Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Us Chess Championship: Log-jam at the Top of the Leader Board

For more information, contact:
Mike Wilmering
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis

Log-jam at the Top of Leader Board

By FM Mike Klein

Saint Louis, May 17, 2010 –

With the top four players battling to
draws on the top two boards, a trio of other players used the fourth
round of the 2010 U.S Championship to draw even.

On board one, GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Alexander Onischuk had the quickest
game of the day. After a few brief fireworks out of the opening,
Onischuk continued his usual solid ways to earn the half point as
Black. He has now extended his record U.S. Championship unbeaten
streak to 45 games. His only loss was in the 2004/5 event, and
Onischuk came in to the tournament with the third highest lifetime win
percentage ever, behind Bobby Fischer and Reuben Fine.

Nakamura’s choice of the Vienna Gambit surprised Onischuk, even though
he previously played it at the 2007 U.S. Championship and at last
month’s Saint Louis Open. “I was kind of shocked,” Onischuk said. He
studied about 10 different openings prior to the game. Asked which one
he most expected, Onischuk quipped, “All of them!”

“We’re just trying not to lose against each other and beat everyone
else,” Namakura said. By “each other” he meant himself, Onischuk and
GM Gata Kamsky, the only players with ratings above 2700 USCF.

In the game, Nakamura curiously inverted his king and queen in the
first 10 moves. “I don’t think beginners should look at this game,” he
said. “It violates everything a grandmaster says.”

Grandmasters also say to put rooks on the seventh rank, but if
Nakamura had tried the winning attempt 21. axb6 axb6 22. Ra7, Onischuk
had intended the stunning sacrifice 22…Rf4!, which would have been his
second brilliant exchange sac in as many rounds. Nakamura however saw
the move and eschewed the variation, thinking 22. Rhf1 won. “I simply
miscalculated,” he said, “I thought I would be winning this endgame.”

On board two, GM Varuzhan Akobian played a solid opening but soon
found himself under duress from GM Gata Kamsky’s extra space and
eventual passed d-pawn. Watching the game, GM Jesse Kraai thought
Kamsky would squeeze out the point. “Kamsky does this kind of garbage
all the time,” Kraai joked. “You think he’s worse, then he gets you.”
But Akobian’s defense held up and the two agreed to terms after 53

On boards 3-5, players playing Black went 3-0. Joining the leaders on
three points out of four was GM Yury Shulman, who snatched a loose
pawn from GM Robert Hess and lived to tell the tale. “I didn’t think
it would be so easy for Black to keep the pawn, but it turns out I
don’t have anything,” a despondent Hess said at the post-game press
conference. “A pawn is a pawn,” Shulman said. Hess did not offer any
improvements and seemed dissatisfied with his game.

Shulman, seeded fifth, will now have to play up for the first time in
round five. “Quite often you play against your teammates,” he said of
his likely pairing with national squad comrades. “I don’t have any
(special) strategy.”

GM Alex Stripunsky also won as Black. Just after making the time
control, GM Jaan Ehlvest went in for a crowd-pleasing rook sacrifice.
The audience at the chess club initially thought it was forced
checkmate, but Stripunsky jettisoned a bishop and a rook to give his
king space and rebuff the attack.

The final member of the three-point score group is GM Larry Christiansen, who caught up to the leaders with a self-admitted
imperfect game. “Be3 was a lemon,” Christiansen said of his
opponent’s, GM Alex Shabalov’s, eighth move. “It is a novelty that
will not live in infamy. But with Shaba, you always wonder about a
miracle attack.” Though Shabalov had to retreat this bishop and his
queen to their home squares a few moves later, Christiansan said he
played “barely well enough to win.”

On board six GM Alex Yermolinsky beat GM Sergey Kudrin and on board
seven GM Jesse Kraai made it two in a row with a win over GM Joel
Benjamin. Yermolinsky and Kraai both have 2.5/4.

“The last three games have been really messy,” Kraai said. “I feel
this is the only game I played well.” Convinced that Benjamin had a
plan against his usual 1. c4, Kraai looked for inspiration elsewhere.
His providence, he explained, was part zoological and part
supernatural. Kraai said that Panda “infected me” and convinced him to
play 1. e4, then attack. “He has some sort of hormonal imbalance,”
Kraai said. “They sometimes let him out of the zoo and you’ll see him
around here. I like to channel him during my games.”

The elephant in the room, or in this case the Panda, was none other
than GM Josh Friedel, Kraai’s old roommate who is at the championship.

Benjamin was good-humored about the game, thought he admitted the loss
“pretty much ends my tournament.” Still, IM Greg Shahade, co-creator
of the new format, said that he expects 4.5/7 to possibly qualify for
the tiebreaker into the quad final. Benjamin, at 1.5/4, would need
three wins in three games to get to the mark.

The final five games were all draws, though IM Irina Krush missed a
win for the second game in a row. Coming off a disappointing 113-move
loss in round three, she entered a rook-and-bishop versus rook endgame
against GM Ray Robson. She missed the zwischenzug 66…Ra7 67. Ke1 Rf7,
winning immediately. She has now played 12 hours and 206 chess moves
in the last two rounds.

After her loss yesterday, Krush said she received lots of thoughtful
emails from chess friends. She said she wanted to fight hard today to
validate her support group. After the game Krush reminisced about her
missed chances and how a few different moves could have allowed her to
win all four games. “I still love chess,” she said without any hint of

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