Wednesday, April 1

Meet the Players at US Championship

The 2015 US Championship kicked off this afternoon at the posh Saint Louis chess club.  Over the next fortnight, twelve Grandmasters will compete for the national title, playing each competitor once.  Rounds begin daily at 11AM Pacific time and take about 4 to 5 hours (rest day on April 6).  The winner pockets $45,000 out of the $175,000 prize fund.  Even last place nets $4,000.  The superb playing conditions and generous prizes are possible through the continued sponsorship of club founders Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

The playing field includes the top eight Americans on the current FIDE rating list, including two of the world Top 10 and six of the Top 100.  The showdowns between favorites, contenders and dark horses mark an exciting time for US chess.  I have broken down the field below, including short remarks about each of the invitees.  All ratings and rankings are FIDE.

Click for live coverage with video commentary by Grandmasters Seirawan and Ashley.

Favorites -- Guys expected to battle for the Title
  • Hikaru Nakamura (2798, world #3) A 3-time US Champion and highest rated American ever, Nakamura hopes to demonstrate his superiority over rivals new and old.  Although solidly in the older half of the field, his uncompromising style endears him to many chess fans
  • Wesley So (2788, world #8) The new kid on the block plans to build an impressive share of second at Wijk aan Zee, showing his talent to fans in America as well as his native Philippines.  Well prepared in openings, So strives to milk points from the tiniest of advantages.
Contenders -- Ready to jump if the Favorites slip

Sam Shankland
  • Gata Kamsky (2680, world #63) The champion in four of last five years, Kamsky struggled in 2014 and plays in the twilight of a storied chess career.  Indeed, he qualified as a candidate for the world championship in 1993, before four of his fellow competitors were born!
  • Sam Shankland (2661, world #84) Born and raised in the East Bay, Shanky learned his moves at the Berkeley Chess School. Gold for his board at the Tromsø Olympiad became his calling card, but hardly his only success.  He is aggressive and deadly as white, yet solid as black.

Dark Horses -- Grown up Young Stars ready to fight
Daniel Naroditsky
  • Ray Robson (2656, world #94) A prodigy who grew up playing chess, Robson is now a key member of the elite Webster U team. After slumping, he recently broke into the world Top 100.
  • Daniel Naroditsky (2640) Already a world champion at 12 years old, Danya grew up on the 64 squares.  Not merely a player, the incoming Stanford freshman is an author and aspiring historian.  Solid yet multidimensional, he strives to measure himself against the best.
Wily Veterans -- When Experience matters, they're the best
  • Alex Onischuk (2665, world #75) The US Champion in 2006, Onischuk has spent a decade as one of the Top 5 Americans.  He already transitioned to coaching and works at Texas Tech.
  • Varuzhan Akobian (2622) After years playing in the US Championship and Olympiad, Akobian has become a seasoned veterans. With inspiration and luck, he can still derail anyone.
Young Stars -- Not yet Contenders, but can beat anyone
  • Sam Sevian (2548) Bay Area chess fans will recall just a few years ago, this precocious kid rubbed elbows at local tournaments.  Now the youngest Grandmaster in US history, Sevian has bigger fish to fry.  What he may lack in experience, he makes up in energy and enthusiasm.
  • Kayden Troff (2544) The strongest chess player from the state of Utah continues to improve.  Already a Grandmaster, Troff dominated the 2014 US Junior to earn his invitation.
Pretenders -- Only need a kick in the rear and a little Luck
  • Timur Gareev (2599) The free-wheeling and outgoing Grandmaster of blindfold exhibitions brings plenty of flair to Saint Louis.  While erratic, he is capably of brilliance in every game.    
  • Conrad Holt (2525) Winner of the 2014 US Open, the UT Dallas student is the lowest rated participant this year.  Thunder Holt prefers insanely complicated positions and rarely draws.

The concurrent 2015 US Women's Championship features a defending champion aiming to win her fourth straight crown against a 12-player field that welcomes five newcomers.  Top rated GM Irina Krush (2477 FIDE) is the overwhelming favorite as she pursues her sixth national title.  In the absence of chief rival IM Anna Zatonskih, the next highest rating belongs to IM Nazi Paikidze (2333), a recent immigrant from the country of Georgia.  Other challengers include two experienced competitors: IM Rusudan Goletiani (2311) and WGM Tatev Abrahamyan (2301).  The youngest invitees are 13-year old  WFM Jennifer Yu and 12 year old WIM Annie Wang, a pair of gold medalists at international youth championships last year.  A first place award of $20,000 highlights the record $75,000 ladies prize fund.

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