Throwback Thursday: The Saint Louis Chess Club hosts its first US Championship

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/20/2020 – What has already become a landmark in the world of chess, the Saint Louis Chess Club, opened in July 2008 and hosted the US Championship for the first time in 2009. A 21-year-old Hikaru Nakamura won his second national title that year, scoring 7 points in the 9-round Swiss. Robert Hess, then 17 years old and not yet a grandmaster, and Alexander Onischuk shared second place a half point behind. | Photos: Betsy Dynako

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The first of many

Anyone who has followed the world of elite chess during the last decade or so knows about the Saint Louis Chess Club. First known as the Saint Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center, it opened its doors to the public on July 2008. Since then, the club founded by retired investment fund manager Rex Sinquefield has hosted every single edition of the US Championship (open and women’s), the Junior US Championships since 2010, the Sinquefield Cup, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, and the Cairns Cup, a tournament for the top female players from around the world championed by co-founder Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield.

The first of many, the 2009 edition of the US Championship, was a 9-round Swiss with 24 invited players and a $35,000 prize for first place. The official website rightfully published the following statement:

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.

Saint Louis Chess Club

Gata Kamsky arrived as top seed, with a 21-year-old Hikaru Nakamura the second highest-rated player and a trio of experienced grandmasters completing the top 5 — Alexander Onischuk, Yury Shulman and Larry Christiansen.

Rex Sinquefield, Francis Slay, Gata Kamsky, Yury Shulman

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

Below we reproduce fragments from the reports sent by the official website and published on our news portal.

Rounds 1-4: Five players share the lead

After four rounds of play top seed Gata Kamsky is in the lead, with 3/4 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).

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.

Ray Robson, Boris Gulko

A 14-year-old Ray Robson facing Boris Gulko, the only player to win both the Soviet Chess Championship and the US Chess Championship

Irina Krush

Top US female player Irina Krush playing Melikset Khachiyan in round four

Rounds 5-7: Three top seeds plus rising star lead

After seven of nine rounds we have three top seeds in the lead, with a cheeky 17-year-old rising star sitting there at the top of the table with them. Number one seed Gata Kamsky, number two Hikaru Nakamura and number three Alexander Onsichuk have 5/7 points apiece. But so does Robert Hess, who is playing almost three hundred points better than his nominal 2485 rating.

Defending champion Yury Shulman and Varuzhan Akobian shared the lead after the sixth round, but fell into second place after losing to Onischuk and Nakamura, respectively.

Gata Kamsky, Joshua Friedel

Gata Kamsky takes a keen interest in the game Josh Friedel vs Robert Hess

Yury Shulman, Alexander Onischuk

Yury Shulman in the game he lost to Alexander Onischuk with the white pieces

Rounds 8-9: Nakamura is the champion

Hikaru Nakamura, 21, won the 2009 US Chess Championship, after winning in the ninth and final round of the event. Second-seeded Nakamura, who also won the title in 2004, when he was just 16, took the venerable 164-year-old title and the first prize of $40,000 ($35,000, plus a $5,000 outright winner’s bonus) after beating Josh Friedel of New Hampshire. Nakamura finished with seven points over nine games, and never lost a game.

Hikaru Nakamura, Josh Friedel

The game that gave Hikaru Nakamura his second national title

He was assured the title after 17-year-old Robert Hess of New York, managed only a draw in his last round game with Varuzhan Akobian. Hess and Nakamura entered the final round tied with six points. Hess tied for second with Alexander Onischuk, who defeated the youngest player in the tournament, Ray Robson, 14, of Largo, Fla.

Akobian and Gata Kamsky, who was the number one seed coming into the tournament, tied for fourth. Here are the official final results of the 2009 US Championship:

No. Player (title, seeding) St. Rtng Pts  TB1 TB2 Prize
1. GM Nakamura, Hikaru (2) NY 2757 7.0  39.5 48.0 $40,000.00
2. IM Hess, Robert (17) NY 2545 6.5  40.5 47.5 $12,500.00
3. GM Onischuk, Alexander (3) VA 2736 6.5  38.5 45.5 $12,500.00
4. GM Kamsky, Gata (1) NY 2798 6.0  41.0 50.0 $ 7,500.00
5. GM Akobian, Varuzhan (7) CA 2664 6.0  38.0 46.0 $ 7,500.00
6. GM Shulman, Yury (4) IL 2697 5.0  41.0 48.0 $ 4,650.00
7. GM Friedel, Joshua (15) NH 2568 5.0  40.0 48.0 $ 4,650.00
8. GM Ibragimov, Ildar (13) CT 2628 5.0  32.0 39.0 $ 4,650.00
9. GM Christiansen, Larry (5) MA 2681 5.0  32.0 38.5 $ 4,650.00
10. GM Ehlvest, Jaan (10) NY 2649 4.5  25.0 46.0 $ 2,833.33
11. IM Robson, Ray (18) FL 2542 4.5  22.5 43.0 $ 2,833.33
12. GM Kaidanov, Gregory (8) KY 2662 4.5  21.5 34.5 $ 2,833.33
13. GM Benjamin, Joel (9) NJ 2650 4.5  21.0 39.0 $ 2,833.33
14. GM Shabalov, Alexander (14) PA 2620 4.5  20.5 37.0 $ 2,833.33
15. GM Gulko, Boris (12) NJ 2631 4.5  19.5 33.0 $ 2,833.33
16. IM Brooks, Michael (22) MO 2419 4.0  31.0 43.0 $ 2,375.00
17. Hughes, Tyler (24) CO 2293 4.0  25.5 37.0 $ 2,375.00
18. IM Sevillano, Enrico (16) CA 2549 4.0  25.5 35.5 $ 2,375.00
19. GM Becerra, Julio (6) FL 2672 4.0  24.5 37.0 $ 2,375.00
20. IM Krush, Irina (20) NY 2496 3.5  25.5 35.0 $ 2,000.00
21. IM Shankland, Samuel (21) CA 2464 3.0  24.5 36.0 $ 2,000.00
22. GM Khachiyan, Melikset (11) CA 2632 3.0  24.5 36.0 $ 2,000.00
23. FM Eckert, Doug D (25) IL 2278 2.0  12.5 22.0 $ 2,000.00
24. Lawton, Charles (23) MO 2350 1.0  25.0 34.0 $ 2,000.00
25. IM Zatonskih, Anna (19) NY 2503 0.5  0.0 11.0 $ 2,000.00

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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