US Championship starts in Saint Louis today

5/14/2010 – The 2010 US Chess Championship is taking place from May 13 (round one at 2:00 p.m. local time) to May 25 (possible tie breakers) at the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which is hosting the event for the second year in a row. The prize fund has risen to $170,000 – more than a 25 percent increase from last year. The winner will take home $35,000. Live coverage on Playchess.

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There are 24 participants in the 2010 US Chess Championship, whom we would normally list in a tidy little table at this point. However, one of the main promoters of the event, Jennifer Shahade, sent us a creative alternative:

Now isn't that much more fun than our normal table? We also received the following writeup by FM Mike Klein, together with pictures by Betsy Dynako, one of our favourite photographers.

The 2010 US Championship

In its infancy and for many years onward, the U.S. Championship preferred fewer competitors. In recent years, the trend has been to include a larger field, but inclusiveness led to imbalanced competition, especially in the final rounds. This year’s incarnation strikes a balance – of the two dozen players, all but three are grandmasters.

The biggest innovation for the 2010 event will be the format of competition. For the first seven rounds, players will compete against each other in the Swiss format, which is typical for chess tournaments and matches opponents each round by number of points. After seven games, chess will borrow from golf and produce a sort of “cut line” with the top four players entering an all-play-all three-round finish. Scores from the Swiss portion will carry over, but unlike golf, the non-qualifying players will play two more rounds to vie for fifth place. The newer format helps ensure that the championship will culminate with tense, exciting games.


GM Hikaru Nakamura has made Saint Louis his new home. So the highest rated player, also playing on his homecourt, is incontestably the favorite – and the one everyone is gunning for.

Chess fans will get answers to many questions about the players, including whether or not 2009 champion and America’s highest-rated player Grandmaster (GM) Hikaru Nakamura can be the first to successfully defend his title since Lev Alburt went back-to-back in 1984-1985. Nakamura is actually two-for-two in St. Louis, having won the St. Louis Open last month. Still in his early 20s, many chess fans would not be surprised to find him stringing together many titles like a young Bobby Fischer did in the 1960s. He finds the confines so friendly that he has agreed to move to St. Louis after many years playing out of Seattle and Vancouver. With a rating of 2778, adding the home-field advantage makes him the easy betting favorite.


Ben Finegold won his grandmaster title at the ripe age of 40! He is known for his quiet but lethal opening strategies, his sense of humor, and his love of Lady Gaga.

Nakamura will join fellow GM Ben Finegold as a St. Louis resident. Finegold became the Grandmaster-in-Residence at the club in January. The state of Missouri, which famously touches eight other states, formerly had no GMs within its borders. It is possible that the renaissance may continue as more top-level players enjoy the club’s posh pleasures like custom tables and LCD televisions.


Gata Kamsky hopes to win his second US Championship ever,
the first being almost two decades ago – in 1991!

A lesser but still formidable favorite will be GM Gata Kamsky, who was just recently passed by Nakamura in rating. Way back in 1991, Kamsky won the championship in his college years and has twice been within reach of the World Championship. After a long break, his return to chess in 2004 is no longer in its infancy and chess fans will eagerly await a possible pairing with Nakamura. The duo has not played each other much, but they did produce an exciting 35-move draw at the 2009 U.S. Championship.

A healthy crop of young players will try to add their names to the roll of U.S. Champions. Last year Robert Hess was in the mix until the end. Though not even a GM at the time, boyish-faced Hess finished tied for second and he will try to prove his last performance was not a fluke.


The prince of American opens, 21-year-old Aleksandr
Lenderman is one to watch at the 2010 Championship.

Chess fans in the know may select GM Alex Lenderman as this year’s dark horse. He will be ranked ninth, he just received his GM title, and he has been tearing up the domestic chess scene. If he wins, he will surely do his hugely popular signature chess dance, which is equal parts calisthenics, techno club and church revival.


The sweet-faced 15-year-old from Florida earned his GM title last Fall

Another teenager looking to make his mark will be newly-minted GM Ray Robson. At 15, Robson is the youngest player in the field. He qualified by winning the U.S. Junior Championship and recently joined the national squad for the first time and helped the U.S. win bronze in the last World Team Championship. The U.S. Championship typically awards the winner a spot in the corresponding Chess Olympiad, next to be held in Siberia later this year. An upset win by Robson would get him on the team again, and many others will use this chance to make the team.


GMs Greg Kaidanov, Yury Shulman and Alex Onischuk

This carrot was not overlooked in 2008 by GM Yury Shulman, who gained an automatic spot on the Olympiad team with his win. He called it the most important part of his victory. He said he does not think the new tournament format will help the players, “but I hope the spectators will enjoy it, because it seems to be done for them.” He said he appreciated the organizers trying to experiment to improve the tournament.

After his victory, the title of best player not to win a U.S. Championship now falls on the shoulders of GM Varuzhan Akobian, who is seeded sixth. Akobian, already a fixture on the national team, will look to rebound from a few up-and-down international results.


GMs Ben Feingold, Dmitry Gurevich, Josh Friedel and Hikaru Nakamura

Chess veterans should not be counted out however. GMs Gregory Kaidanov, Sergey Kudrin, Jaan Ehlvest and Dmitry Gurevich will try to take advantage of their fading window to win their first championship. Others will try to add to their collection, including the creative four-time champion GM Alexander Shabalov, who has the most titles of any player at the 2010 Championship. Looking to join him in that elite club will be three-timers GM Joel Benjamin, GM Larry Christiansen and GM Alex Yermolinsky. For Christiansen, who qualified based on winning the U.S. Senior Championship, a win would mark the 30th anniversary of his first title, won in 1980 in Greenville, PA. Benjamin will be playing in his record 22nd-consecutive championship, a span which now enters its fourth different decade.


IM Irina Krush, the only female player in the championship

Rounding out the field will be some players looking to become grandmasters. International Masters Levon Altounian, Sam Shankland and Irina Krush have the dual incentive of tournament winnings and the GM title to play for. Shankland is also in the under-20 group of players, and with two grandmaster “norms” earned, he needs only one more, which he can get in St. Louis. If he becomes a GM, he will be the first to achieve the title at a U.S. Championship since Josh Friedel in 2008.


Irina stretches out her body and mind before a game

Krush has made St. Louis a second home recently, playing in the 2009 U.S. Championship, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Championship and the 2010 St. Louis Open, all held at the club. Though she is the final seed in the tournament, she said she is used to it from playing in many mostly male events before. “You don’t get much of a respite if things don’t go well,” she said of this type of field. Last year she played eight GMs in a row, though that will be the norm for most players in 2010. Like many players who have been to the club before, Krush speaks highly of the Central West End setting and can give a list of favorite places to dine and shop. “Irina’s ‘Guide to Saint Louis’ will be selling for $5.95,” she said. “You can find it on amazon.com.”


Our photographer Betsy Dynako

Photography has been a passion of Betsy's from a very early age, and she began to hone her skills as the photo editor for Millikin University's student newspaper, during her undergraduate studies there. Her specialty work included photographing sports and musical drama events.

Betsy is regarded as one of the premiere chess photographers in the United States, always providing top-notch coverage of events from Supernationals to the US Chess Championship. In 2004, Betsy's work appeared in a group showing titled, "Endo Expressions," at the ARC Gallery in Chicago. "I consider photography my art," says Betsy. "I am also a classically trained singer but photography is my profession by choice. As a singer I know I did a good job when I move someone to tears. As a photographer, I would like to have the same effect someday. In general, I am blessed to do what I love." Betsy has also begun sharing the stories behind many of the photos she has taken:


Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and with the kind cooperation of the organisers on Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download the free PGN reader ChessBase Light, which gives you immediate access. You can also use the program to read, replay and analyse PGN games. New and enhanced: CB Light 2009!


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