US Championship – Nakamura takes sole lead

5/13/2012 – The competition has certainly been heated as the top-rated players were unable to stamp their authority until now. Reigning champion Gata Kamsky, was taken by surprise by last-minute replacement Gregory Kaidanov in round four, which Hikaru Nakamura took advantage of by beating Kaidanov in round five for the sole lead. Three are tied for first in the women's competition. Illustrated report.

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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 four

By GM Ben Finegold and Mike Wilmering

SAINT LOUIS, May 12, 2012 -- After four rounds of the 2012 U.S. Championship, an upset victory by GM Gregory Kaidanov has catapulted him into a first-place tie with GM Hikaru Nakamura. Yesterday was a rest day for the players of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Championship.

Kaidanov scored the upset of the event by beating the seemingly heretofore unbeatable GM Gata Kamsky. Kamsky, with the black pieces, misplayed the move order after his pawn sacrifice with 14…b5!? Kamsky said he thought he would be about equal after the correct 15...cxd4 instead of 15…Bb7?  Kaidanov took control of things with the excellent 17.dxc5! and never looked back, winning an excellent game.

"Well, I blundered," Kamsky said. "After dxc5 I was much worse."

Kamsky had lost only once with black in eight previous U.S. Championship appearances. That game took place in 1993 against none other than Kaidanov. Kaidanov, who only received an invitation to the event because 2011 U.S. Junior Champion Gregory Young declined, is making the most of his chances.


Gregory Kaidanov was a last-minute inclusion and has amply justified his presence

"Over the years, Gata's saved so many lost positions, some of which were dead lost," he said. "So until the very end, I didn't believe I could win."

This marks Kaidanov’s 18th U.S. Championship appearance. He’s managed to secure two second-place finishes in past events, but the title of U.S. Champion as of yet has proved too elusive. He has a crucial matchup tomorrow against Nakamura.

Just before reluctantly acquiescing to a peaceable draw with GM Alexander Onischuk, Nakamura was visibly frustrated at the board. "Somehow it just felt like there should be something, like it should be winning, but maybe there's just not enough to win; it's just a symbolic advantage, perhaps," Nakamura said. "I just thought that somewhere in the middlegame Alex went wrong.” Nakamura said he was inspired by GM Jesse Kraai, who played b6 against Onischuk two times prior.  "I just felt like trying something different,” he said.

Onischuk probably should have tried to castle kingside with 16.Bf2 and 17.0-0, but instead castled queenside. Both players thought they had a good position, but Onischuk said he simply blundered with 17.Nf5? However, this move was probably not so bad after all, as white kept the balance, and a draw was agreed soon after time control.

In the post-game interview, Nakamura attributed his newfound affinity for the bishop pair to his brief training partnership with former World Champion GM Garry Kasparov. Onischuk dismissed the notion. "Frankly, I think everyone prefers two bishops," Onischuk said.


Nakamura and Onischuk weigh-in on their game, and then Kamsky's

After the post-game analysis, Nakamura discussed the game between Kaidanov and Kamsky, which was still being played at the time. "Gregory's playing a very good game, and he's a strong player, and Gata isn't having one of his better days, but that happens,” Nakamura said. "It's early on in the tournament," Namakura said. "And even though Gata's probably going to lose this game, I have a feeling both he and [Onischuk] are going to be my main competition towards the end.”

GM Yasser Seirawan won the longest game of the tournament against GM Alejandro Ramirez, as it looked like an easy ending win for white. But Seirawan’s technique let him down, and he had to win the game all over again. Black was in severe time trouble the last 20 moves, getting down to less than 5 seconds on the clock several times.  The last drawing chance would have been 86...Rc5!

Round five

By FM Mike Klein

For the first time in the 2012 U.S. Championship, one player rests atop the leaderboard. With his win today in round five over co-leader GM Gregory Kaidanov, local GM Hikaru Nakamura took control of the tournament. With three wins and two draws, his four points are one-half point ahead of defending champion GM Gata Kamsky, who bounced back by also winning today. However, since the two top seeds have yet to play, both still control their own destiny.


Nakamura took control by beating his nearest rival Kaidanov in round five

Nakamura reverted to his more usual 1. d4 today, reversing his trend of advancing his king's pawn, which he had done to surprise opponents in rounds one and three. Kaidanov played a Catalan system, but Nakamura offered a temporary pawn deficit to activate his pieces. After Nakamura regained the material, Kaidanov's pieces could only entrench themselves and wait for the breakthrough. That came in the form of the improbable 61. f5 and subsequent king invasion. Kaidanov's rook and bishop moved listlessly back and forth while his opponent's monarch played checkers on the dark squares, taking the scenic route from g5 to h6 to g7 to f8 to e7. Kaidanov conceded defeat and now sits in a four-way tie for third, and will need some help to win his first-ever U.S. Championship.

Kamsky, whose 51-game U.S. Championship unbeaten streak ended yesterday, began a new one today by winning in a fashion that echoed Nakamura's victory. GM Varuzhan Akobian eschewed his nearly-automatic French Defense and played the cramped-but-solid Berlin Defense, known for forming a nearly impenetrable wall. But it was only a matter of time before Akobian's defenses collapsed, as Kamsky's knights finally penetrated his position, capping off the offensive with the devastating 31. Nf6+. Getting low on time (Akobian was down to two seconds several times), Akobian could not hold off the attack.

Third-seeded GM Alex Onischuk got back into the mix by winning a topsy-turvy game against GM Robert Hess. The Yale freshman did not control his knights as well as Kamsky. “With knights, you always have to be careful,” Onischuk said. Onischuk's rook found daylight and a route to pay dirt – the second-rank, and then played Pac-Man with Hess's queenside pawns, forcing him to resign.

Joining Kaidanov and Onischuk on 3/5 and a tie for third place are GMs Alex Lenderman and Yury Shulman, who played an uneventful draw versus each other. Both have won once and drawn four times at the event.

A pair of slow starters won in round five to get back to even scores. GM Alex Stripunsky reverse-engineered his rook back to the first rank to win GM Yasser Seirawan's bishop. After losing his first two games, Stripunsky has 2.5 out of the last three.


The spectators can follow the action just as the online spectators can - with the added
perk of being able to ask the commentators directly any questions.

While the U.S. Championship took on a betting favorite, the U.S. Women's Championship did not break the three-player deadlock. IM Irina Krush, IM Anna Zatonskih and WIM Iryna Zenyuk are all still tied for first place with 3/4.

Zenyuk and Krush, who are good friends, could not commiserate much during yesterday's off day since they played today.

“Irina (Krush) surprised me with her opening choice,” Zenyuk said. The game, a Semi-Slav Defense, ended in a draw by agreement on move 30 when Zenyuk repulsed Krush's rook invasion. Zenyuk continues her best championship ever, currently fashioning a 2500+ performance rating, nearly 300 points above her actual rating. “I feel more pressure, definitely. But I don't think I'm going to change much.”


Alisa Melekhina had excellent chances of pushing for a win against
defending champion Zatonskih, but failed to capitalize.

Zatonskih kept pace, but for the second game in a row, she entered a deep think early in the game. Facing FM Alisa Melekhina's commonplace Sicilian Alapin, the defending champ could not decide between 6...Qxc5 or 6...Qxd1+. After 30 minutes, she chose the former, explaining that she wanted to keep pieces on the board for better chances of fighting chess. But Melekhina got the queens off the board anyway, obtaining a small but stable advantage of the queenside pawn majority. She expressed frustration at not being able to convert the full point. “Every time I thought I would gain a meaningful advantage, she found a simplifying continuation,” Melekhina said. “It's not just this game. In general I need to start winning.”

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 five rounds

Women's standings after five 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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