The field for the 12-player 2014 U.S. Championship is now set, with some familiar names but also plenty of youth. The tournament will be held for the sixth year in a row at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis from May 7-20, 2014.
Leading the list of invites is the defending champion, GM Gata Kamsky. He won the 2013 event in a dramatic Armageddon game against GM Alejandro Ramirez.
The notable absence will be the top American player GM Hikaru Nakamura. Speaking with club officials, Nakamura stated that he was instead trying to only compete against the world's elite. Currently #8 in the live ratings, Nakamura is a three-time U.S. Champion.
Meanwhile Kamsky, after winning the title in 1991 as a teenager, has also won three of the past four events. He's struggled internationally since last year's victory, slipping about 30 spots in the world rankings.
GM Hikaru Nakamura (left) and GM Gata Kamsky at the 2013 Sinquefield Cup, also in St. Louis
To be fair, he's also produced some venomous games in the past year. The strike against current World Champion Candidate GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was an instant classic. Just a few days ago, against a U.S. Championship competitor, he proved that his trusty London System is capable of the same:
The list of players attempting to upset him includes GM Timur Gareev and GM Varuzhan Akobian, both of whom are seeking their first championship. Besides Kamsky, GM Alex Onischuk is the only other player in the field with a title in his pocket.
First prize this year is $45,000 (up from 2013's $30,000), with a total purse of $172,000.
Last year 24 players played a nine-round Swiss, but the club likes alternating formats. This year is a single round-robin of 11 games. The trimmed-down field has meant that usual attendees like GMs Joel Benjamin, Larry Christiansen, Alex Shabalov, Gregory Kaidanov, Yury Shulman and many others will miss out in 2014.
Second-seeded GM Timur Gareev, who last year played a 33-player bllindfold simul before the Championship
Last year many upstarts also got their first chance, such as GM Conrad Holt, GM Marc Arnold, IM Kayden Troff, IM Sam Sevian and (then FM) John Bryant. None of them will return this year.
Rounding out the field will be first-time player GM Sergey Erenburg (who recently changed his FIDE affiliation), and a crop of young GMs who are all 18-27 years old. GMs Ray Robson (19), Sam Shankland (22), Aleksandr Lenderman (24), and Ramirez (25) all qualified by rating.
"The tournament feels on average younger, but we don't have any of these underrated pesky kids anymore, so that's a plus," Ramirez said to Chess.com. Ramirez, who is now co-editor at ChessBase, said he dropped a "crucial" half point to Sevian last year, even though his opponent wasn't even 2400 at the time.
GM Alejandro Ramirez (left) and GM Gata Kamsky in their playoff match in 2013
Finally there are GMs Daniel Naroditsky (18) and Josh Friedel (27), who qualified by winning the 2013 U.S. Junior and 2013 U.S. Open, respectively.
"It's always been the most important tournament to me," Friedel told Chess.com after punching his ticket last year.
Organizers granted the lone wildcard to newly-minted GM Mackenzie Molner, who tied for last year's U.S. Open with Friedel, but lost to him in the playoff.
According to U.S. Championship amateur statistician Ed Gonsalves, this is the youngest U.S. Championship in history. The average age is 27. Gonsalves also pointed out that in 1991, Kamsky won as the youngest in the field (17); this year he is the oldest (39). He is the only player ever to have achieved this distinction.
Ramirez agreed with Nakamura's decision to skip this year. "Hikaru's absence opens the field," he said. "Honestly this year he is so far away from the rest of the players that it would not have been any real competition. It is better that he focuses on getting higher up in the world elite."
So will Kamsky have an easy two weeks? Ramirez, who gave him all he could handle last year, isn't convinced of that.
"The odds that Kamsky wins again I think aren't as high as last year," Ramirez said. "Competition is much stiffer and he hasn't had a great year so far. That being said he is still the only 2700 player, but with an average rating of almost 2650 I think the tournament can really be won by absolutely anyone. With seven of the announced 11 players being under 30 (now eight of 12 - M.K.) there's pretty good chances the 'new generation' takes this one."
The 2014 U.S. Women's Championship will be held concurrently but the field has yet to be announced. Last year GM (then IM) Irina Krush successfully defended her 2012 title. Like Kamsky, she has won three of the last four years.
GM Irina Krush at the closing ceremony of the 2013 U.S. Women's Championship
Update: Nine of the 10 women have now been confirmed - http://uschesschamps.com/2014-us-womens-championship-player-bios