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US Championship 2007 - Michael Aigner blog

Michael Aigner, better known as fpawn on ICC

Posted by Michael Aigner at Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Greetings from Oklahoma!  After two flights and a 90 minute bus ride, I have arrived at the venue of the US Championship.  The trip from Sacramento to Tulsa (via Phoenix) and ultimately to Stillwater took most of the day, but went well.  Looking out of the window, I saw the heads of several thunderstorms and wondered if my springtime trip to Tornado Alley would result in a close encounter with a twister.  And no, for once I wasn’t thinking of the whirlwind known as Hikaru Nakamura.

Upon landing in Sooner State and collecting my luggage, the first chess player that I ran across was quite familiar: Alex Yermolinsky, the Grandmaster-in-Residence at the Mechanics’ Institute in San Francisco—one of my favorite chess clubs—dressed for the occasion in a suit and tie.  “Yermo” has two US Championships to his credit, the first in 1993 (a tie) and the second in 1996.  With some luck, perhaps he can win another.

I quickly also met the sponsor Frank Berry himself, who saw it as his personal duty to shuttle America’s elite players to his hometown of Stillwater.  Considering that Mr. Berry is a successful businessman who had just donated $50,000 of his own cold cash to this tournament, I didn’t expect to meet a man dressed in a shorts and an Oklahoma State University sports cap.  He certainly wears his casual attitude on his sleeves!  Later Mr. Berry would remark that “suits are forbidden in Oklahoma,” perhaps referring to the well-polished Yermolinsky.  On the other hand, I certainly could not fathom playing for a national title in a swim shorts and tank top, unless the sport was beach volleyball.  I think I’ll stick to my assortment of polo shirts.

Hideaway Pizza

We all drove from Tulsa to Stillwater (79 miles) in a Hideaway Pizza shuttle bus.  I knew pizza places delivered, but I never saw a pizza truck with a wheelchair lift before!  I guess there’s always a first time.  Someone please remind me to sample Hideaway Pizza, apparently a local establishment, before I leave town.  The bus passengers (Yermolinsky, IM Irina Krush, IM Bryan Smith, IM Alan Stein, WFM Iryna Zenyuk and I) passed time by discussing everything from the MTel tournament to fantasy chess teams while Frank Berry drove.

After checking into the Quality Inn hotel (more on this on another day) and grabbing a foot-long bite at the nearby Subway, I attended the Player’s Meeting on Monday night.  Veteran chess master and journalist Jerry Hanken filled in for USCF President Bill Goichberg, who was apparently stranded by inclement weather elsewhere in the country.  Also present were chief director Jim Berry (Frank’s twin brother) and his assistant Alex Reylea.  Most of the players had arrived by the time the meeting began.  I’ll summarize the key points.

  • The time control will be G/150 with a 30 second per move increment.  This is quite an unusual time control because no time is added at, say, move 40 (except for the increment).  Some players could, conceivably, use up all of their 2.5 hours within the first 25 moves and have to play the rest of the game on the 30 second increment.  To my surprise, nobody voiced much concern about this decision.
  • Players may not offer draw before move 30 except with approval of the director (e.g. forced repetition of moves). 
  • In order to deter cheating, the organizing committee reserved the right to search any player after accumulating a significant amount of suspicion of cheating.  The directors rejected a concern that merely an accusation by the opponent could trigger a search.  Of course, we all hope this rule will prove unnecessary. 
  • All players are “strongly encouraged” to use the MonRoi electronic scoresheet during the games so that they can be transmitted live on the internet.  Several players objected to this new technology, preferring to use traditional paper scoresheets.  Organizers hope at least one player per game will use the MonRoi or else a third party will need to record the game.
  • The prize fund is now up to $75,000, including contributions from the National Open (June 8-10 in Las Vegas) plus a daily $100 “best game” prize.  The latter will be determined by the online audience at the official tournament website.
  • Top seeded GM Hikaru Nakamura lost the coin toss to determine the color on board 1.  His opponent, IM Josh Friedel, will command the white pieces.  Astute readers will remember that Friedel defeated Nakamura in the first round of the 2006 Championship.  Will history repeat itself?

Since the pairings are being done by the May 2007 USCF rating list (including the Foxwoods Open), I got a mild surprise for round 1.  I’m now the #32 seed out of 36 (up one from my first blog entry) and get black against Miami native GM Julio Becerra (2608 USCF, 2544 FIDE).  Becerra qualified for the US Championship by winning the Champion of State Champions qualifier on ICC earlier this year.  I also get to meet one of the few players whom I’ve never knowingly seen before.  Wish me luck!

I planned to make a few bold predictions in this blog entry, but I am tired and should get to bed.  Check back here for my next report after round 1.  Sorry also for the lack of photos today—I’ll try to take some at the opening ceremony.

MonroiDon’t forget to tune in for round 1 beginning at 3pm Eastern, 12noon Pacific and continuing for four to six hours.  Top games will be broadcast live on ICC (locate the Events list under the Window menu) and all games are available on the MonRoi website.

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