Great rivalries help push sports in the media. For every Mohammad Ali, there is a Joe Frazier; for Roger Federer there was Rafael Nadal; and for Niki Lauda there was James Hunt while Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov brought the house down for chess fanatics. And American chess fans look set to enjoy the fruits of the fifth greatest rivalry in US chess history, that kicked off with the current US Chess Championship taking place at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.
In the 1950s and 1960s there was the bitter battles - personal and over the board - between Bobby Fischer and Sammy Reshevsky. In the 1930s, the feisty Reshevsky and Reuben Fine almost came to blows with each other as they both struggled for recognition as numero uno in the U.S. From 1900 to 1905, Frank Marshall had his supporters, while his friend Harry Pillsbury had his. And, after the return of Gata Kamsky, there was the generational clash with Hikaru Nakamura to be the top American player.
The new rivalry now is Nakamura and Wesley So - and for the first time since the Elo rating system came into force - that see’s two Americans in the world’s top 10 clashing to be the nation's No.1. The arrival of So on the scene has, though, inspired Nakamura to dramatically raise his game as moves into the world No.3 slot with a string of impress tournament wins, and breathing down the neck of Fabiano Caruana.
But with So suffering an horrific debut performance in the US Championship - with a series of uncharacteristic, blundering losses - Nakamura is making hay as he moves into the sole lead once again, still unbeaten on 6/8, a half point ahead of nearest challenger Ray Robson as the tournament goes into the crucial final rounds. And after yet another sore defeat, this time to the lowly-rated Conrad Holt, So finds himself off the pace on 4.5-points.
In the chase for the women’s title, WGM Katerina Nemcova still holds the sole lead on 6.5/8, a half point ahead of the ominously now surging GM Irina Krush, the three-time defending champion.
You can find out what happen’s in the deciding final weekend of the championship, with live streaming at www.uschesschamps.com, featuring play-by-play and analysis from the top commentary combo of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade.
K Troff - H Nakamura
US Championship, (8)
Modern Benoni Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.g3 Bg7 8.Bg2 0–0 9.0–0 Re8 10.Re1 a6 11.a4 Nbd7 12.e4 Ng4 13.Nd2 Nge5 14.Bf1 g5 A well-known motif in the Benoni; it helps Black secure the knight on e5 and also re-enforcing the dark-square control. 15.h3 Qf6 16.Qh5 Bh6 All aimed at stopping f4 to shift the dominant knight on e5 that hampers White's development. 17.Nd1 g4! Things now go from bad to worse for Troff - his position is rapidly collapsing, as Nakamura relentlessly heaps on the pressure. 18.Ne3 18.hxg4? Bxd2 19.Bxd2 Nf3+ 18...Bxe3 19.Rxe3 Qg7 20.hxg4 Nxg4 21.Rc3 Ndf6 Also an option was 21...Re5 with threats of Qg6 and Rh5. Nakamura, though, opts for the route that brings more pieces into the attack. 22.Qh1 Only Magnus Carlsen has the chutzpah of getting away with putting his queen on h1 on a crowded board! 22...Re5 23.Qf3 Bd7 24.Qd3 Qh6 25.Bg2 No better was 25.Nf3 Qh5 with Rxe4 to follow. 25...Qh2+ 26.Kf1 Nxf2 27.Kxf2 Bh3 28.Qf1 (See Diagram) 28...Rxe4! Nakamura's crescendo of tactical sacrifices soon crashes through. 29.Nxe4 Nxe4+ 30.Ke3 Bxg2 31.Qf4 Nxc3 32.Qg5+ Kf8 33.bxc3 Re8+ 34.Kf2 There's no escape - all roads lead to mate. 34.Kd3 Bf1#; 34.Kf4 Re4+ 35.Kf5 Qh3+ 36.g4 Re5+ 37.Kf6 Re6+!! 38.dxe6 (38.Kf5 Be4+ 39.Kf4 Qf3#) 38...Qxc3+ 39.Kf5 Qe5# 34...Bh1+ 0–1