US Championship 2007 - Michael Aigner blog
Hello and welcome to the official ICC blog from the 2007 US Championship, taking place on May 15-23 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. My name is Michael Aigner, better known as “fpawn” on ICC, and I will be reporting live from Oklahoma in this space every night. I am a USCF Life Master and an active chess player who teaches many of California’s top juniors. Check out my personal website at www.fpawn.com for more information. Over the next two weeks, I hope to share with you the highlights and some stories behind the scenes from the most significant annual chess tournament in the USA.
I will actually be a bit of an insider considering that I am not an impartial reporter but rather a player in this championship. Does that mean I have a chance to dethrone defending champion Alexander Onischuk? Mathematically, yes. Realistically, no way! I will be one of the bottom feeders at this event, ranked #33 out of 36 players. My 2282 USCF and 2260 FIDE rating places me about 200 points below the average ratings for the entire field. As IM Greg Shahade wrote in the May issue of Chess Life magazine, I will be quite happy with 50% considering that I should be “paired up by 150+ points nearly every game.” While reading this blog, you can follow the ups and downs of my journey to Oklahoma—hopefully more ups than downs!
A little background is useful to explain how this year’s US Championship ended up in Oklahoma. Since the turn of the millenium, America’s Foundation for Chess (AF4C) has organized this prestigious event, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into top-level American chess. Along the way, they expanded the Championship from a 10 or 12 player round robin to a swiss with up to 64 participants, including players of both genders. While traditionalists argued that this expansion decreased the event’s prestige, the change allowed IMs, FMs and even experts an opportunity to play for the national title. The new format also required a larger prize fund and more cost.
Unfortunately, the AF4C decided not to put up the cost of the 2007 tournament, choosing instead to direct their funds to educational activities in schools. While the exact cause for this abrupt change has never been publicized, some reasons may include: lack of publicity in the mainstream media; lukewarm support in previous years by the leaders of the USCF; a significant accounting error in the prize fund for 2006; statements made by controversial USCF Executive Board member Sam Sloan; and the withdrawal of a major corporate sponsor.
Just as it appeared like there would be no US Championship this year, Frank K. Berry came to the rescue! Frank Berry and his twin brother Jim are active organizers of USCF and FIDE rated tournaments in Oklahoma, including the North American FIDE Open in February. Seeing a need, they contributed $50,000 to the prize fund. They will also handle the logistics of shuttling 36 players to the college town of Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of Oklahoma State University. By all accounts, the Berry brothers are great hosts and I am looking forward to a taste of their midwestern hospitality. Thank you for stepping to the plate and hitting a homerun for US chess!
Whom did I bribe to get my own spot into the Frank K. Berry US Championship? Well, nobody. All I had to do was score 7.5 points (out of 9) at the 2006 US Open in Oak Brook, Illinois. Piece of cake! In the final two rounds, I defeated IM Tim Taylor and drew a high-pressure game against GM John Fedorowicz on board 2. I wrote the following in my post-tournament report:
Instead, I got white (again!) against the "Fed." Of course, I would still have to face the power and fury of a Grandmaster with thousands of dollars in prize money at stake. Not surprisingly, board 1 between IM Emilio Cordova and GM Yury Shulman was drawn in about two hours, leaving my game as the featured game on the stage and relayed live on the Internet Chess Club. We both knew that the winner (if any) would tie for first and have his name recorded in history next to Bobby Fischer.
The game lasted a tense five hours. I was down a pawn for part of the middlegame, but had the bishop pair as compensation. Later, GM Fedorowicz sacrificed back the pawn for serious threats against my king. While my computer later assured me that the position was objectively drawn, it was by no means simple to play against a strong opponent with much at stake. I couldn't believe my ears when "Fed" offered a draw. Of course, I accepted! After the game, I was immediately whisked into an interview live via webcam on the ICC, hosted by IM Paschall.
Stillwater, here I come! Now that I have detailed both how the US Championship and the “fpawn” ended up in Oklahoma, it is time to look ahead to the tournament. I will arrive on-site by Monday evening, May 14. Many questions should be answered beginning with the first round at 3pm EDT on Tuesday, May 15. Who will become 2007 US Champion? 2004 Champ Hikaru Nakamura? 2006 Champ Alexander Onischuk? 2006 runner-up Yury Shulman? Who will finish in the top five to qualify for the FIDE World Cup this fall? Can any of the young International Masters earn a norm towards the Grandmaster title? And equally important, how will this reporter do? Stay tuned to this blog for more.