The US Chess Championship is one of history’s oldest and most storied national championship - and the latest 2016 edition has just got underway at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, and it makes the news by setting the record for being the strongest ever, featuring not one, not two but three world Top 10 players vying for the coveted title first won by 'acclamation' by Charles Stanley back in 1845.
With a prize fund on offer of $194,000, the field is headed by top 10 players Fabiano Caruana (3), Hikaru Nakamura (6 - and defending champion) and Wesley So (10), who will be the favourites for the title. Also in the mix is former champions Gata Kamsky, Alexander Onischuk and Alexander Shabalov; the 12-player field being completed by GM Sam Shankland, GM Ray Robson, GM Jeffery Xiong (wild card), GM Aleksandr Lenderman, GM Varuzhan Akobian, and US Junior Champion IM Akshat Chandra.
The mixture of styles, age and experience means that there’s something for everyone to take an interest in one of the strongest national championships in the world this year. Also taking place at the same time is the 2016 US Women’s Championship and a prize fund of $100,000 on offer, with GM Irina Krush and GM Anna Zaitonskih continuing their long-standing rivalry.
But all eyes will be on the battle between the top trio of Caruana, Nakamura and So. And speaking on the eve of the 2016 US Championship, Nakamura said: "There is a reason why three of us are so much higher rated, I think one of us will win!” And the top three got off to a pulsating start with spectacular wins, none more so than Wesley So’s crushing victory over newly-inducted Hall of Famer Kamsky in today's game.
Photo © | Spectrum Studios (for US Championship)
This is the eighth year now that the US Championship is being held at Rex Sinquefield’s CCSCSL. There’s also one of the best and slickest productions in online chess coverage of a major event available, with daily live commentary being spearheaded by their established team of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice “Madden” Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. You can follow the action live each round at www.uschesschamps.com. Play starts daily at 1pm local time.
Nakamura 1-0 Lenderman
Caruana 1-0 Akobian
So 1-0 Kamsky
Shankland 1-0 Chandra
Onischuk draw Xiong
Shabalov 0-1 Robson
GM Wesley So - GM Gata Kamsky
US Championship, (1)
Ruy Lopez, Breyer Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Nb8 The Breyer variation, named after Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) of Hungary, whose promising early career was tragically cut short by illness, and he's best remembered for this hypermodern idea in the Ruy Lopez of retreating his knight from c6 back to b8 and out again to d7. This deep idea gives Black an active bishop on b7 to attack White's centre, and usually the knight finds itself better placed on c5 (after White plays d5) or b6. It was popularised in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Boris Spassky and Lajos Portisch. Like a lot of good, solid openings, it had a hiatus for several years before being resurrected once again after being adopted by World Champion Magnus Carlsen. 10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.Bc2 Re8 13.Nf1 Bf8 14.Ng3 g6 15.Bg5 A move with a famous past, having featured in the Fischer-Spassky 1992 return match. More popular nowadays is 15.a4 c5 16.d5 c4 17.Bg5 as in Anand-Carlsen Norway 2015. 15...h6 Black has to play this now, as after 15...Bg7 16.Qd2 preventing h6 means that the pin on d8 is quite annoying to deal with. 16.Bd2 Bg7 17.a4 c6?! I get the feeling Kamsky simply may have mixed his lines up here, as there is a variation in the Breyer where Black plays ...c6 when White has played an early d5. Instead, known was 17...c5 18.d5 c4 19.b4 cxb3 20.Bxb3 Nc5 where White has a small plus, but nothing more to write home about - this would be standard fare in the Breyer. But now we quickly discover in a devastating sacrifice just how bad Kamsky's choice was. 18.axb5 axb5 19.Rxa8 Qxa8?! Again another inaccuracy from Kamsky, as he wastes a tempo as his queen has to come back to d8. It would have been better if he had played 19...Bxa8. 20.Nh4! With his pieces ideally placed, Wesley So launches an immediate attack on Kamsky's king - and Kamsky panics. 20...Qd8 He would have been better going for the solid 20...exd4 21.cxd4 c5 22.d5 Ne5 and again, White has a small advantage - but Black will not collapse completely here, as happens in the game. 21.Qc1 Kh7? Black really has to grovel here by playing 21...Nh7 and accept White has a big plus. Instead, Kamsky overlooks an obvious sacrifice for White that rips that heart and the defences from Black's position - and a pretty thematic Ruy Lopez sacrifice at that. 22.Nhf5!! (See Diagram) The immediate body count is that White will get two pawns for his piece - but its the structural damage to the defences around his king that is the clincher for playing the knight sacrifice. 22...gxf5 23.Nxf5 Re6 It's bad enough as it is, but allowing White to play Nxd6 would have been too much. 24.Bxh6 Ne8 25.Bg5! It doesn't look like the most obvious winning move, but it allows White to force home the win. 25...Bf6 26.Bxf6 Qxf6 If 26...Rxf6 27.Qg5 is now easily winning, as the pin on the queen on d8 restricts Black's defensive options somewhat. 27.d5! Re7 Kamsky simply can't allow 27...cxd5 28.exd5 that allows White to bring his bishop on c2 into the game with a deadly discovered check. 28.g4! 1-0 Kamsky resigns, as there's no way to stop the immediate threat of g5 winning the rook trapped on e7.