The US Championship started about a week ago. 6 rounds out of 9 are complete. It was a very strong field with 25 GMs, including 10 former champions by my count. The title seems up for grabs. Pre-tournament, I could make strong arguments for 5 different players. Alexander Shabalov is the defending champion and seems to have won just about every American tournament the past couple of years, so he had to be considered as one of the favorites again. This is the first time Alexander Onischuk has played in the Championship, but he has been the top rated US player on the FIDE list since moving to the US a few years ago. #8 seed Hikaru Nakamura is the country's youngest GM and seems to be the fastest improving player. Gregory Kaidanov and Alexander Goldin have been at or near the top of the US list for several years, but remarkably neither has ever gotten a piece of the US title. Besides these players that I label as favorites, there is the top seed, former world championship challenger Gata Kamsky, who came out of retirement this year. He's only played some action tournaments, but was awarded an at large bid into this year's event.
So far, a couple of other players have been making the headlines. Sergey Kudrin shot out to 3 wins to take the early lead. A couple of draws and a 6th round loss to Kaidanov have brought him back to the pack. Moving ahead was Alexander Stripunsky (yet another Alex, one of 8 in the 64 player field) who is in the clear lead with 5/6. Nakamura, Kaidanov, Gregory Serper, and Yuri Shulman are the chase group half a point back.
The two Tennessee representatives have had mixed results so far. I'm sure Ron Burnett is not happy with his 2/6 score. Jake Kleiman is the lowest rated male in the field (15 women are playing for both the overall championship and the women's title), but has a respectable 2.5/6 including a draw with GM Lein. Hopefully, they will both have strong finishes.
While I would have loved to play in this tournament, I came up a bit short in the various qualifying events the past few years. So instead, I'll be looking at the games in some depth and posting various observations on openings, endings, middlegame positions, etc. This should help fill some of the gaps between my own tournament games. With nearly 300 games from the cream of American chess, I think it will be some fruitful studies.
I had a rather adventurous Kings Island Open a couple of weekends ago. Everything was fine until around 3 AM Friday night/Saturday morning when I was awakened by rather loud snoring and gasping for breath from the adjoining room. It was one of the worst cases of sleep apnea I had ever encountered. It kept on all the way until my alarm went off around 10 AM. A miserable night's "sleep" is not the greatest way to start a tournament. I almost considered withdrawing and driving back home, but after a shower and some caffeine, I didn't feel too bad.
My first round opponent was Scott Zingheim, who I last played in the 1985 Midwest Masters. I knew he had been living in Tennessee for awhile, but hadn't been very active chess-wise. About a week before this tournament, I found out he was now living in Knoxville and was ready to get back into chess! The position after 13. cxd5
looks like it had only occurred once before in practice. Scott grabbed the pawn with 13...Bxd5 In Nikolaidis-Ausmins, Cannes 2000, Black played 13...d6, but White was better after 14. e4. Now I went for the exchange sacrifice 14. Rxd5!? 14. Be5 Be6 15. e3 is another way of playing for a bind with less material investment 14...Nxd5 15. Qe4+ Ne7 16. h4 16. Bd6 Nac6 seems to force the night where it is going to go anyway, but does stop Black from getting some freedom with ...d5. I opted to start working on the kingside immediately. 16... Nac6 17. hxg5 d5 18. Qf4 to provoke the move 18... Ng6 so that 19. Qa4 comes with tempo 19...b5?! trying to free himself, but now his pawn structure becomes much more compromised. Better was 19... Qd7 20. e3 O-O!? (20... hxg5? 21. Rxh8+ Nxh8 22. Bb5 Rc8 23. Ne5+-) 21. gxh6 when I think the 2 bishops and extra pawn give white full compensation. Instead after 20. Qxb5 Qb6 21. e3 White was clearly better and went on to win
In round 2, I had White against Polish GM Kamil Miton. I don't think I played the opening completely accurately, but still had a slight edge after 24...Qf7
25. f4?! I should have restrained his ...f5 break first by 25. Qc2 if he plays 25...Ne7 to reinforce it, the knight is on a much worse square since it cannot immediately come to e5. For example, 26. f4 f5 27. fxe5 dxe5 28. c5 fxe4 29. Bxe4 Bf5 30. c4 with a slight advantage to White. Instead after 25... f5 26. Qc2 exf4 27. exf5 Ne5 28. f6 Nxd3+ 29. Qxd3 fxg3 30. Qxg3 Qxf6 31. Bd4 Qh6+ I was a pawn down without compensation and went on to lose.
In the final round of the day I had Black against Jerome Hanken, who most people know from his tournament reports in Chess Life. I played a horrible game. In desperation I sacrificed a piece to get two connected passed pawns hoping they might make themselves felt in the endgame. I actually got to an endgame and was feeling more optimistic after 41...Na3
Here he surprised me with 42. bxc6? I expected 42. Rb3 Nxb5 43. Nxb5 cxb5 44. Rxb5 Kf6 when Black has some practical chances to hold, but instead 42. Rd1 is very strong 42... Nxb1 43. c7 Rxc7 44. Ne6+ Kf6 45. Nxc7 Ke5 I was mistakenly playing for a win here. It was better to stop Nb5 with 45... Nc3 46. Ne8+ (46. Nxd5+!? Nxd5 47. Bxe4 Ke5 is probably a draw, but Black certainly has all the winning chances] 46...Ke5 47. Nd6 d4 48. Kf2 (and he may even be able to get way with 48. Nxb7 which I thought lost to 48...d3, but then he has 49. Na5) and Black is the one still looking for a way to draw. 46. Kf2? 46. Nb5 d4 47. Kf2 (47. Nd6 Nc3 transposes to the previous note) and again Black is struggling to find a draw. Now after 46... Nc3 White is losing his c-pawn to Na4xc5 and he couldn't find a way to defend the pawn avalanche that followed.
So after a very long day, I got back to the room around midnight only to hear the guy in the next room already gasping for breath. I went to the front desk and explained the situation and they switched me to another room. Finally, I sank into a much needed sleep, only to be awakened by the maid knocking on the door. Somehow, my subconscious asked "Why is the maid knocking so early?" and I looked over at the clock which read 9:52!! The round started at 9, so I was only minutes away from a forfeit. I threw on some clothes and raced down to the playing hall, to find my flag hanging with only 3 minutes remaining. I apologized to my opponent, Robert O'Donnell, played a couple of moves, then left the board for a few minutes to calm down, grab some food and check out of the hotel. When I returned, I actually won a relatively easy game. Early in the middle game he gave me a couple of free tempos, and the position was very difficult for him after my 21...Qh4
22. g3? He's losing the e-pawn since 22. Re1 is met by 22...d5, but this is much worse, weakening the long diagonal 22... Qg4 The immediate 22... Rxe4 is also good since 23. gxh4? Rg4# 23. Bb2 Rxe4 going for the throat, Bb7 is much more valuable than this rook 24. Bxd4 Qf3 25. Bxe4 Bxe4 winning the queen and soon thereafter the game.
In the final round, I had White against Todd Andrews. If that sounds familiar, it's because this was our 5th meeting this year and I have had White in all of them! Since Todd complained about having Black so many times against me at the 2002 North Tennessee Winter Open (which was only my 4th white in 9 games against him) the chess gods have conspired to give him only 2 whites in our last 9 meetings. This time he was even higher rated and due White, but since I had two blacks in a row, I had to get White. He returned to the Benko Gambit and I tried the 5. b6 variation against him again, which had brought me a quick victory back in January. This time he played the opening much better and I wasn't especially happy with my position in the middle game. I went for some chaos, but it really did work out very well. After 27...Bxb2, my position was pretty hopeless, but I saw one last trap.
28. Qf3 Rxa6? and he fell for it! on 28...Bd5 I had prepared 29. Resigns 29. Rxa6 Qxa6 30. Rf8+ Kg7 31. Ra8 beautiful geometry on the chess board. Qf3 guards f1 and Ra8 which guards a1. Meanwhile Qf8# is threatened so Black loses his queen. Unfortunately, his position was so good that White only steals half a point 31...Qxa8 32. Qxa8 Bf6? Immediately dropping his c-pawn. Black could still think about winning with 32... c4 33. Qb7 Bf6 but I think White will still hold the draw. 33. Qc6 Bf5 with a draw offer which I accepted. I remembered a game Polugaevsky won against Geller where he broke down a two bishop near fortress with his queen, but in that game the pawns were even. Here I couldn't even come up with a plan to make progress after 34. Qxc5 h5 although I was somewhat tempted to play on since he had played the previous few moves so awfully. But instead, [½:½] only our 2nd draw in 18 meetings. We ended up in a multi-way tie for 5th place/1st U2400. The tournament was much weaker than usual with only 4 GMs (Wojtkiewicz, who took clear first, Miton, Dimitri Gurevich, and Goldin) and no IMs. Apparently most of the country's strong players decided to skip this event with the US Championship starting only about 10 days later.