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2009 US Ch: Champ Chat

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New US champ Hikaru Nakamura is blogging in detail about his triumphant tournament run in a fun game-by-game chronology at his site. Part One and Two, with a third coming. Great stuff direct from the source and it sure beats waiting for a watered-down, chopped-up version to appear in print a month or two from now. The raw feed rules!

Then there's Nakamura's post-tournament interview from ICC Chess.FM with Macauley Peterson and Jen Shahade. If you're wondering about his second "Kris" mentioned in his blog, the interview has a little more about this mystery man.

On a separate note, was this the strongest US championship ever? Reshevsky and Fine were super-elite at a time when there weren't many, and Kashdan was no slouch. Fischer, Benko, Evans and R. Byrne had their achievements as well. Browne-Christiansen-Dzindzi-Seirawan? Kavalek certainly raised the class of a few events. Then the Soviet invasion fields, though few other than Gulko were ever top-20 from what I can tell. The format argument is separate, really. Obviously there were quite a few weaker players in this swiss than in the old round-robins, but the top ten guys in St. Louis were very strong and that's what I'm measuring by for the sake of the argument. (That is, strength and depth of the elite, not top to bottom.) What's your pick for strongest US Ch ever?


"What's your pick for strongest US Ch ever?"


In my humble opinion, the debate will really start when you pick the second-strongest US Champion.

This reminds me of an anecdote I read in Frank Brady's book about Fischer - after one of Fischer's US title wins, the person coming in second got accolades on the achievement because Fisher being first was a given.

vkj, you misunderstood Mig. Obviously he was asking about the strongest US Championship field ever (the top 5 or 10 contenders as a group) - not the strongest single champion. It's hard (as in, impossible) to imagine anyone disputing Fischer's claim to the latter.

"...was this the strongest US championship ever?" (Mig)

Of course not. Why would anyone even seriously think that? What a joke.

Is Nakamura really as lazy as he sounds? I'm dubious, but, then, why does he seem to take pride in regarding the sloth as his role model?


The question you answered was rhetorical. The question he is really asking is "What's your pick for strongest US Ch ever?"


Nah... not lazy. Hikaru seemed to be better prepared in his games. Maybe he relaxed prior to the tournament, but he came with his game face on. Whatever he did, it worked well.

Mig "Obviously there were quite a few weaker players in this swiss than in the old round-robins, but the top ten guys in St. Louis were very strong and that's what I'm measuring by for the sake of the argument."

Mig states above what he's measuring by. It's the only US Ch ever with 10 players FIDE rated 2586 or over. That's not even including Benjamin 2583 and Shabalov 2569 who also played.

1 Kamsky, Gata g USA 2720 20 1974
2 Nakamura, Hikaru g USA 2701 10 1987
3 Onischuk, Alexander g USA 2684 28 1975
4 Shulman, Yuri g USA 2632 11 1975
5 Akobian, Varuzhan g USA 2612 33 1983
6 Becerra Rivero, Julio g USA 2609 7 1973
7 Ehlvest, Jaan g USA 2606 29 1962
8 Kaidanov, Gregory S g USA 2595 0 1959
9 Christiansen, Larry M g USA 2588 0 1956
10 Ibragimov, Ildar g USA 2586 0 1967

Shirov is #6 in the live ratings!

@flyonthewall -- My bad, thanks for correcting. Apologies Mig.

I see Nakamura has been invited to London Chess Classics in December along with Kramnik, Carlsen, Ni Hua, Adams and Short. Will be nice to see him finally take part in a real super tournament.

Daaim -

I hadn't thought about it other than remembering that some of the ones in the early 1990s were very strong, all GMs, most of them former champions. Guys like Christiansen, Wolff, Shabalov, Benjamin, Gulko, Fedorowicz, Kamsky. You know, the best at the time, no IMs, no top this or top that, no local invitees.

Not sure, here there were only three current top 100 World players (Kamsky, Nakamura, Onischuk) and Shulman near (will be in the next list), Akobian is solid on his level, and although some guys as Hess, Robson and even Friedel, probably, still underrated; a bunch of the strong former top world class guys (Ehlvest, Kaidanov, Ibragimov, Benjamin, Christiansen, Gulko) already went down with their games.
Do not forget Benko and Byrne were World Championship Candidates, when there were only 8 World Candidates.

Strongest US Championship ever? Not the earliest ones. They had Reshevsky, Kashdan and Fine, but also a lot of slugs dragging down the average. (Louis Persinger, anyone?)

For the same reason, none of the Swisses.

1958 was pretty tough: Fischer, Reshevsky, Sherwin, the Byrnes, Bisguier, Lombardy, Evans, Benko, Kalme, Mednis and Weinstein. Who's the weak link there? (Maybe Kalme). 11 titled players out of 12, 7 of them GM's or future GM's.

Or 1962: Fischer, Reshevsky, Evans, Bisguier, Addison, Robert Byrne, Berliner, Mednis, Rossolimo, Steinmeyer, Sherwin. All titled players, except for Steinmeyer. 11 titled players again and 2/3 either GM's or future GM's.

And Shabalov is clearly underrated at the moment. 4-time champ as 14th seed! Of course he ended up playing even worse, but he's certainly gives up nothing to Shulman and Akobian.

I agree somewhat about Benko and Byrne, and listed them, but making it to the candidates can be more an indicator of form. Benko in particular was definitely very strong for quite a while, if inconsistent. He made the candidates tournament twice in row, which is something only household names can say. But the list of candidates is full of people who you wouldn't include in a "strongest" list, at least not by my definition of the term.

Competition is just much stronger now as well. I'm not really sure what it means, but to me someone who hits #50 now is probably working a lot harder and achieving on a different level than the guy who was #50 30 years ago. Half the field of some of the US Chs in the 60s barely ever played internationally.

I'm also not sure what it means that so many unknown players had such good results in US Chs in the 80s and 90s. There were some real stars in there, but does that mean the US had an incredible wealth of potential star talent that left the game early? Or do the wins of Rachels, Wilder, and (less so) Wolff (and a near-miss by Sherzer) mean the pros who stuck around weren't quite that great? Or neither, but it does seem relevant. On the other hand, there's Hess in this incredibly strong field pushing Nakamura to require a 3/3 finish to take first, so perhaps it's simply that in any one event someone can get hot. (Not that he's not a great talent, but he's obviously not going to be playing on a 2700 level just yet.)

Did Ehlvest really hit #3 in the world as Hikaru says on his blog? Trivial of course, but I thought the highest he got was equal 5-7. I only mention it because I did a trivia question for ICC Chess.FM on naming the only players in the field to hit the top five in the world. Quite a few players hit that three spot before Karpov dropped, so it wouldn't surprise. I just want to know on which list.

Concerning Rachels, Wilder, Wolff, Sherzer (and Shaked)- I think both things are correct, part of them are lost potential big stars and part of them probably just had a particular tournament of their life. Unfortunately we can not say exactly who is who. Even if you will look for a list of the USSR Chess Champions some of them are relatively unknown, lets say that, for example, Verlinsky or Savon are not so great as some others from Alekhin to Kasparov.
Concerning Ehlvest I am lazy to check it on Internet, but I do not think he was #3 by rating. From 1981/82 until Anand and Kramnik rise; Kasparov and Karpov were always in the top 3, among the third one numbers were Korchnoi, Anderson, Ljuboevic, Sokolov/Yusupov, probably Belyavsky at some point, Timman, Short and than Gelfand and Ivanchuk;
Ehlvest probably tied with Salov for the third place in the GMA Grand Prix in 1988/89; so after that he could be claimed as #3 World Chess player.

"Did Ehlvest really hit #3 in the world as Hikaru says on his blog?"
According to the following source Ehlvest briefly reached the top 10 in 1990/91:
July 1990 - 6-7 with Salov
January 1991 - 5-7 with Bareev and Gurevich
[but this may actually be your source? ,:)]

Wikipedia also says that "his best ranking has been in the world top 5".

Mig, you are correct, the highest Ehlvest rank was equal 5-7; January 1991:

Kasparov, Garry g m 2800
Karpov, Anatoly g m 2725
Gelfand,Boris g m 2700
Ivanchuk, Vassily g m 2695
Bareev, Evgeny g m 2650
Gurevich, Mikhail g m 2650
Ehlvest, Jaan g m 2650

So Ivanchuk is returning to the 90s! Bad decision, awful musical decade.

Competition is just much stronger now as well. I'm not really sure what it means, but to me someone who hits #50 now is probably working a lot harder and achieving on a different level than the guy who was #50 30 years ago. Half the field of some of the US Chs in the 60s barely ever played internationally.

That's true. Well, if we go by overall strength, trying to take eras into account, then the strongest championship is probably one of the ones played in the 90's. Not sure which, but after the Soviet invasion commenced and before the Swisses.

Inconsistent does describe Benko. In 1958 he qualified from an Interzonal and then could only break even at the US Championship a few months later. In 1962 he had a heckva Candidates Tournament, beating Keres, Fischer and Tal at least once, and scoring 44% overall against the best of the best, and then went -2 a few months later at the US Championship. In fact, he always seemed to underperform in the championship. I don't think he ever did better than +3 in something like 17 tries.

I resent that , Pixies and Nirvana were great.

Was this a category 14 tournament?

Not just the Pixies and Nirvana (although the Pixies were an 80s band). The 90s were a wonderful time for music. CC's usually right, but not on this score.

Although only their 2 lastest records ¨bossanova¨(1990) and ¨trompe le monde¨(1991) are from the 90´s Pixies is considered by many (me included) the musical engine from that decade.
I named my 1st guitar ¨Velouria¨ because of them , if i ever have the money and resources i would hire Franck Black as a producer.
Sorry , i got sentimental ,have a soft spot there.

Gosh I knew Ehlvest for sure was #3 in the world - I want to say it was July 1989 list for some reason, but I can't find it. He was 2660.

Hmm weird found historical Elo tables, I guess he wasn't....

Is the full July 1989 list online anywhere? It had a 14-year-old Kramnik entering at 2490, and Kamsky at 2345 (to be 2650 in a year).

Sorry guys, but Scatman John and the Outhere Brothers have corrupted my memory banks irretrievably, pushing anything positive into the distance. It was a traumatic experience. Beee bop bop bop ba bo! And what about "Saturday Night"?

Do you really want or need THAT particular list? ,:) You may already know the following site, link at the liverating site:
It has all January lists (zipped files), and July lists starting from 1990. In the Jan 1990 list, Kamsky was already at 2510. "V. Kramnik" has 2490, "Vl. Kramnik" has 2450 (maybe one of the inconsistencies the webmaster warns about?).

Also interesting to see the increase in the overall number of rated players, as reflected by the file sizes: from 15k in 1975 to 607k in 2000.

Hey Chesshirer, if singles from a handful of novelty acts ruin entire decades for you, even to the point of "pushing anything positive into the distance", you could have just said so before condemning a decade you missed. People given an opportunity to turn the channel will often do so; for millions who did, the 90s were amazing.

But there's always time to go back for another listen. You could also take alook at the 1820s, another powerful decade for original music.

In the next FIDE rankings Hess' current projection is going up 75 points to 2560 and 1 of the top 15 players in the US! Congrats!

Hmm, then at least I could start to respect these "Best bands/singles of all time" competitions. Actually I bemoan the comparative paucity of guitar heroes/ stadium filler, high class rock bands, but doubtless these pink glasses aren't good for my objectivity.

Mig, I think FIDE made a mistake. I looked for your name in the top 100 US (see below) and didn't see it. ;)

91 Bartell, Thomas f USA 2368 5 1983
91 Burnett, Ronald m USA 2368 0 1967
93 Kelleher, William f USA 2367 5 1949
94 Zaremba, Andrie f USA 2360 6 1982
95 Lee, Michael f USA 2358 16 1993
95 Braylovsky, Gregory USA 2358 5 1979
95 Vucic, Mladen m USA 2358 0 1955
98 Liu, Elliot f USA 2353 4 1989
99 Taylor, Timothy m USA 2349 5 1953
100 Grefe, John A m USA 2348 0 1947

Not sure what you mean. You wouldn't find me in the top 100,000 since I've never had a FIDE rating. I have hopes of a top 100 US chess bloggers post though.

Interesting to see Elliot Liu's name though. Met him at the San Diego US Ch, nice kid. Has he given up serious play? Gone to college and all that sensible stuff? I mostly remember dogging him at the closing ceremony about how he blogged about how girls can't play right before one of the girls at the Ch stomped him.

He's referring to your proclaimed rating of 2300/2350 (I've only vague memories here) and assumed that you would therefore be on the list. Maybe that was only an estimate of your chess strength, by yourself or others, like I say, I don't remember clearly what you said, but that might clarify what he meant.

This U.S. victory might help Naka get more invitations to major European tournaments.
That would give him a chance to rise up in the chess world, if his talent and opening prep work so justify.

Or maybe tournament wins do not matter, only Elo matters?

I thought Mig's rating was already discussed exhaustively at earlier occasions ... . But, from what I remember, he referred either to his USCF (rather than FIDE) rating, or to his 'approximate' playing strength inferred from results he had in Argentina.
BTW, USCF ratings seem to be almost systematically higher (ca. 50 points?) than FIDE ratings? At least for those US Ch participants I heard of before ... .

@GeneM: Of course tournament wins lead to a higher ELO, so the distinction you make is somewhat artificial. And it is interesting, IMO slightly odd, that you ask for invitations to _European_ tournaments, rather than for stronger (international!) tournaments to be organized in the USA. [says a European ...]

It just seemed like he was bringing something up in context, not the usual troll, so I wondered if I missed something above.

Elo is what matters for invitations. If you're a relative unknown and win your national championship it might put you on the radar, but when it comes to the 2700 level, Elo and personal connections are what matter.

I don't claim to be an expert here, but I do remember an interview with Seirawan some years back when he was the top rated player in the US and getting no invites. Think he attributed it to being at the awkward 2650- too strong for some tournaments and not quite highly rated enough for others. So being the top player in your country didn't count for much..doesn't the US Championship count for anything, in terms of invite kudos?? It's not just any ol' national championship.. though certainly other countries may have stronger ones...the champ brings some publicity, i.e. recognition from fans from a rich country (attractive for sponsors?),no?

Mig "I mostly remember dogging him at the closing ceremony about how he blogged about how girls can't play right before one of the girls at the Ch stomped him."

Aronian made similar statements this year (he said they were too emotional), but I don't think Judit Polgar would agree with him. ;)

Mig "Elo is what matters for invitations. If you're a relative unknown and win your national championship it might put you on the radar, but when it comes to the 2700 level, Elo and personal connections are what matter."

I agree 100%. Generally speaking the top 25 get invited to the "Super" tournaments. Nakamura 2701 is #30 at FIDE and not above 2700 in the live ratings so he doesn't deserve it. Kamsky 2720 has fallen to #24 at FIDE, but is 2716 and #19 in the live ratings so he does deserve it.

America is a rich country in GDP, but not in chess. Kamsky won the World Cup and played a semifinal match for the world championship and got zero mention in the mainstream press. So what "good" was he to the organizers as an American representative? Having a top American player might increase your web traffic significantly since there are hordes of US chess fans online. But few big chess sponsors do anything to monetize their web traffic effectively.

And many hold their rounds so early few in the US watch live. And most official sites don't do much to build traffic anyway. So if you only want the results and games you can get those at TWIC or ChessBase, etc. But if they started putting up robust content and leveraging their traffic, official sites would likely come to appreciate American players a bit more because of the sheer numbers, of not per capita numbers, of online chess fans in the US.

Tangentially, this is why Nakamura could do himself a service by continuing to be a web presence. It's something of a long-shot, admittedly, and it assumes a degree of web-savviness and interest in marketing in general that few if any official organizers have. Marketing yourself isn't as necessary when you're top 10, but it never hurts. I'd toss in the example of the comedian Dane Cook, who wasn't/isn't a very good comedian but was a maniacal networker online and tailored his material and persona toward the late high school and college crowd that dominated all the social networking spaces.

Being able to bring, say, an extra 20,000 daily uniques to an official site would mean something in a world where the organizers knew what they were doing online.

I might go as far to say that being the US champ is worth 16 points! 50, no, but 16, okay. But Kamsky has also been the higher-profile player in the past few years, with the World Cup win, the Topalov match, and his presence in the Grand Prix. That helps not because of a fan base (probably irrelevant, sadly), but because it puts him in regular contact with the people who make these decisions and their network. To my knowledge he's mostly in Russia and traveling to play these days, another advantage over someone stuck in the US far from the European action.

That said, Nakamura's getting some chances coming up. San Sebastian will get attention and a top-three finish will mean a lot. But then if he sheds those rating points in a big US open it's back to square one. Or maybe square two.

Agreed. Some fans don't realize it, but Naka plays in many international tournaments such as The 2009 PWC Toronto Open Chess Championship, Aker Chess Challenge in Gjøvik, Cap d'Agde, Gibtel, Corsican Circuit, Magistral D'Escacs in Barcelona, GibTel Masters in Gibraltar, etc.

Yes John, but these are mostly rapid competitions - and here Nakamura may already have a stronger reputation compared to classical time controls.

@Mig: "many [European tournaments] hold their rounds so early few in the US watch live."
Hard to solve this potential problem - for Corus, Dortmund, Linares, ... to attract live viewers all over the US rounds would have to start at 4:00PM at the earliest (7:00AM in California). But games may take 6 hours or longer, and players still need to have dinner afterwards ... . Conversely, I don't know how many Europeans watchd the US Ch live until well after midnight around here (any stats available?).

So, Nakamura's added value to European tournaments might rather be "being himself" (as an interesting chess player and personality) than "being American"!? In that respect, he may well be at least equal to Kamsky - but the latter has more (international) career achievements on offer.

BTW, Robert Hess may also be up to invitations for tournaments such as Corus C (or even B?). On the other hand, if he wants to face strong non-US competition (and maybe earn prize money), there are numerous European opens to choose from ... .

Slight addition: Nakamura has also confirmed his participation in the London Chess Classic - with Carlsen, Kramnik, Adams, Short, Ni Hua and McShane (plus another player tbd).

U.S. champion or U.S. #1 hasn't meant anything in the last 35 years cuz:

1) They've all stunk, compared to the world top 10.
2) They're rootless U.S.-style mercenaries. No offense, but few identify with a Kamsky, Onischuk, or Seirawan. As someone who largely stopped following chess during my college/grad years, the return impression was "Wow, who are these all these Stripunskys, Onischuks, Becerras, Schulmans, Akopians and where from?"

Hello hcl -

I agree, the U.S. Champions since Fischer have not been as strong as the top players in the world. Those are the facts. Maybe Nakamura can break through.

hcl made two decent points, though the "rootless U.S.-style mercenaries" label bespeaks an emotional fury / hyperbole that pegs hcl as a (probably) European jealous of American accomplishments in other spheres (that's the usual source of that sort of animus, at least).

Also interesting is his inclusion of Seirawan on the list. I'm guessing that's also the typical provincial European's (or Asian's) incomprehension of America's greatest source of strength, its diversity. Outside of the U.S., you will find many people who think all Americans are named Smith or Jones ... or perhaps Bernstein or Lopez, but certainly not Seirawan, Nakamura or Shahade.

(For the foreign provincials among you, the first two were born in Syria and Japan but came to the U.S. when they were 2 or 3 years old. Guess their "mercenary" parents must have been real prescient about their potential to get rich playing chess someday, huh?. The third was born in Philadelphia and is more American than I am. I mention her - or her brother or father, whichever you prefer - only because I saw at least one reflex anti-American Dirt poster some years back idiotically name her in one of those "mercenaries" lists.)

Good points. I will be closely watching Naka's international tournament games at classical time controls. If he consistently can't do as well as similar rated players such as Adams, we will know his rapid game is stronger than his "classical" one.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on May 22, 2009 9:46 AM.

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