St. Louis hosts strongest chess tournament in history: Carlsen wins American debut

Gaasland – Carlsen  Oslo 2001

Black to move and win


23.. Ne3!  Threatening the Queen on c4, R:d1 mate, and forking Rook and Queen. 24. R:d8+ R:d8 (still threatening both mate on d1 and Q:c4) 25. Qe2 Qc4+ and White resigned.

— From Peter Henner

Philadelphia Five: The Capital District team at the National Chess Congress, held in the City of Brotherly Love, included, from left, Patrick Chi, Phillip Sells, Peter Henner, and Zaza and Martha Samadashvili. 

Until very recently, American chess was largely centered in New York, with some secondary centers in California and possibly Chicago. However, in 2007, Rex Sinquefield, a retired billionaire financial advisor, best known for his contributions to conservative political causes, decided to provide major funding for the Chess Club of St. Louis.

Because of his substantial contributions to the chess center, Sinquefield has been awarded the Gold Koltanowski Award by the United States Chess Federation as the person who has done the most to support chess in the United States during the last four years, and St. Louis was designated Chess City of the Year in 2009 and 2011.  

Since 2007, St. Louis has hosted the United States championship the last four years, with the largest prize funds in history; hosted both the U.S. Women’s Championship and the U.S. Junior Closed Championship in the last two years; established a major club with 900 members; conducted weekly rated events; offered several levels of chess instruction for players of all standings; conducted a variety of high-level scholastic programs; maintained a full-time staff; and sponsored rotating “Grandmasters in residence.” (The current GM in residence is Ronen Har-Zvi, who lived in the Capital District for about five years, giving chess lessons to a group of local players.) 

In September, the Chess Club of St. Louis conducted the first Sinquefield Cup, a tournament with a total purse of $170,000 for a double round-robin tournament with only four players:

— Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, rated first;

— Levon Aronian, rated second in the world;

— Hikaru Nakamura, rated fourth in the world and one of America’s top two players; and

— Gata Kamsky, the other top American player, who lost a match for the world championship against Anatoly Karpov (7 ½ - 10 ½) in 1996 at the age of 22, before taking an eight-year break from chess.

The average rating of the four participants was 2793, making it the strongest tournament in history.

Carlsen won the tournament by winning his last-round game against Aronian.  With 3 ½ points, he needed only a draw to clinch first, while Aronian, with 2 ½, needed a win to force a three-way tie with Nakamura.

At first, Carlsen appeared to be content with a draw, but, by the time Aronian offered it on move 48, Carlsen turned down the draw, and the certainty of the $70,000 first prize because, he said, “It was a little bit of a gamble, but I thought winning the last game would be so sweet.”

Carlsen won to take first place with 4 ½ - 1 ½, ahead of Nakamura (3 ½ - 2 ½), Aronian (2 ½ - 3 ½), and Kamsky (1 ½ - 4 ½). It was the first time that Carlsen had played in the United States, and he also became the first person to achieve a USCF rating over 3000, a provisional rating of 3004.

After this tournament, Carlsen took a two-month rest, before his ultimately successful match against Anand for the world championship.

Nakamura said that he was very disappointed not to have won the tournament. However, last week, he demonstrated that he had fully recovered, by winning the prestigious London Chess Classic, this year conducted as a rapid chess event. Nakamura defeated former world champion Vladimir Kramnik in the semifinals, and Boris Gelfand, who lost the 2012 world championship match against Anand, in the finals.

Chess at Robben Island

South African President Jacob Zuma, who was imprisoned for 10 years, recently stated, “On Robben Island, chess provided a solace to us that we needed in those conditions of isolation and deprivation. It propelled our minds beyond the confines of the prison walls and allowed us to reflect and to position our thought strategically to fight the regime. Many comrades made chess sets out of soap and driftwood that allowed us to continue to play this great and noble game.” 

One of the strongest players on Robben Island was Nelson Mandela.

Neville Alexander, a fellow inmate recently interviewed by PBS, described him as taking “his time with every move, [considering] it very carefully. He would sort of mislead the other person by pointing things, this way, that way, the other, and then making the move that wasn’t expected, and so on…. [Mandela] had that way of, as I say, it was a war of attrition, and he tended therefore to be victorious in most cases.” 

National Chess Congress

Five players from the Capital District — Patrick Chi; Phil Sells; Martha Samadashvili; her father, Zaza Samadashvili; and myself — traveled to Philadelphia over Thanksgiving to play in the National Chess Congress.

In the Premier section (limited to players over 2000), our home-grown master, Patrick Chi, held his own with a score of 3-3.

In the under 2200 section, Phil Sells gained 27 rating points to regain his expert rating (over 2000) with a score of 3-3.

Going into the last round, I had gained more than the 83 points needed to regain my expert rating, but blundered away a won game to finish with a score of 3 ½ - 2 ½, and a rating of 1985 (a gain of 68 points).

Martha Samadashvi, in her last tournament before traveling to the United Arab Emirates for the World Under-10 championship, scored 4-2 in the under-2000 section, to raise her rating 102 points, to 1861.

Zaza Samadashvili, troubled by a virus, and perhaps overwhelmed by his responsibilities, did not play the last day and finished with a score of 2-4 in the under-1800 section.

Local club championships

In Saratoga, a seven-player double round-robin, the favorite is Gary Farrell, with a score of 8-2, and two games left to play.

Defending champion Jonathan Feinberg is undefeated, with three wins and five draws for a score of 5 ½ - 2 ½, and has a chance of catching Farrell. Other scores: Bill Little, 4 ½ - 3 ½; Glenn Gausewitz, 3 ½ - 3 ½; Dave Finnerman, 3-4; Josh Kuperman, 2-5; and David Connors, 1 ½ - 7 ½. 

In Albany, a 14-player single round-robin, the leader is newcomer Jeremy Berman, with a perfect score of 3-0, followed by Timothy Wright, 5-1; Jonathan Lack, 3 ½ - 1½ ; Dean Howard, 2 ½ - 1 ½ ; Jason Denham, 2 ½ - 1 ½;  Glen Perry, 1 ½ - ½; Peter Henner, 2-1; and Michael Mockler, 1 ½ - 1 ½.

Joseph Jones ( 2 ½ - 2 ½) and  Gordon Magat (2-3), who were expected to be among the leaders, already have more than two losses, followed by Will Stephenson, 1-4; Art Alowitz,  ½ - 3 ½; Cory Northrup, ½ - 3½; and Chuck Eson, 0-3.

Schenectady, with a 13-player single round-robin, has been the most surprising tournament.

Jon Leisner, 3 ½ - ½, and Michael Mockler, 4-1, are leading, joined by Cory Northrup, 4-1, followed by Zachary Calderon, 3 ½ - 1 ½; Peter Henner, 3-2; Carlos Varela, 3-2; Junior Canty, 2-2; Carl Adamec, 2 ½ - 2½; John Phillips, 2-3; Matthew Clough, 2 ½ - 3½; Joel Miranti, 1-4; Richard Chu, 1-4; and Elihu Hill, 0-3.

There have already been five upsets of greater than 300 points: Clough - Henner, ½ - ½; Northrup – Henner, 1-0; Phillips – Canty, 0-1; Adamec - Clough 0-1; and Miranti - Clough 1-0.    

This week’s problem

Are you as smart as a 10-year-old?

Magnus Carlsen found an elegant way to finish off this game when he was 10. Can you see it?