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On Chess: A trio of chess grandmasters

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2013: Super-GM Gata Kamsky did not seem very comfortable in Beijing. The No. 2-ranked player in the United States was in China on business over the past couple weeks, participating in another FIDE Grand Prix event. The Grand Prix is a series of six tournaments held over two years (2012-13), where the top players in the world compete for a guaranteed berth into the 2014 Candidate’s Tournament – the winner of that gets to challenge the world champion for his title. Beijing hosted the cycle’s fifth event, which wrapped up this past Tuesday.

Kamsky, at 39, had been on fire for the early portion of 2013, performing well in the third Grand Prix event in Zug, Switzerland, in April, and then securing his fourth U.S. Championship here in St. Louis in May. He followed that up in June with a tie for second place at the fourth Grand Prix event in Thessaloniki, Greece; and at his high-water mark, Kamsky had ballooned his rating high enough to make a brief appearance in the world’s top 10.

But it was brief, and he has since tumbled to No. 17 on the list. Kamsky rode it rough, not finding a full-point win until the 10th (of 11) round and twice losing with the white pieces. He mustered only a handful of draws for a dismal 3.5 points and a dead-last finish, 12th out of 12 players.

GM Varuzhan Akobian, one of the rotating resident grandmasters at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, found success in Arlington, Va., over the Fourth of July weekend – and so did nine others. Ten GMs were tied with 6.5 out of 9 rounds at the end of the 41st World Open, but tiebreakers pushed Akobian into one final “Armageddon match” where he sealed the title as champion.

This year’s World Open pulled in more than 1,200 players, including 30 Grandmasters and 17 International Masters and Women Grandmasters. Eight of those GMs – including Americans Alejandro Ramirez, Yuri Shulman and Sergey Erenburg – each had a chance to win the tournament outright with a win in the final round, but they all drew, keeping the knot on top and allowing two other GMs to catch pace from behind.

The normally healthy prize fund, split 10 ways, gave each winner a measly $3,900 – hardly worth the effort for globe-trotting players from places such as Cuba, India and the Czech Republic. For his tiebroken title, Akobian earned an extra $90. That won’t even cover the gas money back to Kansas.

Daniel Naroditsky might have to fill out a new bucket list. After winning the U.S. Junior Championship – the national championship for players under 21 – here in St. Louis last month, the 17 year old hopped on a plane to Spain and earned himself a new title: Grandmaster.

Naroditsky just finished the Benasque Open, which boasted more than 50 GMs, IMs and WGMs in the 150-player Open section, and scored 7.0 points out of 9 rounds, tying for fourth place. Much like his performance in the Junior Championship, he proved impossible to beat, not losing once across 10 rounds despite seven GM opponents. The showing earned Naroditsky his third and final GM norm – that is, required performances in high-level tournaments – and also popped his rating past the 2500 GM watermark.

His live rating entering the tournament was 2486, and after a performance rating of 2617, he notched his final norm and the necessary rating in one fell swoop. With all requirements achieved, he is now considered a “Grandmaster-Elect” while he undergoes the necessary application process with FIDE, which will likely take several months to make the title official.