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On Chess: US Chess is rising and So is the competition

Fabiano Caruana in a match with Hikaru Nakamura at the 2016 U.S. Championship
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis | Lennart Ootes
Fabiano Caruana in a match with Hikaru Nakamura at the 2016 U.S. Championship

It’s that time of the year again. The time when St. Louis dresses up in its white and black gown and welcomes the best chess players the nation has to offer. The 2017 U.S. Chess Championship & U.S. Women’s Championship will take place from March 28 to April 10 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and it will feature the highest prize fund in history, with $194.000 for the U.S. Championship and $100,000 for the U.S. Women’s Championship.

U.S. Championship Field

In the open section, the favorites are the imposing trio that has helped the U.S. vanquish its opposition and win the 2016 Chess Olympiad: Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura. Between them, they share five national titles, with Nakamura leading the pack with four titles while Caruana won the top laurel in last year’s edition. Wesley So is the only one that has yet to win it. Nevertheless, he is currently second in the world and will go into this year’s tournament as the top seed and rating favorite.

Wesley has had an incredible 2016 and managed to solidify his status as the top prospect for the world title. As former World Champion, Viswanathan Anand stated in a recent interview, “Wesley is the player the whole chess world is having its eyes on at the moment.” While So has the novelty appeal to his name, Caruana has been scratching the very top for a long time and one can argue that his experience under pressure will play an important role in his quest to defend his title.

Nakamura has been a dominant force and a serious contender in every year’s edition and this one will not be different. Despite the fact that he is the third seed at the start of the event, his explosive style will be a force to be reckoned with. Another important name to remember is Jeffery Xiong, who at 16 years of age is the youngest participant. His level has been steadily rising and underestimating his chances at producing the surprise would be a serious mistake.

U.S. Women’s Championship

The Women’s section was rocked last year by the swift and unexpected rise of Nazi Paikidze. Paikidze defied the odds and managed to win the prestigious title in her second championship appearance. On top of that, she managed to do so by defeating the seven time U.S. Women’s Champion Irina Krush in a dramatic last round. Paikidze has continued to stay in the spotlight and gained a serious following around the world when she refused to participate in the World Championship that was held in Iran. The mandatory Hijab was the focal point behind her refusal. Tatev Abrahamyan had an impressive title run last year but failed to cement her name in the history books after a painful defeat in the last round. She will be back this year to fight again for her dream which seems to be getting closer and closer with every passing year.

While these two are surely portraying the young and hungry competitors, the experienced and accomplished Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih will play a crucial part in the title hunt. While Zatonskih has been fairly inactive in the last year, Krush has been steadily climbing back up the ladder. She just finished a strong GM Invitational tournament in St. Louis, in which she faced a palette of experienced Grandmasters.

The dynamics between the players, the impressive prize fund, and the prestige of this event will once again bring face to face the brightest chess minds that the nation has to offer. It will be an explosive affair that the world will be watching. Game on! Catch all the action live at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center located in the Central West End or online at uschesschamps.com.

GM Chirila is the current Grandmaster in residence at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. GM Chirila was born in Romania and now resides in the United States. Recently, GM Chirila won his section, U2550 at the 3rd annual Millionaire Chess tournament.