Saturday, May 9

US Championship Begins in St. Louis

(On left, Friedel versus Onischuk. On right, Shankland vs Benjamin. Photos taken by
official photographer Betsy Dynako.)

The 2009 US Championship began on Friday at the brand new Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The competitors were welcomed during an impressive opening ceremony on Thursday evening, featuring many celebrities.

This year's elite field of 24 includes 15 Grandmasters and 4 talented teenagers. The top players include defending champion GM Yury Shulman (2697 USCF) plus three fellow members of the Olympiad team: GM Gata Kamsky (2798), GM Hikaru Nakamura (2757) and GM Alexander Onischuk (2736). The prize fund of over $130,000 includes a whopping $35,000 for first place, plus an additional $64,000 if that player can match Bobby Fischer's legendary perfect score in 1963-64.

Two Northern California masters earned a spot in the premier chess tournament in America. GM Josh Friedel received a wild card entry, no doubt on the strength of his fourth place showing (and GM norm) last year. CalChess State Champion IM Sam Shankland qualified by winning the State Champion of Champions tournament on ICC.

Both Josh and Sam had some chances to draw blood in the first round, but split the point against former US champions with white. Josh drew with GM Onischuk (2006 winner) while Sam drew versus GM Joel Benjamin (1997 and 2000). The round 2 pairings should prove just as challenging: Josh black against veteran GM Gregory Kaidanov and Sam black versus GM Larry Christiansen (2002).

Click to read the full round 1 report on Chess Life Online or to download the games.

Watch the games live on ICC beginning at noon Pacific time. If you can't find the games, look for the Events list under the menu options. Hopefully the relay from St. Louis will be better than it was today. And don't forget to cheer on our two local gladiators!

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