Meet Me in St. Louis is one of the great MGM screen classics, starring a blossoming Judy Garland and superbly directed by Vincente Minnelli. It is, in the words of one of the movie’s gentleman characters, a ginger-peachy musical even today. And its signature tune could well be adapted for the top American players, as the U.S. Championship got underway earlier this week at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.
Since 2009, the U.S. Championship titles has been hosted at the state-of-the-art club thanks to the generous sponsorship of retired investment fund manager and chess patron, Rex Sinquefield. And this year, they meet in St. Louis for the strongest U.S. title clash in history, with half of this year’s championship field featuring players ranked among the top 100 in the world, including two in the top 10.
The 2015 U.S. title will also feature the first highly-anticipated clash between world No. 10 and longtime U.S. No. 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Wesley So, who recently switched federations to the U.S. from his native Philippines, and is currently the world No. 7. The two-time defending champion Gata Kamsky is ranked only third in the 12-player field.
On the women’s side, GM Irina Krush, the three-time defending champion and six-time U.S. women’s champ overall, is the clear favorite in the absence of her perennial rival, four-time champion IM Anna Zatonskih, who is on maternity leave after recently giving birth to her second child.
The 2015 U.S. Championships will be streamed live on www.uschesschamps.com, again featuring play-by-play and analysis from the top commentary combo of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.
In the opening two rounds, Nakamura and So matched each other blow for blow with a brace of convincing wins, and move into the joint lead on 2/2, a half point ahead of upcoming star Ray Robson.
H Nakamura - V Akobian
U.S. Championship, (2)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Bd3 c5 8.Be3 Qc7 9.Qe2 Be7 10.0–0–0 0–0 11.dxc5 b6?! A radical solution to an awkward problem just how does Black (safely) complete his development? You can see why Akobian opts for this pawn sacrifice, when you see what happens with the simple recapture with 11...Bxc5 12.Bxc5 Qxc5 13.Ne5 Hampering the safe development of Black's bishop. 13...b6 14.g4! The attack is quick - and deadly! Just the sort that Nakamura likes. 14...Bb7 15.g5 Bxh1 16.gxf6 g6 (16...gxf6? 17.Qg4+ Kh8 18.Rg1 mating quickly.) 17.Rxh1 easily winning. 12.cxb6 axb6 The rest is simply now a matter of technique from Nakamura - but instructive nevertheless. 13.Kb1 Bb7 14.Nd4 Ra5 15.Nb5 Qc6 16.Bd2 Raa8 17.f3 Ba6 18.c4 Rfd8 19.Bc3 Qc5 20.Bd4 Qc8 21.Bxb6 Rd7 22.Bf2 Bc5 23.Bxc5 Qxc5 (See Diagram) 24.Be4! Nakamura also had the speculative route to victory with 24.Bxh7+ - but he calls it right with the safer option with pieces being exchanged. 24...Rb8 25.Rxd7 Nxd7 26.Rc1 Nf6 27.Bd3 g6 28.Rd1 Bxb5 What else? The knight is a massive piece on b5, and Akobian's bishop has no scope - hence the exchange. 29.cxb5 Nd5 30.Rc1 Qd4 31.g3 Rd8 32.Bc4 Ne3 33.Bb3 Rb8 34.a4 Nf5 35.Qe4 Qd2 36.Rc2 Qd1+ 37.Ka2 Qd8 38.g4 Ne7 39.f4 Qd7 40.Qe5 Rb7 41.h4 Brutal, but straight to the point - there's no defense to the simple plan of h4-h5, opening the h-file followed by Rh2 mating. 41...Qd3 42.h5 1–0