Sunday, April 6, 2008

2008 U.S. Chess Championship

Article by McClain at The New York Times: Chess Many Top Players to Sit Out Championship Over Money By DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN Published: April 6, 2008 A qualifying tournament for the United States Championship was held last weekend in Tulsa, Okla. Seven players earned spots, and five qualified based on their national rankings after five of the country’s best players declined invitations. Top players are passing up this year’s event, to be held in May in Tulsa, because they are unhappy about its prize fund and location. Hikaru Nakamura, Larry Christiansen and Joel Benjamin, all past champions, are not playing. Ildar Ibragimov, ranked No. 10 in the country, has declined. Gata Kamsky, the No. 1 player and a past champion, did not respond to his invitation. The prizes range from $8,000 for first place to $1,000 for the last five in the 24-player event. Nakamura said he did not have fond memories of last year’s tournament, held in Stillwater, Okla., where he finished in a tie for 10th. The “prestige has gone down,” he said, blaming the United States Chess Federation. Christiansen said: “A lot of professional players will sit it out for 8,000 bucks. It is lot of work. The equivalent of one of these top-level games is like taking the bar exam.” Despite the holdouts, the competition will be formidable. Alexander Shabalov, last year’s champion, will be one of 12 grandmasters in the field, as will Alexander Onischuk, the 2006 winner. Among the players who qualified was John Fedorowicz, a grandmaster from New York, who secured his berth with a last-round win against Salvijus Bercys, an international master. ... ****************************************************************************************** I have a few comments. It has been many years since the top rated chess players in most countries have played in their national championships. Michael Adams hasn't played in a British Chess Championship for the past six years or more, has he? Did Kasparov play in the Russian Chess Championship in his later years? Has Kramnik? Does Topolov compete in the Bulgarian Chess Championship? Does Judit Polgar play in the Hungarian Chess Championship? Does Anand compete in the Indian Chess Championship? So Kamsky didn't respond - so what? Kamsky has other fish to fry these days - like going for a world championship. As for Joel Benjamin and Larry Christiansen, most chessplayers in the USA have no idea who the heck they are. Perhaps these grandmasters have already committed to playing in other tournaments elsewhere, and so refused their invitations to play in the U.S. Championship - or perhaps not. I sure don't see their names showing up much these days in "final standings" lists in tournament from around the world. I mean no offense to these players who were greats in the USA back in the day, but there it is, they were great "back then," not now. So, who really cares if they play in the U.S. Championship now? Some "been there, done that" former champions complaining about the prize fund. They don't like it - but what have they done to try and improve the situation? Have they attempted to use their cachet as former U.S. Chess Champions to promote chess in the United States? Have they approached potential corporate sponsors and asked for funding? Have they joined together with other chess professionals and promoters to assemble a comprehensive long-term marketing strategy for professional chess in the USA? Nakamura's comments sound like sound REAL sour grapes to me. He didn't do well last year in Stillwater - he played like crap - and now he's copping out. Well, that is his perogative. He passed up an invitation to play in Corus "B" this year - where he might have made a decent reputation if he had played well AND earned a place in the 2009 Corus "A" Event, where he could have competed against some of the TOP players from around the world - and instead he went for the money at Gibraltar. Nothing wrong with going for the money - but tell the truth. Don't say it's because the US Championships have lost prestige. It's because Nakamura didn't cut it with the competition who did "bother to show up" at last year's Championship. It's not just about money. It's about reputation, too. Maybe being the U.S. Chess Champion for $8,000 means nothing to Benjamin, Christiansen and Nakamura, but it still means something to the average Joe on the street to be introduced to someone who is the current U.S. Chess Champion, because even if the average Joe don't know a thing about chess, the average Joe does know it takes brains to play chess and lots of skill and hard work to get to the top, just like it takes those same qualities to get to the top of any other profession. And the average Joe respects that. And so, if Benjamin, Christiansen and Nakamura can spit on $8,000, all the more power to you, darlings. Just be sure you don't spit into the wind.

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