US Championship. Stars on show in St Louis

13 April 2016 saw the opening of the strongest US championshps in history. This is already the eighth year in succession that St Louis has hosted the men's and women's championship! The prize funds are for the men 194 000 $; and for the women 100 000$.

The average rating of the men's event is 2656 and would have been even higher, probably close to 2680 (!), but for the fact that the talented youngster Chandra Akshat (born 1999 , Elo-2477) and the "veteran" Alexander Shabalov  (1967 Elo 2528) somewhat lower the average. Even so, this did not stop 4-time US champion and commentator Yasser Seirawan from declaring that "this year is one of the strongest national championships in the world, with only Russia being close on paper, although this is probably even stronger." 

As well as the stronger line-up, one cannot also help noticing the tendency to a lower average age. Every year, there are more players who have not yet ceased to be juniors or even children. As well as the above-mentioned Chandra Akshat, there is also Jeffery Xiong (born 2000 but already rated 2618!), and in the women's event, Jennifer Yu and Gorti Akshita, both born in 2002, whilst Carissa Yip was born in 2003!

US Men's Championship

Whilst previous years have usually had a clear favourite, this year sees an unprecedentedly open and unpredictable tournament. The event includes three of the world top ten: Caruana, Nakamura and So. These three will be fighting for the title, but they have very different motivations, which will push them all the way through the event. Nakamura, defending and 4-time champion, will certainly defend his title at any cost. Even so, he comes to the US Championship after the most exhausting and disappointing tournament of his life (the Candidates' tournament in Moscow). 

Caruana is playing the event for the first time since switching federations to the USA last year. His performanc in Moscow was tremendous, but unfortunately he was unable to become the challenger, because of a tough defeat in the final round. Despite this, Caruana said that "The Candidates' was quite tiring, so I have been focussing mainly on restoring my energy, which I think I have done". Fabiano also reassured his fans that "Although the strategy here is somewhat different, I am always read for a battle!". 

Wesley So looks the freshest of the top three, because he did not polay in Moscow. No doubt he will be trying to silence his critics, after his disappointing performance in last year's championship. We can only hope that this year, Wesley only uses his scoresheet to record the moves played. 

US Women's Championship (Elo-2284)

Irina Krush starts this year as the clear favourite. Will she be able to win her 8th (!) title or will the younger generation bar her way to the pedestal? And it is not only the youngsters who will rival Irina. There is also Anna Zatonskikh, number 1 on the current rating list, who took last year off after the birth of her child. 

But the main danger comes from the young girls. Akshita Gorti, for example, said "I am very pleased and nervous at the same time. I will be playing against the best women in the country and I am sure I will learn a lot. The event will help me with my long-term goal of winning the women's world championship. I am here to win, come what may!". 

Nazi Paikidze won bronze at the European Championships with teh Georgian team, and almost became Russian women's champion. Can she win the American prize? 

«The US Championship is my favourite event. We have spared no effort to attract all the strongest players in the country and many of them feel like part of our chess family», – said one of the organisers. Tony Rich, executive director of CCSCSL (Scholastic Centre in St Louis, where the event is taking place).

Material from the official site

And now a couple of fragments from round two of the men's championship:

Chandra Akshat – Wesley So

Wesley had spent the whole game playing cat and mouse with his inexperienced opponent. He won a pawn in the opening, sacrificed an exchange and then after castling long, made a risky transfer of his king to the centre. And now: 32…Rh1? 33.Kg4? – The youngster misses his chance! The sacrifice on e6 was tempting! Whereas after the gift in the game, the king escapes: 33… Kf8 34.Rg3 Kg8 35.Ree3 Qd4 36.Re4 f5 37.gxf6 Qxf6 38.f4 Qxh4 39.Kf3 Rh2 40.Qd3 Qh5 White resigned (0:1).

The white king's march in the following game was even more remarkable (е1-f2-g3-g2-h3-g3-f2-e3-d2-c2-c1) :

Caruana - Shankland

With the king on c1, the knight went to a7 and Black resigned. (1:0)

Interestingly, when all the men's games in round two ended, only one of the women's games had finished (Krush beat Sabina Foisor)! 

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