, Shiber *
1
58

Esserman

½

* - female player

You can follow all 29 games live over the Internet at www.af4c.org.


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