The 2010 US Championship began on Friday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Thanks to club sponsor Rex Sinquefield for backing a most generous prize fund of $170,000, including $35,000 for 1st place and $3,000 minimum for last. The novel format is a nine round swiss with one major variation. After round 7, the top four players split from the main swiss and face off in a round-robin quad to determine the top prizes. The "Final Four" plays ten games to determine the national champion while everyone else completes the nine round swiss, with the winner earning 5th place. This ensures that the best players face each other at the end.
The field of 24 participants includes all of America's top Grandmasters, a few older veterans and the brightest young talent. Will defending champion Hikaru Nakamura (photo by Betsy Dynako at top right) flex his muscles to become the first repeat winner in 25 years? Or will fellow Olympiad team (photo by Mike Klein below) members Gata Kamsky, Alex Onischuk, Yury Shulman and Varuzhan Akobian snatch the top honors? Or perhaps one of the three talented teenagers will surprise everyone, like last year when Robert Hess took 2nd place.Defending champion: Nakamura
Favorites: Kamsky, Onischuk
Contenders: Shulman, Akobian, Lenderman
Star Juniors: Hess, Robson, Shankland
Former Champions: Shabalov, Christiansen, Benjamin, Yermolinsky
The Field: Ehlvest, Kaidanov, Kudrin, Stripunsky, Bhat, Finegold, Khachiyan, Kraai, Gurevich, Krush, Altounian
Of course, many readers of this blog will cheer for the California players. Vinay Bhat has come home after spending more than a year traveling the European chess circuit. Gaining 73 FIDE rating points in the past 9 months, he may be a dark horse to surprise everyone. CalChess State Champions Sam Shankland and Jesse Kraai both have the potential to beat anyone, but it is unclear if they can maintain that high level of play over the full 9 or 10 rounds. Many Bay Area chess fans still consider 2-time US Champion Alex Yermolinsky as a local hero, although he moved to South Dakota a few years ago. Finally, Melik Khachiyan of Los Angeles has developed an pool of students from Northern California.
Readers may watch games live daily beginning at noon Pacific time. The Internet Chess Club offers live audio and video broadcasts from Saint Louis for its members (observe boards 1 through 12). Monroi broadcasts live moves for free. The official tournament website also promises live games, but their bandwidth was too low yesterday.
Key Round 1 Results: Stripunsky 0-1 Nakamura, Kamsky 1-0 Robson, Shulman 1/2 Bhat, Lenderman 0-1 Khachiyan (photo at right by Betsy Dynako), Hess 1-0 Shankland, Kraai 1/2 Shabalov.