Five players lead in US Championship

by ChessBase
5/12/2009 – The 2009 U. S. Chess Championship is being held, this year for the first time, in the beautiful new St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. In round two the youngest player in the tournament, Ray Robson, 14, was victorious over the oldest player, GM Boris Gulko. Top seed Gata Kamsky leads, together with four GM colleagues. Big illustrated report after round four.

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2009 US Chess Championship

Two dozen contestants vie for $130,000 in prizes at new venue

The 2009 U. S. Chess Championship is being held, this year for the first time, in St. Louis, Missouri, at the brand new St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. The Chess Center is fully contained in a completely renovated three-story town house in the central West End, an area similar to New York’s Tribeca, the streets lined with trees, small shops and sidewalk cafes.

The Chess Club itself has several stone chess tables on the sidewalk in front where passers-by or club members can play outdoors. The interior comprises a street level entry with reception, library, sales of logo shirts and memorabilia, chess tables and the director’s office. Basement floor has been devoted to press corps and a large room for analysis presentation by GM Emil Sutovsky and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

Most importantly the top floor contains the playing area and a VIP reception room which is also the players’ analysis and relaxation room after completion of their games. The entire interior of the building has been tastefully, artfully and professionally decorated in a black and white motif with warm green accents. There are custom chairs with the Chess Center emblem throughout as well as embossed cushions. The chess tables were commissioned to be handmade by a young man who, at 18, last year won the state woodworking completion.

Two spacious kitchenettes are the base for supplying players and press with drinks and food throughout the afternoon and evening. Of course, the building is wireless. The luxury host hotel, the Chase Park Plaza, is a short 1½ block walk, faces a large park, contains a full-sized gym, movie theatre, and the customary restaurants and bars.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis was founded by retired investment fund manager Rex Sinquefield, opened in July 2008. It is located at 4657 Maryland Avenue, just east of the intersection of Euclid and Maryland.

Rex Sinquefield, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, GMs Gata Kamsky, Yury Shulman

The chess patron and the Mayor at the start of the US Championship 2009

The Center is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization. Membership dues will be $80 per year for adults, $30 for students or young people under 21 and $120 for families. Monthly and daily memberships also are available. The Center is open Tuesday through Sunday.

The Championship

The US Championship dates back to 1845 and this year offers a purse of more than $130,000 in prize money. The 24 invited players include:

  • the top twelve American players by rating
  • the top two female players by rating
  • the 2008 U.S. Junior Closed Champion
  • the 2008 U.S. Open Champion
  • the 2009 U.S. State Champion of Champions
  • a total of seven wild card spots

The winner of the Championship receives $35,000, with additional cash prizes awarded to all participants, including $2,000 to the last-place entrant. Cash prizes are divided equally among tied competitors. Additionally, top youths from throughout America will be invited to compete. Spectators will be welcome at the event.

The Championship is a nine-round Swiss, with one round per day and a rest day between rounds five and six. Time controls are the classical 40 moves in two hours, with one hour allowed for all remaining moves. Every comfort has been considered and no cost has been denied nor improvement delayed with the goal of making this one of the best, if not the best of all, US Championship events.

Players, organisers and arbiters at the US Championship 2009

Both the first and second days of the U.S. Chess Championship saw big upsets, with teenagers making the biggest buzz. While it's hardly a surprise that No. 1 ranked Gata Kamsky of Brooklyn, N.Y., is undefeated after round two, it's shocking that one of the two other undefeated players is Robert Hess, a 17-year-old from New York.

Hess (pictured above) came into the tournament ranked 37th in the United States. He has defeated grandmasters in both rounds: sixth-ranked Larry Christiansen, of Cambridge, Mass., on Friday, and seventh-ranked Julio Becerra of Miami, Fla., on Saturday.

It is unfortunate that IM Anna Zatonskih, 2008’s Women’s Champion (shown above in her round one game against Varuzhan Akobian), suddenly became ill after round two and has been hospitalized. Unfortunately this meant she was unable to play her round three game and would have had to automatically forfeit the loss to her opponent without a move being played. But, in a true act of sportsmanship, GM Gregory Kaidanov of Lexington, Ky., who could easily have claimed the win by default, magnanimously offered to postpone their match-up until the official rest day on Friday, when they will both play catch-up on the day the rest of the field are on a break.

Unfortunately unable to complete the Championship: IM Anna Zatonskih

In the meantime it has become clear that Zatonskih's medical problems, which are not life threatening, will prevent her from reentering the tournament. Her third-round match with Kaidanov was declared a forfeit, and Kaidanov was awarded one point for a victory. Zatonskih will be replaced in the championship by Doug Eckert, a Saint Louis native now living in central Illinois. Eckert was attending the championship as an alternate.

Other Round Two winners included Missourian Michael Brooks (picture above). The 91st-ranked Brooks, from Kansas City, beat 15th-ranked Alexander Shabalov, a grandmaster from Glendale, Calif.

Alexander Shabalov at the start of his ill-fated game against Michael Brooks

The youngest player in the tournament, Ray Robson, 14, of Largo, Fla., was victorious over the oldest player, 12th-ranked Boris Gulko, of Fairlawn, N.J.

The big clash of the contenders and rivals in round three was the early top board pairing of the defending champion, Yury Shulman from Illinois, and the #1 seed and favorite for the title, Gata Kamsky from Brooklyn. The top two are on full points and leading the chase for bonus $64,000 Fischer Memorial Prize for any player with a perfect sweep of 9-0. The prize is in recognition of the phenomenal feat of the late American world champion Bobby Fischer, who won 11-0 to take the 1963/64 title – the only player in the long and distinguished history of the U.S. Championship to win with a sweep.

Serious scanner checks before each round – cheerfully endured by GM Melikset Khachiyan

IM Irina Krush defeated veteran GM Boris Gulko in 54 moves in round three

The atmosphere is becoming tense at the top in the 2009 U.S. Chess Championship. Five of the country's leading grandmasters share first place at the conclusion of round four. The top pairings between overnight leaders, #1 seed Gata Kamsky vs. Josh Friedel, and defending champion Yury Shulman vs. #2 seed Hikaru Nakamura, ended in epic draws. The top two seeds held the advantage throughout, as they tried to press for the sole lead in the $135,000 tournament.

Media-savvy GM Varuzhan Akobian of North Hollywood

The impasse at the top allowed Varuzhan Akobian, who played the best game of the day, to join the leading pack of five at the top with three points in four games. Akobian, of North Hollywood, Calif., who is ranked No. 8 in the country, scored a resounding victory over seventh-ranked Julio Becerra, of Miami. Akobian, 25, is one of a newer generation of media-savvy chess grandmasters who is adding more personality to the game. Last year, he was the subject of the MTV Real Life documentary series, "I'm A Genius . . .."

Top US female players, IM Irina Krush, playing GM Melikset Khachiyan in round four

After the top five, another large pack is just a half-point behind. The list includes two teenagers, Robert Hess of New York and Sam Shankland of California. The youngest player in the 24-player field, 14-year-old Ray Robson from Largo, Fla., moved to within a point of the lead after he defeated 13th-ranked Ildar Ibraigimov of New Haven, Conn.

Josh Friedel, a native-born American grandmaster, shares first with four other GMs

After four rounds of play top seed Gata Kamsky is in the lead, with 3.0/4 points and a 2777 performance. With him at the top of the table are Yuri Schulman (performance = 2812), Hikaru Nakamura (2763), Josh Friedel, who beat Gregory Kaidanov and Joel Benjamin (with black), and drawn to Alexander Onischuk and Gata Kamsky, for a blistering 2836 performance, and Varuzhan Akobian (performance = 2754). Note that this is the order given in the official standings table, while ChessBase generates a slightly different standing due to its built-in tiebreak system.

Standings after four rounds of play


All information for this report was provided by the official web site, by special commentator Jennifer Shahade and by Arbiter Carol Jarecki. The pictures were provided by the official site, by Zeljka Malobabic of MonRoi, and by Betsy Dynako. We are very grateful to all parties for their help and commend the professionalism with which these Championships are being conducted.


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and a selection on the chess server 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 the PGN games.

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