The format of the U.S. Chess Championship was different but the results were the same. Irina Krush and Gata Kamsky successfully defended the women and men’s titles, respectively. However, both had to go through a strange three-way playoff to achieve their goals.
Very bad and unfair playoff format
Both Kamsky and Krush had to charge from beyond in the late rounds to catch the leaders and force a three-way playoff for both men and women. Based on head-to-head tiebreak results, Kamsky and Krush were directly seeded into the finals while the two other players tied with them had to engage in an “Armageddon” bidding game to determine who would play them. In this game players bid on time. White is awarded the most time but Black has draw odds. White must win the game to advance but Black can draw or win to move forward This is a bad format because the tiebreak system awards a player twice for a single result. For example, Krush had to beat her arch-rival, Anna Zatonskih, in the penultimate round in order to catch her in the standings, yet Krush was seeded ahead of Anna and able to avoid the Armageddon round based on beating Anna head-to-head. So Krush received the benefit of one point by defeating Anna, then received another benefit because that game was the basis for which Krush received a bye into the finals and got 90 minutes of extra rest. When there is a three-way playoff, every player should start on an equal footing, without two having to go through a “play-in” game while the other one relaxes and waits in the wings. Krush admitted having this advantage to chessvibes.com. “It’s very hard to start one war after another,” she said.
No U.S.-born players made playoff
Varuzhan Akobian and Aleksandr Lenderman joined Kamsky in the men’s playoff. Akobian was born in Armenia, Lenderman in Russia and Kamsky in the former Soviet Union. Tatev Abrahamyan was the third woman in the playoff. She is originally from Armenia. Krush and Zatonskih were born in Ukraine. In recent years there have been very few American-born chess champions. The U.S. Chess Federation must do a better job of developing home-grown talent.
Smaller field, older players not invited
On the men’s side, the 2014 field had just 12 players, down from 24 players in 2013. The format was a round robin of 11 rounds in 2014 rather than a nine-round Swiss that was featured in 2013. The 2014 field clearly focused on youth. Veteran players Aleksandr Ivanov, Joel Benjamin, Alexander Shabalov, Alexander Stripunsky, Yuri Shulman, Larry Christiansen, Gregory Kaidanov, among others, weren’t in the field this year. Still, Kamsky, approaching age 40 and the oldest male in the field, won one for the older guys.
Pay inequity, Billie Jean King must be screaming
Kamsky earned $45,000 for his first-place finish, while Krush took home $20,000 for her victory. Billie Jean King might scream about this difference in first prize money, but the system seems fair. The lowest rated male player has a higher rating than the highest rated female player, and the men toiled for 11 rounds while the women played nine rounds and enjoyed two extra rest days.
Krush becoming a superstar
This was Krush’s sixth U.S. Championship title, third in a row and fourth in five years. In recent years she has become a grandmaster period without the woman’s grandmaster designation. She is the most brilliant of all the U.S. women players and at 30 is still relatively young.
Kamsky, an all-time great
This was Kamsky’s fifth U.S. title and fourth in the past five years, the most titles since Bobby Fischer won eight of them. “It’s going to look good on the résumé,” he said, according to chessvibes.com. Among his other credentials, Kamsky played for the FIDE World Championship against Anatoly Karpov in 1996, won the 2007 Chess World Cup and reached the semi-finals of the World Chess Championship cycle in 2010.
St. Louis now the chess mecca of the U.S.
During its heyday, New York City had the famed Marshall Chess Club, the Manhattan Chess Club and regularly hosted the U.S. Chess Championship. Fischer won all of his eight crowns there in the 1950s and ’60s. However, in recent years the center of gravity in chess has shifted to St. Louis. The Midwestern city with the famous Gateway Arch, St. Louis has the state-of-the-art, 6,000-square-foot Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis facility that now hosts the U.S. Championship, U.S. Women’s Championship, and features a grandmaster-in-residence to provide lectures and lessons. St. Louis is also now home to the World Chess Hall of Fame.