2012 U.S. Championship Player Bios
Hikaru Nakamura became the youngest master in American history at 10, and the youngest American GM at 15 (breaking Bobby Fischer's record). As a kid, Hikaru was extremely emotionally involved in his results. When he lost, his opponent was very aware that Hikaru was unhappy. This hyper-competitive streak was also a key to Hikaru's success. Hikaru's style is aggressive, tricky and relentless. His first major international breakthrough was at the 2004 World Championship in Libya. Hikaru advanced through the brutal knockout tournament three rounds, into the sweet sixteen. This was further than anyone could have imagined. Soon after his amazing result in Libya, Hikaru became the 2005 U.S Champion. He was only 16 years old at the time.
He's racked up numerous championships over the past decade, and despite his aggressive, individualistic style, Nakamura has proven to be a great team player: He was a two-time bronze medallist in the 2006 and 2008 Olympiad, playing for the U.S. team. His gold-medal-winning performance on board one at the 2009 World Team Championship helped the U.S. team earn silver medals.
Nakamura also won the 2009 U.S. Championship in Saint Louis, and the following year, he relocated to Saint Louis citing the significant accomplishments of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Nakamura's first major victory came in 2011 at the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee. He finished clear first ahead of the four top-rated players in the world in a performance former World Champion Garry Kasparov said was as the best by an American in more than 100 years. Hikaru is easily the best blitz player in America and one of the best on the world. Outside of chess, he enjoys playing poker and tennis and is an avid sports fan.
Gata Kamsky defected to the United States in 1989 after a trip to the New York Open that year. Lev Alburt, who helped Gata defect, soon got a call from the Russian Grandmaster Genna Sosonko: "You got yourself a new World Champion!" Kamsky's potential to earn the ultimate crown nearly became actualized when he beat Kramnik in a match, qualifying him to play Karpov for the World Championship title. He was the first American since Fischer to go that far, and although he lost the match, he was still number three in the World. He then made a shocking announcement. Gata was leaving chess, to become a doctor--where he could earn more money.
For five years Gata lived up to his promise and did not play a rated game. He earned an undergrad pre-med degree in chemistry, but then changed his mind and applied to law school. After graduating, Kamsky realized how much he missed chess. Egged on by friends and fans, he decided to give chess another try. "Now I feel much less pressure. I play for myself only."
"I could make more money as an attorney," said Gata, "I came back to chess to try to win the World Championship." Kamsky does not regret his hiatus. "I learned so much about life in those six years," he said. "Before, I knew so little about how the world works." His career restarted with a surprise appearance at the New York Masters. Thereafter, Gata revealed that he was preparing for top-flight competitive play. He had solid but unremarkable performances in his first few outings, and the first hint that Kamsky was really back was at the 2005 World Cup. He defeated one elite player after another (including former World Champion Alexander Khalifman), earning a spot in the next World Championship cycle. He had another astonishing performance in a super-grandmaster tournament in Sofia, May 2006, when he defeated Vishy Anand with the black pieces, and placed second in a star-studded field that included World Champion Veselin Topalov.
In late 2007, Gata Kamsky made a serious step toward his primary goal. He won the World Cup (Khanty-Mansiysk, Nov.24-Dec.17), defeating Peter Svidler, Ruslan Ponomariov and Magnus Carlsen along the way to the final, where he faced Alexei Shirov. He defeated Alexei Shirov 2.5-1.5. Kamsky lost to Topalov in the 2008 match in Sofia, Bulgaria, but last May, he got his revenge by upsetting Topalov in a Candidates Match. He eventually lost to GM Boris Gelfand in the semi-finals. A very solid player and determined fighter, Gata does not lose too often, but he doesn't have the wild streak of a Nakamura or Shabalov that is particularly suited to rolling through American Swisses. Since his comeback, he's played a variety of openings. Most frequently played are the Kan Sicilian, the Slav, the black side of the Ruy and 1.e4.
Alexander Onischuk called winning the 2006 U.S Championship the happiest day of his life. Not that he's unused to winning. Alex placed first in more than 20 tournaments, from super strong Round Robins in exotic Beijing and chilly Siberia to the 2000 Ukrainian Championship. Alex became a GM in 1994 at the age of 19, but this hardly qualified among his happiest moments, because that was a matter of "when, not if."
He is known for his professional, solid style, and is repertoire is very well analyzed, but it is also more predictable than most top U.S. players. Some of his lines as Black (particularly in Double King Pawn games) allow a weaker but well-prepared opponent to force a draw. Such a strategy makes it hard to win clear first in a Swiss, which usually requires a huge plus score.
Alex ran into a typical roadblock at his first U.S. Championship, where he placed eighth. One opponent traded queens into a dead draw, following a previous game by Alex. The advantage of having a stable opening repertoire is that you're bound to know the strategies and details of your lines better than if you played four different openings.
Alex thinks that what separates him from Grandmasters of a slightly lower stature is his superior understanding of the game, gained from working with elite players, including former World Champions Anatoly Karpov and Veselin Topalov. In addition to seconding Karpov in matches against Anand (1997) and training him for his victorious match against Kasparov (2002), Alex got the chance to play blitz with the Russian legend. "The first time we played" Alex said, "I won with black, and thought I'd do pretty well. Then I lost 25 games in a row. I was already a GM and didn't think I could lose 25 games in a row to anyone!"
For five years he played for the championship college team at the University of Maryland Baltimore Country (UMBC) and graduated in the spring of '06 with a degree in linguistics. Onischuk is now the head coach of Texas Tech University's nationally recognized chess program.
If he could play any champion from history, he would play Paul Morphy. "I'd play 1...e5, and he'd go for the King's Gambit," he said. "I'd probably lose."
Yasser Seirawan was born in Damascus, Syria. His father was Arab and his mother an English nurse from Nottingham, where he spent some time in his early childhood. When he was seven, his family emigrated to Seattle, where he attended McClure Middle School and Garfield High School, and honed his game at a (now-defunct) coffeehouse, the Last Exit on Brooklyn, playing against the likes of Latvian-born master Viktors Pupols and six-time Washington State Champion James Harley McCormick.
He is married to FIDE Master Yvette Nagel.
Seirawan began playing chess at 12; at 13 he became Washington junior champion. At 19 he won the World Junior Chess Championship. He also won a game against Viktor Korchnoi, who then invited Seirawan to Switzerland, where Korchnoi was training for his world title match against Anatoly Karpov.
For many years he was the chief editor of Inside Chess magazine, which however later became an Internet-only magazine and later just a column at the ChessCafe.com website.
In 1999, Seirawan played a ten-game match against Michael Adams in Bermuda. The match was drawn +2-2=6.
In 2001, Seirawan released a plan to reunite the chess world, which at that time had two world champions: Ruslan Ponomariov had gained the title under the auspices of FIDE, while Vladimir Kramnik had beaten Garry Kasparov to take the Einstein title. It called for one match between Ponomariov and Kasparov (the world number one), and another between Kramnik and the winner of the 2002 Einstein tournament in Dortmund (who turned out to be Peter Leko). The winners of these matches would then play each other to become undisputed World Champion. This plan was signed by all parties on May 6, 2002, in the so-called "Prague Agreement". The Kramnik-Leko match took place (the match was drawn, with Kramnik retaining his title); the Kasparov-Ponomariov match was canceled in 2003, and this particular plan became moot after the September-October 2006 FIDE World Chess Championship 2006 between Kramnik and Veselin Topalov reunited the world championship title .
Following a series of events Seirawan participated in China during September 2003, there were reports that he would be retiring as a professional player. In the July 2007 FIDE list, Seirawan had an Elo rating of 2634, placing him in the top 100 chess players in the world, and America's number four (behind Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky and Alexander Onischuk). He played six games in the July 2007 FIDE update.
In 2007 Yasser Seirawan unveiled his enhanced chess game called Seirawan chess which he is currently promoting worldwide. The first ever event was a 12 board simultaneous exhibition held March 31, 2007 in Vancouver, Canada.
Yasser Seirawan has written several books.
The popular "Winning Chess" series (with co-author IM Jeremy Silman):
- Play Winning Chess - Introduction to chess and some basic strategies
- Winning Chess Tactics - Introduction to tactics with puzzles
- Winning Chess Strategies - How to use small advantages and use strategies to gain them
- Winning Chess Openings - Brief descriptions of the most popular openings, and opening strategies
- Winning Chess Endings - Introduction to the endgame
- Winning Chess Brilliancies - Notable games analyzed by the author
- Winning Chess Combinations - How to recognize the main combination patterns; somewhat of a follow up to Winning Chess Tactics
The "Winning Chess" series was originally published by Microsoft Press; it is now published by Everyman Chess.
Chess on the Edge (with Bruce Harper) - collected games of Grandmaster Duncan Suttles, published by Chess'n Math Association in March 2008.
Chess Duels: My Games with the World Champions, 2010, Everyman Chess, 978-1857445879
Source: Yasser Seirawan, in Wikipedia, retrieved March 23, 2011.
Ray Robson is a member of the Webster University chess team that recently captured the 2013 national collegiate chess championship. Ray learned chess at age 3 and has earned seven national scholastic titles since. Robson finished in the top 10 at the World Youth Championship from 2004 to 2007 and won Super Nationals in 2005. He defeated his first Grandmaster in 2006, the same year he earned the USCF National Master title.
He's the youngest GM in the U.S. and is widely considered to be America's brightest hope to become an elite GM since Hikaru Nakamura. In fact, Ray broke Hikaru's record and currently holds the title as the youngest-ever American Grandmaster, fulfilling the requirements about two weeks prior to his 15th birthday.
Ray's first-ever major open tournament win came in 2008 at the Miami Open. He received his first norm in Tromso, Norway in August of 2009, and he earned his second in Skokie, Illinois that same month. He earned his last GM norm in Montevideo, Uruguay in October 2009.
He has turned in a number of impressive performances as of late and appears poised to make a statement at this year's championship.
The weather was so harsh in the years that Armenian-American Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian spent in Mongolia, that his father forbade "Var" and his sister Armine, from playing outside. He taught them chess, a perfect indoor distraction. "From the very beginning" Var says, "I was different from other chess kids. It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and knew that I would do what it takes." As a teenager living in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, Varuzhan spent all day playing chess and soccer. His teachers agreed that he could focus on chess, without fear of truancy charges. "This is one way in which Armenia is very different from the United States. If I went to high school here, I never could have spent so much energy on chess."
Varuzhan Akobian qualified to play his first rated tournament, the Armenian Junior Chess Championship in 1992, earning third place in the under 10 section, then went on to take first place the following year. He participated in his first World Chess Championship in Czechoslovakia at the age of 9 and placed eighth.
Varuzhan excels in positional battles and admires the games and style of Armenian hero, World Champion Tigran Petrosian. Var's favorite Black opening, just like Petrosian, is the French Defense. Var's advice to players aspiring to improve is this: "Don't expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while, you'll see a big breakthrough."
In 2002, Varuzhan won the Samford Chess Fellowship, which allows a talented junior to focus on chess for two years. The prize paid off quickly, as he tied for first in the 2002 World Open and also won the Irme Koenig GM Invitational. The following year, Akobian scored 8/9 to win the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, winning his first seven games. He was officially awarded the Grandmaster title in June 2004, after which he won the World Open again, clinching it with a sparkling win against Alexander Shabalov. Varuzhan is the first person in the 21st century to win clear first in the World Open (without having to play a blitz playoff).
Recently, GM Akobian moved from sunny California to Topeka, Kansas, where his wife is attending law school at Washburn University. He has joined the Resident GM rotation at the Chess Club and Schoalstic Center of Saint Louis, which brings some of the country's top players to the Chess Club to give private lessons, present lectures and share their chess knowledge witht the club's more than 900 members.
Alexander Stripunsky has picked up almost 40 rating points since the 2011 U.S. Championship and will enter the field with his highest-ever USCF rating.
Stripunsky has an excellent record in U.S. Championships, having competed in six. In 2006 he had a strong run, tying for 3rd place. He gained respect as one of America’s elite Grandmasters in the 2005 U.S. Championship, where he won a beautiful last round game against Alexander Goldin, tying for first. His fabulous tournament came to an end when he lost to Hikaru Nakamura in the playoff match.
In 2010, Stripunsky returned to the U.S. Championships after just missing out on qualifying the previous two years, and turned in a solid performance, finishing 6th out of 24 participants. He will be looking to improve upon his 2011 tournament performance, where he finished second-to-last in his qualifying group.
Stripunsky is disciplined when it comes to his chess career; he runs regularly and works hard at the board. He also appreciates the aesthetic power of chess, “The more you play, the more beauty you are able to see.”
A mainstay in American chess, Stripunsky will compete in his seventh U.S. Championship this year.
Gregory Kaidanov's first major win came in a Moscow tournament in 1987, and he was awarded the Grandmaster title a year later. Kaidanov moved to the U.S. in 1991. He's racked up a number of tournament championships. Kaidanov was a member of the silver Olympiad team in Russia in 1998, won a silver board medal at the Calvia, Spain Olympiad in 2004 and was a member of the bronze medal Olympiad team in 2006. Kaidanov is one of America's premiere chess coaches. In 2008, he coached the U.S. team to a bronze medal finish at the Women's Olympiad.
Gregory emigrated from Ukraine to the U.S. in 1991, with his three children and wife, to Lexington, Kentucky. Lexington is hardly the epicenter of American chess. How did Kaidanov end up there?
Gregory's first day in America was on a visit in the summer of 1990, in the pre-Guiliani New York, when the city was notorious for a high crime rate. He and his wife were robbed twice in one day! In addition to his savings, he lost 10 years worth of chess analysis. He was devastated. Fortunately, he did not follow his first instinct to give up on the U.S.A. His friend GM Dmitry Gurevich invited him to Chicago, after which Dmitry helped connect Kaidanov with chess organizer Ken Troutman. Troutman organized a series of chess exhibitions for Gregory in Lexington, and sponsored his U.S visa. Rattled from his first traumatic days in New York, he was particularly impressed by the safety in Kentucky.
He barely unpacked his unstolen bags, when he began steam-rolling the U.S Open chess circuit. He won the 1992 World Open in Philly and the 1992 U.S Open. Greg's great first year performances helped develop the "honeymoon theory", that Grandmaster emigrates fare fantastically during their first year in the U.S.A. A decade after his streak, he started an equally amazing one. It began at the 2002 Aeroflot Open in Moscow, sponsored by the eponymous Russian airline. Kaidanov prevailed over 82 (!) other GMs in one of the strongest fields ever assembled.
Kaidanov was born in Ukraine, where his dad taught him the rules of chess at six years old. According to Greg, it's a common American myth that chess was a part of the daily Soviet school curriculum. Still, he's nostalgic for his childhood chess days, where he played after school for hours on end. Gregory was not a teenaged prodigy. His success came after two decades of solid hard work. His first major tournament win came in Moscow 1987, where he crushed Indian star Vishy Anand. He earned the IM title that same year, and was awarded the GM title just a year later in 1988.
Kaidanov is also the most active Grandmaster teacher in America. He travels from Louisiana to California, coaching, giving lectures and conducting simultaneous exhibitions. He is the head coach of the www.uschessschool.com founded in 2006 by IM Greg Shahade. Several times a year, players from all over the country meet up for a one-week intensive training session in Kaidanov's current hometown, Lexington.
After a quick bowl of Raisin brain, Gregory often works on chess alone, or with a student, for 12 hours straight. The ability to study and coach chess for such long hours come from a deep love for the game, and for sharing. “I would never give up coaching, even if the money meant nothing to me." His students range from serious amateurs of all ages to Maurice Ashley, who Kaidanov helped become the first ever African American GM. Kaidanov had a great success in the 2008 Women's Olympiad, where he coached the U.S. team to a bronze medal finish. He is also a frequent coach at the U.S. Chess School.
Despite Kaidanov's many tournament wins and high ranking among U.S players, he has never won a U.S Championship. Students all over the country are rooting for Greg to take his place among the gallery of U.S Champions.
Alex Lenderman first started playing chess with his grandfather when he was 9. From 2004-2007, he attended Edward R. Murrow high school in Brooklyn, NY, and was a member of the super-team that won four straight, national high-school titles. The journey of this high-school, chess dream team was documented in the 2007 book The Kings of New York, by Michael Weinreb.
Since that time, Alex has been a formidable force in the chess world and has solidified himself as a young rising star. In 2008, he managed to barely edge GM Sergey Kudrin to win the USCF's Grand Prix, and in 2009, he ran away with the competition. He played in the 2010 U.S. Championship in Saint Louis, and is looking to make his mark at this year's event. Lenderman has been playing an exciting brand of chess as of late and will be a formidable contender in this year's championship.
In the summer of 2009, Alex earned three GM norms in a little more than a month's time:
- Copper State International Tournament in Mesa, Ariz.: May 29-June 3
- Philadelphia International Tournament: June 25-29
- World Open in Philadelphia: July 5
Grandmaster Robert Hess is one of a handful of promising young stars on the U.S. chess scene. Hess was awarded the International Master title in 2007. He achieved his first norm for the Grandmaster title in Foxwoods 2008 and earned the final two in quick succession at the SPICE Spring Invitational and Foxwoods 2009.
Two years ago, Hess was awarded the Samford Chess Fellowship, and he is currently finishing up his sophomore at Yale University. Although handling a full course load at Yale, playing in top level tourneys across the country and studying for chess/classes can be time consuming, Hess has found time to also help spearhead the Sports Quotient, an exciting new sports website that offers intriguing stories and innovative coverage of the sports world.
Robert swept the 2009 High School Championship in Nashville, where he also led his high school, Stuyvesant, to a team victory. After being awarded a wild card berth to the 2009 U.S. Championship, Robert, originally seeded 17 out of 24 players, put on a remarkable performance to fall just short of the championship with a second-place finish. In 2011, he turned in an amazing performance to make it to the four-player knockout final, where he ran into a roadblock, ultimately securing a fourth-place finish.
Robert strives to play innovative and creative games, a trait that makes him a dangerous competitor. Like Bobby Fischer, Robert dislikes the prevalence of memorizing lines of theory too deeply. Rather, he strives to introduce theoretical novelties that bring his opponents out of book. He is a big proponent of Fischer Random chess (or Chess 960, a variation of chess that randomizes the back row with a few rules and guidelines. Under these rules, there are 960 different back-row configurations).
For the past 11 years, Hess has been under the tutelage of GM Miron Sher.
In his advice for developing chess students, Robert says to avoid using the computer too much, try to play up a section or two, and try doing other things besides chess as you develop.