US Championship – Favorites lead, with wins all around

5/12/2012 – It is perhaps symptomatic of chess players more reared on swiss opens than round robins, but whatever the reason, even the presence of world top players such as Nakamura and Kamsky have not changed the fact that nearly all players have at least one win. Nothing is decided yet in this event with live video GM commentary, and beautiful online coverage. Rounds two and three.

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2012 U.S. Chess Championship and U.S. Women's Championship

These events began on Tuesday, May 8, and concludes on Saturday, May 19, with a possible playoff on May 20. The top twelve players in the country are taking part in an 11-game round robin for the title of U.S. Champion, with Gata Kamsky defending it and striving to win his third consecutive championship. In the women's championship the top ten female players take part in a nine-game round robin, with WGM and IM Anna Zatonskih defending her 2011 title. The total prize fund for the U.S. Championship is $160,000. If someone should score a perfect 11-0, the bonus “Fischer Prize” (so named because Bobby Fischer was the last to win every game) of $64,000 will be awarded. The women's purse is $64,000.

Round two

By FM Mike Klein

After two rounds of play at the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship, only one player out of 22 remains with an unblemished record. Defending champion IM Anna Zatonskih continued her unparallelled recent success at the event by beating WGM Camilla Baginskaite.

“I'm still experiencing jet lag,” Zatonskih said. She traveled from her home in Germany to attempt to defend her title. Although she is up a half point on her closest competition, Zatonskih pointed out that three of her toughest games will be in the final three rounds. “I have a very tough finish,” she said. “I have to save some energy.”

No other player in either tournament could string together a second win in a row. A large swath of men are all tied at 1.5/2 in the U.S. Championship.

Second-seeded IM Irina Krush could not keep pace, as she could only draw with FM Alisa Melekhina. Like their matchup at last year's championship, Melekhina diverged from her usual Sicilian Alapin to play the Moscow Variation. After losing a string of games at the outset last year, Melekhina has now opened this year with two draws to women she lost to last year, Krush and WIM Iryna Zenyuk. “I'm content. Last year I lost to both Irinas.”


Kamsky tried to rattle his young opponent by playing the incredible rare 2...b6 Sicilian

In the U.S. Championship, everyone now has a pocked record, leaving a collection of players leading with 1.5/2. Defending champion GM Gata Kamsky surprised everyone with the exceedingly rare 2...b6 in the Sicilian Defense. While he had played it before online, Kamsky decided only at the last minute to essay it over the board. “It's fun to play away from theory on the second move,” Kamsky said. His opponent, GM Ray Robson, was not aware of Kamsky's Internet repertoire, but was unfazed by the choice. He reasoned that if he played normally he should not be worse against such an obscure choice. In the post-game analysis, Kamsky marveled at Robson's analytical celerity. “This guy is really good at tactics,” Kamsky said.


You talkin' to me?

GM Hikaru Nakamura, widely considered Kamsky's biggest hurdle to winning three championships in a row, also drew. GM Alejandro Ramirez had his pressure on f7 quickly rebuffed, then scrambled after Nakamura's knight infiltrated to the center. “I kind of underestimated his position,” Ramirez said. “After ...Nd4 my position sucked ... my time management was atrocious.”

During the game, Ramirez assumed Nakamura had something up his sleeve, and pitched the exchange to reduce the pressure. It worked, as his dark-square pressure was enough to prise Nakamura's king out in the open for a draw by repetition.

The lack of perfection means that no player will win the $64,000 Fischer prize for a perfect score. Fischer was the only person to achieve the feat, scoring a perfect 11-0 in 1963.

Round three

By FM Mike Klein

The bell curve of scores began to take shape after today's round three of the 2012 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship. With six of the eleven games pitting first-time opponents against each other, a lot of unknowns preluded the afternoon. The top two rated players pulled ahead in both competitions, with one surprising party crasher in the women's tournament.


The inscription says it all

The ascent of GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Gata Kamsky, who are joint leaders with 2.5/3, took divergent yet typical paths. Nakamura used investigative research of a topical variation that led to a swashbuckling game. Kamsky avoided a rigorous theoretical test and slowly took over the board with his bishops. A chess fan could probably guess which player was which without even seeing the names attached to the games.

Nakamura played 1. e4 for the second time in the championship, and hoped to steer his match with GM Ray Robson into a prepared line. Repeating the moves of an earlier Robson game from this year's Aeroflot Open, Nakamura unleashed a powerful kingside attack in the Yugoslav Dragon, an opening Robson plays frequently. “I've played the Dragon quite a bit recently with both colors,” Nakamura said. “I figured it would lead to a sharp position and there's certainly play for both sides, but I just felt this suited my style a bit more.”


Robson looks at the post-game analysis by Ramirez and Hess

For the defending champion Kamsky, no bravery was needed to beat third-seeded GM Alex Onischuk. In only his second win ever against him (the first was during the quad finals of the 2010 Championship), Kamsky used the London System, an opening rare at professional levels due to its benign reputation. Eventually he acquired the two bishops, or the “mini exchange” as GM Garry Kasparov once termed it and won the endgame. Onischuk has the burden of playing the other frontrunner, Nakamura, in round four. Earlier in the tournament, GM Alejandro Ramirez also had the daunting one-two punch, scoring one loss and one draw.

Looking ahead, Nakamura and Kamsky are slated to meet in round 10.

GM Alex Stripunsky earned his first win, springing the unpredictable piece sacrifice 10. h4 and beating GM Varuzhan Akobian, thus puncturing Akobian's chances of a first championship. Stripunsky said he is recovered from his first-round blunder. “I fought back, and I am OK now.”

In the women's tournament, IM Irina Krush won and caught up to her main rival, IM Anna Zatonskih. Krush beat WIM Viktorija Ni with the quieter 1. c4, instead of 1 .d4 and a likely King's Indian Defense, which is a mainstay in recent years at the U.S. Women's Championship. “I was a little bit confused by this move Bg5,” Krush said. “I wasn't expecting it. Then I thought, 'Oh, that's an interesting idea, stopping me from playing Ne3.'” But Krush called her “bluff”, playing 16. Ne3 anyway. Like Nakamura, Krush marched her king to the sixth rank for victory. She said she plans to use tomorrow's rest day to conserve her energy.

Zatonskih endured a rarity at this year's championship – the higher-rated player getting surprised out of the opening. While Kamsky has played an offbeat Sicilian and Nakamura has essayed the Evans Gambit, it was the lower-rated WGM Sabina Foisor who uncorked the Chigorin Defense with 2...Nc6. A bewildered Zatonskih spent 25 minutes on her reply, and could not engineer any activity for her light-squared bishop. The game ended in a draw, but not before Zatonskih's queen's rook also took an interesting sojourn, traveling a1-d1-d2-d3-d4-f4-h4-h1 and switching places with her king's rook.


A deeply surprised IM Zatonskih spent 25 minutes on her third move

Zatonskih and Krush are joined at 2.5/3 with WIM Iryna Zenyuk, the 8th seed out of ten players. Zenyuk won for the second day in a row, this time against WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. Zenyuk already has more points that she scored in all of last year's seven-game event. She will face one of her biggest challenges in round four – Irina Krush to whom she cedes more than 250 Elo.


17-year-old Alena Kats in her post-game chat with commentators Jennifer Shahade
and Ben Finegold.

Pictures by Studio314

 
Videos of the US Championship


As an added incentive to inspire the players, Former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov and world number-one female player GM Judit Polgar have agreed to judge the best game prizes for the 2012 U.S. Championship & U.S. Women's Championship. For their efforts, players from the overall US championship can win $1,500 for first, $1,000 for second and $500 for third to be chosen by Kasparov. Should the best game be a hard-fought draw, the two players will split the purse. Judit Polgar will judge the best game prizes for the 2012 U.S. Women's Championship. Players can receive $1,000 for first, $600 for second and $400 for third.

Men's standings after three rounds

Women's standings after three rounds

For complete reports and further pics, please refer to the official website.

There is live coverage open to all by IM Jennifer Shahade and GM Ben Finegold at the website.

Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 11 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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