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2009 US Ch Round 8: The Kid Is All Right!

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All the marbles are in play in the penultimate round. Extra pressure on the leaders with the white pieces today to get a win and move to +4. That means Kamsky (5) against Onischuk (5) and Hess (5) against Shulman (4.5). The other leader, Nakamura (5), has black against Brooks (4) and will also be looking to win. On the other hand, all three of Onischuk's wins have come with black. Akobian (4.5), who has only one draw so far, has white against Benjamin (4). Live here at noon EDT. Updates later.

Add: Well, one of the underdogs has already been locked up in the pound. Nakamura just took Brooks apart with black to move to +4. Kamsky and Onischuk are battling in a Berlin (drawn). Shulman looks to have defended against Hess's unusual try against the French. (Now defending a R+N endgame a pawn down.)

Add: It was the day of a favorite and a foal at the top of the standings today. With one round to play in the 2009 US championship, only 2005 champion Hikaru Nakamura and 17-year-old Robert Hess are now tied for the lead with 6/8 after crucial wins in the eight round. The other leaders, Kamsky and Onischuk, battled to a draw. Joining them at 5.5 was Akobian, who beat Benjamin. Nakamura cleanly dismantled underdog Missourian Brooks with the black pieces, looking every bit the FIDE 2700 player he is. Hess impressed again by beating defending champion Yury Shulman.

Due to the vagaries of the swiss system most of the top scorers have already played each other, so the final round pairings are going to look a little odd if you were hoping for head to head drama. Hess will certainly face Akobian, having already lost to Nakamura and drawn with Kamsky and Onischuk. As for Nakamura, he faced his four Olympiad teammates on the trot in rounds 4-7 and will now likely face Josh Friedel, who beat Ehlvest today to move to five points. Friedel beat Nakamura at the Chicago Open last year but still must be considered the underdog. All's fair, I suppose, but it does make you consider Greg Shahade's suggestion to change the rules to allow rematches in the final two rounds to increase the drama. Who wouldn't want Hess-Nakamura tomorrow, winner take all?

14-year-old Robson just finished off Sevillano in the last game to finish. Lawton finally got on the board, nicking Shankland for a draw. Eckert also scored an upset, beating Khachiyan. More later after I have a chance to look at the games and consume some pizza. Round 9 pairings now up here.

Add: Norm Watch: (Not as exciting as Bay Watch, but still plenty of boobs.) According to Chris Bird via Macauley Peterson in St. Louis, Ray Robson is still in the running for a GM norm. He can do it with just a draw with black against his own coach, Onischuk! Tough call for Sasha. Shot at a higher prize or job security as a coach? I kid, I kid. ("Here I reveal great training secret, Ray. You always let your coach win, okay?") Brooks has to win with black against Ibragimov to get his GM norm. Nobody else is in the running; Hughes was close for IM norm but his average opposition means he needs 4.5, which he can't reach.

Add: A few quick game thoughts. Onischuk brought out the Berlin Defense against Kamsky, a decision you can interpret in various ways. One, that he's practical and wants to play his game regardless of the standings. Two, that he figured Kamsky would want to push hard for the win with white and the Berlin can be dangerous if White over-presses. You can also put in that Kamsky lost with white against Aronian at Corus this year in a Berlin. Mind-reading aside, there was a goodly amount of line-opening and action for a Berlin as Onischuk got some action going on the queenside. But with no prospects for his bishops a repetition draw was found on move 30. Kamsky (5.5) will now have black against Ehlvest (4) in the final round. Random stat: Kamsky and Ehlvest have both been among the world's top five on the FIDE list. (Gulko might have edged into the top ten in the late 70s or early 80s.)

Hess decided to avoid theory in a big way against Yury Shulman's French Defense. The Exchange isn't a toothless as you might think, but the line with 4.Bf4 really takes things off the maps. Hess has played this a few times before, and perhaps he also had in mind that the higher-rated defending champ might try too hard to win from a simplified position. Hess revealed his ambition by turning the position into what looks quite a bit like a Sicilian, if you put your finger over the black pawn on c6. White castled queenside and went for a blunt pawn storm. Shulman fended that off well enough but Hess kept enough initiative to get an endgame pull. Surprisingly, the veteran Shulman appears to have mangled the defense pretty badly and Hess picked the position clean. Hess has white against Akobian, who has a chance at first place himself if he wins.

Veteran IM Michael Brooks has long been a winner in Midwest events that didn't attract the East Coast heavyweights. In St. Louis they had to come to his turf and he's been playing well enough to still be close to a GM norm despite losing to Nakamura today. That said, it was a one-sided affair that put Nakamura one more win away for at least a playoff for his second US championship title. 22.b3 is a real dud that weakened the knight and suddenly there is no way to save a pawn. Brooks decided to go out in a blaze of desperation instead of suffering. His attempt at a tactical swindle backfired after the nice 27..Bf5! Nakamura does no pardon in such positions and it was over in ten more moves, with a cute finish to boot.

Friedel bounced back again with a wild and woolly Najdorf win over Ehlvest. It won't be enough for a top spot, but it puts him in the role of potential spoiler against Nakamura tomorrow. Robson was on the defensive early against Sevillano but held on and eventually turned things around completely. He gave up the exchange for a trio of passers on the queenside that won easily. (Even if it took another hour or two thanks to Sevillano's standard bitter-endedness.) Krush dueled with Shabalov in a Poisoned Pawn Najdorf and seemed to come out fine. But in such a crazy position it only took a few small slips to come to a nasty end against the four-time champion. 19.Qc4 is a nasty move, threatening Rxf5+. Krush had to play 22..Rgd8 but chose the wrong rook and got whacked with 23.Rb3, hitting the queen and threatening Rg3+.


45.Rf5 looks like a win for Hess.

I notice that the live display from the site shows that Robson is playing "GM Sevillano, Enrico"

I hope he makes it some day, but this seems kind of quick, since he started the tournament as an IM.

Honestly, I don't understand the motivation for Shulman behind giving up a pawn with 43.Rc6?

Certainly white was better, not sure if winning, but giving up the pawn for nothing doesn't seem to help. Giving Hess a shot to be the US Champion?, haha.

Shulman is headed to a loss cause Rc6??
he probably could have drawn with most other moves a5, Nb8 etc.

Wow, Hess is on a roll. It's not impossible he's going to gain 100 points on the next rating list compared to his current 2485 rating.

"Who wouldn't want Hess-Nakamura tomorrow, winner take all?" (Mig)

Mig, don't despair yet. They could tie for first and have a playoff for the title.

what's the deal with possible gm norms for hess and robson?

If you don't want bad matchups, invite only the top players. Clearly, a better championship is fought with only top players. Lawton, especially, doesn't belong. Look at his USCF chess tournament history in the ratings web pages. He has played in one full time control tournament since 1991 (this March), where he beat 2 experts and an A player and lost to an expert. His good news is that he's not losing any FIDE points (no FIDE rating!).

Jen Shahade had the nerve to ask Naka if he felt bad about today's pairings, after he'd played all the top guys already. Unbelievable. The solution is easy - play a round robin!

Hess can't earn a gm norm cause... he ALREADY IS a GM. He already earned all 3 norms and got his rating above 2500.

Brooks with a win tomorrow will get a GM norm.
Robson has a very offhanded chance of getting a GM norm if he wins tomorrow against number 1 seed Gata Kamsky (tough break).
Tyler Hughes should get an IM norm tomorrow if he beats Irina Krush.

Good luck to the norm seekers.

I think there is no perfect format. But I agree with you Jen Shahade had a pretty stupid moment (one of many) when on the air she asked Naka about pairings being unfair. I mean honestly I know she's just trying to kill air time to get paid for nothing... but I hope she's one commentator they never ever have back.

My bad since the weird swiss pairings of the 9th round Robson has no chance at a norm cause in a sadistic twist of fate he got his coach as the 9th round pairing! Even a win over onischuk shouldn't be able to bring his TPR above 2600... so ends robson's chance for a norm (I predict a quick 30 move prearranged draw anyways).

Tyler Hughes is also out of the running most likely since he got Eckert instead of Irina.

But ol' Brooks is still a GM norm seeker by a victory over Ibragimov!

Pairings now up. According to Macauley, Robson gets a norm even with a draw. As you said, Brooks needs a win over Ibragimov with black. Hughes average too low.

"Clearly, a better championship is fought with only top players."

That is a mind-bogglingly silly comment on this thread, given the role of Hess, who obviously would have been omitted from the cobweb-ridden (i.e. 1960s-style) elite round robin format that Tom explicity calls for in his post above. Brooks and Robson's results contradict the silly statement as well.

Of course the tail-enders here, Lawton especially, have (or had, ex ante) potential to distort final results if one or another favorite failed to collect the expected full point against them. That's probably the main argument against letting "unqualified" people in.

But as with any comparison, whether chess-related or not, critics should strive for the self-education and maturity to never criticize in a vacuum. In other words, know enough to place the particular event you're talking in both its own historical context and in the contemporary context that includes other such events.

Even elite chess tournaments (many, if not most) include one or two "wild-card" invites for the sponsor. This is or was true even for Linares, the height of elite-dom, I believe.

As for the historical context, as I and others have pointed out, the US Championship in recent decades has toggled between an elite format (small round-robin with rating as the only criterion for admission) and a diversity-focused format, exemplified by the 64-player Swisses of the AF4C sponsorship era that ended 3 years ago.

This year's format represents a compromise between the two. And a hugely successful one from all angles that make sense to me, given the results after 8 rounds.

actually I eat my own words again rather than listen to the cluless Jen Shahade I went ahead and calculated the norm TPRs myself.

Ray with a draw should get a GM norm with TPR of 2610
Brooks with a win should get a GM norm with TPR of 2613
Sevillano can't get a norm.
Tyler can't get a norm.

Also another reason they shouldn't invite local nobodies like Lawton is they kill norm chances since they don't have a fide rating they are counted as 2100 which DESTROYS the TPR rating average. They should only invite players with 2300+ fide.

@Daniel 8:48

completely agree with you re: player invites. I'm sure Mr. Lawton is a very nice guy, and a strong player (lord knows he'd crush me like a grape)... but there was nobody stronger who could play? It's important for US tourneys to have achieveable norms.

I'd have to imagine that coach Oni will present Ray with his "certificate" -errrr, 28 move draw tomorrow.

I posted some years back about doing pro video work for online distribution... I'm very, very excited to see this initial effort... mixing in commentary with interviews in a daily magazine format is the way to go... and they've managed to achieve a certain degree of production value.

... but Jen Shahade could use a tutorial in On-Camera Presence and Technique

If Nakamura and Hess both win, they play a tiebreaker?

Isn't their any sense (especially in light of funky pairings in this swiss), in having the head-to-head "tiebreaker" count for something?

Having grown up in Saint Louis, I can tell you that Lawton is not a nobody (local perspective). Eckert is well known as well and he used to live in Saint louis before moving to nearby Qunicy, IL. These guys are local chess heroes just one level below Brooks.

Everybody in Saint Louis chess circles knows Lawton for a long time and his lack of USCF-rated tournaments the past 15 or so years is not so related to his local appeal or his appearances at local clubs over the last 20 years.

Of course Lawton is not of the caliber of any of the players here outside of Hughes, etc., but when you are the local organizer who is putting up $35K for first prize and very good (relative to the U.S Championship of years past) prizes for all places -- You get to do whatever you want in my opinion. I am sure Lawton will be showing his games from this tournament to the members of this club for weeks to come.

The goal of the U.S Championship is to provide a highly prestigious tournament for the country's highest chess honor, not to create a norm opportunity for Ray Robson or Sam Shankland. This tournament wildly succeeds on that count. The top 15 USCF-rated players outside of the inactive Seirwan are here. How often has that happened?

I'm rooting for Brooks in Round 9. This guy has had a tough life and slept out of his car for long stretches scratching out an existence as a mid-tier chess professional.

Too many haters on this tournament. One need not wonder why more chess enthusiasts are not so generous with their time and finances when it comes to organizing and subsidizing great events like this.

I grew up in Kansas City. My best friend trained under Michael Brooks for years. He was our hero. I know what it is like to have a local hero participate. But no one denied Brooks could put up the skill to compete (and has). Everyone knew Lawton couldn't.

According to several local A players while I was in St. Louis visiting. Two people were invited as local masters before Lawton. Lawton was only invited because the other two masters declined stating simply they could not compete on that level.

It is one thing when the participant isn't going to get slaughtered at a whopping -7!

The organizers put in time and money, surely they deserve to select a few wild-cards of their choice. But how about this simple rule: a wild card is allowed to participate provided he is at least 2300 Fide (or some similar number)? Then the organizer can invite any local player he wishes, but it is guaranteed that this player will put up a fight. No Fide masters in Saint Louis? too bad! invite a talented kid or another GM instead...

Yeah, put that rule in, and if the St. Louis organizer feels it is not worth it to have a tournament with ZERO Saint Louis players to at all benefit the local interest in his club, maybe this tournament is back to the caliber of recent years: no Kamsky, no Nakamura, etc.

This guy is financing the thing out of his own pocket and generosity. He owns the Saint Louis Chess Club. Should he not be able to invite the highest USCF-rated player from Saint Louis?

I'm not sure which 2 Saint Louis Masters could have been asked before Lawton considering there is not one within 90 USCF rating points of Lawton (outside of Brooks and an inactive, expired player who are both rated higher).

yes of course this 2300 fide rule makes sense.

For GM norm purposes, an unrated player is counted as 2250 (required TPR minus 350).

1.46a Maximum 22% of the opponents shall be unrated.

1.46c For the purposes of norms, the minimum rating (adjusted rating floor) for the opponents shall be as follows:
Grandmaster title - 2250
International Master title - 2100
Woman Grandmaster title - 2050
Woman International Master title - 1900

Of course it's the prerogative of whoever's signing the checks to invite whomever they want to their tournament... My argument is that, in the long term, it benefits US chess *more* to have more tournaments with reasonable and realistic chances for GM norms.

If Robson hangs on and draws Onischuk (looking likely now), getting a GM norm, that's one of the biggest stories of the tournament. Producing more young players that can compete internationally is the single best thing that can happen for US chess.

And, yes, I'm pulling hard for Brooks to get his norm, too!

I'm not "hating" on the tournament at all - by all counts it's been the best run US Championship in some time. There's nothing wrong with inviting the local master to your tournament - but it does make it less "prestigious", and it isn't the best way to achieve the long-term goals of chess in the US.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on May 16, 2009 11:17 PM.

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