US Championship 2007 - Michael Aigner blog
The US Chess Federation website has sponsored a fantasy chess team contest with teams of seven players with average rating under 2510. Sorry, the entries closed today at the start of round 1. Drum roll please: My fantasy team is GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Yury Shulman, IM Josh Friedel, IM David Pruess, FM Robert Hess, FM Ray Robson and myself. Nakamura and Shulman are two of my favorites to win it all. Friedel and Pruess both carry two GM norms into the Championship and are hoping to earn the Grandmaster title in Stillwater. Talented youngsters Hess and Robson will naturally outperform their ratings. And certainly no fantasy team is complete without the “fpawn” as the anchor. Go team!
With preliminaries out of the way, the first round took place on Tuesday, May 15 at 2pm Central time. It was a minor miracle that all 36 players found their way to the remote town of Stillwater—some arrived just hours before the first game! The Opening Ceremony began with a rousing rendition of the national anthem and included some brief speeches by USCF officials (including President Bill Goichberg); recognition of the sponsors; a round of applause for the defending champion Alexander Onischuk; group photographs; and the ceremonial first move.
The organizers and players also had to sort out a crisis related to modern technology. Clocks! Clocks!? Everyone, including apparently the organizers, had taken for granted that all digital clocks would be able to handle the 30 second increment. Surprise! Surprise!! While increments are more common in Europe, the USCF still promotes the use of traditional time delay (no time is ever added to the clock). Thus, most clocks available in this country are not suited for the US Championship time control of G/150 + 30 seconds per move increment. After some heated debate, the players reluctantly agreed to play the first round at 40 moves in 100 minutes followed by the rest of the game in 60 minutes, with a 30 second per move time delay in effect from the beginning of the games. Hopefully a shipment of new clocks will arrive in time for round 2.
My first game was against GM Julio Becerra of Miami. I followed several of his games in the US Chess League on ICC when he represented the Miami Sharks, but I never met the Cuban-American Grandmaster before the game. Several hours of preparation in the closed Spanish (Ruy Lopez) paid off when the game began as an 8.d3 anti-Marshall. Our contest followed Becerra-Gustafsson (2004) for 14 moves. Perhaps eager to escape my preparation and force me to think on my own, my opponent played passively from moves 15 to 18. I felt like I had achieved equality, but the position was far too complex for me to understand all the nuances. I wasted over 40 minutes on moves 17 and 18 trying to make queenside pawn pushes a6-a5 and b5-b4 work, but white simply would respond with the central break d3-d4. Sadly, I began looking for my queenside play a move too late; 16… a5 (instead of Rb8) was the way to go! By move 22, my position had become critical as white’s pieces dominated the center. One last-ditch improvement was 22… dxe4 23.Qxe4 g6 24.Rad1 Bf6 with a moderate edge to white. GM Becerra was firmly in control by move 27 and my time pressure did not make matters easier. Simply put, I got outplayed by a superior player. No shame in that!
Tomorrow’s pairing is another big challenge! In fact, I am paired with the reigning US Champion—ok, the US Junior Champion. Since winning the national title last summer, FM Robert Hess scored his final IM norms and should receive the International Master title later this year. I hate playing talented kids! And I really hate playing 15-year old IMs!! As a coach of many strong juniors, I always respect their abilities, but as a competitive player, I hate to lose. Some of my friends will remember the following maxim: never try to out-tactic a high rated kid. Stay tuned on Wednesday afternoon.
For more information about the US Championship, I recommend the official tournament website on MonRoi. Follow all 18 games from the Live Games link and vote on your favorite game at the end of every round. The winner of the most popular game each day will receive $100! Current standings and pairings for the next round will be updated daily. Finally, check out the extensive photo section for pictures of your heroes.
Of course, you can also watch games live on the Internet Chess Club. Look for five games daily under the Events menu starting at 3pm Eastern and 12noon Pacific. Or check out the latest information in “finger US07”. IM John Watson offers insightful live commentary to spectators here in Stillwater and you can listen in on ChessFM. Even a few players drop by after the games to share their thoughts. Maybe I will too if I manage to win one of these days.
Wish me luck!