Gata Kamsky

New York
Chess Highlights: 
Three-time U.S. Champion (2011, 2010 and 1991), Reggio Emilia 2010 Champion, Rapid World Championship Mainz 2010, 2007 World Cup
The back-to-back U.S. Champion in 2010 and 2011, Gata Kamsky came to the U.S. in 1989 and, at 16, became a Grandmaster in 1990. He played Karpov for the World Championship in 1996. Although he lost the match, he was the first American since Bobby Fischer to go that far. After losing, he gave up chess, attended and graduated from law school. After a break of nearly a decade, Kamsky returned to chess and won the 2007 World Chess Cup just three years after his comeback. Kamsky lost his February 2009 match against Veselin Topalov and with it, the chance to advance to the 2010 World Championship, which was won by Viswanathan Anand. In 2011, Kamsky got his revenge by upsetting Topalov in a Candidates Match, but he eventually lost to GM Boris Gelfand in the semi-finals. Kamsky seeks to regain the U.S. Championship title against an elite and determined field.

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.