US Championship: Three top seeds plus rising star lead

by ChessBase
5/15/2009 – Musical chairs: the two round six leaders, Yury Shulman and Varuzhan Akobian, lost their games (to Alexander Onischuk and Hikaru Nakamura). Gata Kamsky beat three-time US champion Joel Benjamin, to join Onischuk and Nakamura at the top of the table. But wait: 17-year-old Robert Hess defeated Josh Friedel to join them at 5.0/7 points. Report with great pictures by Betsy Dynako.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


2009 US Chess Championship

The 2009 US 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, which is located at 4657 Maryland Avenue, just east of the intersection of Euclid and Maryland.

The Championship dates back to 1845 and this year offers a purse of more than $130,000 in prize money. It is a nine-round Swiss, with one round per day and a rest day between rounds seven and eight. Time controls are the classical 40 moves in two hours, with one hour allowed for all remaining moves and a five second increment for all move.

Round seven – three top seeds plus rising star lead

Alexander Shabalov and Irina Krush on their way to the tournament

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 5.0/7 points apiece. But so does Robert Hess, who is playing almost three hundred points better than his nominal 2485 rating.

Anna Zatonskih, who had to drop out of the event due to illness,
has recovered enough to ring the starting bell for round seven

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

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

Another fateful game: Hikaru Nakamura vs Varuzhan Akobian – Nakamura won in 40

Gata Kamsky defeated three-time US champion Joel Benjamin...

... and Robert Hess (right) defeated Josh Friedel with black, to join the leaders

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

Michael Brooks of Kansas City, Mo., (above right) had a dramatic turnaround in his game, putting him closer to earning grandmaster status. Brooks, 47, beat the youngest player in the field, 14-year-old super-talent Ray Robson, to end the day with 4.0 points.

IM Michael Brooks, Kansas City, MO

Highlights: 1994 North American Open.

Bio: Michael Brooks has been an International Master since 1989 and has been the Missouri state champion six times, losing only five times since in tie-breaks. In 1982, Brooks tied for first place in the Midwest Masters Tournament in Chicago and tied for second in the event in 1989. In 1994, Brooks won the North American Open in Las Vegas.

Not only will his above-par performance raise his chess rating, but if he manages to score 1.5 points over his final two games, he will be on course for a grandmaster norm. No Missourian has become a grandmaster.

Addendum – John Crooks of Stilwell, KS, USA tells us: Michael Brooks is a really talented chess player that has suffered from growing up in a country in which is nearly impossible to make a living from playing chess, and where GM norm opportunities are few and far between. Were the championship not being held in St Louis this year, he would not have had this opportunity either. However, I want to point out that I believe your statement that he needs 1.5 out of 2 to obtain a GM norm is incorrect. Since he is playing Nakamura next round (2701 FIDE) and currently has a 2602 performance rating he should be able to obtain a GM norm by scoring only 1 out of 2. A win against Nakamura would guarantee it. A draw with Nakamura ensures a pairing in the next round in which another draw would earn him the norm. His nightmare scenario is a loss against Nakamura (obviously a very real possibility) and then a pairing with Krush or Hughes, who could both make 4.0 with a win. In that case he would need 5.5 for a GM norm, which would be impossible. That pairing should be unlikely, given that they would both be sorted to the bottom by rating, but at the end of a nine round tournament all kinds of odd pairings can occur due to players already having met. I wish Michael luck, and will be watching the remaining games with both fingers crossed for him!

GM Julio Becerra vs NNM Charles Lawton in round seven (Becerra won in 39). The latter has been a steady fixture in Missouri chess, known for an aggressive style and playing offbeat lines. He’s a two-time Missouri Open Champion.

GM Julio Becerra, Miami, Florida

Highlights: 2006 Florida Champion, 2006 U.S. Chess League MVP, 1995 and 1998 Cuban Champion.

Bio: Julio Becerra earned his Grandmaster title in 1997 and decided to relocate to the U.S. two years later after attending the 1999 World Championship in Las Vegas. Until 2005, however, he was unable to travel internationally to play chess because he had no American passport. He since has become a U.S. citizen and has steadily increased his rating. Becerra is first board for the Miami Sharks of the U.S. Chess League and was league MVP for two years in a row.

Click for full bio

GM Melikset Khachiyan, Los Angeles, California

Highlights: Frank K. Berry 2007 U.S. Championship, tied for first in the 2006 American Open.

Bio: Melikset Khachiyan began playing chess at the age of 8, won the Baku Junior Championship two years later and became a Soviet Candidate Master two years after that. He began coaching early in his career and has brought up three Junior World Champions. In 2001, he immigrated to the U.S., where he participated in the National Open in Las Vegas. He earned his Grandmaster title in 2006.

Click for full bio

Friday is a rest day. Round eight of the nine-round championship will be on Saturday. The tournament concludes Sunday.

Current standings

All pictures by Betsy Dynako of Inspiring Art


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.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register