The Field: U.S. Championship
The twenty five year old Grandmaster was introduced to chess through an afterschool program as a five-year old in Brooklyn, New York, while living near to Bobby Fischer’s childhood home. That same year, he played his first tournament at the Susan Polgar Chess Center in Queens New York. His performance there got the attention of Caruana’s first coach, NM Bruce Pandolfini.
At ten years old, Caruana became the youngest American to defeat a GM in a FIDE sanctioned event. By the age of twelve, he had earned his FIDE master title, won several national scholastic championships, and two gold medals in the Pan-American Youth Championships. When it became clear that chess would be his future, Fabiano and his family moved to Europe.
Caruana is now one of the hottest players on the global scene. He crossed the super- elite rating threshold of 2800 after winning the 42nd Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dartmund, Germany. He was the eighth player in history to pass the 2800 barrier. He secured the tournament win in the penultimate round without losing a game.
In 2014 Fabiano achieved two impressive results, he placed second behind Magnus Carlsen in the World Rapid Championship and went on to win the Sinquefield cup with a remarkable score of eight and a half out of ten. In early 2015, after playing as a member of the Italian Chess Federation, Caruana rejoined the United States Chess Federation as one of its strongest members. In the past two years, Caruana has won his first U.S. Championship, placed second at Tata Steel, played first board for the gold medal winning U.S. team at the 42nd Chess Olympiad, and won the 2017 London Chess Classic. He returns to the U.S. Championship as a serious contender for the title of U.S. Champion.
A child prodigy in every sense of the word, Hikaru swiftly knocked down nearly every age record on his way into the elite ranks. He was, at one time, the youngest American Master in history (10 years, 79 days), the youngest American International Master (13 years, 2 months), and eventually broke Bobby fischer’s record by three months when he became the youngest American Grandmaster at the time (15 years, 79 days).
‘Naka’, as his fans affectionately refer to him, has collected numerous titles and championships since the age of thirteen, when he arrived on the national scene by winning the 2001 U.S Junior Championship. He quickly confirmed his place among the elites, shocking the world with a sweet sixteen appearance in the 2004 FIDE World Cup. His accomplishments do not end there. This recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship, won the 2007 National Open, the North American Open three times, and was gold medalist on the first board of the 2010 World Team Championship.
Since the advent of published FIDE Blitz ratings, Nakamura has graced the top of the list, demonstrating inimitable acuity and speed. In 2015, the American GM won the Gibraltar Chess Masters tournament, captured his fourth U.S. Championship, first place at the Millionaire Chess Open, and propelled his classical FIDE rating to a career high of 2814. 2016 also proved to be a fruitful year for Naka as he repeated first place finishes at the Gibraltar Chess Festival and the Zurich Chess Challenge.
Last year, Hikaru won his third consecutive Gibraltar Chess Festival. One can only speculate as to what this four time winner of the U.S. Championship has in store for this year’s field.
Wesley learned chess from his father at the age of six, and was competing in junior tournaments by the age of nine. When he earned his Grandmaster title at the age of fourteen years, one month, and twenty-eight days, So completed the ‘trifecta’ of being the youngest-ever Filipino National Champion, IM, and GM.
Wesley came to the U.S. in August of 2012, enrolled at Webster University and quickly leapt from being a top 100 player to one of the top ten worldwide, leading his school to back-to-back national titles along the way.
In October 2014, GM So took first place at the inaugural Millionaire Open then returned to Saint Louis to lead the Arch-Bishops to their first ever Pro Chess League Championship. Wesley then participated in his first elite tournament, securing the fourth place prize at the 77th Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Holland. The following year he returned and tied for second place, just a half-point behind Magnus.
2016 saw the American GM earn first place in the Grand Chess Tour by winning the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic. In 2017 Wesley won the Tata Steel Masters tournament and became the eleventh player in history to surpass 2800 FIDE.
Alexander began playing chess at the age of six and has been one of the top 100 players in the world for the past two decades. The Ukrainian-American Onischuk earned his GM title in 1994. After winning the 2000 Ukrainian Championship he emigrated to the U.S. and played collegiate chess for the University of Baltimore, Maryland. GM Onischuk led the program to multiple national titles before graduating in 2006 with a degree in linguistics. He has been invited to every FIDE World Cup since 2005, and has won more than twenty major tournaments along the way. The experienced chess professional said that winning the 2006 U.S. Championship was the happiest moment of his career, sharing a trophy with legendary names such as Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy.
Onischuk’s strong performances at the 2006 and 2008 Olympiads helped to secure America’s Bronze Medal finishes. In 2009, he delivered a Gold Medal performance on board two at the World Team Championship in Bursa, Turkey. As head coach of Texas Tech’s chess program, he has led the team to national recognition. The Ukrainian-American GM has finished in the top three in the U.S. Championships eight times, and in 2015, as head coach, he led his Texas Tech team to first place at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.
Born in guam, Robson and his family moved to Florida when he was still a toddler. It was in Florida where he learned to play chess when he was just three years old. From 2004 to 2007, Robson finished in the top 10 at the World Youth Championships. He won the Super- Nationals in 2005, first place in the 2005 and 2006 Pan-american Youth Championships, the 2009 U.S. Junior Championship, and the 2009 world Team Championship. In 2008, Ray won his first major tournament at the Miami open, and later that year broke Hikaru Nakamura’s record by becoming the youngest American GM (14 years, 11 months and 16 days).
Robson attends Webster University, where he won the 2012 SPICE Cup Open, and helped the Webster team win three consecutive National titles.
At the age of eighteen, Sam announced his retirement from the world of professional chess; however, having made a prior commitment to play in the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, he played and managed to win a difficult tournament. The victory earned him an invitation to play in the 2011 U.S. Championship, which proved to be a difficult offer to refuse.
In 2016, the American GM won the Edmonton International as well as Fargenes International. Sam’s strong, sometimes unpredictable play is sure to keep this year’s field on their toes, and the chess fans on edges of their seats.
The weather in Mongolia was so harsh during the years that “Var” spent there as a child, that his father forbade him and his sister Armine from playing outside. He taught them chess, which fascinated the young Akobian. “From the very beginning,” Var says, “I was different from the 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, Akobian spent his days on chess and soccer. His teachers encouraged him to focus on chess, so much that Var says: “If I went to high school in here [in the U.S], I never could have spent so much energy on chess.”
In 2002, a year after immigrating to the U.S., he earned the Samford Chess Fellowship. The Fellowship grant, which allowed the young Var to study and improve his chess, yielded quick results with a tie for first at the 2002 World Open and First Place at the Irme Koenig GM invitational. The following year, he won the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, earned his GM Norms in June 2004, and then won the World Open for a second time.
An excellent positional player, GM Akobian admires the games and style of Armenian Hero, former World Champion Tigran Petrosian. He admires him so much so that he became an expert in the French Defence, one of Petrosians most played openings with the black pieces. Var offers this advice for aspiring club players: “Don’t expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while you’ll see a big breakthrough.”
This seventeen-year old from Coppell, Texas has a quite an impressive list of results. Showing a tenacity beyond his years he has won the 2015 Chicago Open, finished sixth in the 2016 U.S.Championship (the strongest in history), and was awarded the 2016 U.S. Outstanding Player Achievement Award by USCF. Xiong, the winner of the 2016 U.S. Junior Closed Championship is sure to give some of the seasoned veterans in this year’s field a run for their money.
The Ukrainian-born GM earned his title at the age of fifteen. Zherebukh says, “ My biggest success so far was the advancement to the fourth round at the 2011 World Cup in Russia.” In 2015, ‘Yaro’ switched his affiliation with the Ukrainian Chess Federation to the USCF, granting him eligibility to be the wildcard in the 2017 U.S. Championships. GM Zherebukh made his mark on the Saint Louis Chess Campus when he joined the Saint Louis Arch-Bishops, contributing to the team’s 2017 PRO Chess League Championship title. This impressive young GM who has become a regular presence at the Saint Louis Chess Club is a fan favorite and is sure to give us some exciting chess in this year’s Championship.
The Georgian born Izoria is an exciting and interesting player in this year’s U.S. Championship. Currently rated 2599 FIDE (2593), he is the eleventh highest rated player nationally, the 34 year old GM will have to be very prepared for some intense top level chess as he competes against this year’s field of elites.
Born in Leningrad, Russia, at age four Aleksandr arrived in Brooklyn with his family and quickly began to cultivate his love of the royal game. Lenderman was part of the ‘dream team’ at his high school, winning four straight national titles. During the 2008 USCF Grand Prix, Alex scored higher than all of the competing GM’s by playing and championing smaller events, including WCL tournaments. After placing first in the 2009 Atlantic Open he went on to win the 2009 Grand Prix, and co-champion the 2009 U.S. Open. GM Lenderman earned his three Grandmaster norms in quick succession in the summer of 2009 and formally obtained the GM title in 2010. In 2015, the young American Grandmaster helped the U.S. team bring home the gold medal at the World Chess Championship and then went on to win the 2015 World Open. Last year he produced impressive performances at the Chess World Cup and the Chess.com Isle of Man Open in September. This experienced GM is a strong and exciting addition to this year’s already very strong field.
Awonder is one of the most impressive chess prodigies in recent history. The youngest GM in this year’s field, he tied for first at the 2011 U8 World Youth Chess Championship and went on to become the youngest American to ever earn the Master and IM titles. He enters this tournament after a year of important successes, earning his final GM Norm in May 2017 and winning the 2017 U.S Junior Closed Championship. The Chess world can count on seeing an impressive performance from the young American GM in this year’s U.S. Championship.