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US Championship 2007 - Michael Aigner blog

Michael Aigner, better known as fpawn on ICC

Posted by Michael Aigner at Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hello everyone!  Sorry for the break from this blog.  The weekend in Stillwater has been quite busy, with the blitz championship on Friday night and meetings of the USCF Executive Board.  I actually wrote the round 5 entry (except for these two sentences) before today’s tragic game against Thomas Braunlich, but I couldn’t connect to the internet at that time.  I guess that was a premonition of how the day would go.

The 2007 US Championship is now halfway over.  Some people are happy with their results (notable GM Alexander Shabalov) and some are not quite as satisfied (one being this writer).  There have been plenty of sacrifices and blunders, but one theme runs throughout almost every game played in Oklahoma: fighting chess.  Even the inevitable draws tend to be either sharp tactical contests that peter out to equality or long endgames that end in a peaceful conclusion.  We can thank the 30 move rule for this refreshing new world order: draw offers before move 30 may only be made with approval from the arbiter (e.g. force repetition).

As you by now are aware, the Championship has become the “Shaba” show.  After five wins in the first five rounds, Shabalov leads the tournament by an incredible 1.5 points over his main rivals.  So far he has dispatched top seeded GM Hikaru Nakamura and third ranked GM Gregory Kaidanov.  Today he faces his toughest challenge yet—black against reigning US Champion GM Alexander Onischuk—with a chance to all but mathematically clinch first place if he can win.  The hyper-aggressive Shabalov makes for a great cover photo for this event considering the emphasis on fighting chess by the sponsors and players.  When reviewing his games, it is easy to see the influence that former world champion Mikhail Tal has on his playing style.  This uncompromising approach also makes it unlikely that Shabalov will survive the event undefeated, unlike a more solid player would.

Top board in round 5: Shabalov versus Kaidanov
Top board in round 5: Shabalov versus Kaidanov.

Of course, there are 35 other players in the tournament.  I could say something about each and every one considering that I spoken to nearly everyone, but I’ll stick to a few brief capsules.

Who’s hot

  • GM Alexander Shabalov has a perfect 5.0 score and has dominated the field in every way possible.  Can he match Bobby Fischer’s record as the only player to win the Championship without a draw or defeat?
  • IM Irina Krush has faced four GMs and one IM so far and will play another IM today.  Her 50% score translates to a 2540 FIDE performance rating and leaves her within striking distance of the 2600 required for a GM norm.  Krush is the standard bearer for her gender, but WFM Iryna Zenyuk (2.0) and WFM Chouchanik Airapetian (1.5) have turned in respectable results as well.
  • FM Michael Langer took an endgame win against the “fpawn” and followed it up with two IM scalps in a row.  His score of 3.0 against 2412 average opposition (two GMs and two IMs) is impressive and he is well on his way for an IM norm.

Who’s not

  • The brothers in crime from the East Bay Chess Club, IM Josh Friedel and IM David Pruess, are looking for a sand pile to stick their heads into.  Friedel drew with two FMs and lost to buddy (I hate to use the word girlfriend) Iryna Zenyuk.  Pruess says this is the worst tournament of his entire life, starting out when he failed to convert attacks against GM Jaan Ehlvest and GM Boris Gulko.  Both of these gangsters will be back soon, in search of their third and final GM norms.
  • GM Varuzhan Akobian can’t be pleased with his 2.5 score after three straight draws with fellow Grandmasters and then a loss to GM Julio Becerra.  I see at least one national title in this young man’s future, but not this year.
  • NM Michael Aigner shares last place at 0.5 with a tournament marred by missed opportunities.  If the endgame versus Langer had been drawn as expected or if the middlegame against Mulyar petered out to an even endgame like it should have, then it would be a whole different story.  At least it can’t get worse than last!

A sign along the highway announces the US Chess Championship to travellers
Three Grandmasters socializing before the round:
Julio Becerra, Varuzhan Akobian and Melik Khachiyan (left to right).

On Friday night, I played in the Jim Berry US Championship Blitz Tournament with prizes ($300 for first) donated by the title sponsor.  GM Julio Becerra took first place ahead of GM Alexander Ivanov.  Most of the top players skipped this side event, opting instead to go to dinner.  I played and finished barely out of the money at 8.0 out of 14.  However, I won the only important pairing that evening: 2-0 against controversial USCF Executive Board member Sam Sloan.  Now I can rest easier after some remarks made referring to me and other untitled players in the US Championship as “patzers”.

Sponsor and chief TD Frank Berry
Sponsor and chief TD Frank Berry.

The Executive Board meeting here in Stillwater is still in progress as I write this text.  I have seen USCF President Bill Goichberg, board members Randy Hough, Joel Channing, Don Schultz and Sam Sloan, USCF Executive Director Bill Hall, Chess Life editor Daniel Lucas, webmaster Jennifer Shahade, and technical staff member Mike Nolan.  The controversial issue today has been oversight of the USCF Forums in the context of the upcoming election.  I introduced myself as one of the Moderators of these Forums and addressed some of the challenges facing those of us trying to enforce a standard of civility when there seems to be none.

The chess politicians have invaded!
The chess politicians have invaded!

Finally, some people have asked me what there is to do in Stillwater after the game.  I must say that the immediate vicinity of the hotel is boring.  I’ve eaten multiple times at the nearby restaurants: Braun’s hamburger joint, Subway sandwiches and a Chinese restaurant.  Many of the players get a ride to downtown from one of the Berry brothers at night, eating at Eskimo Joe’s or Hideaway Pizza.  I still need to go to Hideaway myself, perhaps sometime when I am in a better mood.  As far as exercise, some players use the weight room while others play tennis at a nearby court.  At night, you can always find a few titled players hanging around the ping pong table, with a racket in one hand while studying chess games on a laptop.  There’s also the pool and the jacuzzi to relax.

I need to prepare a little for my next game now.  Don’t forget to check out the photo pages on the official tournament website at MonRoi and also picture reports on the USCF homepage.

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