Reports | May 18, 2012 11:47

Kamsky grabs sole lead at U.S. Championship, faces Nakamura today

Gata Kamsky, the leader after nine rounds at the U.S. Championship

Thanks to three consecutive wins in rounds 7, 8 and 9 Gata Kamsky is in sole lead at the U.S. Championships in Saint Louis, USA. The American grandmaster caught Hikaru Nakamura in round 7 and surpassed him in round 9, by beating Yasser Seirawan, while Nakamura had to concede a draw against Aleksandr Lenderman. There are two more rounds to go and today is the big clash between Nakamura and Kamsky.

Gata Kamsky, the leader after nine rounds at the U.S. Championship

Event U.S. ChampionshipsPGN via TWIC
Dates May 8th-20th, 2012
Location Saint Louis, USA
System 12-player round robin

Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Alexander Onischuk, Yasser Seirawan, Robert Hess, Varuzhan Akobian, Ray Robson, Gregory Kaidanov, Alejandro Ramirez, Aleksandr Lenderman, Yury Shulman, Alexander Stripunsky

Rate of play 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by 30 minutes to finish the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1

Videos by Macauley Peterson

By FM Mike Klein

Round 7

The story repeated in the U.S. Championship, where tournament front-runner GM Hikaru Nakamura tried everything he could but could only draw against GM Yury Shulman. This allowed defending champion GM Gata Kamsky to catch up, as he was able to overcome the blockade of GM Alex Stripunsky.

Nakamura and Shulman played the longest game of the tournament. After five and a half hours and 101 moves, they were down to just their kings. After fruitlessly trying for more than 60 moves to win with an extra kingside pawn, Nakamura looked across the room for much of the final moves, seemingly chastising himself for missed opportunities. Shulman guessed that he was unhappy the minor pieces were allowed to be traded after 77...Be6+.

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Thanks to the zwischenzug 78...Re5+, Shulman entered an easily drawing rook-and-pawn endgame. Still, he insisted that the ending is drawn even without the “petite combinaison.” Nakamura has still never defeated Shulman in a tournament game.

Shulman's staunch defense, coupled with the tenacity of Kamsky to find a way to clear the path for his hanging pawns, means Nakamura and Kamsky are now equal first with 5/7. They will not meet until Friday's penultimate round ten.

Stripunsky and Kamsky had drawn many previous games, but today Kamsky won for the first time ever in classical chess, though he had won a rapid game in 2006. After a lot of circular movement, Kamsky made the time control and got his c- and d-pawns moving. In the final position, he had promoted a second queen, with one more on the way.

The most entertaining game of the day was unequivocally GM Alejandro Ramirez against GM Gregory Kaidanov. After a stunning victory, Ramirez was still trying to collect himself and figure out what happened. “This game was crazy,” he said. With arrows and variations strewn haphazardly all over the computer screen in the commentary room, Ramirez offered what he knew about the game, and what he was still sorting out. “I was just trying to get to the time control alive,” he said. “This was psychologically very difficult for me because I went from winning to really struggling. We had like two minutes left. We didn't know what we were doing.”

With both kings in danger, the underdeveloped Kaidanov found the subtle defense of retreating his one developed piece on move 32.

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...Rg8! Wow! That was quite a move,” Ramirez said. The point was that the rook on a8 cannot be captured due to 33...Qe3+ 34. Kh1 (34. Rf2 Rf8) 34...Qg3 35. Rg1 (35. Bh3 Rxa8) 35...Qxh4#. In all variations, the wandering white queen is suddenly out of bounds. But after the time scramble resourcefulness, Kaidanov placed his king on the light square e4 and fell victim to an advancing a-pawn. Scrambling to get his rook back again, this time he was met with a skewer on the long diagonal. Ramirez was shocked at the turn of events, which saw him go from groveling for a draw to simply winning. After starting with two wins and two draws and sharing the early lead, Kaidanov has lost his last three.

Chasing Kamsky and Nakamura with 4/7 are Shulman and GMs Alex Lenderman and Alex Onischuk, who also drew today. Onischuk received one of the biggest surprises of the tournament when his former student, GM Ray Robson, uncorked the implausible Belgrade Gambit.

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Onischuk played the only move he knew against it, 5...Be7. He admitted that his theoretical knowledge ended there, as his position was super solid. “The position was equal all the time, but he still tried to torture me,” Onischuk said. Asked if he would now learn more about the opening, he continued, “If I play against some 2300-player, I'll have to come up with something else.”

Lenderman kept his unbeaten streak alive by holding the draw in mixed battle against GM Yasser Seirawan. “It was one of the strangest games I ever played,” Lenderman said. “It was unclear all the time. I thought I was better with initiative or attack, but after a turn of events, I was in a precarious endgame. But then without an obvious mistake from him, I was playing for a win.” Seirawan guessed that he should have made better use of his kingside pawn phalanx. After losing his first three games, Seirawan, a four-time champion, has now won 2.5 out of his last four.

GM Varuzhan Akobian again jettisoned his favorite French Defense but used the Caro-Kann to eventually win a knight-and-pawn ending against GM Robert Hess.

Games round 7

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Round 8

The 2012 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship did not change leadership today, though the two tournaments produced much different levels of excitement.

With the two top seeds in each division pulling away from the pack, GM Gata Kamsky exuded his usual perfection in positional chess to give GM Alex Lenderman his first loss of the event. That left the crowd watching to see if GM Hikaru Nakamura, the top seed in the U.S. Championship, could keep pace.

After an unusual French Defense led to a stolid middlegame with no obvious breakthrough, it looked like Nakamura and GM Alex Stripunsky would admit the impasse and agree to a draw. After his own game ended, Kamsky looked on from the press room and had a different opinion. He suggested Nakamura prepare his f-pawn's advance, which Nakamura managed in due time. “White has no counterplay and is lost completely,” Kamsky concluded almost instantly.

Sensing the infiltration, Stripunsky was unwilling to wait for the inevitable. He sacrificed a piece, then the exchange, then later, with his time running out, another exchange. The final salvo proved too much. Though he engineered a quintet of passed pawns, Nakamura's rook took post on the eighth rank to parry all the possible promotions. Stripunsky saw his pawns were stuck and resigned. After the game, a quick analysis by the players produced a myriad of variations. Enlisting the help of other players produced more questions than answers. “White's winning, no black's winning, no white's winning,” GM Yasser Seirawan said.

Kamsky's win lacked similar drama. After repulsing any queenside attacking ideas, he eventually advanced five pawns to the fifth rank in picturesque uniformity.

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After 18...Bh5, Kamsky said his position was “completely OK.” Then he took a closer look and declared, “Actually, maybe it's not so pleasant for white.” The space advantage, coupled with a belligerent knight, was too much for Lenderman to handle.

“The game got away from me quickly somehow,” a flummoxed Lenderman said. “There were so many choices for white, but I couldn't find a way to make the maximum of all my pieces. I was trying to calculate lines before outlining strategic possibilities.” In a moment of extreme candor from the 22-year-old, he added, “The position was just too complicated for me. Chess understanding is just not there for me. Good thing I am playing in this tournament. I keep trying to make 'professor' moves where I try to do too much. I keep making this mistake against 2700s.”

Kamsky and Nakamura both have 6/8 and will play each other on Friday. Should there be a winner, he will be the betting favorite to win the title.

Chasing the two leaders is a trio of grandmasters. GMs Alex Onischuk, Varuzhan Akobian and Yury Shulman all have 4.5/8. Taken together, the top five men comprise the U.S. Olympiad team from 2008, the last time the squad won a team medal.

Akobian won the only other decisive game of the day, besting GM Alejandro Ramirez in a wild game. “It was an unusual position,” Akobian said. Ramirez pushed ...c5, ...b5, ...f5 and ...g5 all in the first 11 moves. He left his center pawns at home while traversing his queen from one rook file to the other. “I was a little too optimistic,” Ramirez replied. “I wanted to play something interesting, but it backfired.”

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Akobian said he spent 20 minutes in the opening calculating the unusual tactic 8. b4. If 8...axb3 e.p., the queen hangs. If 8...Qxb4, 9. Rb1 skewers the queen to the bishop. But if 8...cxb4 the pawn blocks the diagonal pin so 9. Nxe4 is possible. A possible variation is 9...b3+ 10. Ned2 b2 11. Ra2 a3 12. e4 Na6 (heading to b4) 13. Bxa6 Bxa6. Upon seeing this position, both players liked their position. Ramirez thought the b2-pawn and white's inability to castle offset his material loss. Ultimately, Akobian said he could not accurately evaluate the position, and headed for calmer waters with 8. c3.

GM Gregory Kaidanov played his second queen versus three minor piece game, this time departing with the monarch to try his hand with the knights and bishops. Earlier in the tournament, GM Robert Hess trapped Kaidanov's queen on the back rank. This time the queen had more space, but with no major weaknesses for either side, Kaidanov and his former student, GM Ray Robson, agreed to a draw.

Games round 8

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Round 9

GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky entered round nine of the 2012 U.S. Championship tied with six points apiece. They could not have had more different days.

Kamsky won largely without any over-the-board effort, defeating GM Yasser Seirawan in a little more than two hours by using a spectacular combination. He had most of the moves worked out well in advance.

Nakamura labored for nearly six hours and 121 moves but could not break through against the stubborn defense of GM Alex Lenderman. He reluctantly agreed to a draw. His matchup with Kamsky tomorrow will mean he is playing from behind for the first time in the tournament. Kamsky now has seven points, while Nakamura is at 6.5.

Kamsky played the first 25 moves effectively in negative time, as the 30-second increment for every move offered him five more minutes than he began. His sacrifice 22. Bxh6 was played automatically, and a stunned Seirawan ran low on time contemplating the combination. The superior preparation netted the defending champion Kamsky a pain-free win.

“I knew yesterday he would play the Caro-Kann,” Kamsky said. He reviewed the opening again this morning, and Seirawan walked right into some preparation that Kamsky had saved from several years ago. “There are so many lines to prepare for, the chance that you will go into this one is terribly small,” Kamsky said.

Seirawan guessed that he may have actually seen the trap before, but failed to remember the intricacies.

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Unbeknownst to him, all moves up until 24...Nxd7 had occurred over Kamsky's practice board before. If Seirawan had not sacrifice his queen, then after 23...Nxd7 24. Qd2 Kh7 25. Ng4 is incontrovertible proof of the soundness of the attack.

Meanwhile, Kamsky's rival Nakamura had his hands full trying to inject life into his game with the much lower-rated Lenderman. The night before, Lenderman lost his first game of the tournament to Kamsky, and remarked that he needed more practice playing against 2700s. He got copious amounts of board time with another 2700 today.

After Nakamura reverted back to his usual 1. d4, a Nimzo-Indian led to both kings castling on the queenside. The board soon locked up, and Nakamura spent 40 moves shuffling his pieces around the back ranks searching for the right time to break through. His king traveled east as far as it could, and finally a c-file breakthrough was attempted. Just when it seemed the newfound pressure would be too much to bear, Lenderman deftly sacrificed a few pawns to engineer an endgame blockade. Two pawns to the good, Nakamura admitted he was out of ideas and whispered, “Draw?” to his opponent. After playing the sixth-longest game in U.S. Championship history, mostly idling or on defense, Lenderman agreed without hesitation.

Fellow competitors GM Robert Hess and GM Alejandro Ramirez came up to ask Lenderman why he did not play on, as they deemed his position better. “I didn't expect I could possibly have winning chances,” Lenderman said.

Kamsky will take white versus Nakamura tomorrow. If Kamsky is able to win, he will clinch his third consecutive national championship.

GM Alex Onischuk, the third seed, maintained exactly that place by sacrificing the exchange against GM Gregory Kaidanov. His multiple passed pawns were too much to handle in the endgame. Onischuk, whose performance rating is more than 2700, is the only other player who is mathematically alive for the title, though his chances are extremely slim.

Games round 9

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U.S. Championships 2012 | Round 9 Standings


Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


choufleur's picture

What an extensive coverage for a very average tournament ! What about the Ukrainian championship ?

Lee's picture

Average tournament? The Ukrainian national championship one would be stronger if all their top players took part, but the difference wouldn't be enough to sing hallelujah over.

Anonymous's picture

I think the Americans got more money to throw around.

weng nian siow's picture

Sorry FM Klein but Nakamura vs Lenderman is not a NID but the trendy Ragozin. 3 d5 and Nc3 and Nf3 have appeared on the board when B plays ...Bb4+. Accoridng to the book, cxd5 is a drawish line, is it not. Maybe or maybe not ...... will check the book.

Mike Hunt's picture

Will be delighted if the cocky so called american Naka cant win this event. World class player? Dont make me laugh. Hes like the barbers cat. 3 in a row for Kamsky will be a nice achievement for someone well past his best.

MvdL's picture

Care to elaborate on the 'so called american' comment?

And Kamsky may very well be past his prime, but he's clearly playing exceedingly well at this tournament.

Macauley's picture

One can assume the comment is referring to the fact that Nakamura moved to the United States at the ripe old age of two! Yes, those years before our first memories -- clearly formative. ;)

Look, he's not allowed to be President (not that I'm nominating), but the guy is as American as I am, and this kind of comment is really the pits of ignorant douchebaggery.

I don't usually respond to trolling, but give me a break!

Mike Hunt's picture

Its factual. He aint american just like over 3 quarters of the players. BTW... you do know you look ridiculous in that hat dont you.

Anonymous's picture

Well Fabiano Caruana was born there (on July 30, 1992 in Miami, Florida) so the U.S. can still give birth to great chess players.

MvdL's picture

That was my point. Mr. Hunt seems somewhat bigoted in his commentary here. The USA is a country of immigrants, he perhaps he doesn't understand that concept. He probably thinks there something fishy about the nationality of the president as well. Oh well, I should not feed the troll.

rdecredico's picture

Ignorance shows no matter how hard you try to hide it, fool.

rdecredico's picture

This is significantly more exciting chess than the snooze fest that is Anand-gelfand.

Anonymous's picture

Your, @rdecredico. ignorance is more than obvious.

rdecredico's picture

Hardly, putz. At least one of us is unafraid of using as real name and need not hide behind a veil.

You sir, are DNA deprived.

eloko's picture

yes... yes... they should call this US CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP.. THE WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES!!! as in the NBA, NHL MLB.

As always the US wants to be the bellybutton of the world... that reminds me... Japan won the classic baseball series now twice... and US was not even in the finals.

Aditya's picture

That Nakamura-Lenderman game was almost a story!! Lenderman showing how to build fortresses against big and small armies in the same game. Nakamura slowly chipping away at the walls trying to get it in. Lenderman almost turning away an exhausted Nakamura, then suddenly opening the gates to fight the battle. And while it looked like Nakamura gathered everything he had to slowly inch towards an advantage, Lenderman had a nice little barricade setup to fight those two extra pawns. Entertaining!! It shall be known today if the long game sapped Nakamura's strength or rejuvenated his will to win!!

jupy's picture

"Kamsky and Nakamura both have 6/8 and will play each other on Friday. Should there be a winner, he will be the betting favorite to win the title."

Who will be the betting favorite? It's rather ambiguous writing.

rdecredico's picture

No it is not unclear. The 'winner' is the object being replaced by the pronoun....simple grammar actually.

rdecredico's picture

Naka now has clear lead after pummeling Kamsky.

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