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On Chess: USA! USA! USA!

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 10, 2011 - All week long, everywhere I turned, it seemed the country had discovered a new-found sense of patriotism. Every time I'd turn on the television, I'd see people gathering with American flags. Groups of people, young and old, were celebrating in the streets chanting, "USA! USA!" Even my favorite blogs and news sites on the Internet seemed to be exhibiting much more patriotism than usual. Excuse me while I indulge my imagination that all the hubbub was about the newly crowned U.S. Chess Champion Gata Kamsky winning his Candidates Match versus the favored Veselin Topalov.

Taking place this month in Kazan, Russia, the Candidates Matches are a series of four-game matches between the best players in the world. From a field of eight, one player will emerge to challenge reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand in 2012. The four matches in round one ended Monday, with the following results:

  • Kamsky bested Topalov 2.5-1.5
  • Boris Gelfand beat Shakriyar Mamedyarov 2.5-1.5
  • Vladimir Kramnik won in a blitz playoff over Teimour Radjabov
  • Alexander Grischuk won in a rapid playoff over Levon Aronian

Kamsky entered the field of eight as the lowest seed and was paired with top-seeded Topalov, who challenged Anand for the World Championship in 2010. Although Kamsky's win was quite the upset, some believe Grischuk's win over Aronian may have been a bit more surprising. Coming into the match, Aronian appeared to be in top form and was considered a heavy favorite over Grischuk. This goes to show that just like any other sport, chess players can go on hot and cold streaks (Pujols, I'm talking to you).
Kamsky, who is running hot right now, is only two match victories away from challenging for the 2012 World Chess Championship. Round two, which will begin on May 11 and run through the 16, will see Kamsky-Gelfand and Kramnik-Grischuk face off.

The knock-out format is quite interesting. Some have balked at the randomness of four-game matches (that if tied, rely on rapid and blitz chess to determine the winner), but I am sure Anand is quite pleased that Topalov and Aronian (the strongest competitors) have been eliminated. Also his main rival, No. 1 in the world Magnus Carlsen, sat out these matches after claiming the format was not correct.

Kamsky's win was mainly due to his excellent play in Game two with the black pieces. Topalov played in uncompromising style, but soon went astray. His only real error was 15.Rd2 after which Kamsky used precise attacking moves to get Topalov's exposed king. Topalov was forced to give up in the final position, as he lost too many pieces after 32.Kb1 Qc2+ 33.Ka1 Qxd1+.

A powerful win by the American Champion - and I'll be looking forward to more flags and patriotism if Kamsky continues his hot streak when he faces Gelfand.{jcomments on}

Grandmaster Ben Finegold, 41, has been playing chess since he was 5 years old. In 2009, he attained the coveted title of international grandmaster and, in January 2010, accepted a position as the Resident Grandmaster at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Ben has been a professional chess teacher for more than 20 years, and his engaging personality, passion for chess and extensive experience make him one of the most sought-after instructors in the nation.

This chess blog will appear from time to time.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.