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2009 US Ch Round 5: Akobian and Shulman Lead

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This is the big one, Nakamura-Kamsky in their first classical match-up! Live here, or on the ICC.

We've been talking format in a few of the comment threads and it's as tough a nut as always. I see no reason to be a purist with the US Ch the way I am with the world championship. Finding something that draws attention and sponsorship is more of a priority for a pro-chess-challenged country like the US than guaranteeing the best technical level of chess and the most rigorous process. That is, unlike the WCh, it's not going to be a big deal if the US champ isn't considered the best player in the country every year. The main thing is to get the best players to the board in the first place, which they have done admirably in St. Louis. Yes, it might look a little strange in the final two rounds when none of the contenders for first are facing each other, which is likely to be the case. But that's what usually happens in round-robins, too, and the final rounds of Corus and Linares can be quite dramatic anyway. Money is always going to be the major issue. Expanding the field to 64 or whatever, as was done a few times by the AF4C, is good fun, but very expensive. I would love to see the drama of a final match for the title, but match play is slow and therefore expensive. (Unless you use rapid games, which also freaks many people out, as we saw in 2006.)

Round report here later. Let's get it on!

Add: Nakamura-Kamsky was a red-blooded draw in Kamsky's now-standard Grunfeld. It was a line of the Russian System that Kamsky defended back in 1991 against Timman and has been used off and on in the shadow of the far more popular 4.cxd4 that Kramnik has several patents on. Kamsky has defended this line several times in the past year, including against Leko in Nalchik a few weeks ago. There he played the sharp 6..Bg7 7.e4 0-0 8.e4 Ng4 9.d4 line. At the 2008 Aeroflot Onischuk played 14.Rd1 against Svidler and was quickly in trouble. Nakamura's 14.c6 has been tried a couple of times in the past year but doesn't seem terribly promising either. He tried 16.Rd1 instead of the immediate Nxe6 that was seen before. As is so often the case in the Grunfeld, Black has sharp tactical resources aplenty. By move 25 Kamsky had a little plus even without his dark-squared bishop and the corresponding theoretical weakness around his king. Kamsky decided to continue solidly, however, and acquiesced to Nakamura's threat of a sac and perpetual check. Playing more acquisitively with 26..Na3 is worth a look. Not a thriller, but an honest and worthy clash.

With the top seeds blunting sword on shield, the path was open for someone else to grab the lead, or someones. Akobian moved up to +3 by fending off a wild queen sacrifice by Ehlvest, who might have gotten his hands on a bad bottle of brandy last night. It was a beautiful idea, but much like the remake of "The Wicker Man" it just didn't work in practice. White got two pieces and some shots at the black king for the queen, and it was fun to examine all the ways Black could go wrong. The tightrope would have been very tight indeed had Ehlvest played 23.Bb4, with nasty threats. But as is common after such speculative sacs, the defender has ways of giving back material to keep a superior position. Akobian calmly offered to return the queen after 24.Bg5+, but of course he would have two extra pawns and an easy win. So many of Black's defensive moves are obvious or forced it's hard to say what Ehlvest missed; or maybe he was just visited by the spirit of Tal at the wrong moment. (Tal's ghost has a cruel streak.)

Akobian was soon joined in the lead by defending champion Shulman, who also won with black. He counterattacked effectively against Friedel out of the French and finished with a cute time trouble tactic. Akobian-Shulman is the key matchup tomorrow. The two recently concluded a rapid and blitz challenge match in California won by Akobian. 2006 champ Onischuk moved up to the chasing back by dispatching Shankland in the first game to finish. Going over the game I got the feeling that if White's idea of Bd2 and c5 worked it would have been tried before in this deeply analyzed Scotch position. Maybe not, but it certainly didn't work out here for the teenager. White was still holding a tenuous balance until he dislocated his queen, or at least sprained it badly, with 19.Qa4. The house came tumbling down a few moves later.

The other 17-year-old in the field fared better. Robert Hess demolished Khachiyan with a thematic Nd5 sac in the Sicilian against a king on e8. Movsesian has been impressing the pundits by offering to defend against the supposedly dreaded Keres Attack in the Scheveningen lately, although almost all of his 2700+ peers have declined to take him up on the offer. Hess showed no such chickentude. His aggression paid off when Khachiyan blundered with 17..Nf4, allowing White to load up for a big knight sac in the middle of the board. Black decided to pitch his queen and pray for a blockade instead of suffering after 21..Be6. Hess faces Kamsky tomorrow. Onischuk-Nakamura is the other big clash.

If you're up for a little eye candy, Benjamin duly destroyed Hughes with a knight sac leading to a fun (for Benjamin) king chase. Games like this make you both wonder why such low-rated players are in the event and feel somehow glad that they are. Sure there are plenty of much stronger players who aren't in the field, but would Stripunsky, Lendermann, or Goldin lose as entertainingly as the US junior champ? I think not. Wildcards for local players and young hopes are one of the plusses these large fields have over exclusive round-robins. Speaking of Goldin, where is he these days? He doesn't seem to play much anymore.

Krush was close to putting the kibosh on Christiansen with an extra pawn and the bishop pair, but blundered it away with 27.Bd4, after which White is hoping for the draw. 27.Bxb6 seems to force a much better endgame. As if further confirmation were necessary, Shabalov showed again this is not his tournament. He built up a great position against Brooks Sevillano only to throw himself a curveball with 19.exf6, stranding his Nd6. Brooks Sevillano finished up cleanly to give Shaba, a four-time US champion, his third loss in five rounds. Poor Lawton upgraded his Audi to an Olympic against Eckert and his opponents are only going to get stronger from here on out. I expect there will be at least one GM who won't be against giving up a short draw in a miserable tournament.


New swiss format idea: for the final 2 rounds allow rematches. Fixes problems of leaders not facing at the end, although obviously some downsides as well, but just an idea that I think is worth considering.

I know there's some kind of swiss pairing where the first two rounds are paired as the first one normally is: with the top half (ratings-wise) paired against the bottom half. This would seem to eliminate some of the problem of having "pairing down" of tournament leaders at the end of a 9 round tournament with 24 players.

Sounds fine to me. Just switch the colors so we see Nakamura - Kamsky in round 5 and Kamsky - Nakamura in round 9.

Yikes. 5 of Naka's first 12 moves were with the queen, which ended up on c2. Not surprisingly white looks cramped and his king is still in the middle on move 21. But Naka chose this line early, hopefully it's home prep.

I think Kamsky will win. He's pushing Nakamura back and has two nasty looking pawns on the queen side after 26 moves. And Hess looks like he is crushing Khachiyan. He just played 19.Nd5+ which seems to blow Black out of the water. There should be a Hess - Kamsky game coming up soon I hope.

Check out Benjamin vs Hughes for a good old fashioned king hunt.

The top 4 seeds (see below) are so good if they play every year I can't imagine anyone else finishing in the top 4. Congrats to St Louis for getting 4 true world class players to play.

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

Oops, sorry for taking this post offline for a while there. PEBKAC. Round 5 report up.

John -

Yes, they are very good. But, you could also imagine Akobian, Hess, and maybe Robson being there too.

The old guard represented by Benjamin, Christiansen, Shabalov, and Gulko don't seem to have the juice any more.

Hi Mig,

Brooks played Becerra, not Shabalov though he indeed beat him in round 2.

GM Goldin, I believe, lives in Kentucky. He played at last year's US Championship Qualifier.

Sorry about the name mix-up. Too many windows open, not enough brainpower. With two big events going, lots of "real job" work, and baby waking up at 4am, it's clear I picked the wrong month to give up crystal meth.

"I picked the wrong month to give up crystal meth."
An "Airplane" reference - fantastic! Keep up the good work Mig!

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on May 12, 2009 2:45 PM.

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