Fabiano Caruana starts his first ever US Championship today in St. Louis and will be looking to cement his place as the US no. 1 on the FIDE rating list. Defending Champion Hikaru Nakamura and fellow Top 10 star Wesley So are among those who will have other ideas. In the women’s event Irina Krush and her arch-rival Anna Zatonskih both play, while none other than Garry Kasparov will join the party for a post-tournament blitz showdown.
The US Championships are being held in the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for an 8th consecutive year, and we’re guaranteed the usual fantastic show with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley. Both tournaments are 12-player round-robins, with $194,000 on offer in the open tournament ($50,000 for first prize) and $100,000 in the women’s ($25,000), with $64,000 up for grabs for anyone who pulls off Bobby Fischer’s incredible 11/11 result.
The schedule is as follows (note 1 PM local time is 8 PM CET):
Let’s take a quick look at the line-ups, starting with the main event, which we’ve split into four groups:
It’s hard to look any further than these players for a tournament winner, and they alone come close to justifying Yasser Seirawan’s claim:
This year’s event is one of the strongest national championships in the world, with only Russia — on paper — being stronger.
Hikaru Nakamura has the experience, as a 4-time Champion who first won all the way back in 2005. He suffered a painful setback in the Candidates Tournament in Moscow, where he was out of contention early on, though that may have given him more time to come to terms with events.
Nakamura has a good career record against Caruana, but Fabiano's win in Round 8 in Moscow ended Hikaru's hopes of a match against Carlsen
Fabiano Caruana, meanwhile, came within a whisker of qualifying for a World Championship match, with Magnus Carlsen commenting, “Caruana almost dominated the tournament, but he threw it away”. The crucial moment was ultimately Caruana’s failure to execute a win against Peter Svidler in the penultimate round, leaving him in Vladimir Kramnik’s position from the London Candidates of needing to win with Black on demand in the final game. The outcome was the same.
Fabiano is now based in the US, explaining in an interview with Russian site RSport:
I now live in Florida. Life, of course, has changed, and in many ways it’s become more comfortable, because many different events are taking place in the US and I often fly to New York and other major US cities: that’s now become much easier than when I was in Europe.
Caruana told Cristian Chirila:
The Candidates was pretty exhausting, so I mainly focused on regaining my energy, which I think I fully achieved… The strategy somewhat changes here compared to the type of events I normally compete in, but I'm always ready for a fight!
Wesley So, meanwhile, had no Candidates Tournament distractions and should go into the event refreshed. The one thing that can be said is that it’s almost impossible for things to go as badly as they did in 2015, when a forfeit incident and family troubles derailed his event. On form, Wesley of course has an excellent chance of taking first place.
Between them these players have won the US Championship 10 times, with Gata Kamsky managing it five times and only Varuzhan Akobian yet to win the event. Although they’re going to be up against it, the young guns can’t expect any easy games!
These three players are coming into their prime now, but have suffered from pressure both from above – the arrival of Caruana and So has knocked them down in the US rankings, and below – funding is likely to switch to younger talents who might have the potential to break into the world elite. They're all experienced and fierce competitors, though, so a title challenge can't be ruled out.
These guys are in a hurry, with Xiong already rated above 2600 after brilliantly claiming sole first place – and over $10,000 – in the Chicago Open as a 14-year-old in 2015. It perhaps says all you need to know about the health of scholastic chess in the US that guys like 13-year-old Awonder Liang (currently playing in Bangkok) and Sam Sevian (15) wouldn’t look out of place in this field either. Having said all that, though, the stars will of course be out for blood, and Akshat and Jeffery can expect a baptism of fire.
The emphasis on youth is even more in evidence in the women’s
event, which features Agata Bykovtsev (16), Ashritha Eswaran (15), Jennifer Yu
(14), Akshita Gorti (13) and Carissa Yip, who is only 12 years old!
At 2184 Akshita Gorti is the highest rated U14 girl in the world, and she wasn’t hiding her ambitions:
I am excited and nervous at the same time. I will be playing against some of the top women players this country has to offer, and it will surely be a learning opportunity. I will take it one game at a time. This Championship will help me with my long term goals of winning the Women's World Championship; I am here to win no matter what!
Here's Akshita at work when she was even younger than she is today:
When it comes to the winner of the event, though, the obvious candidates are the big two, Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih, who clash again after Anna skipped last year’s championship. Between them they’ve won the last ten US titles, with Irina getting the upper hand with five wins in the last six years. It’s going to be fun!
Garry Kasparov celebrated his 53rd birthday yesterday, but many people’s choice as the best chess player of all time will be making a comeback to the board again. Last year’s blitz destruction of Nigel Short created a huge buzz, with chess fans around the world wondering how Kasparov would fair against the best players of the current generation. This year it looks like we may get to see that!
Details are scarce so far, but Kasparov will play in a two-day blitz event that will probably feature the Top 3 finishers of the main US Championship. Can you imagine a blitz tournament with Kasparov, Caruana, Nakamura and So? It might just happen…
The US Championships will again use the chess24 broadcast system, with the live video and commentary – by Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley - provided by the St. Louis Chess Club. Then on Monday we’ll be on the scene in Norway for Norway Chess, which features World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik and a host of the world’s top stars.
This might be a good time to consider trying our monthly Premium Membership. For only $9.99/ €9.99 a month you get unlimited access to all our videos, eBooks and the Tactics Trainer, but also an improved experience watching tournaments. Some benefits:
As mentioned, the US action starts from 13:00 St. Louis time = 19:00 London or 20:00 Paris. Enjoy the show!
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